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Posts Tagged ‘Paddy

The magical fieldscapes of Uttara Kannada

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This is the green western edge of the Deccan plateau of India, the gigantic highland of peninsular India that slopes gradually from west to east. They say that the western ‘ghats’, the range of hills (some say mountains, but the real mountains are the Himalaya and Hindu Kush, far to the north, while the Ghats rise about 1,500 metres above the continent in some of their southern spurs), that run for about 1,600 kilometres dissuade the south-west monsoon from bringing rain inland, but this is not quite true, for districts along the western edge of the plateau are well-watered in a good monsoon.

This magical landscape is found about 10 kilometres east of the the small town of Yellapur, in the district of Uttara Kannada, in the state of Karnataka. The land is gently rolling, and by mid-November early mornings bathe the landscape in a soft golden light. Mornings at this time are chilly, below 10 Celsius, and you can see the farmers here stride down the dusty pathways between fields, their worn sweaters keeping the chill away, their omnipresent cotton shawls – faded after months in the sun – wrapped that much tighter around their necks. In the distance, the taller peaks loom blue-grey in the distance, the skies above are cobalt with clarity.

Standing four to five metres tall, the larger of the cylindrical haystacks are minor engineering marvels and take shape organically thanks to the communal work of the farming household, neighbours, sharecroppers and of course youngsters with more enthusiasm than skill.

Dotting every cultivated hectare are the haystacks, the hayricks and the crop residue bales. These are gathered, tied, carried, lifted, piled, arranged and stacked by hand, and so the shapes they assume are organic, cones and rough domes that mimic the primal hut-shape, but dense with biomass. We are used to saying and hearing words like ‘crop residue’ and ‘agricultural biomass’, but the shapes that emerge at the end of a hectic harvest are made of material that goes by many local names. Often, these haystacks formed from rice straw, sugarcane tops, stalks of ‘jowar’ or ‘bajra’ (millets, or what the agricultural establishment demeaningly calls coarse grains).

Making the haystacks is a communal activity, inspiring for the ease with which the work gets done, and inspiring for the artistry that surrounds their fieldcraft. There are two men who stand atop a partially-formed haystack, and when they are up there you can judge the size of the pile and appreciate better how much ‘residue’ it must contain.

Crisp air enlivened with the scents of field and jungle, the sounds of a district that contentedly stewards forest and land

Women and men in the nearby fields arrange and tie the bales of gathered stalks and stems, their children help, their cattle continue to graze alongside, the ever-present companions to the good-natured ruminants, the cattle egrets, wait patiently or circle aloft impatiently, dogs snooze and the elderly offer quiet advice. The men atop the growing stack bark their instructions, from further up the fields, a group of women in bright sweaters but barefoot – tough and hardy – chat and chuckle as they work. This is district India, so alive with community spirit, secure in its fertility, in the stewardship of land and water, of stem and stalk.

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Grains till 2016-17: the IGC speaks

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The International Grains Council (IGC) has prepared a summary of projections for grains and cereals. The IGC Secretariat has said of its work that “the figures represent the Secretariat’s view of the general development of the global grains economy in the period to 2016-17, taking into account a number of broad assumptions”.

These include assumed trends in population growth, prices, developments in agriculture and trade policy, as well as prospects for the global economy. “The latter have become increasingly uncertain over the past year”, the IGC Secretariat has said. The IGC has added the proviso that these estimates and the forecast derived from them are subject to risk, and this analysis assumes that current economic problems do not worsen. Here are the sections:

Total Grains
* World grains production in 2016-17 is projected to reach 1.98bn tons, a 158m. increase (+9%) compared with 2011-12; wheat output is forecast to rise by 30m. (4%) and maize by 94m. (11%).
* Despite heightened economic uncertainty, the analysis assumes any slowdown in global economic growth will be temporary and increasing prosperity will boost grains consumption, particularly for feed and industrial uses. Feed use is expected to rise at a slightly faster pace than in recent years, while increases in industrial use will slow from the very rapid rates in the past decade. Diversifying diets, particularly in favour of livestock products, will slow the rise in direct use of grains for human food. Total grains consumption is projected at 1.98bn. tons in 2016-17 (1.83bn. in 2011-12), including 659m. (630m.) for human food, 846m. (769m.) for feed and 343m. (302m.) for industrial uses.

World grains stocks are forecast to show little change in the medium term and are set to remain relatively tight, especially for maize. At the end of 2016-17, world grain carryover stocks are projected at 354m. tons (compared with 360m. at the end of 2011-12), including 118m. (123m.) of maize, 196m. (202m.) of wheat and 26m. (23m.) of barley.
* World grains trade is projected to increase by about 2% per year, to 273m. tons in 2016-17, with wheat and maize rising to new records. Increasing demand for wheat-based foods will lift wheat import needs in Africa and Asia. Imports of maize for feed will rise, especially in Pacific Asia, with China seen as a more regular buyer.

Wheat
* Increases in world wheat production in the five years ending 2016 are expected to be broadly matched by use, and global stocks are expected to be maintained at close to recent levels.
* Planting decisions will be influenced by likely attractive prices for alternative crops, especially maize and oilseeds. Nevertheless, some rise in global wheat area is anticipated, led by gains in the CIS. After a relatively sharp increase of 1.6% in 2012-13, including a recovery in North America, global areas are projected to expand by around 0.4% annually. Taking into account slightly increased average yields over the period, world wheat production is projected to reach a record 714m. tons in 2016-17, representing an increase of 30m. compared with the estimate for 2011.
* World wheat consumption is projected to grow by 1.1% annually, close to the long-term average, reaching 716m. tons in 2016-17, up by 39m. compared with 2011-12. A continued increase in human food use accounts for half the rise, driven by expanding demand in developing countries. At 0.8% per year, the average annual increase is only slightly slower than the longer-term trend of 1.0%. Increases in world feed use mainly reflect a tight S&D outlook for maize and expectations that the cost of wheat will be more attractive than maize at times. Gains in industrial use are expected to accelerate, particularly for biofuels, although overall amounts will remain small relative to total consumption.
* World wheat carryover stocks are projected to stay relatively ample in the next five years, receding only slightly, to 196m. tons. Those in the eight major exporters are projected to show an initial rise, but then fall back to about the same level as currently.
* World wheat trade to 2016-17 is forecast to increase by around 2% per year, reaching a fresh record of 138m. tons. Increases in milling wheat trade will be sustained by rising demand in developing countries in Asia and Africa, while feed wheat may show some further gains if import costs are competitive with maize.

[The IGC forecast document is available here (pdf)]
[The spreadsheet (xls) with the major grains’ data is available here]

Rice
* Only a modest expansion in the global paddy (rice) area is forecast in the five years to 2016-17, with the average year-on-year increase projected at just 0.3% (compared to an average of 0.7% in the prior five-year period). To some extent, this reflects an expected contraction in China’s sowings, amid a continued shift to diets that are richer in protein. Taking into account slightly reduced average yield gains, global rice production (milled basis) is projected to increase by 23m. tons, to 482m. by 2016-17, an annual average growth rate of 1%.
* Global rice consumption is projected to reach 482m. tons by 2016-17, up by 25m. from 2011-12. At 1.1%, average growth, while broadly in line with the global population trend, will be lower than in previous years. This is due to a forecast contraction in China, as well as more moderate growth in other parts of Asia. Elsewhere, sub-Saharan Africa is expected to be one of the fastest growing regional markets, the result of a rising population and a shift away from traditional, locally-grown cereals.
* The world rice carryover is projected to rise only slightly over the next five years, to 103m. tons. In the five major exporters, stocks are expected to initially increase – centred on inventory accumulation in India and Thailand – before edging slightly lower. Their share of the world total will average around one-third through to 2016-17.
* Global rice trade is projected to expand by nearly 3% annually, to 37.2m. tons by 2017, broadly in line with maize but comfortably exceeding the year-to-year rise in wheat. Growth will be underpinned by larger shipments to Far East Asia, especially the Philippines, and sub-Saharan Africa. The latter sub-region will remain heavily dependent on imports to meet domestic requirements; their share of total consumption is forecast to average 45%.

Maize (Corn)
* The supply and demand for maize (corn) is projected to remain tight, with world inventories projected to drop to historically low levels.
* With firm global demand and generally tight availabilities expected to support world prices, maize plantings are projected to remain high across the forecast period. Increases in area and improvements in yields, especially in the US, Latin America and China, result in large consecutive crops. World maize production is forecast to increase to 949m. tons in 2016-17, some 94m. higher than the estimate for 2011.
* Global maize consumption is projected to rise to 949m. tons in 2016-17, up by 86m. from 2011-12. Growth in use is forecast to decelerate, mainly due to slowing industrial demand. With use for ethanol in the US levelling out, industrial consumption is projected to rise by 2% annually, compared to 12% in the last five years. Despite high prices, rising meat demand in developing countries will lift feed maize consumption by around 2% per year. Population growth, rising per capita incomes and changing dietary preferences are expected to boost meat consumption in parts of Asia, Latin America and Africa.
* World closing stocks are expected to tighten but, with supply and demand seen broadly in balance towards the end of the forecast period, the projected 2016-17 carryover of 118m. tons would only be 5m. below that at the end of 2011-12. US ending stocks are forecast to increase from recent lows, but China’s will decline.

FAO March bulletin, Crop Prospects and Food Situation for 2011

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The FAO has released its Crop Prospects and Food Situation, the first for 2011, in March. The overview is:

  • Wheat production: leading producers, (million tonnes)

    FAO’s first forecast for world wheat production in 2011 stands at 676 million tonnes, 3.4% up from 2010. This level of production would still be below the bumper harvests of 2008 and 2009.

  • International grain prices remained volatile in the first three weeks of March.
  • The cereal import volume in low-income food deficit countries (LIFDCs) as a group is anticipated to decline in 2010-11 due to increased production. However, their import bill is forecast to rise by 20% following higher international prices.
  • In Asia, prospects for the 2011 wheat crop are mostly favourable. In China, the outlook remains uncertain but the easing of the drought situation in the North China Plain is a positive development. In Japan, a powerful earthquake and subsequent tsunami have caused devastation with a potentially significant impact on agriculture and food trade.
  • In North Africa, the current situation in Libyan Arab Jamahiriya has resulted in the displacement of large numbers of people and disruption to the flow of goods and services in this heavily cereal import dependent region. WFP has initiated a regional emergency operation to provide food assistance to the affected people.
  • In Southern Africa, prospects for the main 2011 maize crop are generally favourable and relatively low prices have helped stabilize food security.
  • In Eastern Africa, food insecurity has increased in drought-affected pastoral areas of Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia despite bumper harvests in 2010 and generally low and stable food prices.
  • In Western Africa, post-election violence continues to cause a large population disruption and disturb trade and livelihoods in Côte d’Ivoire and the neighbouring countries.

Countries requiring external assistance for food, 29 of which 21 in Africa

Overall favourable outlook for global 2011 wheat production: At this stage of the season, with the bulk of the coarse grains and paddy crops yet to be planted in the coming months, it is still too early for even a preliminary forecast of global cereal output in 2011. For wheat, however, in the northern hemisphere, which accounts for the bulk of the global production, winter crops are already developing or soon to come out of dormancy, while spring planting is underway in some countries and a preliminary picture of global prospects is already available.

FAO’s first forecast for world wheat production in 2011 stands at 676 million tonnes, representing a growth of 3.4% from 2010. Plantings have increased, or are expected to increase, in many countries in response to strong prices, and yield recoveries are expected in areas that were affected by drought in 2010, the Russian Federation in particular. The global output forecast for 2011 would be still below the bumper harvests in 2008 and 2009.

In Asia, prospects for the 2011 wheat crop, to be harvested from April, are mostly favourable in India and Pakistan, where good harvests are forecast. However, the outlook in China is uncertain because of winter drought in the North China Plain despite recent beneficial precipitation.

Cereal export prices

In the Asia CIS subregion, Kazakhstan is the major producer and the bulk of the crop is yet to be sown this spring. Weather permitting, farmers are expected to maintain the relatively high planting level of the past two years, especially in view of strong prices. Assuming also a recovery in yields after last year’s drought-reduced level, a significant increase in production could be achieved. In North Africa, early prospects for the 2011 wheat crops are generally favourable, except in Tunisia where dry conditions point to a repeat of last year’s drought-reduced crop.

In the southern hemisphere, where the major wheat crops are still to be sown, producers are also expected to increase plantings in response to this year’s favourable price prospects. However, this may not translate to larger crops in Australia or Argentina, where yields are assumed to return to average after bumper levels in 2010.

World cereal production and utilisation

Estimate of world cereal production in 2010 slightly up on December forecast: The estimate for world cereal production in 2010 has been revised upward slightly since previously reported (Crop Prospects and Food Situation, December 2010) to 2,237 million tonnes (including rice in milled terms), just 1.1% below the bumper output in 2009. The decline in cereal production in 2010 was entirely due to lower output in developed countries while in developing countries production rose significantly by almost 5%. The estimate for world wheat production in 2010 now stands at almost 654 million tonnes, 1 million tonnes above FAO’s December forecast but still some 4% less than in 2009.

The latest revision mostly reflects a better than expected outcome of the harvest in Argentina, which more than offset some downward adjustments to estimates in Asia (most notably Kazakhstan) and Europe (mostly the Russian Federation). For coarse grains, the estimate of output in 2010 is now put at 1 117 million tonnes, 7 million tonnes up from the previous forecast and just marginally less than the 2009 level. The upward revision was largely driven by increased estimates for China, India, Ethiopia and Sudan.

The estimate for global rice production in 2010 remains unchanged since December at 466 million tonnes (in milled terms). Improved prospects for Brazil, China mainland and Thailand largely offset a sizeable downward revision for India. At this level, the aggregate output of the 2010 rice seasons, which will close when the northern hemisphere countries complete the harvest of their secondary crops by May-June, would be 2% up from 2009, mostly on account of large gains in Asia, where Bangladesh, China, India and Indonesia, the leading world producers, are all expected to tally larger crops.

Sri Lanka floods: ‘We don’t have a harvest’

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Changing weather brings new pressures in flood-hit Sri Lanka. Photo: Amantha Perera/IRIN

Changing weather brings new pressures in flood-hit Sri Lanka. Photo: Amantha Perera/IRIN

Sri Lanka will lose over one million tons from its upcoming paddy harvest due to recent flooding, officials have told IRIN news. “We expected a yield of around 2.75 million metric tons from the harvest due in March to April,” Kulugammanne Karunathileke, secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, told IRIN. “After the heavy rains we will only get around 1.75 million.”

Karunathileke, the highest ranking official at the ministry, said the country had expected a bumper crop – until flooding, which began in January, left some paddy fields under water for up to 11 days. The worst-hit areas are in the eastern districts of Ampara, Batticaloa, Polonnaruwa, Trincomalee and the north-central district of Anuradhapura. Together they account for over 1.2m tons of the harvest. Of the over 700,000 hectares cultivated this season, more than 200,000 have been destroyed, Karunathileke said.

Early this month, over a million Sri Lankans were affected by some of the worst flooding the country has seen in decades, reported AlertNet. Some regions in the country’s east, such as Batticaloa, received over 300 mm of rain within 24 hours, the highest daily rainfall in almost a century. But experts warn that Sri Lankans had better get used to such extreme weather conditions as the island adjusts to changing global climatic conditions.

“Global weather patterns are changing and we have to be aware of that,” warned Gunavi Samarasinghe, the head of the country’s metrological department. Since June 2009, Sri Lanka has dealt with four large floods that have affected over two million people. Among rural villagers like Heenbanda, living almost 250 km from the capital Colombo in the remote Polonnaruwa District, however, there is hardly any knowledge about global climate change or how best to face it.

“We don’t know how it happened. We don’t know why,” Heenbanda said. “We only know that we don’t have a harvest this time.” The raging floods inundated rice paddy land in Sri Lanka’s four eastern districts of Polonnaruwa, Batticaloa, Trincomalee and Ampara, areas that account for over a fifth of the country’s rice production. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, at least 15.5 percent of the main annual rice harvest, due in March and valued at $120 million, could be lost.

Written by makanaka

February 13, 2011 at 22:09

Wheat crop prospects down globally

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The USDA says that exporter stocks of wheat are now forecast to drop year-to-year by 12 MMT (16%), whereas, just a few months ago, these stocks were forecast to expand modestly. Deteriorating crop prospects in several major exporting countries, particularly Canada, Kazakhstan, and Russia, along with strong global import demand, have contributed to that reversal. Tightening supplies are already causing prices in the United States and the EU to rise.

“However, the drawdown of exporter stocks is expected to partially mitigate the current production shortfall,” says the USDA forecast. “The United States is the exception, with expansion currently forecast in production, exports and ending stocks. As supplies for high protein wheat shrink in other exporting countries, the United States is well positioned to take advantage of any further tightening of supplies and/or stronger global import demand. With planting just getting underway, the Southern Hemisphere producers, Australia and Argentina, are the wildcards in the supply picture since they typically hold relatively little stocks.”

International prices of wheat and maize increased by 19% and 12% in the first two weeks of July reflecting concerns about deterioration of global wheat prospects, particularly in some main exporter countries. By contrast, rice prices continued to decline given abundant supplies. By mid-July export prices of maize are higher than a year ago, said FAO’s July assessment of the world food situation.

“The worst drought in four decades has adversely affected this year’s wheat production in the Russian Federation, the fourth world exporter of wheat. Emergency has been declared in 16 regions and an output reduction of 20-25 percent is forecast. However, due to high carryover of stocks from the previous seasons, exports are expected to remain at about last year’s level. In Kazakhstan, wheat production is anticipated some 20 percent less than the record level of 2009. Exports are expected to decline, which may affect neighbouring wheat deficit countries in Central Asia. By contrast, excessive rains in Ukraine are delaying harvest of wheat and lowering quality of the crop. Elsewhere, wheat production is forecast to decline by 20 percent in Canada but prospects are satisfactory in Europe, the largest producing region, and very good in the United States. Overall, the global wheat production is anticipated lower than earlier forecast but supply should remain adequate in the 2010/11 marketing year reflecting large stocks.”

Delayed monsoon rains rise concern for main 2010 rice crop in parts of South-east Asia. Serious damage to paddy seedlings is reported in Lao People’s Democratic Republic. Late main season rains are delaying sowing in Viet Nam and some parts in Thailand. More precipitation is needed soon to avoid plantings reduction. By contrast, favourable monsoon rains in India and Bangladesh benefited the wet season paddy crops currently being planted. Rice and wheat crops from the 2010 winter season, already harvested, were good in most countries despite rainfall deficits during the growing period.

Written by makanaka

August 3, 2010 at 20:12

India’s new agricultures, clean and local

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The new issue of Infochange India’s journal, Agenda, is about India’s new agricultures. I’m delighted to have edited and compiled this volume, the contributions to which you can read on the Infochange India website. It is in my view a nicely balanced volume, with insight and knowledge from practitioners and academics, government officials and activists. Here are the contents:

Infochange Agenda journal on New Agriculture, coverTowards a new agriculture – With roughly 45,000 certified organic farms operating in India, there is finally a rejection of resource-extractive industrial agriculture and a return to traditional, sustainable and ecologically safe farming. All over India rural revivalists are rejecting the corporatised, programmatic, high-input model of agriculture and following agro-ecological approaches in which shared, distributed knowledge systems provide ways to adapt to changing climate and a shrinking natural resource base. Rahul Goswami explains.

An evolutionary view of Indian agriculture – Farmers work with knowledge systems that evolve with time and circumstance. They learn and unlearn, choosing the appropriate knowledge in their struggle to earn a livelihood. While scientists rely on averages, the knowledge of local people is dynamic and up-to-date, continually revised as conditions alter, writes A Thimmaiah. The integration of scientific knowledge systems with indigenous knowledge systems is vital to make agriculture sustainable.

Tamil Nadu’s organic revolution – With chemical farming becoming uneconomical and grain yields declining, more and more farmers are switching to organic agriculture, says natural scientist G Nammalvar in this interview with Claude Alvares. Nammalvar has been training organic farmers and setting up learning centres in Tamil Nadu for three decades. Trainings sometimes need to be held in marriage halls in order to accommodate up to 1,000 farmers.

Return to the good earth in Sangli – Jayant Barve used to market chemical fertilisers and pesticides and practise chemical agriculture himself. In 1988, he switched to sustainable agriculture, and has never looked back since. In this interview he emphasises that despite much lower input costs, organic farming does give the same yield as chemical agriculture, sometimes even more. An interview by Claude Alvares.

Gulmohur trees in bloom, May in Maharashtra

Gulmohur trees in bloom, May in Maharashtra

The new natural economics of agriculture – Farmer Subhash Sharma watched the decline of his soil and agricultural yields before he let nature be his teacher and understood the agro-economics of agriculture. He abandoned insecticides and chemical fertilisers and relied instead on the cow, trees, birds and vegetation.

Climate change and food security – Rice production in India could decrease by almost a tonne/hectare if the temperature goes up 2 C, while each 1 C rise in mean temperature could cause wheat yield losses of 7 million tonnes per year. A recent national conference on food security and agriculture deliberated strategies to protect agriculture, food and nutrition security in the time of climate change. Suman Sahai reports.

Local solutions to climate change – In developing countries, 11% of arable land could be affected by climate change. Indeed, farmers are already facing the impact of climate change. The need of the hour, say Sreenath Dixit and B Venkateswarlu, is not to wait for global agreements on mitigating climate change but to act locally, intelligently and consistently, as is being done with water harvesting solutions for rainfed agriculture in Andhra Pradesh.

Tackling climate change in Gorakhpur – The people of Gorakhpur district, UP, have come to expect heavy rains followed by long dry spells as a consequence of climate change. But they are no longer allowing climate change to affect their crops. At shared learning dialogues, they are learning about the benefits of multi-cropping, alternative farming, soil management and seed autonomy. Surekha Sule reports.

In the state of Goa, western India, new residential blocks loom over shrinking fields.

In the state of Goa, western India, new residential blocks loom over shrinking fields. The produce from such fields once fed the capital city of Panaji, which now imports food 130 kilometres from the neighbouring state of Karnataka

Agriculture at nature’s mercy – In recent decades, market forces have prompted farmers in the Sunderbans to choose modern, high-yielding varieties of paddy, oblivious to their sensitivity to salt. Cyclone Aila, which caused a huge inundation of salt in the fields, proved that this was a costly mistake: every farmer who sowed the modern seed ended up with no produce, while those who planted traditional salt-tolerant varieties managed to harvest a little rice. Sukanta Das Gupta reports.

Resilience of man and nature – Cyclone Aila seemed to have broken the back of agriculture in the Sunderbans. Most observers, including Santadas Ghosh, felt it would be years before agricultural activity got back to normal. But just three months after the cyclone, salinity notwithstanding, seeds were sprouting and the freshwater ecology stirring with life.

Animal farms – The Green Revolution impacted livestock-rearing as well as agriculture. Farmers were encouraged to shift from low-input backyard systems to corporatised capital-intensive systems. As a result, write Nitya S Ghotge and Sagari R Ramdas, there was an artificial divide between livestock-rearing and agriculture, leading to the further crumbling of fragile livelihoods of small and landless farmers. Organisations such as Anthra are now working with communities to revitalise and re-integrate livestock and agriculture.

Women farmers: From seed to kitchen – Women contribute 50-60% of labour in farm production in India. There is evidence to suggest, writes Kavya Dashora, that if agriculture were focused on women, outputs could increase by as much as 10-20%, the ecological balance could be restored, and food security of communities improved.

Local grain in Mapusa market, North Goa

Local grain in Mapusa market, North Goa

Empty claims of financial inclusion – Government has been broadcasting its success in doubling institutional credit to the agricultural sector. But these numbers have little meaning: 85% of accounts opened were inoperative, 72% had zero or minimum balance, and only 15% had a balance over Rs 100. It is paradoxical, writes P S M Rao, to talk about ‘inclusive growth’ when our policies and practices tread the path of exclusion.

Natural farming, tribal farming – In major parts of India, agriculture is in crisis, with very low returns and large-scale destruction of cropped lands. Conservation agriculture can help small and middle farmers escape the downward spiral that impoverishes them even as it destroys the soil and ecosystem, writes Vidhya Das. Tribal farmers in particular have an intuitive understanding of natural farming techniques, Agragamee discovered during its nascent initiatives in organic conservation agriculture with tribal farmers in Orissa.

The home gardens of Wayanad – Wayanad, which has been in the news for the high number of farmer suicides, is also known for widespread homestead farming. A typical home garden integrates trees with field crops, livestock, poultry and fish. Home gardens form a dominant and promising land use system and maintain high levels of productivity, stability and sustainability, say A V Santhoshkumar and Kaoru Ichikawa.

Small farmer zindabad – More than 80% of India’s farmers are small and marginal farmers. It has been empirically established that small farms produce more per hectare than their larger counterparts. It is therefore imperative to protect the interests of small farmers through measures that help promote and stabilise incomes, reduce risks, and increase profitability, and at the same time improve availability and access to inputs, markets and credit. Extract from the report of the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector (NCEUS), ‘The Challenge of Employment in India: An Informal Economy Perspective’ (2009).

The tired mirage of top-down technology – India’s large and complex public agricultural research and extension system, obsessed with the area-production-yield mantra, is geared towards harnessing technology to close the yield gap, while overlooking ago-ecological approaches entirely. This has been an error of staggering proportions, says Rahul Goswami.

The gap between field and lab – In India, publicly-funded research shapes the choices available to farmers, food workers and consumers. But farmers and consumers are only at the receiving end of agricultural research, never involved in it, says Anitha Pailoor. Raitateerpu, a farmers’ jury in Karnataka, wants to ensure that citizens are involved in decisions around science, technology and policymaking.

Kudrat, Karishma and other living seeds – Prakash Raghuvanshi has developed dozens of high-yielding, disease-resistant, open pollinated seeds, distributing them to 2 million farmers in 14 states. He also trains farmers in the basics of selection and plant breeding at his small farm near Varanasi. His aim is clear: to conserve and protect desi (indigenous) seed varieties, thereby freeing the farmer from the stranglehold of foreign seed companies and the cycle of debt and dependence. Anjali Pathak reports.

The advance guard of climate change

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Winter sky over the Deccan plateau, India

Winter sky over the Deccan plateau, India

From late 2003 to early 2005 I was part of a small group in south Nagaland (in India’s north-east region) conducting a study on natural resource management and the prospects for tourism in the region. The study was funded by a Indian central government ministry, was ‘supervised’ by the state government and was made possible by the village community of Khonoma, in the Naga hills.

At around the mid-point of our study, when the time had come for the paddy seedlings to be transplanted, that the convergence of climate change and scarce labour resources became obvious. The seedlings were not ready to be moved at the time of year they were usually expected to be. By the time they were, the extra labour each rice farming family had mobilised in preparation for the hard work ahead, had their regular jobs and occupations to return to. The hill villages were in turmoil. Practically every single family that had a plot of terraced rice field to attend to was caught in a dilemma.

If they insisted that those who had come to the villages to help them – daughters, sons, cousins or aunts – stay back to complete the work, those helpful souls would certainly lose salaries and wages. If they let them return, they would have to look for very scarce hired labour, whose per day wage was high and which would certainly rise given the scarcity of hands available and time. It was for most families a Hobson’s choice, and by either reckoning only made the socio-economic cost of rice cultivation dearer. This was the most dramatic impact of climate change that I saw at the time, for the shift in transplanting season was considered very odd indeed by the villages, almost unprecedented.

Extracting riverbed sand in North Goa, India

Extracting riverbed sand in North Goa, India

We know now that local observations of direct effects of climate change by tribal populations and indigenous peoples corroborate scientific predictions. In a very real sense, indigenous peoples are the advance guard of climate change. They observe and experience climate and environmental changes first-hand, and are already using their traditional knowledge and survival skills – the heart of their cultural resilience – to respond. Moreover, they are doing this at a time when their cultures and livelihoods are already undergoing significant stresses not only due to the environmental changes from climate change, but from the localised pressures and economic impulses of global trade and movement of capital.

The United Nations University’s Institute of Advanced Study has just released an advance copy of what promises to be a goldmine of such observation. The volume is entitled ‘Advance Guard: Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation, Mitigation and Indigenous Peoples – A Compendium of Case Studies’. The 402 case studies summarised in this densely packed volume mention a host of specific vulnerabilities and early effects of climate change being reported by indigenous peoples (and these include cultural and spiritual impacts): demographic changes, including displacement from their traditional lands and territories; economic impacts and loss of livelihoods; land and natural resource degradation; impacts on food security and food sovereignty; health issues; water shortages; and loss of traditional knowledge.

: Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation, Mitigation and Indigenous Peoples

The cover graphic of the UNU-IAS compilation 'Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation, Mitigation and Indigenous Peoples'

Impacts are felt across all sectors, including agriculture and food security; biodiversity and natural ecosystems; animal husbandry (particularly pastoralist lifestyles); housing, infrastructure and human settlements; forests; transport; energy consumption and production; and human rights. The entire range of effects on habitats and their biomes are supplied: temperature and precipitation changes; coastal erosion; permafrost degradation; changes in wildlife, pest and vector-borne disease distribution; sea-level rise; increasing soil erosion, avalanches and landslides; more frequent extreme weather events, such as intense storms; changing weather patterns, including increasing aridity and drought, fire and flood patterns; and increased melting of sea-ice and ice-capped mountains.

“In spite of these impacts,” states the UNU-IAS compilation, “indigenous peoples also have a variety of successful adaptive and mitigation strategies to share. The majority of these are based in some way on their traditional ecological knowledge, whether they involve modifying existing practices or restructuring their relationships with the environment. Their strategies include application and modification of traditional knowledge; shifting resource bases; altering land use and settlement patterns; blending of traditional knowledge and modern technologies; fire management practices; changes in hunting and gathering periods and crop diversification; management of ecosystem services; awareness raising and education, including use of multimedia and social networks; and policy, planning and strategy development.”

From Asia, I’ve picked out three cases which illustrate just how important it is to observe and learn from these responses:

BANGLADESH | Indigenous forecasting in Maheshkhali, using meteorological indicators and animal behaviour to predict cyclones. Maheshkhali Island is situated off the Bay of Bengal coast with an area of approximately 60 square km. Cyclones are the greatest disaster threat of coastal people. Research has revealed that certain indigenous prediction capacity possessed by the local people always helped them to anticipate cyclones and take necessary precautions. The indigenous cyclone prediction is even more important as it was revealed during interviews with the Maheskhali islanders that they do not understand the modern warning system with its different numerical codes (1-10) and elaboration on wind direction, as explained in the warning bulletins.

Buffalo at work, Kolhapur district, Maharashtra, India

Buffalo at work, Kolhapur district, Maharashtra, India

INDIA | Indigenous forecasting in India using meteorological indicators, plant features and animal behaviour. Researchers from Gujarat Agricultural University have evaluated eight indigenous forecasting beliefs between 1990 to 1998. For each year, the data was tabulated and analysed on the basis of Bhadli’s criteria. Based on the findings the researchers concluded that many of the beliefs are reliable indicators of monsoon. The study has helped to restore the people’s confidence in their own traditional knowledge and skills. As climate change occurs, these traditional forecasting indicators may change. Locals have to continue their observations and adjust their predictions accordingly to ensure that correct coping mechanisms will be applied.

INDONESIA | Customary Iban Community. This study examines the social and institutional practices of a sedentary Iban sub-tribe in the upstream part of the Kapuas system in governing their life. In 2008, the Sungai Utik community acquired a formal, recognition of their institutional capacity to live at the center of one of the most complex ecosystems that is the tropical rainforest of Kalimantan. The Indonesian Eco-label Institute provided the community logging practice of the Sungai Utik Ibans its “seal of ecological appropriateness”. The Sungai Utik life-space is part of the bigger climatic zone just north of the Equator that has been predicted to experience higher precipitation over the course of climate change in this century, particularly in comparison with the last three decades of the last century. It means that the community should learn to adapt to a transformed rainy season—the duration of which and the timing of its start and ending are also subject to change—for the crucial nugal (planting) rituals.

How many onions in this mandi?

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Wordcloud credit: www.wordle.net

Wordcloud created at wordle.net from names of major crops and states

Who finds and collects the numbers – the enormous diverse sets of numbers – that help describe India’s agriculture? How these are found and used is an absorbing story. In their most encapsulated form, they are given to us as micro-tables by the Ministry of Agriculture in weekly briefings in New Delhi. Depending on the time of the year, these ar titled “rabi sowing progressing well” or “kharif sowing progressing well” (that didn’t happen in 2009, with the failed monsoon, but these habits are hard to break).

Our agri-bureaucracy is large and deep. It’s big enough to rival other countries’ entire administrations. Who in all that byzantine maze is responsible for keeping track of the dozens of foodgrain crops, dozens of commercial crops, the land use in 35 states and union territories, the vast network of departments, research institutes, agricultural extension offices, state agricultural universities, livestock, fisheries, boards and finally the tens of thousands of farmers’ cooperatives?

Here’s a short attempt at describing this universe. The Ministry of Agriculture consists of three departments: Department of Agriculture and Cooperation; Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries; and Department of Agricultural Research and Education. Each department has its own statistical organisation and system, and I have my doubts about whether they exchange data and methods on subjects that matter.

There’s an Agriculture Census Division which is responsible for organising the quinquennial agricultural census and input surveys in the country in collaboration with the State Agricultural Census units. There are two main statistical activities of the Division: the Agriculture Census and the Input Survey. The Agriculture Census collects quantitative information about the structure of agriculture in India. So far, seven Agriculture Censuses from 1970-71 and six Input Surveys since 1976-77 have been completed.

Ploughing a field in Satara district, Maharashtra

Ploughing a field in Satara district, Maharashtra

The Directorate of Economics and Statistics (DES) is responsible for “collection, collation, dissemination and publication of statistical data on diverse facets of agriculture and allied sectors, required for planning and policy formulation by the Government”. The Agricultural Statistics Division maintains state-wise estimates of area, production and yield of 44 principal crops (27 major and 17 minor) under the two broad seasons of kharif and rabi. The estimates are updated annually in February or March after the release of final estimates of area, production and yield of the preceding agricultural year. This Division also estimates and measures demand and supply projections of foodgrains, oilseeds and other commercial crops. Agricultural wages constitute a major item towards cost of production. Data on agricultural wages in 17 states is collected by DES every month, the wage data relate to the agricultural year (July to June).

Then there is a ‘Timely Reporting Scheme’ which assesses the area sown under principal crops on the basis of what it calls “complete enumeration of 20% villages selected randomly”, which in country with 600,000 villages is a lot. This scheme is put to work in 16 land record states – Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh – and 2 Union Territories – Delhi and Puducherry.

The Cost Study Division implements the “Comprehensive Scheme for Studying the Cost of Cultivation of Principal Crops in India”. This division compiles cost data on principal agricultural crops grown in India: barley, gram, jute, lentils, peas, rapeseed and mustard, safflower, sugarcane, wheat, arhar (tur), bajra, coconut, cotton, groundnut, jowar, maize, moong, nigerseed, onion, paddy, potato, ragi, sesamum, soyabean, sunflower, tapioca, urad and tobacco. This division supplies cost estimates to the all-important Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) which then makes “suitable recommendations” on the Minimum Support Prices of 24 agricultural commodities, which it is then the responsibility of the state governments to ensure that each state’s farmers are paid (at least) those prices for the major crops they bring to the procurement yards.

Finally, there’s the Prices and Markets Division, which collects data on wholesale prices, retail prices, farm harvest prices and market arrivals of selected agricultural commodities from all over India. The bulk of the daily and weekly commercial data is gathered by this division and the scale and scope is staggering: weekly wholesale prices of 154 agricultural commodities are collected from around 600 selected markets and centres; weekly retail prices of 45 food items and monthly retail prices of 43 non-food items from 87 selected markets and centres covering 32 states and union territories. The prices are collected every Friday. It also collects annual farm harvest prices for 26 principal crops from all major states and union territories.

That, in a nutshell, is the story of the numbers that (we hope) help describe India’s agriculture.