Published: Thursday 15 February 2007

Organic debate

The article was disappointing and incredulous. The reporter has made the Uttaranchal Organic Commodity Board and R S Tolia, former chief secretary of Uttaranchal, look uncaring to the point of criminality. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

The hotchpotch of quotes attributed to people in the report does not appear authentic and the reporter's lack of basic understanding of organic systems disqualifies him from reporting usefully on the subject. Quoting a chemical agronomist as an authority on how much cowdung is needed per hectare made the whole report a laughing stock.

David Hogg


The article is fabricated and I have been misquoted even though the reporter never spoke to me. All farmers who were supposedly interviewed in Papnaikothar in Ranikhet district are shocked at the conclusions drawn out of their casual talks. I would like to know the source of information for the claim that the village had paid money to 11 international organic consultants.

The organic initiatives in Uttaranchal cannot be commented upon after a visit to half a village for an hour. Such reports indicate that Down To Earth looks for half-baked information that are collected accidentally and self-declared intellectual teenagers fill in the rest.

Binita Shah
Senior Program Manager
Uttaranchal Organic Commodity Board

This is in response to your article 'Neo-organic'(Down To Earth, November 15, 2006). Some facts in the article are misleading. It is incorrect to say that Uttaranchal is 'organic by default'. As per guidelines given by the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority, most villages in Uttaranchal are 'chemical free by default' and not 'organic by default'.

Uttaranchal was compared to Switzerland as a benchmark. The model evolved in Uttaranchal is novel and has been copied by other states.

Scarcity of water and adequate quantity of manure is Uttaranchal's strength and not its weakness. Organic farming does not need much water.

The scientific community has no idea about the function of compost in farming. Comparing it to chemical fertilisers is naive. Compost is for the soil and not for the plant.

Under contract agreement, sometimes both farmers and buyers renege on contracts. And with farmers in Uttaranchal demanding a large premium without any basis, buyers are naturally moving to other states.

It has been observed that a switch to organic leads to a dip in yield. However, if a farmer reduces his chemical intake by 20-25 per cent every cropping cycle and at the same time uses 4-5 tonnes of compost per acre, it doesn't affect the yield. For a farmer using chemicals for a long time, a wait of another two years does not make much difference.


Down To Earth Replies

The statements attributed to Binita Shah were made by her during open discussions and workshops in the national consultation workshop on 'Organic Farming for Mountain States: Strategy and Ways Ahead' organised in July 2006 by the Uttaranchal Organic Commodity Board. She was requested for an interview, which she refused. That would have helped clarify her position.

Information on organic certification came from interviews with a number of villagers and an employee of the organic commodity board (he did not want to be named for obvious reasons). Organic expert Samuel Moser and officials of the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority agreed there was a need to put a halt to multiple organic certifications.

Statements attributed to farmers are based on interviews with them.


Asbestos risk

Apropos of the letter 'Asbestos hazards'(Down To Earth, January 15, 2007), on behalf of the Ban Asbestos Network of India, I wish to draw your attention towards a paper published in August 2005 in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, titled 'Occupational Asbestos Exposure and Predictable Asbestos-related Diseases in India'. In the article S K Dave, senior deputy director of National Institute of Occupational Health (nioh), states that asbestos-exposed workers in industries like mining, milling and manufacturing as well as those with secondary exposure to asbestos-containing materials were likely to develop diseases like pleural changes, pulmonary fibrosis, bronchogenic carcinoma, and diffuse malignant mesothelioma.

Despite such reports on the harmful effects of asbestos, officials and ministers still object to proposals of it being phased out and banned completely. The ban on mining asbestos was imposed in phases in 1986 and 1993. There is, however, no ban on its use, manufacture, export or import. The import of asbestos waste dust and fibres is banned under the Hazardous Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules 1989, while import of asbestos-laden ships are also banned under the un's Basel Convention.

In August 2006, a Supreme Court committee found that 16 per cent of the workers exposed to asbestos were suffering from incurable diseases. It was certified by nioh but there was no recommendation for compensation for the identified victims. Therefore, there is no justification for the further use of chrysotile asbestos. Numerous products containing substitute materials are now making it possible to dispense with the use of substances containing asbestos.


Land grabbers

The issue of acquiring land for special economic zones (sez) is creating quite a furore. Strong protests have been reported from Barnala and Amristar in Punjab.

Why do sezs in Amritsar need around 485 hectares (ha)? In Barnala, the Trident Group has acquired around 142 ha from the government. I have been a project engineer for such kind of projects and know that a spinning mill does not require so much land. This is a clear case of land grabbing. Haryana, too, faces similar problems with 68 odd sezs coming up in the state.


Towards panchayati raj

This story 'Money goes down', (Down To Earth, December 31, 2006) is very informative. It is true that panchayats have received lots of funds under various rural development programmes. As the article notes, poverty still exists in our country despite 214 rural development and poverty alleviation programmes of the central government. It has been observed that most people are not aware of these programmes and together with corrupt bureaucracy nothing fruitful is ever achieved.

Folk media can play a vital role in dissemination of information about various rural development schemes. And the capacity of the panchayats has to be built up for getting meaningful results out of such programmes, both in terms of software (personnel) and hardware (physical infrastructure).


Our correspondent responds

Regarding the cover story 'Croc can't go on', (Down To Earth, November 30, 2006) we have tried to answer some queries. The article does not say that the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of Wild Flora and Fauna had banned the killing of crocodiles. Rather we had clearly said that CITES had recommended a ban on the killing of all crocodile species.

That Project Crocodile was hailed the world over as a conservation model is based on the Food and Agriculture Organization's claim that the project was one of the most successful conservation projects in the world.

The 1983 notification under the Wildlife Protection Act (WPA) prohibits trade licences for any wild animal specified under Schedule 1 of WPA. Gharial comes under the schedule.

Sand mining, most experts say, is the biggest threat to gharials. Forest officials site fishing as a threat to gharials but call it 'merely accidental'.

Rivers are the gharial's natural habitat. But animals bred and raised in captivity for more than three years cannot adapt to free flowing rivers and find it difficult to survive fast-flowing floodwaters or water released from a dam.

The ideal sex ratio of gharials is not yet known. But experts claim that low natural breeding is an indicator of a skewed ratio. Other studies also reveal that captive breeding schemes imbalance the sex ratio in reptiles by affecting the incubation temperature.

Data shows that very few gharials survive in the wild. This is why certain forest officials and gharial researchers say that a species-oriented approach is not the solution.

The story did have certain factual errors. The Crocodile Breeding and Management Training Institute was set up in Hyderabad and not in Madras as mentioned on p43. The eggs are not fertilised as mentioned on p43, but incubated at a temperature of 32C.

The errors are regretted.


I am a regular reader of your magazine. It shows the commitment of your staff to their work.

Please publish an article on the lives of your employees and how it reflects on their work. I feel it would inspire people to make similar commitments towards society.


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