Price of deforestation
The threats posed by deforestation are often broadly understood as habitat loss, species loss and environmental instability. The feature highlighting the possible economic losses through a monetary appraisal of forests was intriguing ('Too cut & dried', Down To Earth, July 31, 2005).
Economic valuation can indeed play an important role in ensuring an appropriate focus for conservation efforts by contributing to policy and management decisions. However, an important asset ignored in the estimates was pgrfa (Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture). Apart from the trees themselves, deforestation also imperils other plant species of actual or potential value. The importance of such plant genetic resources lies in being a reservoir of genes for biotic and abiotic stress resistance, and thus in their role in breeding better varieties.
Apropos of multinational Nestle's apology to the Chinese public for the presence of excess iodine in its powdered milk and recall of all unqualified milk powder already sold ('Nestle confesses', Down To Earth, July 15, 2005), it is really appreciable that the Chinese administration is so alert in respect of checks on quality of consumables, which directly affect human health.
Had such a situation arisen in India, we are sure nobody would have bothered. First, the quality of the product may have gone unnoticed and second, officials would have rejected the plea of harmful level of iodine on the grounds that any excess intake of iodine is excreted through urine.
V B Singh & T M Dak
The editorial 'Pipe dreams' (Down To Earth, July 15, 2005) is thought provoking. It is clear the politicians do not see the logic in the data you have provided to show wasteful use of water in cities.
India receives more rainfall than the us, Australia, and many other developed countries. These countries provide 24-hour uninterrupted water supply to their citizens, while we cannot even provide drinking water to our people.
Agricultural sector is among the biggest water user but no one questions the terrible waste of water in this sector with its poor land and water management practices. At a time when the big agricultural economies, such as Brazil, are pouring enormous amount of funds into better water management in the agricultural sector, I do not believe India has any blueprint for improved water management in this sector. We form committees but produce very little in terms of solutions to problems.
M V K Sivakumar
The article 'Wisdom roots' (Down To Earth, May 31, 2005) was a very interesting piece on traditional healers in Rajasthan. As regards the interview with David Frawley, director of the American Institute of Vedic Studies, Down To Earth may consider going deeper into the problems of indigenous/alternative systems of medicine in India.
While the world over (Europe and the us in particular) people are resorting to Ayurveda and indigenous medicines, India gives stepmotherly treatment to alternative medicine even though it recognises Ayurveda, Homeopathy, Naturopathy, Unani and Siddha.
How many alternative medicine training institutes and hospitals has the government established as compared to those devoted to allopathy? We have practitioners of Homeopathy/Ayurveda coming to treat Parliamentarians (see MP Parliament directory "services" section) at government expense but fail to provide such treatment through government hospitals to the common people. Shouldn't we learn from China, which has always kept alive and proudly promoted its acupuncture treatment?
Frawley's statement that Ayurveda has no lobby is true for all indigenous/ alternative systems of medicine more in India than in the us. Non-governmental organisations should campaign for indigenous systems of medicine which are cheaper and safer than allopathy.
Ronald L Rebello
Anti-palm oil lobby
The factsheet, 'Palmed off' (Down To Earth, July 31, 2005), is based on misinformation designed to push down the commercial sales of palm oil, especially in the us and Europe. This appears to be part of lobbying to defeat the spread and popularity of Malaysian and Indonesian palm oil. The us and Latin American countries may face a glut for their own soybean oil if palm oil becomes more popular.
The article states that palm oil has several ill-effects and should be discouraged. In fact, palm oil is rich in nutrients like b-carotene (precursor to vitamin A), tocopherols and tocotrienols (associated with vitamin E activity). These nutrients are not found in other oils like soybean oil and sunflower oil. Moreover, the price of palm oil is one-third that of soybean oil.
Oil Technological Research Institute
Anantpur, Andhra Pradesh
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The callous manner in which solid wastes are disposed in several cities deserves to be taken note of and acted upon by the state governments.
Recently, residents of a village near Bangalore set a garbage truck afire to protest against the city's waste being dumped there. Another case was a rasta roko agitation by villagers near Coimbatore, spearheaded by the local MLA and MP, in protest against city's solid waste being dumped in their vicinity. Open landfill of solid waste enables toxic materials to leach into the soil and contaminate the groundwater. The disposal site also becomes a breeding source for mosquitoes and rodents.
Also, it is time the civic bodies of urban centres instituted suitable measures to separate plastics and non-organic wastes from organic wastes prior to their collection.
N K SURYANARAYANAN
Need for new forest policy
The editorial, 'Can we use our forests well?' (Down To Earth, July 31, 2005), was timely. It raised issues like who pays for protection and fallacies in forest management, only days after the release of the State of Forest Report (sfr) 2003.
Over all, there is a loss of dense forests (crown density (or cd) 40 & above) while area under open forests (cd 10-40) has increased. This implies degradation of 'good' forests and loss of productivity. But those in authority, with few exceptions, chose to conceal the results of further analysis of sfr from their political masters and the people.
Among states with rising costs of forest conservation can now be included Himachal Pradesh, which annually spends almost Rs 250 crore on this sector but earns just Rs 50 crore. When this state asked for compensation from the Central Finance Commission for conserving its forests, particularly for the good of downstream riparian states, its demand was turned down. It is surprising that while India demands all kinds of compensation from the developed world (issues like polluter pays), it fails to observe the same set of norms at home!
The main reason why forest productivity is not increasing is that the National Forest Policy 1988 appears to be outdated. The demand for forest goods and services is on the rise but poor forest-dependent dwellers are unable to benefit.
Allotting forestland for plantations to individuals/families is fraught with danger of squatting. But poor, forest-dependent communities can be allowed to raise plantations coupled with buy back arrangements by private sector players, who will bring much needed information on market demands and trends. If this recommendation is to succeed, the ban on tree felling and on collection of herbs from such plantations has to go. Such employment could also check unwanted growth in urban population.
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