Resources Research

Culture and systems of knowledge, cultivation and food, population and consumption

Posts Tagged ‘India

A lost vocabulary of cultivation

leave a comment »

Even until just about one hundred years ago – which is a trifling length of time for a civilisation such as ours whose record of cultivation goes back to some eight millennia before the Common Era – there was in the drier regions of Maharashtra a very vivid vocabulary to describe soils, and a very large glossary to describe the tools and implements required for agriculture. But modern India has caused a great portion of the vocabulary used in agriculture to be lost.

In the district of Ahmednagar, the three chief soils used to be called kali or black, tambat or red, and barad or gray including pandhri or white. The sub-types of these soils were numerous and the names used for the major divisions and their many sub-types differed from one taluka to another. There used to be known three divisions of the kali or black soil. There was black cotton soil but in Ahmadnagar this was more suited for wheat than for cotton. There was also a clayey loam soil called khalga, easier to work than the black soils and which was apt to cake in the rains and to crack in the hot weather. There was also a light soil or sandy loam called chopan, but which although light-coloured was not classified with the pandhri group.

A kind of soil very well suited for horticulture – which used to be commonly known as ‘garden crops’ during my grand-father’s generation – was called munjal, deep, rich, reddish and alluvial in some of the river basins. A friable soil, it wanted less moisture than others and could be more easily worked than others. Then there were the many tracts of poorer soil, flats of murum or gravelly land and khadkal or stony land. Bare ridges or water partings separating small streams were called mal, or upland.

Some of the late 10th century Bombay Presidency (British era) sub-divisions of Ahmednagar, such as Parner, Nagar, Shrigonda and Karjat, with cross-ranges of hills, were known for deep-soiled tablelands called pathar. The variety of landforms also hid, here and there, a few favoured plots of rich and moist alluvial soil called dheli. That we have such descriptions is due in no small part to the detail found in the district gazetteers, and I have been able to elaborate the names of soils and agricultural implements by referring to the 1884 Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency, volume XVII on Ahmednagar.

A detailed table from the 1884 Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency, volume XVII on Ahmednagar.

All cultivated land in Ahmadnagar used to be considered under the two great categories and they were jirayat which is dry crop and bagayat which is watered. The jirayat lands were either kharif (sown with early crops) or rabi (sown with late crops). Early crops were sown in June or July and reaped at the end of August, or in October or November. Late crops were sown in October and November and reaped in February and March.

The great variety of soils, the land forms in which they were found, determined the draught power and the kind of tilling, ploughing and levelling implements to be employed. Four or five generations ago, it required one to five pairs of bullocks – and sometimes in stiff soils as many as six and eight pairs – to drag a plough. Whereas in easier soils a pair of bullocks with a light plough would suffice, on stiff soils it used to be a common sight to see even 10 or 12 bullocks labouring heavily as they slowly dragged the big plough after them. Normally, a farming household kept one pair of bullocks, with the extra pairs as required borrowed and likewise their own lent out as needed.

The chief field-tools were the plough (nangar), the harrow (aut, vakhar, or kulav), the bullock-hoe (kulpa or joli), the drill (tiphan, moghad, or pabhar), the beam-harrow (phula or maing), the seed-harrow (rakhia or pharat), and the cart or gada. The plough or nangar used to be made from tough babul (acacia) wood. Naturally, the very large number of implements essential for cultivation kept busy an industry of village repairmen, as skilled with wood species as they were with metalcraft (the shoe of the plough was iron).

[Photograph: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London, ref PH.1269-1908]

Advertisements

Misreading monsoon

with 4 comments

Satellite image of evening cloud cover on 15 May 2019

As usual in May, there is a welter of forecasts and opinions about the monsoon, the great majority of which are short on understanding and shorter on elementary science. The media – newspapers, television news channels, their websites – are to blame for spreading half-baked forecasts and wild prognoses. Not one of the numerous newspapers and TV channels, whatever the language they employ, bother to provide their reporters a basic grounding in the climatological system that gives us our monsoon.

In the first place, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) issues an operational forecast for the south-west monsoon season (June to September) rainfall for the country as a whole in two stages. The first stage forecast is issued in April and the second stage forecast is issued in June. These forecasts are prepared using state-of-the-art Statistical Ensemble Forecasting system (SEFS) and using the dynamical coupled Ocean-Atmosphere global Climate Forecasting System (CFS) model developed under Monsoon Mission of the Ministry of Earth Sciences.

On 15 April 2019 the IMD issued its first stage forecast. Based on our own in-field observations from the west coast, from the patterns of maximum termperature bands and variations in the lower and central peninsular region, from the sea surface temperatures in the Arabian Sea particular its southerly reaches and ditto for the Bay of Bengal, and from the wind patterns that can be experienced at various places in the peninsula and on the west coast, we find the IMD first stage forecast to be reliable.

It is the chronically ignorant media – which over the last few years has displayed a tendency to prefer some so-called private sector weather forecasters instead of what the Ministry of Earth Sciences provides – found irresponsibly claiming that the monsoon of 2019 will be ‘deficient’ and will also begin ‘late’. Neither of these terms is sensible in any way, and we take no satisfaction in noting that only a media that is insensible to planetary and mesoscale events like climate, will employ such insensible terms in reporting that is meant to educate and benefit the public.

IMD’s April forecast used the following five predictors: 1. the Sea Surface Temperature (SST) Gradient between North Atlantic and North Pacific (in December and January), 2. the Equatorial South Indian Ocean SST (in February), 3. the East Asia Mean Sea Level Pressure (in February and March), 4. North-west Europe Land Surface Air Temperature (in January), and 5. Equatorial Pacific Warm Water Volume (in February and March).

There are two forecasts the IMD makes. One is based on the Monsoon Mission CFS Model, which considers global atmospheric and oceanic initial conditions up to March 2019 and use 47 ensemble members (or kinds of data). The forecast based on the CFS model suggests that the monsoon rainfall during the 2019 monsoon season (June to September) averaged over the country as a whole is likely to be 94% ± 5% of the Long Period Average (LPA).

The second is the forecast based on the operational Statistical Ensemble Forecasting system (SEFS). This shows that quantitatively, the monsoon seasonal rainfall is likely to be 96% of the Long Period Average (LPA) with a model error of ± 5%. The SEFS comprises five category probability forecasts for the June to September rainfall over the country as a whole:

Overall therefore the IMD forecast is for the 2019 monsoon rainfall to be near normal. The IMD has already pointed out (which can be seen from the probabilities of the categories given in the table) that there is only a small chance for the monsoon rainfall to be above normal or excess. In view of the weather events and the climatological changes that we are seeing from day to day in May, ascribing a ‘lateness’ to the monsoon is absurd. Monsoon conditions already exist in and over the Indian land mass and in and over the great watery zones extending southwards from latitude 8 degrees North – and that is why we will find rain-bearing clouds crossing the south-western coastline in the first week of June 2019.

(Reposted from India Climate Portal.)

Written by makanaka

May 16, 2019 at 18:14

The wholesale fibs party and its propaganda

leave a comment »

(This article was first published by Vijayvaani and is available here.)

The Congress disinformation machine is up and running so hard that now it’s reinventing economics. An article in The Hindustan Times, dated Jan. 15, 2019 on the wholesale price index (WPI), with a wild headline, “Worst price slump in 18 years shows scale of farm crisis”, shows the Congress-plus-opposition agitprop firing on all cylinders. The trouble with this shoddy report and its very obvious promoters is that the wholesale price index (a) hasn’t behaved the way they claim it has (b) is not an indicator of the income health of the kisan household.

These minor inconveniences did not stop The Hindustan Times report from pronouncing that “This financial year, 2018-19 could end up being the worst year for farm incomes in almost two decades, government data indicates in a revelation that emphasises the gravity of the ongoing agrarian crisis”. The government data cited is the WPI which, as the name makes clear, is an index of the change in prices at the level of bulk sale, which for primary agricultural produce is at the mandi, or “farm gate”, as this reporter calls it fashionably. “The WPI sub-component for primary food articles has been negative for six consecutive months beginning July 2018. This means their prices are falling,” says the report.

This is false. Here are the WPI numbers for the category ‘primary articles – food articles’, for the months July to December (the latest month) 2018: July 144.8, August 144.8, September 144.5, October 145.9, November 146.1 and December 144.0 – where is the “negative for six consecutive months”?

Even the simple math the report claims to have done – based on a misreading of the WPI – is wrong. “The WPI sub-component for food components was -0.1% in December. It was -2.1%, -4%, -0.2%, -1.4% and -3.3% in the preceding five months,” says the report. Also false. The sequence of change, from December running backwards to July, is -2.1, 0.2, 1.4, -0.3, 0 and 3. And the change is a number, not a per cent, because the WPI and its components are indices.

But the HT report ploughs on unmindful: “The last time WPI for primary food articles showed negative annual growth for two consecutive quarters was in 1990. The disinflation in farm prices has also led to a collapse in nominal farm incomes, which was last seen in 2000-01.”

So many non-sequiturs in two sentences. A sequence of WPI numbers over several months is not an indicator of annual growth or contraction for what is being measured. As any Food Corporation of India warehouse manager could have told the reporter, what is indexed is the change.

Did the newspaper scrutinise WPI data back until 1990? If it did – and if the sponsors of this “data revelation” did – they would not have failed to notice that the current WPI series has the base year (from which index numbers of 697 different components are calculated) of 2011-12. The previous base year was 2004-05, before that it was 1993-94 and before even that it was 1981-82.

What happened instead is that The Hindustan Times was told to reference the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy which maintains the WPI data back to the 1981-82 series, but has shown a chart with the news report that draws the 2004-05 series. The rider while comparing indices from different series – that they be recalculated with a specific linking factor that makes two series intelligible to each other – is not mentioned at all by the reporter nor by those interviewed by the paper, and they are, in order of appearance: Himanshu, an associate professor of economics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University; Niranjan Rajadyaksha, research director and senior fellow at IDFC Institute, Mumbai; Praveen Chakravarty, chairman of the Congress data analytics department. And last, BJP spokesperson Gopal Agarwal.

Their quotes, and the confused graphs thrown in, are meant to prop up the sagging storyline – that the Doubling Farmers’ Income programme of the BJP is not working, that there is ‘agrarian distress’ all over India (the reason given for the INC-Left-NGO morcha to Delhi in November 2018), that the boost to minimum support prices are not working.

“To be sure,” the report says, so that we get the point that the data certainly does not make, “the current crisis in farming is related more to a crash in farm prices rather than output growth.” And immediately adds that in July 2018, “the central government increased the minimum support prices (MSPs) of 14 crops to give farmers a 50% return over their cost of production”. In fact, the MSP was raised so that it is now no less than 50% above the cost of production. Several crops have their MSPs pegged at 60% and even 70%.

Not content with the bashing of the BJP government by those the reporter has interviewed, the newspaper then brings in still another angle, GDP (gross domestic product) data. “That disinflation in farm-gate prices has put a squeeze on farm incomes can be seen from a comparison of growth in agricultural GDP at current and constant prices,” blithely says the report.

“The first advance estimates of GDP figures for 2018-19, which were released by the Central Statistical Office (CSO) last week, show that the difference between current and constant price growth in Gross Value Added (GVA) in agriculture and allied activities was -0.1 percentage point. This differential is 4.8 percentage points for overall GVA.”

It is surprising that The Hindustan Times appears to have no access to any of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research’s agronomists, who could have been asked to clarify what the connection is, if any, between GDP growth rates, gross value added and the income of a kisan household in any of our 350 (and rising) districts that produce food for markets near and far. What matters to that household is the income realised for crop grown and sold, and this is where eNam, the electronic national agriculture market, is making a difference with, till date, 585 markets in 16 states and 2 union territories being integrated.

But the newspaper wants to press every available economics button in its frantic attempt to convince its readers that there is an agrarian crisis being engineered by the BJP government. And so it enlists the Reserve Bank of India, too, claiming that “The failure of MSP hikes to arrest the decline in farm-gate prices was taken note of by RBI as well”. What has been quoted from the RBI monetary policy committee meeting held during 3-5 December 2018 does not say so at all.

“The prices of several food items are at unusually low levels and there is a risk of sudden reversal, especially of volatile perishable items,” is how the RBI has been quoted. And what this means is that the consumer of food could find the weekly food bill rising; as with the other crutches this report leans on heavily, the RBI has not said what The Hindustan Times tells readers it has. The risk of the price of some food items rising is not a “decline in farm-gate prices”.

Likewise, the second quote from the RBI meeting – “available data suggest that the effect of revision in minimum support prices (MSPs) announced in July on prices has been subdued so far” – is an encouragement, far from the burden it is made out to be by the report.

Typically, a rise in the MSP would have been transferred, at least some if not most of it, by the layers of crop collection, retail and distribution, to the consumer. This transfer, said the RBI, has been subdued, which shows that the measures taken by the government to cut out profiteering middlemen are working.

Six months in 1990 are not six months in 2018. Gross value added whether at constant or current prices is in no way a measure of income for harvested crop a kisan earns at a mandi or through eNam. These and every other trick used in this report show why it is a shabby, confused, hodge-podge of opposition party innuendo that is meant to ride on data which the reading public scarcely notice. Except, when it is noticed, the whiz-bang falls flat.

Written by makanaka

January 26, 2019 at 08:38

A scientist recants, or can he really?

with one comment

M S Swaminathan today (right), and during his fieldwork years (left). Photos from MSS Research Foundation

M S Swaminathan during his fieldwork years, and today. Photos from MSS Research Foundation

During the dialogue between Maitreyi and the sage Yajnavalkya, the great sage in one of his answers to her difficult series of questions, explains what validity is. Yajnavalkya said that man-made law is temporal law, valid only as long as people who are concerned with it agree that it is valid; when not agreed upon, its validity ceases.

In one of his 1934 lectures J B S Haldane, one of the early 20th century’s founding evolutionary geneticists, and a political leftist, observed: “Put a Jersey cow and a South Africa scrub cow in an English meadow. The Jersey will give far more milk. Put them on the veldt, and the Jersey will give less milk. Indeed she will probably die.”

At 93, one of our scientists who is known for knowing about crops, is I am sure familiar with both, for he should have passed into the stage of sanyasa some years ago, in which stage he would profitably contemplate lessons from these and other thinkers. But the scientist seems strangely reluctant to do so, having had fashioned for himself a vanaprastha which resembles a field biology laboratory.

It has been fashioned for himself not by the kisans of India who are grateful for having carried out the results of his researches, but by the industries of food and the merchants of the technological cornucopia that surrounds all that we call food today. It is in short, a very elaborate golden handshake whose fine print contains a few tasks which Padma Shri Padma Bhushan Padma Vibhushan Monkombu Sambasivan Swaminathan has been entrusted with.

If he disregards the fine print, even today, he is scolded and upbraided by those half and even a third his age, for he is still governed by the proctors of industrial agriculture who pay not the slightest attention to the glittering heap of accolades and awards (73 honorary doctorates at last count) that accompany his name. And this is what happened when M S Swaminathan, as co-author of a rather reflective paper in the journal Current Science, questioned the sustainability, safety, and regulation of genetically modified crops.

Cows returning from their evening grazing, upland Tamil Nadu.

With that paper, he strayed across the Yajnavalkya boundary that marks out ‘validity’. He ceased being the English meadow in Haldane’s example and became instead the south African veldt. These are transgressions not permitted by the fine print that accompanies, along with awards and accolades, all scientists whose practice of science is determined by industry and foreign policy, as food and the cultivation of crop has been since the European monarchies funded the annexation of territories not their own to convert into colonies.

It is possible that Swaminathan and his co-author, P C Kesavan (a researcher at the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation in Chennai, India, which is the elder scientist’s field biology lab) were actuated by considerations other than scientific.

What might these considerations have been? First, political, because from around mid-year in 2017, a broad front of diverse groups – the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee – with several of its constituents claiming to represent kisan organisations and associations in different states, others including activist organisations protesting genetically engineered crops, have been launching marches and agitations against the NDA government using agriculture and kisan welfare as their platform.

The connection, between this episodic haranguing on the streets (not in fields) and Swaminathan is that he supplied, through the recommendations of the National Commission of Farmers (in 2004), their primary talking points today. Even today, his is seen as India’s most authoritative academic imprimatur on a campaign, programme or policy about sustainable agriculture.

It is a remarkable balance to have maintained for a man who helped usher into India an alien, short-stemmed, lab-tinkered, input-hungry rice variety to replace – with disastrous long-term effects on our agro-biodiversity and soil health – our own magnificent families of rice.

His second consideration for doing so is undoubtedly a blend – an academic setting right of the record, and an acknowledgement of the soaring unsustainability of industrial, fossil fuel-driven, retail oriented agriculture that relies on biotechnology and artificial intelligence. Any field researcher who tramped past rice seedling nurseries in the mid-1960s would absorb sustainability in all aspects of crop cultivation, sustainability should infuse his every utterance.

Picking cotton in Saurashtra, Gujarat. Bt cotton remains the only legally cultivated GM crop in India

But when Swaminathan was turned towards genetics, and away from the science of selection which our kisans have practiced ever since (and likely before) Rishi Parashar composed his smrti on the subject, he was parted forever from the simple essence of sustainability. Yet now there loom before the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, of which Swaminathan has been an éminence grise, the effects of climate change and the demands of the sustainable development goals, and modern agriculture cannot comply with even the skeletal interim standards of these goals.

For all his misdemeanours since the 1960s – including the unforgiveable plundering of our Central Rice Research Institute’s extremely valuable varieties from Odisha and Chhattisgarh, to stock the gene banks of the International Rice Research Institute with – I doubt that Swaminathan cares to be remembered by the generations to come in India as one of those who bestowed scientific legitimacy upon an agro-ecologically illiterate programme, the Green Revolution.

The lorry-load of awards he has accumulated over four decades have for the most part been supplied by the industry and nation-state powers that make food and its supply an economic weapon or a foreign policy instrument. That makes him not a visionary scientist receiving the admiration of multitudes (which the Padma awards were supposed to represent) but a paid general upon whose person battlefield decorations are pinned every now and then to please the troops.

He made his Faustian bargain nigh a half-century ago, but if a retreat into sanyasa and a twilight of less untruth than what he has guarded was Swaminathan’s wish, it is not one he will have granted. For swift and pitiless came the censure of his paper in Current Science. “The specific instances where results are selectively omitted, selectively represented or misrepresented are rife,” grated out K. VijayRaghavan, Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India, in his note to Swaminathan.

“Indeed, the bulk of the scientific points made in this part of the review have been raised previously and have been scientifically discredited widely and one has to only study the literature to see this.” Others, who have made similar bargains, on terms more demanding, were much more unkind and derisive.

The co-authors have been attacked for having “relied on papers and statements by individual scientists that run against the collective weight of peer-reviewed data and in-depth assessments by respected scientific organisations such as the Royal Society (UK), the National Academy of Sciences (US), the US Food and Drug Administration and the European Food Safety Authority”. In short, for having deviated from the industrial-agri-biotech party line the international GMO politburo must enforce.

And so the elder scientist had to disavow his recantation, first to the government man: “There has been some misunderstanding about my views to ensure sustainable productivity by avoiding the spread of greed revolution resulting in the undermining of the long term production potential.” And likewise in a letter (on his foundation’s website) to the biotech industry’s army of invigilators the world over: “I wish to conclude by reiterating my total commitment and support to modern technologies including genetic modification and gene editing.”

This episode has shown that in some matters there can be no renunciation. Sri Krishna explained to Arjuna that under his direction and control, nature brings out this mighty universe of living and non-living beings and “thus does the wheel of this world revolve”. Fatefully, it seems that a sanyasa spent in contemplation of this wheel will elude M S Swaminathan, who once knew rice fields.

Written by makanaka

January 4, 2019 at 09:14

How the Swatantra Divas 2018 pankha came to be

leave a comment »

A year ago, those privileged enough to be invited to the Swatantra Divas (Independence Day) celebrations at Red Fort, New Delhi, finding the weather warm and the nearest pedestal fans too far away to be of any comfort, gripped their invitations firmly and used the stiff, printed souvenirs as fans while listening to Prime Minister Narendra Modi speak.

They were under-secretaries, deputy secretaries, directors, joint secretaries, additional secretaries and secretaries of what are called by the Ministry of Defence (it’s their show on 15 August) “attached and subordinate offices, commissions, public sector undertakings, autonomous bodies” of the Government of India. (Officers below the rank of under-secretary who are “desirous of witnessing this ceremony” may be accommodated “subject to availability of seats”.)

The defence brass (from the rank of Lieutenant General and above, and their equivalents from the three services, but also from the Armed Forces Tribunal, Inter Services Organisations, Armed Forces Medical Services, Border Roads Organisation, Directorate General of Quality Assurance, Kendriya Sainik Board, etcetera) were also present. They, being rather more used to sultry conditions outdoors than the babus, seldom fan their faces.

There are several thousand invitees, and a good number of them are fanning themselves with the expensively printed souvenir, but why not give them a true fan, a beautiful pankha (a hand fan), which they can use and which will do the work of keeping them cool and which they can take home with pleasure. So thought Jaya Jaitly (of Dastkari Haat Samiti) to herself and resolved that on Swatantra Divas of the next year, 2018 and the 72nd Independence Day, there must be a pankha at hand for every one of those invited.

On 15 August 2018, there will be a pankha for each invited guest to the Swatantra Divas celebration. This is the outcome of a lanmark collaboration between Trifed (an autonomous organisation under the Ministry of Tribal Affairs) and the Ministry of Defence.

“This demonstrates the government’s care and concern for sustaining simple livelihoods practiced in the rural and under-developed areas that are home to India’s tribal population,” Trifed has explained. “It also brings into focus eco-friendly goods. The pankhas we create use natural materials, unlike plastic and non-biodegradable products which only add to our crisis of pollution.”

The pankhas of Swatantra Divas 2018 helps to keep the crafts alive which would otherwise languish because of the lack of demand. When the turn of a switch can set a desk fan running, who gives the humble, but beautifully painted and designed pankha a second look? “The pankhas offer comfort and dignity in the heat and humidity,” says Tribes India of the handicraft, which have been sourced from many artisans in Rajasthan, Odisha, West Bengal, Bihar, Gujarat and Jharkhand.

Tribes India supports almost 70,000 tribal artisans all over India by directly buying from them at at fair and remunerative prices, paying them in full for their work and then retailing the products through 92 retail outlets. spread far and wide in the country. If you are not likely to be the babu getting hot under the collar on 15 August 2018, nor the retired brasshat embellishing your memoirs with one last tale that the pankha in your hand reminded you about, then Tribes India can provide you one from its online store, which is sure, as it says, “to bring back memories of childhood when these pankhas were a permanent fixture in every household with stories woven around it by your grandparents”.

Those familiar with Dilli Haat will recognise right away the source of the creative leap needed to turn a seat in the middle of an Independence Day celebration into podium for the simple yet attractive tribal pankha. It is the Dastkari Haat Samiti, a national association of Indian crafts people established in 1986 by social and political activist, writer, and crafts patron Jaya Jaitly. It consists of a large membership of crafts persons as individuals, family units, cooperatives, associations and societies.

“We believe in sustaining traditional skills and livelihoods and in ensuring the continuity of India’s cultural heritage through crafts, arts and textiles by according respect and dignity to practitioners of handwork,” says the Samiti about its view and purpose. “We work to raise the social and economic status of crafts persons by infusing innovation and introducing new modes of creativity to widen the perspective of crafts persons so that they can be part of the contemporary world and marketplace.”

Those characteristics that were seen as weaknesses in the craft sector, such as lack of standardisation, the inability to provide large quantities of any one given item, inexpensive and sometimes earthy packaging methods, are areas of strength in a world where everything else is homogenous, synthetic (and boring). Today in India there is a new awareness of eco-friendly lifestyles, organic products and vegetable-dyed fabrics, the incredible potential of embroideries and jute ware, and the use of silk floss, banana fibre and other such materials to produce handmade paper.

I see the Swatantra Divas 2018 pankha as the most authentic proof that ‘Make in India’ emerges first and foremost from our rural homes and our local knowledge systems, to provide handmade products from a vast resource base that exists nowhere else in the world.

Three views of monsoon 2018

leave a comment »

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) on 16 April had issued its first long range forecast for the 2018 South-West Monsoon season, which the IMD has historically taken to be 1 June to 30 September. The IMD had said that the “monsoon seasonal rainfall is likely to be 97% of the Long Period Average with a model error of ± 5%”. The IMD had also said that its forecast “suggests maximum probability for normal monsoon rainfall (96%-104% of the long period average) and low probability for deficient rainfall during the season”.

In early June, the IMD will issue its second long range forecast for the 2018 monsoon. Until then, I have studied three of the more reliable (in my view) international multi-model ensemble forecasts for the monsoon. What are ensemble forecasts? Each consists of several separate forecasts (some ensembles use 50) forecasts made by the same computer model – these are run on super-computers such as the High Performance Computer System of the Ministry of Earth Sciences (one is at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology in Pune with 4.0 petaflops capacity and the other at the National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting in Noida with 2.8 petaflops capacity).

The monsoon 2018 forecast for three-month blocks of the Multi-Model Ensemble (MME), USA National Centers for Environmental Prediction

The separate forecasts that make up one ensemble are all activated from the same starting time. The starting conditions for each differ from each other to account as far as possible for the staggering number of climatological, atmospheric, terrestrial and oceanographic variables that affect and influence our monsoon. The differences between these ensemble members tend to grow as the forecast travels two, three, four and more months ahead of the present.

I have considered the ensemble forecasts for the 2018 monsoon of the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecast (ECMWF), the NOAA Climate Prediction Center and the Multi-Model Ensemble (MME) of the USA National Centers for Environmental Prediction. In this order, I find that the ECMWF forecast is somewhat pessimistic, the NOAA CPC is largely neutral and the MME is optimistic. The forecasting periods are in blocks of three months.

I have considered the ensemble forecasts for the 2018 monsoon of the Multi-Model Ensemble (MME) of the USA National Centers for Environmental Prediction, the NOAA Climate Prediction Center and the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecast (ECMWF). In this order, I find that the MME is optimistic, the NOAA CPC is largely neutral and the ECMWF forecast is somewhat pessimistic.

Here are the details:

(1) The MME forecast, precipitation anomalies relative to the period 1993-2016, based on initial conditions calculated at the beginning of May 2018.
June July August (JJA) – west coast and Konkan, coastal Andhra Pradesh and Odisha, West Bengal, part of the North-East, the entire upper, middle and lower Gangetic region (Uttarakhand, Himachal, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand), Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Telengana to have up to +1 mm/day. Rest of India other than Gujarat (-0.5 mm/day) normal.
July August September (JAS) – Gujarat to have up to -1 mm/day, Rajasthan up to -0.5 mm/day, Sikkim, Brahmaputra valley and Arunachal Pradesh up to -0.5 mm/day. Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand up to +0.5 mm/day, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and West Bengal up to +0.5 mm/day. Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu up to -0.5 mm/day.
August September October (ASO) – Gujarat up to -0.5 mm/day. Tamil Nadu up to -1 mm/day. Kerala and adjacent Karnataka up to -0.5 mm/day. Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, West Bengal up to +1 mm/day. Tripura, Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh up to +0.5 mm/day
September October November (SON) – Tamil Nadu, Kerala and adjacent Karnataka up to -1 mm/day. Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, West Bengal, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand up to +0.5 mm/day.

(2) The NOAA CPC forecast, seasonal precipitation anomalies using initial conditions of 30 April 2018 to 9 May 2018.
May June July (MJJ) – for most of India a normal reading (+0.5 to -0.5 mm/day fluctuation) and for the west coastal, Konkan, Kerala, south Tamil Nadu and coastal Andhra Pradesh areas variation of up to +1.5 mm/day.
June July August (JJA) – for most of India a normal reading (+0.5 to -0.5 mm/day fluctuation).
July August September (JAS) – normal for most of India. Some areas in the central Deccan plateau, on the west coast and east coast variation of up to -1 mm/day.

(3) The ECMWF forecast, mean precipitation anomaly based on climate period data of 1993-2016 and initial conditions as on 1 May 2018.
June July August (JJA) – all of the southern peninsula and part of the Deccan region (Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, part of Telengana) up to -100 mm for the period. West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh up to +100 mm for the period.
July August September (JAS) – all of the southern peninsula and the Deccan region – Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, part of Telengana and Maharashtra up to -100 mm for the period.
August September October (ASO) – Maharashtra, Telegana, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka up to -100 mm for the period.
September October November (SON) – Central and western India, eastern states and entire Gangetic region up to -50 mm for the period.

Written by makanaka

May 12, 2018 at 20:31

Unmasking the new food syndicate

with 4 comments

An agency of the central government is serving as administrative cover for an inter-connected group of international donor agencies, multinational corporations, international policy and advocacy groups, Indian industries and Indian non-government organisations, all bent on bringing the next wave of industrialisation to food and its sales.

The FSSAI communication to consumers highlights the look, texture, weight and size of vegetables. Good organic produce however is never uniform and is frequently ‘blemished’, which the FSSAI warns against buying.

This next wave of industrial food is based on existing and new genetic engineering and manipulation technologies, none of which there is adequate regulation for (nor, for some of these technologies, even recognition of). The justification created for claiming these technologies are needed is the shift from ‘hunger’ to the successors of ‘malnutrition’ which are: ‘hidden hunger’ and ‘micronutrient deficiency’. This shift is seen as having the potential to open up a vast and very lucrative new area of the food sector.

Because of the growing (slowly but steadily) tendency of consumers towards organically grown staple food crops and horticulture, and because of the growing opposition to genetically modified seed and food, the food industry in India is following a new strategy through this central government agency. The strategy includes:
1. Defining what ‘safe’ food is and defining what ‘nutrition’ is.
2. Strengthening and deepening the consumer markets for industrially grown and controlled crops from which processed and packaged food products are manufactured.
3. Protecting the businesses of Indian food (and beverage) companies and foreign food MNCs through legislation.
4. Consolidating the ‘back end’ of industrial retail and processed food – which is the interest of the agricultural biotechnology (agbiotech) corporations, the fertiliser and pesticides companies, the farming machinery industry, the food processing machinery industry, the food logistics sector.
5. Facilitating the further integration in India of the food and pharmaceutical industries through the promotion of food ‘fortification’ and food ‘supplements’.

Buy milk pasteurised, buy it packaged and buy it sealed says FSSAI. Milk is considered by the FSSAI’s international collaborators and local ‘nutrition coalitions’ to be the ideal medium for food ‘fortification’. Using what material? There are no answers.

The agency that has taken the responsibility for seeing this strategy through is the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). It was established under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 (No.34 of 2006). The FSSAI is described as having been “created for laying down science based standards for articles of food and to regulate their manufacture, storage, distribution, sale and import to ensure availability of safe and wholesome food for human consumption”.

The 2006 Act subsumed central acts like the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act 1954, Fruit Products Order 1955, and the Meat Food Products Order 1973. Other legislations like the Vegetable Oil Products (Control) Order 1947, Edible Oils Packaging (Regulation) Order 1988, Solvent Extracted Oil, De-Oiled Meal and Edible Flour (Control) Order 1967, Milk and Milk Products Order 1992 were repealed when the Food Safety and Standards Act 2006 commenced.

It is during the last two years in particular that the FSSAI has become very much more visible and active. This heightened visibility is a result of the FSSAI using the powers it has directly through the 2006 Act, but also because of its widening alliances with the food and beverages industry, with the dairy and milk products industry and with the global ‘nutrition’ consortia.

Edible oils must be packaged says FSSAI. The oil ‘ghani’ is scarcely seen nowadays, but its produce was fresher and gave households more confidence about the purity of the produce than blended oils can. Edible oils from GM oilseeds or GM vegetable oil sources are being imported with no safety oversight whatsoever, but FSSAI’s insistence that packaged edible oil is ‘safe’ discriminates against oil pressed at small scale from local oilseeds that may be entirely organic.

Today the FSSAI is very close to becoming a single reference point for all matters relating to food safety and standards, and is also very close to becoming the most important arbiter of what is considered ‘nutrition’ and what is considered ‘safe food’ in India. Because of the growth in recent years of the processed and packaged food industry (not the same as agriculture, horticulture, collection of forest products, inland and coastal small fisheries) the importance of a single reference point agency increases even more.

The largest formal industry associations – CII, Assocham and FICCI – estimate that in 2017 the retail or store value of packaged and processed foods (and beverages) was about 2,048,000 crore rupees (about US$ 320 billion) in 2016. This enormous estimate is thought by the industry to be able to rise much more to around 3,400,000 crore rupees (about US$ 540 billion) by 2021-22 provided of course changes are made in regulation, called ‘ease of doing business’ (the calamitous benchmark of the World Bank). The FSSAI is to be seen as a critical part of the overall apparatus to reach this gigantic sum in the next five or six years.

It is entirely possible if the FSSAI and its accomplice government agencies and ministries are permitted by us to get away with it. The same industry associations (interest clubs of companies and investors) say that the FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) sector in India has grown in rupee terms at an average of about 11% a year for the last decade and that four out of every 10 rupees spent on FMCGs are spent on food and beverages.

With practically no remaining restrictions on foreign direct investment (FDI) in the food and retail sector, and with the former Foreign Investment Promotion Board (under the Department of Economic Affairs, Ministry of Finance) being replaced as an ‘ease of doing business’ change with the Foreign Investment Facilitation Portal (under the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, Ministry of Commerce and Industry) the central government has done its bit to level – dangerously for both consumer health and for environmental well-being – the playing field.

For cereals and pulses too the FSSAI wants consumers to buy packaged, uniformly sized and fortified produce. The don’ts are fair but the dos only fulfil the agbiotech-pharma agenda.

The web of inter-connections that together exert great power over the food industry – and because of it over agriculture, horticulture, forestry products and fisheries – can be seen in how the FSSAI is set up and which agencies it advises. Its administrative ministry is the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. The FSSAI works closely with the Ministry of Women and Child Development (its object being the Integrated Child Development Services, ICDS, which provides food, pre-school education, and primary healthcare to children under 6 years of age and their mothers), with the Department of School Education and Literacy of the Ministry of Human Resource Development (its object being the Mid-Day Meal Scheme).

The FSSAI relies on the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (Ministry of Commerce and Industry) to bring in (through the FDI route) or encourage private sector units that will prepare and deliver the material for food ‘fortification’ and food ‘supplements’. It coordinates with the Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries (Ministry of Agriculture) concerning the dairy industry – working directly with the National Dairy Development Board to ‘fortify’ milk. It synchronises its rules and regulations with the Ministry of Food Processing Industries, which is the single point of reference for an industry that has become gigantic.

Frozen foods are energy sinks and are the very antithesis of healthy meal ingredients. But FSSAI has a place for them in its advice to consumers.

Furthermore the FSSAI works in tandem with the Department of Biotechnology (Ministry of Science and Technology) and the Department of Health Research (Ministry of Health and Family Welfare) in a joint effort to bring in and to develop biotechnology, genetic engineering and gene modification, and to find ways to publicise justifications (contrary to the great mass of scientific study that show GMOs to be harmful to humans, animals, soil and insects) for the use of these technologies and methods.

Thus although the FSSAI is considered by the Union Government of India to be an agency that has replaced multi-level, multi-departmental areas of control to a single line of command, just like the Foreign Investment Facilitation Portal or the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, these are agencies which do their work in concert, and that concert is played to the tune of the global agbiotech industry, the global food retailers, the e-commerce merchants and all their Indian corporate partners, subsidiaries and otherwise serfs.

Where genetically modified seed and crop, genetic engineering and gene manipulation in food ingredients and therefore food products are concerned, the FSSAI adopts the principle of lying low and saying nothing. In this its behaviour is consistent with that of the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC, under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, but over which the Department of Biotechnology has controlling influence) and the Indian Council of Medical Research (responsible for the formulation, coordination and promotion of biomedical research and which is administered by the Department of Health Research, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare), both of which lie lower and say even less.

Even condiments and spices are passed by FSSAI as good to consume provided they are packed, packaged and sealed. In this way, the agency is preparing the ground for outlawing non-packaged, freshly ground and prepared foods and spices.

Such incoherence may partly explain why while the FSSAI collaborates with the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (which is under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry) towards its idea of ‘safe food’ and ‘nutrition’, the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (also under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry) was asked by the Ministry of Environment to stop imports of GM soybean for food or feed without the approval of the GEAC.

The Coalition for a GM-free India has noted a string of imports of agricultural produce which should have been halted at the sea ports of entry and tested for whether they were GM/GE. The FSSAI has inspection sites at 21 locations including six sea ports. But the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) tested seed samples in Gujarat and found them to be genetically modified, while the Soybean Processors’ Association of India has raised serious concerns about the alleged import of GM soybean and farmers in Maharashtra complained about GM soyabean being cultivated for the last three years in Yavatmal.

There can be no excuse of any kind for these imports having taken place (and these are only the ones we have learnt about – seeds for planting can be imported via airfrieght at any international air cargo terminal in India). Till today, the Department of Consumer Affairs (Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution) has a well-publicised programme and campaign of consumer awareness – on such matters as maximum retail price, expiry date of food products, batch number and correct weight – but not on whether a food product has ingredients from GM crop and why it is important for a consumer to know this.

This is deliberately withholding information from consumers about food and food products that government agencies are certifying and permitting to be sold. While for organic foods there is a new regulation requiring quality assurance and traceability – under the Food Safety and Standards (Organic Foods) Regulations, 2017 – which attest to a product’s ‘organic status’ and its ‘organic integrity’, there is none whatsoever for products that have a GM ingredient.

“Essential nutrients”, “daily requirement”, “fight infections”, “strong and healthy”. The FSSAI uses the marketing gibberish of the infant and baby foods industry to daze consumers into believing that food ‘fortification’ is essential.

Under its ‘Safe and Nutritious Food’ programme, the FSSAI seeks to direct home consumers and institutional buyers of food products (such as company staff canteens) in all manner of standards relating to fresh, processed and packaged foods, edible oils, dairy products, meats and beverages. The FSSAI talks about standards for goat and sheep milk, chhana and paneer, whey cheese, cheese in brine, dairy permeate powder, refined vegetable oil, synthetic syrup and sharbat, coconut milk and coconut cream, wheat bran, non-fermented soybean products, processing aides for use in various food categories, limits for heavy metals, standards relating to pulses, millet, cornflakes, degermed maize, formulated supplements for children, honey, beeswax, additives in various food categories, tolerance limits of antibiotic and pharmacologically active substances.

But not a word about GMOs, over which we have had scarcely any regulation, and none at all about synthetic biology (also known as GMOs 2.0), which are not even close to being recognised as needing immediate regulation in India. Both generations of GMO survive by inventing and exaggerating claims of experimental science whose human, toxicological and environmental safety has not been studied thoroughly, by an absence of labelling to stringencies that are demanded of organic produce, by putting industry in control of food systems, by threatening biodiversity.

Some examples from elsewhere in the world are ‘probiotic yoghurt’ made out of engineered bacteria and other microorganisms which are intended to change bacteria inhabiting the human digestive tract, ‘gene sprays’ that can be sprayed directly onto crops in the feld to manipulate the genetics of pests and the terrible ‘gene drives’ which permanently ‘drive’ a genetic trait through a species to change the entire population forever by making it dependent on chemicals or to go extinct.

Warnings about allergies and additives. Why not about GM ingredients?

The FSSAI and its host ministry, the GEAC and its host ministry, every administrative apparatus of the Union Government and of the state governments are silent on this matter. They are just as silent on the question: of what materials are these so-called ‘fortification’ made?

The international donor agencies working with the FSSAI and being consulted by the agency on ‘safe food’, ‘nutrition’ and food fortification are the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Clinton Health Access Initiative, the Coalition for Food and Nutrition Security, the Food Fortification Initiative, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, the Iodine Global Network, Nutrition International, PATH, the Tata Trusts, UNICEF, the World Food Programme, the World Health Organisation and the World Bank. Each has an agenda that goes far beyond ‘food safety’. One or more of them undoubtedly has the answer.

All the conditions that are pointed to (wasting, stunting, chronic under-nutrition, anaemia) as needing remedies from food ‘fortification’ and ‘supplements’ can be easily remedied through more sensible crop cultivation choices and diets that are agro-ecologically and culturally sound. But food has long been a means of control, and this is the work that FSSAI does beyond and behind the ‘safety’ and ‘standards’ part of its mandate.

Why India needs a national culture policy

leave a comment »

‘Culture’ in India is an idea influenced by two contrasting views.

Either, India possesses a superabundance of culture and a great pool of talent – which takes inspiration from excellent Akademis – to work at preserving traditions, re-inventing them with new orientations and new media, and supplying burgeoning cultural industries with material.

Or, India has a creaky government framework to interpret culture and administer it, which is headed by the Ministry of Culture – a framework entirely without policy direction, surviving at whim on a shoestring national budgetary allocation.

Both these views are true, each incumbent upon where ‘government’ is located vis-a-vis culture. The former view is what we find the Ministry of Culture preferring to portray, ignoring the latter view, with which it does not engage. The ministry has since the years following Independence occupied a high ground and, having fortified itself with institutions and centres, is unable to speak a language other than the rosily administrative.

For this reason, because India in 2018 has a Ministry of Culture so utterly out of touch and out of tune with the teeming types of current discourse about culture (expressions, industries, media, collaborations), the insistence that a culture policy is needed, and needed quickly, is a welcome one. This need was given substance by an article in Swarajya titled, Whose Culture Is It Anyway? Why India Needs A Comprehensive National Cultural Policy by Vikram Sampath, and I am thankful to both the magazine and the writer for having opened a space to consider, debate and act on the subject.

To the question – why should India not have a national policy on culture? – the most dismissive replies have come from a constituency which says that we are a civilisation whose recorded histories stretch back at least five millennia, whose puranic histories reach back further still, and therefore have no need for such new artifices like culture policies.

This article was published by Swarajya in January 2018. It is a shortened version of the commentary available in full here: click for the pdf.

Whereas for artistes and practitioners, who are entirely submerged in their fields, the question of such integration is superfluous, there is the matter of Indian society: our families and households inhabiting more than 4,041 ‘statutory’ towns (465 of which have populations of above 1 lakh), and about 597,000 villages. It is for these families and households, and for the many kinds of social, community, economic, geographic and occupational networks that link and support them, that a cultural policy is to be considered.

Defining culture is certainly not what the policy is for. Doing so is unnecessary and will also lead to contentious arguments over definitions, which will inevitably distract one from why a policy is needed in the first place, as Sampath has set out in detail in his article. But a policy needs a statement about the subject it is setting a direction for, and in such a spirit, distilling the many excellent statements which our Akademis, artistes and intellectuals have given us, what emerges is that in India, culture is elaborated by us as expressions of our creativity and spirituality, including our language, architecture, literature, music and art.

It is also the way we live, conduct ourselves with each other, before nature and before god, the way we think, and the way in which we see and perform the world through attitudes, customs, and practices. Our cultures transmit to us an intrinsic understanding of the way our world works, and leads us to see what is important within that world, thus our values.

This is an organic view. The Ministry of Culture, the institutes and centres it runs directly and those autonomous to it, and state government cultural departments take a state view, seeking a connection with the Constitution of India. Article 29 of the Constitution states that “Any section of the citizens residing in the territory of India or any part thereof having a distinct language, script or culture of its own shall have the right to conserve the same” and Article 51 A(F) of the Constitution states that “It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture”.

The language and import of these Articles have very much to do with the Constitution’s overall message of rights and duties, and therefore it is not able to embrace the creativity, ways of living, understanding between human and nature and traditions of expression that contribute to ideas about and practices of cultures.

In his article (based on a concept paper submitted to the Ministry of Culture and NITI Aayog) Sampath has listed and explained the important elements a national policy on culture must contain. These are: (1) Complete overhaul, rationalisation and effective management of existing cultural bodies under the government, (2) Enhanced funding for India’s cultural industry, (3) Bringing culture to young minds by allowing education to inculcate a sense of national identity, pride and self-worth, (4) Enabling skills development and vocational training so that artisans, weavers, artists, painters and craftsmen find markets, (5) Integrating culture with tourism, (6) Disseminating cultural knowledge to the public through media including digital, and (7) Educating an international audience about India’s culture, heritage, traditional knowledge, performing and visual arts.

This is a sound list as it blends current concerns (they have been current since the early 1960s!) with contemporary ideas of arts management, the place of cultural industries and the need to place culture more centrally in education. As part of my work for the UNESCO 2003 Convention on Intangible Cultural Heritage, the management of creative products and goods, the matter of livelihoods and incomes (not only of artistes but what the Convention refers to as tradition bearers), and infusing formal curricula in schools and universities with an understanding of cultures and their practicing, are all indeed central.

Moreover, it is over a decade since UNESCO itself began to not only re-frame but to act towards greater cooperation and collaboration between its cultural conventions and between several long-running programmes in which culture is central. These are the 2003 ICH Convention, the 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, the 1972 World Heritage Convention, the UNESCO Man and Biosphere Programme, and the UNESCO Memory of the World programme. Whereas earlier these functioned quite isolated from one another (largely because of the structural barriers in the ways they were conceived to work and be administered) today integration has become visible.

I mention this because governments often look to an inter-governmental system for guidance or direction, and India takes a justifiable pride in being a member of UNESCO since 1946, with 36 monuments, sites and structures on the World Heritage List, with 13 elements listed by the ICH Convention, with 10 protected areas and natural reserves under the Man and Biosphere programme, and with nine archival and textual repositories in the Memory of the World programme.

Such integration is a far cry from what we inherited as being legislated ‘culture’ which had to be ‘administered’. Hence young post-Independence India considered culture and heritage as being born out of enactments of government, an attitude that ossified itself so solidly it continues into 2018. As examples we have The Ancient Monuments Preservation Act, 1904, The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites Remains Act, 1958 (and Rules, 1959), The Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972 (and Rules, 1973), The Delivery of Books’ and Newspapers’ (Public Libraries) Act, 1954, The Public Records Act, 1993 (and Rules, 1997). We even had The Treasure Trove Act of 1878!

Likewise, institutes and centres that have to do with manuscripts and books, archives, libraries, cultural objects and art holdings, museums, classical arts foundations are governed by acts and rules, and these include some of the most well-known centres of India: the Asiatic Society, the Victoria Memorial, the Salar Jung Museum, the Khuda Bakhsh library, the Kalakshetra Foundation and the Jallianwala Bagh National Memorial.

It may not be poetic licence to claim that imagining the forms of national cultural administration through these legislations, rules and acts would cause the younger generation of Indians to call to mind gloomy hallways filled with massive bookcases, whose great keys lie rusting on pegs in some dim anteroom, attended to by geriatrics who may have been the only readers if at all of the mouldering tomes they watch over.

It is a picture not altered by bright paint, shiny new racks and computer terminals because the vintage grip of these legislations has not relented, nor has the opportunity such cultural ‘legislation’ gives to those who would command and control centres as petty administrative fiefdoms. Sampath says as much: “everyone seems to be intent on rediscovering the same wheel, and that too over and over again” and “regional centres are set up as further money-guzzling mechanisms, with no sense of mission, objectives, or agenda”. This is what points to a signal difference between institutions established by legislative fiat, and those which emerge from an application of cultural policy, regardless of whether they are state-controlled or receive budgetary support from central or state governments.

In September 2015 when the UN member countries adopted what is called ‘Transforming our world: the 2030 agenda for sustainable development’ (the 2030 Agenda in short), also adopted were the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (or SDGs). UNESCO had since 2013 argued for the greater inclusion of culture, if not as a standalone SDG then as central to several SDGs. An SDG on culture did not materialise, but the efforts to have one did lead many countries to think more holistically – and inventively – about the place of culture in national development. Today, there are 111 countries that have adopted a national development plan or strategy, and out of these 96 include references to the cultural dimension.

It is far from a template adoption. The UNESCO 2018 report, ‘Re-shaping cultural policies: advancing creativity for development’, which explains how the 2005 Convention on Diversity of Cultural Expressions is being implemented, has sounded a note of worry that there are a large number of countries which acknowledge the cultural dimension “primarily as an instrumentality, as a driver of economic or social outputs” and moreover that “across the board, the environmental impact of cultural production and artistic practice itself is not yet taken sufficiently into account”.

How important are development – by which is meant a development that is ecologically harmonious and which contributes to social cohesion rather than inequity – and environment in the framing of a cultural policy? I would like to illustrate using two examples from my work for UNESCO in recent years.

Our neighbour Sri Lanka in 2017 embarked on a drafting of a national policy on intangible cultural heritage (ICH), which would supplement, enlarge and strengthen the work being done under the country’s National Cultural Policy and its National Policy of Traditional Knowledge and Practices. This drafting (advised by UNESCO) was steered by the Ministry of Education, Government of Sri Lanka, which ensured a wide-ranging series of consultations to assist and benefit the tradition bearers and practitioners of ICH and local knowledge systems in Sri Lanka. For the practitioners of these arts and crafts, every kind of material they use, every way in which it is fashioned, every place from where it is gathered, the functions which their creations fulfil, the meanings attached to those functions, all these are guidelines considered cultural.

The second example is from Cambodia, where UNESCO’s work towards deepening and strengthening the recognition of and support for traditional practices, knowledge and cultural expressions had as its backdrop the needs of a population for which four out of every five households lived in villages. Reliable sources of income throughout the year, securing multiple streams of livelihood for the members of a households, finding income and livelihood from activities that were tied closely to agriculture and cultivation or fishery, ascertaining the role and potential of handicraft and hand weaves – all these proved to be concerns that fundamentally tied culture with the environment, and the training, consultations and distillation of learning from meetings over six years (2011-16) had emphasised this tie.

In both countries – just as it is in India and throughout South-East Asia – the use of nature’s resources is as common as is its integration with culture and heritage. The connection with the natural world, for communities in Sri Lanka and Cambodia, has been particularly intimate. Traditional names of villages reflect their inhabitants’ perceptions of the environment that surrounds them. Place names incorporate kinds of vegetation. Paddy lands are classified in a number of ways, where the grain is threshed and winnowed are given specific names. So too are river floodplains, groves of low trees, highland and lowland cultivation areas. Biodiversity is the basis for indigenous and local systems of medicine and treatment, and are extremely significant in social practices.

Is such an approach possible with the government cultural machinery? I take as an answer a statement in the ‘Report of the High Powered Committee on the Akademis and other Institutions under the Ministry of Culture’, 2014: “What is most crucial today is that the Ministry of Culture accepts that it is stuck in antediluvian systems and that change is inevitable. Indeed, it must guide that change assiduously, else the bureaucratic control centre would be ‘out of sync’ with the outside environment.”

This latest report on the Ministry of Culture and its institutions was referred to by Sampath, who in an exasperated tone noted that its recommendations at the time of his article (2017) had not been acted upon, and such inaction followed exactly the same responses to predecessor reports completed in 1990, 1972 and 1964, all having made recommendations with none being acted upon. If cultural institutions such as the three Akademis (Sangeet Natak, Lalit Kala and Sahitya) are to be managed and budgeted for, and a training centre (the Centre for Cultural Resources and Training) is to be maintained, do we need a Ministry of Culture for the purpose?

The 2014 High Powered Committee report has explained that we do, because the Ministry has to work as a “point of coordination for cultural expression, and a catalyst for the dissemination of that expression through the encouragement and sponsorship of multifarious artistic activity”; it “has to guide the people towards higher expressions of the arts, and enable us to differentiate between mediocrity and excellence” and has also “to protect our heritage, both tangible and intangible, through research and documentation, and at the same time prepare us for new pursuits in the creative world.”

I agree with these reasons, but do not think it is or ought to be the prerogative of the Ministry alone (zonal cultural centres included of which there are six) to accomplish these tasks. Neither does this work become the responsibility of the constellation of centres, institutes, libraries, archives, arts foundations and research societies recognised by the Ministry. This is why a national policy on culture for India is needed, which will help explain the duties we have towards our inheritances, and will help construct a superstructure of competencies and human resources, supported by relevant pedagogies, financial channels, collaborations with allied sectors of the formal and informal economies, and which will inform policy and its implementation with the values that sustain our society.

It was as long ago as 1993, at a UNESCO-sponsored meeting held at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts in New Delhi, that the basic distinctions that exist between anthropocentric and cosmocentric approaches to the question of cultural identity and development were reflected upon. The participants discussed what constitutes culture and development not individually, but as an integral holistic notion including linguistic, ecological and ways-of-living identities. It is in this spirit that I once again thank Swarajya and Vikram Sampath for reopening a discussion which should never have gone out of vogue, and which, I hope will take on both a new urgency and a new vibrancy.

[This article was published by Swarajya in January 2018.]

Written by makanaka

February 5, 2018 at 22:38

Vegetable hocus-pocus in India

with 2 comments

Which one of these two statements is false?

‘India has more than enough vegetables to feed its households, which need about 144 million tons per year’

‘There is a deficit of about 20 million tons in 2 out of 3 vegetable types India’s households need’

Which one you choose as false depends on whose interpretation of vegetable self-sufficiency you lean towards: the Ministry of Agriculture’s triumphant announcements of ever higher vegetable tonnage, or the data on crop quantities combined with current population and dietary needs (as I do here).

My answer is that the second of the two statements is nearly true whereas the first is entirely false. This is the explanation, and it is based on the data using which the startling graphic presented above was drawn.

In its ‘First Advance Estimates of Horticulture Crops’ for 2017-18, the Ministry of Agriculture has said that a record quantity of 180 million tons of vegetables has been cultivated.

This is no doubt a quantity record for vegetables. It apparently exceeds by a wide margin the quantity required to adequately provide all our households with vegetables for their daily meals. How many household would that be? My calculation, based on the projected increases in population and household contained in Census 2011, is about 270 million (or 27 crore) households in 2018, and with the mean size of the household being 4.8 members.

Such a typical household needs about 1.44 kilograms per day of vegetables as part of a well-balanced diet. Adjusting for the smaller portions eaten by children (up to 14 or 15 years old) and the elderly (from about 65 years old) and further adjusting for the losses and waste that take place from the time vegetables are brought to mandis till they cooked in kitchens, a total of about 144 million tons is needed to supply all our households for a year.

With 180 million tons cultivated and 144 million tons needed, we seem to have a surplus of some 36 million tons of vegetables.

Not so. This ‘surplus’ needs closer examination, which the chart guides you towards. As you see, the biggest circles belong to five vegetable categories: potato, tomato, other vegetables, onion, and brinjal.

What these biggest circles represent needs to be connected to what the National Institute of Nutrition has recommended as the required daily quantities of vegetables. And that is, not just 300 grams per day, but 50 grams of green leafy vegetables, 100 grams of roots and tubers and 150 grams of other vegetables. A household consuming the stipulated 1.44 kg/day of vegetables if those vegetables are a kilo of potatoes and 440 grams of tomatoes is not a household eating vegetables – it’s a household eating far too many potatoes and tomatoes.

The chart shows us dramatically how unbalanced the cultivation of vegetables has become in India. Nearly 40% of the total cultivated is onions and potatoes (70 mt). Add tomatoes and the three account for 51% of the total (93 mt). Add brinjal and the four account for 58% of the total (105 mt).

Our 270 million households should be buying, cooking and eating about 95 million tons of vegetables that are green and leafy, or are ‘other vegetables’. But in these two categories, we are growing no more than about 75 mt – which reveals a massive shortfall of 20 million tons.

This is the truth behind the tale of booming, record vegetable production. Those five big circles in the chart should never have been the sizes they are. Our households do not need an allocation of 500 grams of potatoes per day (no, Lays, Pringles, Doritos, Kurkure, Uncle Chipps, Bingo, Haldirams chips and wafers are not food).

What we need instead is for every taluka, tehsil, block and mandal to value and grow its local varieties of leafy greens, roots and tubers, shoots and stems, edible flowers and buds. That is what will bring back genuine vegetable nutrition and diversity.

Written by makanaka

January 8, 2018 at 19:50

It’s time to rid India of the GDP disease

with 2 comments

A woman in the Aravalli hills of Rajasthan carries home a headload of field straw. India’s National Accounts Statistics is completely ignorant of the biophysical economy.

On 5 January 2017 the Central Statistics Office of the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, Government of India, issued a note titled “First advance estimates of national income, 2017-18”. The contents of this note immediately caused great consternation among the ranks of those in business and industry, trading, banking anf finance, and government who hold that the growth of India’s gross domestic product is supremely important as it is this growth which describes what India is and should be.

In its usual bland way, the Central Statistics Office said that this was “the First Advance estimates of national income at constant (2011-12) and current prices, for the financial year 2017-18” and then proeeded, after a short boilerplate explanation about the compilation of estimates, delivered the bombshell to the GDP standard-bearers: “The growth in GDP during 2017-18 is estimated at 6.5% as compared to the growth rate of 7.1% in 2016-17.” [pdf file here]

To me, this is good news of a kind not heard in the last several years.

But India’s business and financial press were thrown into a caterwauling discord which within minutes was all over the internet.

An example of one out of the many messages in a daily barrage delivered by the Government of India’s ‘GDP First’ corps. This is from what is called the Make in India ‘initiative’ of the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, Ministry of Commerce. “Make in India is much more than an inspiring slogan,” the DIPP says. “It represents a comprehensive and unprecedented overhaul of out-dated processes and policies.” For this childish GDP rah-rah club, environmental protection, natural reserves, watershed conservation, handloom and handicrafts are all outdated practices and ideas.

‘GDP growth seen at four-year low of 6.5% in 2017-18: CSO’ said the Economic Times: “Most private economists have pared the growth forecast to 6.2 to 6.5 percent for this fiscal year, citing the teething troubles faced by businesses during the roll out of a goods and services tax (GST).”

‘7 reasons why FY18 GDP growth forecast should be viewed with caution’ advised Business Standard: “The fact that growth will be 6.5% is significant as it is even lower than the Economic Survey assumption of 6.75-7.5% for the year. Hence, it is not expected to be higher than the base mark which means that it would be lowest in the past three years. The effects of demonetisation and GST have played some role here.”

‘CSO pegs FY18 growth at 6.5%; why forecast is an eye-opener for Narendra Modi govt’ said Firstpost: “The healthy uptick in volumes displayed by many sectors in November 2017, is expected to strengthen in the remainder of FY2018, benefiting from a favourable base effect and a ‘catch up’ following the subdued first half. Accordingly, manufacturing is likely to display healthy expansion in volumes in H2 FY2018, which should result in a substantial improvement in capacity utilisation on a YoY basis.”

‘GST disruptions eat FY18 economic growth; GDP seen growing at 6.5%, lowest under Modi government’ huffed the Financial Express: “For a broad-based recovery the rural economy needs to recover and we can expect the upcoming budget to focus on alleviating some of the stress in the rural economy and concentrating on measures to augment the flow of credit in the economy. Overall growth is likely to improve in the coming year and possibly move up beyond the 7% mark in FY19.”

‘India’s GDP growth seen decelerating to 6.5% in 2017-18 from 7.1% in 2016-17’ said the Mint: “The nominal GDP, or gross domestic product at market prices, is expected to grow at 9.5% against 11.75% assumed in the 2017-18 budget presented last year. This may make it difficult for the government to achieve the fiscal deficit target of 3.2% of GDP in a fiscally tight year.”

‘India Sees FY18 GDP Growth At 6.5%’ observed Bloomberg Quint: “Growth in gross value added terms, which strips out the impact of indirect taxes and subsidies, is pegged at 6.1 this year, versus a revised 6.6 percent last fiscal. Both GDP and GVA growth were marginally below expectations. A Bloomberg poll had pegged GDP growth at 6.7 percent. The RBI had forecast GVA growth at 6.7 percent at the time of its last policy review in December.”

‘India’s FY18 GDP growth estimated at 6.5%, says CSO data’ said Zee Business: “Real GVA, i.e, GVA at basic constant prices (2011-12) is anticipated to increase from Rs 111.85 lakh crore in 2016-17 to Rs 118.71 lakh crore in 2017-18. Anticipated growth of real GVA at basic prices in 2017-18 is 6.1 percent as against 6.6 percent in 2016-17.”

So great is the power of the School of GDP and of its regents, who are as priests of the Sect of GDP Growth, that the meaninglessness of GDP is a subject practically invisible in India today. Just as it has no meaning at all to the woman in my photograph above, so too GDP has no meaning for all, including the 2.7% (or thereabouts) who pay income tax.

This tweet shows us the scale of the problem. An article by Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum (a club of powerful globalists) is posted on the website of Prime Minister Narendra Modi ! The head of the ruling BJP’s information unit broadcasts it.

India’s National Accounts Statistics presents every quarter and annually, estimates of the size of the country’s GDP, of the rate of GDP growth, of the size of ‘gross value added’, to which GDP is bound in ways as complicated as they are misleading. There are wages, interests, salaries, profits, factor costs, net indirect taxes, product taxes, product subsidies, market prices, industry-wise estimates and producer prices to juggle.

For the most part, these are prices and costs alone, upon which various kinds of taxes are levied and whose materials and processes may qualify for subsidies. All these are added and deducted, or deducted and added, and finally totalled show a GVA which then leads to a GDP. The prices are arbitrary and speculative, as all prices are, the arbitrariness and speculative nature being attributed to something called market demand, itself a creation of policy and advertising – policy to choke choices and advertising to spur greed. On this putrid basis does the School of GDP stand.

The GDP and GDP-growth frenzy in India spares not a minute for a questioning of its fundamental ideas, which in certain quarters had begun to shown as hollow and destructive in the early 1970s, when the effects of the material and consumption boom in Europe, North American (USA and Canada) and some of the OECD countries after the end of the Second World War became visible as environmental degradation.

Over 30 years later, sections of those societies inhabit and practice what are called ‘steady state’ economics, ‘transition’ economics (that is, transition to low energy, low consumption, recycling and sharing based ways of collective living) and ‘de-growth’, which is a scaling down of economic production and consumption done equitably and to ensure that a society (or groups of settlement and their industries) strictly observe the bio-physical limits of their environment (pollution and pollutants, land, water, biodiversity, etc).

But the Central Statistics Office of the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, Government of India, is ignorant of such critical thinking. It is just as ignorant of the many efforts at swadeshi living, production, cultivation (agro-ecological) and education (informal learning environments instead of reformatted syllabi lifted wholsesale from countries whose exploitative economies installed globalisation as the default economics mode) that are visible all over India today. The CSO and MoSPI are not entirely to blame for this abysmal blindness, because the Ministry of Finance (like every other major line ministry of the Government of India, and like every state government) has decided to be even more blind.

To read the insensate paragraphs disgorged every quarter from the CSO (and Ministry of Finance, likewise the Niti Aayog, the chambers of commerce and industry, the many economy and trade think-tanks) is to find evidence to pile upon earlier evidence that here is an administration of a very large, extremely populous country which cares not the slightest about the indubitably strong correlations between ‘GDP growth’ and more forms of environmental damage than have been reckoned.

The GDP-GVA-growth fantasy cares not the slightest about energy over-use and CO2 emissions, about the effects of widespread atmospheric and chemical pollution on the health of the 185 million rural households and 88 million urban households (my estimates for 2018) of India, and about the terrible stresses that the urban households in more than 4,000 towns, district headquarters and metros are subject to as a result of their lives – through mobile phone apps, banks, the food industry, the automobile industry and the building industry – being micro-regulated so that an additional thousandth of a per cent of GDP growth can be squeezed out of them.

The GDP asura has brought ruin to India’s environment, cities, farms, households, forests, rivers, coasts and hills. Let 2018 be the year we burn the monster once and for all.