Published: Sunday 30 April 2006

Armchair agriculture

At the agriculture universities in our country, scientists have been using the terms 'non-descript varieties' and 'non-descript' breeds for over 40 years.

Ironically, this term refers to the naturally evolved (and hence highly adaptable) and farmer-selected indigenous (local) varieties of crops and breeds of livestock.

Today, it appears that, following in the footsteps of our non-thinking scientists, our short-sighted policy makers have made Indian agriculture itself 'non-descript'.

So much so, that armchair agriculturists sitting in shallow-cultured usa want to dictate what farmers in India should do. Such tendencies need to be nipped in the bud, at all costs.

Francis Xavier A
M S Nagar

The cover story on cotton ('Long Yarn', Down To Earth, March 31, 2006) justifies the starkness of the cover picture chosen.

But in the section 'Tangled Web', the author states that Vidarbha has harsher conditions mainly low soil fertility and less rain -- compared to other parts of Maharashtra. The reference to rain is not factual.

In the Konkan region, the duration of Agriculturally Significant Rains (asrs) is about 4 months. The next assured rainfall zone is Vidarbha with duration of asrs ranging from 13 to 14 weeks. Areas in Marathwada immediately to the south of Vidarbha have similar durations of asrs, and areas immediately to the west of Vidarbha have asrs lasting 11-12 weeks. Therefore, the implication that Vidarbha receives less rain than western Maharashtra and Marathwada is not correct.

The article also states that Maharashtra has the lowest productivity of cotton in India. I would say agro-industrial crops are now being grown all over the country. Minimum support price (msp), payment of bonus and other doles and promise of buying the entire crop produced, irrespective of quality, are being resorted to as political expediency by governments to ensure profitability to farmers even in areas of low unit area yields.

In such a scenario, tragedies are waiting to happen to farmers in areas of low productivity once the illogical financial props are withdrawn. The situation becomes worse for farmers growing cotton, which is raised both as a rainfed and irrigated crop. Obviously, the dryland cotton farmer cannot compete with those having access to irrigation, which also is subsidised. Regional differences in Maharashtra in irrigation infrastructure, as pointed out in the article, may be a causative factor in farmers' suicides.

The increase in suicide rates among cotton farmers in Vidarbha is a warning signal. Even in regions suited to a crop, the system of staggered plantings and harvests, to ensure daily feed material to the factories over their operational period, pose problems of inequities in profits to contracting farmers.

From the points of view of global competitiveness for exports, safeguards against import-dumping and ensuring justice and avoiding hardships to farmers, consumers and the industry, it is necessary to review the entire spectrum of production of industrial crops and pricing of the produce.

S Venkataraman

I think the story essentially highlights the difference in treatments by the governments to developed and non-developed areas. The vote bank viability factor also plays a crucial role. The trader-based economy mechanism outsmarts all the measures targeted towards production and value-addition based development.

A look at the still poorer sector of minor forest produce in Bastar region of Chhattisgarh proves this.

Regulating poultry

The editorial on poultry ('Poultry business too serious to be left to industry', Down To Earth, March 15, 2006) is a timely one.

But I do not agree with the logic that because this business is so highly integrated a single company breeds the chickens, makes the vaccines, manufactures the feed and the additives it is virtually impossible to regulate. You are possibly pointing to the muscle power of large players but otherwise any integrated business can be regulated in a better manner, provided there is a political and bureaucratic will.

However, we cannot ape the recommendations of the Food and Agriculture Organization and ignore the impacts on small farmers. While this is a large unregulated sector, the government must focus on big companies like Venky's first they are the ones more susceptible and could spread the vector out of control.

Sujit Lahiry

One-sided view

I was both amazed and disappointed to read the article 'Unhealthy options: queries galore on health privatisation' (Down To Earth, March 31, 2006).

I found the piece one-sided and trying to prejudge the public-private partnership initiative a much-needed attempt at overhauling the functioning of Primary Health Centres (phcs) in Arunachal that are mostly in an abysmal state. The article misinforms by implying that the public-private partnership is akin to privatisation of health care. In reality, the government has handed over 16 poorly functioning phcs to reputed ngos in the field of community health care and there is no profit made by them. The health care is free, as before.

It makes sense to involve ngos such as Karuna Trust, which runs 25 phcs, mostly in tribal areas of Karnataka. The ngo was given the most remote and non-performing phcs because of its experience, track record and reputation.

It is all very well to suggest that more local ngos should have got the chance, but just because they are 'local', does not necessarily mean they will be more efficient. In fact, it might be better that 'outsiders' do this initially to ensure efficiency and less local political interference and corruption. The article passes premature judgement on an initiative that only took off this January. Did the writer even consider that some local people could simply be disgruntled because the government would be giving Rs 30 lakh to run the phcs?

The article reflects a worrying tendency in Arunachal of viewing outsiders with suspicion, which borders on xenophobia. It is fashionable to suggest 'non-tribal outsiders' are not knowledgeable and are bound to have vested interests. This stereotyping is dangerous and sad. Such a negative article would lead to further problems for dedicated people trying to improve the health care situation. Maybe the writer should speak to some 'tribal' patients and the ngos in question, rather than just the politicians who have some grouse.

Aparajita Datta

Weak links

The article 'Rains at bay' (Down To Earth, February 15, 2006) makes interesting reading. The upa government thinks that river linking is an idea worth pursuing. But a new study claims that river linking will affect monsoons and the reasons given by the National Institute of Oceanography have been highlighted in the article.

This apart, I wish to bring into focus a news clipping from an earlier issue ('Safety mechanism', p20 Down To Earth, March 15, 2004) on ship ballast water loaded in one port and unloaded in another (to balance load in a freighter ship) being found to spread bacteria from one country to another. The International Maritime Organisation has adopted a convention for control and management of ship ballast. While the control and management of ship ballast water is possible, what control and management can the government have to prevent the spread of invasive aquatic organisms on large expanses of water?

S V Jayabal

Down To Earth welcomes letters, responses and other contributions from readers. We particularly welcome you to join issues and share your opinion with others. Send to Sunita Narain, Editor, Down To Earth, 41, Tughlakabad Institutional Area, New Delhi - 110 062. Email: editor@downtoearth.org.in...

Wastewater treatment

In response to the letter titled 'Will this help' (Down To Earth, March 31, 2006), I can vouch for a wastewater treatment system for domestic use, which is similar to that devised by Paul Calvert.

Called the MTV Evaporator with polymeric exchanger system (patented by Windsor Sathyam), it can be connected to any wastewater outlet and pure water can be recovered at a cost of mere five paisa per litre.

The system is reported to work on the mechanical vapour recompression principle without the use of chemicals and at a very low operating cost. The system is also reported to have been installed by some of the organisations of the TVS group and the Premier Mills group.

S N Mahalingam

Pick of the Postbag

Worse times ahead
The recent incident of firing at fishermen in Dibbapalem village near Visakhapatnam only strengthens the impression that the government has abdicated its responsibility to its own people.

This is an instance of brutalisation of people and the spread of state violence against communities who demand their rights. The government first orders firing on the people and then announces a certain sum as ex gratia for the victims. What people want is development that allows them the right to live in peace and dignity. History bears testimony to the injustice meted out to the backward communities all over the world. The conflict over natural resources has never been so intense as in the twenty-first century and it appears it will only worsen.

The attack on fishermen of coastal Andhra Pradesh once again exposes the flagrant policy of the government. With the government expressing its liberal policy in encouraging extractive industries in the state, the atrocities against the fishermen or tribals came as no surprise. Earlier, the Mhaikanj Kalinga Nagar firings had claimed innocent lives and now the Gangavaram firing asserts the anti-people development trend in coastal or hill areas of entire India.

Such acts are deeply regretted and mourned, especially since India has the reputation of being the world's largest democracy but is witnessing with increasing frequency anti-democratic incidents.

Genjivarapu Srinivas
srinivas@dhimsa.net ...

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