Monthly Archive January 31, 2014

Mountain Farming is Family Farming: FAO report

The FAO has recently launched a publication highlighting the challenges faced by mountain family farmers. The publication provides case studies from around the world showing how mountain regions and family farmers are affected by population growth, the spread of urban lifestyles and the migration of men and youth to urban areas.  It also looks at the opportunities of improving livelihoods through creating, labeling, and selling quality mountain products derived from organic production.

The legal battle over field trials of GM crops

Shashi Kumar, Raj K. Bhatnagar, Keshab R. Kranthi, Swapan K. Datta

doi:10.1038/nindia.2014.14 Published online 31 January 2014

India is facing a deadlock over the approval of field trials of new genetically modified (GM) crops. The impasse stems from the delay in decision over the matter by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) under India’s Ministry of Forests and Environment (MoEF).
In 2005, anti-GMO activists filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court of India seeking moratorium on the release of any genetically modified organisms (GMOs) into the environment pending comprehensive, transparent and rigorous bio-safety test protocols. The move, pro-biotech scientists feel, has put on hold opportunities to improve agricultural production through genetic engineering approaches initiated by the Indian government to feed its booming population. As a result, some important GM crops such as Bt-Brinjal, barstar-barnase, hybrid mustard and golden rice are awaiting clearance for field trials.

The history

Bt cotton is the only GM crop allowed for commercial production in India. The fate of other new GM crops is pending in the Supreme Court following a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) on environmental release of such crops.
The Apex Court set up a Technical Expert Committee (TEC) of five scientists from the fields of molecular biology, toxicology, nutrition science, biodiversity and agriculture science to review GMO related concerns. Later, a sixth member — R. S. Paroda, former Director General of Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) — was also inducted in the TEC, when agriculture scientists pleaded that their views also be represented. The TEC submitted an interim report to the Supreme Court in October 2012 recommending an indefinite moratorium for the next 10 years on field trials of GM crops and complete ban on the commercial release of GM crops. However, Paroda was not part of this report.
The TEC submitted a final report in July 2013 with Paroda alleging that it was submitted without his consent and was “neither transparent nor objective” in terms of guidelines. Pardoa on his own submitted a confidential report to the Supreme Court recommending that field trials of GM crops be continued. His confidential report was made public on the directive of Supreme Court. The next hearing of the newly appointed TEC is scheduled in the Supreme Court on April 15, 2014.
A decade ago, cotton was a failure crop due to heavy insect-pest infestation that forced many farmers to commit suicide1.. In 2002, Bt-cotton was introduced in the Gujarat province without the approval of government agencies2. Soon it was popular among farmers due to greater benefits like 24% reduction in chemical pesticide applications, and increased crop yield about 31%3. According to Cotton Corporation of India Ltd, nearly 90% of the cotton cultivation area is under BT Cotton, making India the second largest cotton producer in the world. There were reports that because of Bt cotton, pesticide applications reduced to 50%, and several million cases of acute pesticide poisoning among cotton growers have also reduced drastically4.
About 75% of pesticides used in India are insecticides, which create serious risks to human beings, animals and environment due to inadequate regulatory control involving sales and distribution of highly toxic pesticides. Recently 18 organophosphate pesticides were documented in common vegetables collected from markets with the maximum pesticide concentration noticed in brinjal5. However, the field trial of Bt-brinjal, genetically engineered to reduce the pesticide consumption by controlling the major infestation due to fruit and shoot borer larvae, has been put on hold.
India is the largest importer of edible oil in the world — around 50% of its domestic consumption is imported6. To reduce dependence on oil imports, a genetically modified hybrid mustard DMH-11, producing higher oil-yield, was developed at the Delhi University. The field trials of mustard DMH-11 are awaited since March 2012.
Golden rice was genetically engineered to provide a supplement for pro-vitamin-A that could substantially reduce blindness due to vitamin-A deficiency in India, which has the greatest percentage of Vitamin A deficient (VAD) children in the world7. Field evaluation of transgenic rice with high iron/zinc is yet to see the light of the day. Several indigenous transgenic lines of crops such as cauliflower, cabbage, chickpea, groundnut, maize, okra, pigeonpea, potato, tomato and sorghum with insect resistance/agronomic traits are also waiting to be tested in fields. (More on the who’s who of GM research in India: Table 1)

GM battles and concerns

The legal battle for the field trials of GM crops in India is very similar to the GM herbicide-tolerant sugar beet in the USA8, which was approved in 2005 by USDA for outdoor cultivation but banned in 2010 by a Californian district court due to lawsuits by various NGOs. Later, in June 2012, USDA again deregulated it for commercial production.
The deregulation decision of the USDA has also propelled the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to explore science-based opinion for cultivating the GMHT sugar beet in the European Union9.
The development of αAI transgenic peas was banned in Australia since 2005 when a risk assessment conducted by the CSIRO and Australian National University reported the negative reactions in mice due to transgenic peas. Recently it was reported that αAI transgenic peas are not more allergenic than beans or non-transgenic peas in mice10.
Bt rice may be the first commercially released staple food crop in Asia. In a 3-year field study on Bt rice, it was concluded that artificial wounding in roots did not enhance the release of Cry1Ab/1Ac protein into soil and water. Bt protein does not move into adjacent paddy fields along with irrigation water and does not persist in the soil for more than two months11.
In Canada, about 80% canola oil is produced using the barstar-barnasetransgene hybrids, which have been deregulated in Europe, as they are not found to be harmful to animals and human beings. The University of Delhi also used a similar technology to produce hybrid DMH-11 in Brassica juncea. The DMH-11 outdoor cultivation should not pose any fear of outcrossing as its wild relatives are not present in India. Golden Rice can be boiled, steamed or even fried in many different ways, only about 10% loss of pro-vitamin-A was observed during the cooking of GM rice12. Rice is a self-pollinating crop and should not pose any outcross threat to other crops. Thus, cultivation of golden rice may be useful for India with the highest number of vitamin A deficient children in the world.

Implications on food security

Recently, India passed the ‘Food Security Bill’ to ensure that no one sleeps hungry. The bill to make ‘food’ a legal right may cost about 1.3 trillion rupees ($23.9bn) per year. This gigantic challenge can’t be achieved without improving our existing crops that provide lesser yields due to damage caused by insect-pests and diseases.
According to the latest report of UN’s food and agriculture body FAO, India lags behind in the world average yield of crops. In addition, agriculture sector is facing the problem of climate change, shrinking cultivation land, water resources and deterioration of soil quality. Therefore, to fulfill the outgrowing population, government is encouraging plant biotechnologists to generate better crops with pest resistance, enhanced nutrition and higher yields.
The government recently introduced a new BRAI Bill 2013 in Parliament that will allow Indian scientists to conduct GM research without any interference. However, this Bill is pending with the Parliamentary Standing Committee.
Several Indian and international companies like Monsanto Holdings Private Ltd, Bayer Bioscience Pvt Ltd, Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Co Ltd (Mayhco), Syngenta Biosciences Pvt Ltd, BASF and public funded institutions such as the Central Institute of Cotton Research, Nagpur, Directorate of Oilseed Research, Hyderabad and Directorate of Rice Research Hyderabad are waiting to conduct field trials for event selection of certain GM varieties of cotton, maize, rice, wheat and castor.
The trials are to be conducted in designated farms of University of Agriculture Sciences in various states. The clearances are put on hold keeping in mind the ongoing case in the Supreme Court challenging the existing regulatory mechanism for GM crops in the country. It is hoped that the logjam on GM crops in India will be over soon as technological change is an ongoing natural process that may be difficult to keep on hold for long if poverty and hunger have to be fought head-on.
[The views expressed in this commentary are that of the authors’. 
Author affiliations: Shashi Kumar & Raj K. Bhatnagar are from the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, New Delhi; Keshab R. Kranthi from Central Institute for Cotton Research, Nagpur, Maharashtra and Swapan K. Datta from Indian Council of Agricultural Research, Division of Crop Science, New Delhi, India.]


  1. Prasad, C. S. Suicide deaths and quality of Indian cotton: Perspectives from history and technology and Khadi movement. Econ. Polit. Weekly 34, 12-21 (1999)
  2. Ramaswami, B. et al. The spread of illegal transgenic cotton varieties in India: biosafety regulation, monopoly and enforcement. World Dev. 40, 177-188 (2012)  | Article
  3. Kathage, J. & Qaim, M. Economic impacts and impact dynamics of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) cotton in India. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 109, 11652-11656 (2012)| Article | PubMed
  4. Kouser, S. & Qaim, M. Impact of BT cotton on pesticide poisoning in smallholder agriculture: A panel data analysis. Ecological Econ. 70, 2105-2113 (2011) | Article
  5. Sinha, S. K. et al. Distribution of pesticides in different commonly used vegetables from Hyderabad, India. Food Res. Int. 45, 161-169 (2012)| Article
  6. Reddy, A. A. & Bantilan, M. C. S. Competitiveness and technical efficiency: Determinants in the groundnut oil sector of India. Food Policy 37, 255-263 (2012)| Article
  7. Chow, J. et al. Cost-Effectiveness of “Golden Mustard” for treating vitamin A deficiency in India. PLoS ONE. 5, e12046 (2010)| Article | PubMed
  8. Waltz, E. GM beets approved-finally. Nat. Biotechnol. 30, 906 (2012)| Article | PubMed
  9. Koen, D. et al. Bred for Europe but grown in America: the case of GM sugar beet. New Biotechnol. 30, 131-135 (2013) | Article
  10. Lee, R-Y. et al. Genetically Modified α-Amylase Inhibitor Peas Are Not Specifically Allergenic in Mice. PLoS ONE 8, e52972 (2013)| Article | PubMed
  11. Wang, Y. et al. Determination of the movement and persistence of Cry1Ab/1Ac protein released from Bt transgenic rice under field and hydroponic conditions. Soil Biol. Biochem. 58, 107-114 (2013)| Article
  12. Datta, K. et al. Bioengineered ‘golden’ indica rice cultivars with ß-carotene metabolism in the endosperm with hygromycin and mannose selection systems. Plant Biotechnol. J. 1, 81-90 (2003) | Article | PubMed

Myths and realities of Gujarat Agriculture: various articles

[img]2013 agril growth [img]2013 agril output

  1. Agriculture_in_a_High_Growth_State_Case_of_Gujarat_1960_to_2006
  2. Agriculture_in_Gujarat gujaratEconomic_Liberalisation_and_Indian_Agriculture_A_Statewise_Analysis
  3. Growth_and_Structural_Change_in_the_Economy_of_Gujarat_19702000
  4. Labour_and_Employment_in_Gujarat
  5. Labour_and_Employment_under_Globalisation_The_Case_of_Gujarat
  6. Modis_Gujarat_and_Its_Little_Illusions
  7. Regional_Sources_of_Growth_Acceleration_in_India
  8. Gujarat’s_agricultural_growth_story_IRAP_2010Secret_of_Gujarats_Agrarian_Miracle_after_2000
  9. Gujarats_Growth_Story
  10. Secret_of_Gujarats_Agrarian_Miracle_after_2000
  11. Sources_of_Economic_Growth_and_Acceleration_in_Gujarat
  12. Temporal_and_Spatial_Variations_in_Agricultural_Growth_and_Its_Determinants

Land location overrides fertility; threat to food security: Study

Farmers engaged in agriculture on fertile land which has locational advantages get lower economic returns from agriculture

Press Trust of India  |  <news:geo_locations>New Delhi 

January 22, 2014 Last Updated at 19:06 IST
With industrialisation, the location of a land overrides thefertility factors which may pose a threat to country’s food security problems, said a study released today.
“Location of a land holding plays a far more pivotal role than the quality or fertility of land, irrespective of whether the land parcel is in a rural or urban area.”
“The farmers engaged in agriculture on fertile land which has locational advantages get lower economic returns from agriculture than if they were to sell that land. However such depletion of fertile land has its implications on the country’s  problem,” the report said.
The report ‘Study on Fair Pricing of Land and its Compensation in an Emerging Economy: Case for India’ done by Germany’s GIZ was released by Vandana Jena, Secretary, Department of Land Resources, Pronab Sen, Chairman, National Statistical Commission and Alok Sheel, Secretary, Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council.
GIZ supports the German government in international cooperation for sustainable development and international education.
According to the study, location and the level of industrialisation are the determinants of pricing gains for a land over successive decades while fertility loses as a determinant factor.
Fertile land is being lost due to industrialisation, there is a strong case for not touching fertile land for acquisition which is also mentioned in the Land Bill, the study said.
The study said that the circle rates are arbitrary that give rise to social conflicts and there is a need for a fair price discovery.
“There is a rampant violation of circle rates…People are generally more aware of the true price of their land in a more developed region. In a backward district, such transactions are pervasively undervalued, raising a potential for future conflicts,” it said.
Proximity to road/highways and railway stations or future development of these facilities affect land prices across India, found the report.
“The distance from municipal centre or nearest city were next factors that drive land prices. In terms of acquisition by industry or government, intended use of land that might give rise to any of these infrastructure developments may be integrated into pricing model for sellers to reflect a fair pricing that reduces conflict and overall costs in short and long run.”
The report said that land sales in any region are mostly guided by economic and market considerations and there is a close correlation of land prices with variables including inflation and size of land being sold or purchased.
The report has suggested an approach which is neither government mandated nor tantamount to an auction but is based on an informed understanding of the price dynamics for land.

India needs to export excess food grains
AK RAMDAS | 15/01/2014 12:00 PM |   

There is an urgent need to encourage corporate bodies to invest in building up the infrastructure facilities for storage and exports of 
In order to support the Food Security Act, the Ministry of Agriculture has estimated that the essential foodgrains in India, to the extent of 53 million tonnes be maintained as a buffer stock. This is based on the assumption that it is safe to have this divided into three categories. A three month buffer stock, at the rate of 5.1 million tonnes (mt), three months reserve and a strategic reserve of 7.5 mt would be sufficient, as a start, as per Tejinder Singh, a well known foodgrain trade analyst.
Also, we must remember that as fresh supplies are coming in, stored materials are also being despatched continuously for daily consumption. The foodgrains in overflowing godowns are stored, in large quantities, outside under plastic sheets, tarpaulins etc, which are subject to heavy climatic damage, besides being vulnerable to pilferage and act as a regular storehouse for rodents! Any excess inventory of even 13 to 15 mt are estimated to be worth Rs32,500 crore to Rs37,500 crore!
According to information available in the media, as of December 2013, the stock level of foodgrains with the Food Corporation of India () stood at 45 mt, some 20 million more than required, based on the estimation of 5.1 mt per month. This figure varies from time to time, based on consumption pattern, arrivals and despatches. We must also bear in mind that most state governments have their own food subsidy schemes, and there is no uniformity on a national scale.
Our foodgrains should be sold, on export basis, at the best possible prices in the overseas market, and our own minimum “floor price” rules have no bearing on the purchaser. Fresh supplies to the godown are simply placed on the top of the heap of the lot already in, which causes irreparable damage at the bottom!
Take the question of wheat stocks in the country and the overseas demand pattern, apart from the aggressive activities of our competitors. At this point of time, cold weather conditions in the US, prime and leading grower and exporter, are indicative of shortfall in their supplies.
Indian wheat stocks, as on 1st December, stood at 31 mt, which is the statutory requirement for buffer stock. Agricultural experts estimate a bumper crop this season, amounting to over 95 mt, as wheat acreage in the current rabi season is estimated to be over 302 lakh hectares, thanks to various state schemes in operation. In Madhya Pradesh, the government had announced a bonus of Rs150 per quintal over the minimum supportprice (MSP) and it appears more farmers increased the wheat acreage! The central government had announced a MSP of Rs1,400 per quintal, an increase of Rs50 over the previous year, to encourage production.
As a sequel to the bulging stocks of wheat, export efforts by government authorities, besides private exporters, are bearing fruit. Fortunately, in line with the international market, the government had to reduce the floor price from $300 per tonne to $260 per tonne to push up exports and to literally get rid of the stocks, and to make way for the new crop to come in. Preferred supplies from Black Sea producers were fetching $305 per tonne, while both US and French supplies were quoted at about $ 300 per tonne. However, with the cold wave, there has been interest in the tenders called for by India,prices above the floor price of $260 per tonne has been obtained, such as $282.62 per tonne from Vitol Group, for shipment from Mundhra port, while Al Ghurair of UAE bid $ 283.60 per tonne for shipment from Chennai. India thus plans to export at least two million tonnes of wheat before the new crop starts arriving in April, with hopes to reach four million this fiscal, as there are several tenders on the anvil.
Other items like corn (maize) have also made headway in exports, with orders booked for 350,000 tonnes at $216 per tonne. Iran has increased its purchase of basmati rice and soya meal with other items like sugar picking up.
Our efforts to push up export of foodgrains is imperative; at the same time, there is an urgent need to encourage corporate bodies to invest in building up the infrastructure facilities for storage, but allocating free land or on long term lease, suitable for this purpose, in every state and more importantly near the ports to facilitate exports. Anything that can be done in these areas to prevent loss of foodgrains due to climatic damage would be most beneficial to the country.
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce. He was also associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US.)

Pesticides ‘making bees smaller’

Bumblebees exposed to a widely-used pesticide produced workers with lower body mass, scientists
Bumblebees could be shrinking because of exposure to a widely-used pesticide, a study suggests.
Bumblebees could be shrinking because of exposure to a widely-used pesticide, a study suggests. Photograph: Nick Ansell/PA
Bumblebees could be shrinking because of exposure to a widely-used pesticide, a study suggests.
Experts fear smaller bees will be less effective at foraging for nectar and carrying out their vital task of distributing pollen.
Scientists in the UK conducted laboratory tests which showed how a pyrethroid pesticide stunted the growth of worker bumblebee larvae, causing them to hatch out reduced in size.
Gemma Baron, one of the researchers from the School of Biological Sciences at Royal Holloway, University of London, said: “We already know that larger bumblebees are more effective at foraging.
“Our result, revealing that this pesticide causes bees to hatch out at a smaller size, is of concern as the size of workers produced in the field is likely to be a key component of colony success, with smaller bees being less efficient at collecting nectar and pollen from flowers.”
Pyrethroid  are commonly used on flowering crops to prevent insect damage.
The study, the first to examine the pesticides’ impact across the entire lifecycle of bumblebees, tracked the growth of bee colonies over a four month period.
Researchers exposed half the bees to a pyrethroid while monitoring the size of the colonies as well as weighing individual insects on micro-scales.
They found that worker bees from colonies affected by the pesticides over a prolonged period grew less and were significantly smaller than unexposed bees.
Findings from the study, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (Nerc), appear in the Journal of Applied Ecology.
Professor Mark Brown, who led the Royal Holloway group, said: “Bumblebees are essential to our food chain so it’s critical we understand how wild bees might be impacted by the chemicals we are putting into the environment.
“We know we have to protect plants from insect damage but we need to find a balance and ensure we are not harming our bees in the process.”
Currently a Europe-wide moratorium on the use of three neonicotinoid pesticides is in force because of their alleged harmful effect on bees.
As a result, the use of other types of pesticide, including pyrethroids, is likely to increase, say the researchers.
Dr Nigel Raine, another member of the Royal Holloway team who will be speaking at this week’s national Bee Health Conference in London, said: “Our work provides a significant step forward in understanding the detrimental impact of pesticides other than neonicotinoids on wild bees.
“Further studies using colonies placed in the field are essential to understand the full impacts, and conducting such studies needs to be a priority for scientists and governments.”
The scientists sprayed the pesticide on the bees’ pollen feed at the concentration recommended for oilseed rape.
Colony growth and reproductive output were monitored for up to 14 weeks.

The Trials of Genetically Modified Food: BT EGGPLANT AND AYURVEDIC MEDICINE IN INDIA

Chithprabha Kudlu
Washington University
Glenn Davis Stone
Washington University
Although planting of genetically modified (GM) crops has topped 148 million ha.
worldwide, direct consumption of GM foods remains extremely rare. The obstacles to GM
foods are highly varied and they can provide windows into important cultural dynamics.
India’s heated controversy over its would-be first GM food— (eggplant)—is
driven not only by common concerns over testing and corporate control of food, but by
its clash with the Ayurvedic medical establishment. GM brinjal may outcross with wild
relatives commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine, and claims that outcrossing would not
affect medical efficacy miss the point. Ayurveda emphasizes polyherbal treatments and
has developed an epistemology oriented towards complex combinations of compounds.
As such it does not recognize the authority of specific studies of transgene effects. The
conflict is not with genetic modification per se, but with the reductionism that is central
to the biotechnology approvals process. This opposition has played a significant role in
the government moratorium on the plant.
Keywords: biotechnology, genetically modified food, Ayurveda, India, regulation

Leaving farmers to reap the bitter harvest

Devinder Sharma
January 19, 2014
A day after Parliament approved foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail in December 2012, a newspaper report highlighted how a big retail company was exploiting both the farmers as well as the consumers: the wholesale cash-n-carry Bharti-Walmart enterprise, the report said, was buying baby corn from contract growers in Punjab at Rs. 8 per kg, selling it in wholesale at Rs. 100/kg and finally the consumers were paying Rs. 200/kg. In other words, farmers were getting only 4% of the end price consumers paid.
So to say that private enterprise will save Indian agriculture is all bunkum. Take the case of paddy in Bihar, the only state to have repealed the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act way back in 2006, thereby allowing farmers the freedom to sell their produce to whomsoever they like. Against the procurement price of `1,310 per quintal of paddy that Punjab farmers got this year, Bihar farmers have managed to sell paddy at something around `800-900 per quintal. This is nothing but a distress price/sale, a classic example of the ruthless exploitation by private traders.
Ironically, the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP), which is supposed to ensure remunerative prices to farmers, lists Bihar as the top ‘market-friendly’ state as far as agriculture is concerned. Punjab, which has a network of mandis and provides an assured price to farmers, is at the bottom of the chart. At a time when being market-friendly is the new mantra, the CACP is asking Punjab to disband the APMC Act and allow markets to operate freely. In other words, it wants Punjab farmers to go the Bihar way.
So when Rahul Gandhi asked the Congress chief ministers to exempt fruits and vegetables, which have contributed much to raging food inflation, from the APMC Act by January 15, I thought he had gone by what FICCI/CII have been campaigning for. What probably he has never been told is that only about 30% of India’s farmers get the benefit of procurement prices. The rest 70% are in any case dependent on the markets. If the markets were so helpful to these 70% farmers, I am sure by now the farmers in Punjab and Haryana would have demanded the repeal of the APMC Act.
But that hasn’t happened. The APMC Act, despite all its flaws, provides an assured price and market to farmers. It is primarily for this reason that Punjab farmers are refusing to diversify from wheat and rice cultivation in the absence of an assured price mechanism for other crops. This year, Madhya Pradesh is expected to take over Punjab in wheat production. It will manage to achieve this only because farmers have been given a bonus above the procurement price and thankfully have not been left to the mercies of unscrupulous private traders.
I am amused when some economists blame the APMC for the monopolistic market structure that restricts the entry of free trade and competition, thereby denying farmers an economic price for their produce. This is a wrong assumption. Under the APMC Act, farmers bring produce to the designated mandis where private traders are first allowed to make purchases. It’s only when there are no buyers left that the Food Corporation of India (FCI) or the State procurement agencies step in to lift whatever is available at the minimum support price.
This is what irks the private trade. It doesn’t want to pay the minimum support price to farmers. For example, if it can get paddy at `800-900 per quintal in Bihar, why should it shell out `1,310 per quintal in Punjab?
To say that our present market structure does not permit the entry of new players who want to invest in other infrastructure is wrong. In seven years after repealing the APMC Act, Bihar has seen no revolution in agricultural marketing. Farmers have been left in the lurch and the private trade has not made any investments. The clamour to do away with the APMC Act is primarily to pave the way for setting up terminal markets for the big agribusiness companies as well as for multi-brand retail.
Devinder Sharma is a food policy analyst.
The views expressed by the author are personal
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