The complex terrain: environment vs development

The trimester is coming to its end and a lot of writing, submissions are happening. Sleepless nights and ill health always seem to go hand in hand for me in these times.

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Challakere Grassland, Chitradurga, Karnataka, India

As a part of a project, I am exploring environmental degradation and how it’s connected to poverty both as causation and also as an effect. While trying to understand this loopy relationship, on a friend’s suggestion, I looked at the Amrit Mahal Kaval of Chellakere ( 50,000 Hectares). This and similar such large patches of land were given to pastoralist by Mysore Maharaja some 400 years ago.

In 2012, a substantial part of this land (10,000 hectares) of it was allocated to three government establishments -DRDO, BARC, IISc for drone testing, enrichment of uranium and other scientific research respectively. And this was all done by the District Collector secretively without informing the involved Panchayats. And when the villagers got to fathom what was happening, it was quite late, constructions, building of compound walls had already begun. The villagers protested on two grounds – secretive transaction of land (that was given to them by the King 400 years ago) without their consent and second is the biodegradation of the grassland.

I am in complete agreement with their argument against secretive transaction without their consent. But in a documentary about the lives of these villages and how these nuclear/ government establishments will affect their livelihood – there were points made about how practices that are practices over generations will be lost, both culturally and biodiversity wise.  My questions regarding this narrative is twofold- what is 400 years of culture compared to 5000 years of culture we as a nation have gathered? Second being, where is the EIA that shows the negative impact on biodiversity by these establishments? And any sort of development activity will have a altering impact on environment. The civilizational transitions are not going to pause just because we cannot clearly articulate negative changes that it will bring along. An average human being today – let’s say a lower middle class person today enjoy the level of comfort that none of the kings enjoys 200 years ago. All of it is, courtesy environmental exploitation/ degradation/ utilization.

The fight on the Chellakere is legit if it were about non-involvement of the communities and their consent. May be had the communities been involved early on, the establishments could have had a way that was agreeable to both parties and the factories running. But the question that bothers me, especially regarding environmental degradation is that of – what is degradation and how is it different from use? Will grazing of cattle and pastoral activities not cause degradation- by loss in biodiversity and addition of GHGs? Is a nuclear enrichment plant the only way in which this area will get polluted?

The civil society that is helping these communities in staging a protest seem to actually be putting words in their mouth and articulate it for them. The civil society also is the one who is painting the picture for them. This is not an accusation, but an observation. As Leo Saldana ( in one of his talks to us in NLSIU) put it succinctly, the ones who have their stake in such matters are hardly lettered and in-articulate. In a state where even the articulate are victimized, what the in-articulate to do. In that case, the imagination and understanding of these people given this condition will never emerge to their own minds, let alone to the larger society.

The other possible pictures in my opinion is not vision-able for these villagers. Or is it that the state has betrayed so many of the vulnerable communities (by not keeping its promises) that the state has lost the credibility for anyone to believe what they paint?

 

Passion -> wrong parallels, But do no good for none of the lines compared!

At Rio Olympics this time India was made proud by its girls- Sakshi -a wrestler, a Sindhu -badminton player and Dipa – a gymnast. After all them came back to India their respective states awarded them plush cash awards etc. And the world famous Sachin Tendulkar gave them all a BMW each. The badminton player Sindhu was awarded by two telugu speaking states a total of Rs 250000000. And a plot of land and yada yada!

In a discussion around these gifting by the states there were two strands of discussions. One where some of the collegues were seeing this gifting and celebration of these players as a cover up by the Sports Authority of India on its poor effort in training our players. And one of the other story from Rio of our marathoner, Jaisha, from Bangalore, how she was not even provided water during her run was atrocious.

Another comparison of the limelight and money received by Sindhu was compared to what is happening to women laborers from in and round the city Bangalore. These laborers coming from neighboring villages and to sell their vegetables in wholesale market ( K.R. Market) here in Bangalore. The struggle they go through is now is being added up due to the non-functioning Aadhaar (Universal Identification) machines’ iris detectors. Therefore, these people have to go to office of Bangalore One to verify their identity every month before they can access the provisions made available for them at the state run Ration shops- Public Distribution System. And comparing what is state is inflicting on them to how it celebrates its “super celebrities” ( a new word for meet to!).

I have two fold issues with the second type of comparison. I must admit to have made such absurd comparisons in the past. And quite passionately at that. I will ask all those people who quip and criticize capitalism – ” do you have a mobile phone”.  This is not right. It is confusing one ways how a product is made available to masses (by capitalism) to the only means of producing it.

The first reason why I have this problem is: This is same as to do with my complaint towards the Copenhagen Consensus that was put together by Bjorn Lomborg. Best economist from around the world come together to prioritize the most pressing problems of the world. Put in an oversimplified manner, what they said is malaria needs to be prioritized over climate change. And climate change can wait for a couple of years to come. Therefore, monitory allcoation to malaria to be 100% and climate change zero%. So comparing the state spending on sports person is not something that can or should be compared with a daily wage earner or laborer. The state’s responsibility to its citizens, especially the poor ones, is non-negotiable. At the same time, to encourage sports and take good cre of its sports person is a necessary responsibility too.

Secondly, by comparing a sports person to a wage laborer is one is , in policy parlance, drawing false parallel. That is comparing apples and oranges. By doing this – one is neither making a strong case for improvement of living conditions of the laborers or the condition of sports in India. It is just making it all sound like- we are in a bad country where is possible. One needs to be clear and precise in deciding the boundary of a problem’s context. The boundary should good enough to understand an issue in its entirety  but not too broad making it difficult to arrive at any actionable plan to address the matter. By comparing a Sindhu to a daily wage earner we do justice to neither the state of sports in the nation nor to the daily wage earner who struggles a lot to make her ends meet.

To be honest, these parallels are drawn from a place of passion to deliver justice. to undo the wrong done to vulnerable sections of the society. But it is ineffective in pursuning the system or the individuals in it to look at it with an intent to address the issue if we make the case this broad.

That, That!!!

Soil Policy – I never gave it a thought!

 

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A wall of a hut made up of soil , cow dung and hay-stack, in Chattisgarh. Picture was taken in 2014

I have been working on water and sanitation for more than 8 years now. In the last two years I have been trying to go back to the larger environmental concerns of agriculture, human -environment conflict through my projects in the university and other research assignments. I am pursuing agriculture more elaborately for my dissertation for the Masters program here.

We had a speaker, Srinivasu (from Karnataka) to address the class on importance of soil and policy to manage it. I have always read and understood from farmers how important is soil to agriculture. I have always thought policies regarding agriculture will take care of soil as it is required for agriculture. And there do exist mention of fertility of soil and measures to keep it fertile and usable.

In the context of soil usage although the direct visible activity that engages in it is agriculture, but soil gathers fertility or deteriorates also because of other activities like that of afforestation/deforestation, industrial activities that involve letting out of pollutants on to land or using land surface for its activities.

We have policies for air quality and water, although we do not have much enforcement regarding quality norms in India. But nonetheless there is a policy. When I explored further into soil policy, I figured that there is soil policy in Europe but not much around this part of the world I live in.

I was aware of many things Srinivasu shared during his talk to the class. He works with farmers and to a great deal it reflected his perspective on soil. His perspective was ” what does soil mean to farmers”. And come to think of it, what will we do if the soil that is the fundamental requirement for food production is damaged in an irrevocable manner? I know, there is nothing irrevocable about the ecosystems. But still there could be a period when soil becomes so damaged (I am consciously not using unfertile) that we may have issues getting food to feed our population.

The points Srinivasu was sharing were about how organic farming is a must going forward as chemical farming that pulled this nation out of food scarcity no more can allow the soil to live. 95% of requirement of plant is made up of CO2, air and water. The chemical substitutes for macro-nutrients (N, P, K) provided by chemical farming makes up 3-4% of nutrient requirement of plant. The remaining 1% of nutrient required are micro-nutrients which were made available to plant by the ecosystem of microbes and other activities on the soil. Introduction and application of chemical fertilizers (N,P,K) in a unbridled manner on the field will kill the ecosystem that makes that 1% of micronutrient available. This 1% is responsible for the plant’s ability to hold it fruit or let it fall off early due to lack of strength. This adds clarity to my dissertation pursuit on what could sustainable farming do to soil. Not just to the farmer’s income but to long term upkeep of his fundamental resource for farming – land.

But one question most of us who are passionate about environmental conservation and sustainable living cannot answer- what will be the cost to a small or marginal farmer to move from chemical to organic/sustainable farming? How long before he breaks even? Are there policy provisions to help and facilitate a farmer to maintain his soil health. We have heavy subsidies on chemical fertilizers, but there is no such provision for farmyard manure, vermicompost and other such traditional source of nutrients. I shall try and address questions of organic farming in my dissertation, hope I could also look at soil health properly as it makes an integral part of the sustainable farming practice.

 

Field visit- a joke on folks who are visited!

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A set of school kids engaged in making quill greetingcards post school hours to raise funds for their community work. Location: Agra slums, 2013

Field visits (of sociological nature) , from my limited understanding, were a part of Masters in Social Work (MSW) courses alone in the past. Nowadays its mandated for program that study Development, Public Policy and others dealing with matters of public or social nature.

The whole idea of field visit and exposures is to help people see from real close quarters what it means to – live under certain conditions, do a particular job, and understand many aspects of their lives. It is to de-number the identity of the people whom we statistically study from census data or quantitative reports. It is to see them as peolpe like you and me.  When I started to do these  field visits it was as a part of my Master’s theisis to understand the impacts of a marine engineering project on lives of fisher community. Since then I have been learning and absorbing everytime I go into the field. These visits have helped me bridge the knowledge gap I have due to irregular readings. More than this, they have helped me stay more rooted, human and reminded me about the values like humility (Not that I claim to be humble all the time, I do tend to have my own streaks of arrogance now and then, 😉 ). A field visit can be to a village, surban slum, a factory floor, a manufacturing unit, some local organization or school or any place that is relevant to study that one is engaged in.

As a part of this course there was a mandatory month long field visit in the first year.In the second year of the course few electives have field visit as part of thier curriculum. I am writing this post to just reflect on the attitudes some of us have towards these visits, and how it is uselesss for people with certain attitudes to make such visits.

During the first visit of mine as a part of this course, the attitude certain members of the team visiting exhibited was that of entitlement. It is as if, just because you are from a city ( which in the heads of the visitors is a proxy for developed) the vilagers should be obilidged to share information about all the things we vistors question. This is pretty evident from the way we sat, questioned and interacted with people. It is amazing how we would want to pay and stand in quess to go to some places and act all civilized and nice, for instance a famous pub in a city. At the same time when we are recived with warmth and given the space to interact, we act all bossy and cocky. The villagers/laborers or slum dwellers have no reason to spend their valuabel time in talking and providing information to you. Our research and study is useless to their lives, if anything they are doing favour on us by sharing about their lives.

Similarly when few of the classmates came back after visiting a labor union organization, their remark  about the life of an indiviudal shared is  – “it sounds like a hindi soap opera” or mock at the fact that, now they may be assigned a project to write a biography of the live of the lady who shared her life story with them. Another set of smart alec from the class  want to practice their ability to argue and debate with these poeple by asking “smart theoritcal” questions on gender discrimination – about not having a “single” male members on the organization board. This is being asked to a woman who has  just shared her life story on the kind of  discriminations done to her by men all her life.

I have felt quite sad seeing the way these people go about doing their field visits. I dont mind if one doesnt like to do field visits. Its ok to not like it. But when engaging with it , the attitudes that these folks carry is not right. The attitudes of – carelessness, of disregard, of disrespect and of lack of sensitivity. This is sad, utterly sad. I am not excluding myself from this. There have been times when I have also been careless, I have my share of faultlines too! I am taking an opprtunity to reflect on myself and other in this program with respect to these attitudes.

Why is their experience of life, be it difficulty or struggle less valuable than our own struggle to study late nights to get good grades? Why is their life less important than our lives? If we all cannot appreciate an individual sharing their lifestory with us and if we can not respect them just like we will want anyone else to do to us, what policies will we create? What public policy professional will we become?

The idea of these visits and interactions is to atleast have a peak into the lives of those individuals differnt than us. We most of the times visit people who have lesser social and economic capital than us. Experineces shared usually are about their struggles-matters that are quite close to their hearts and minds.  Fieldworks of social orientation are sledom on rich lives. Just because these people are weaker, should we be careless about it? Simply asking.

No point being a gold medalist or knowing all the books. By the end of the day experience of our lives is enrichened not by our shopping experineces, or moments of arogance or ruthlessness but by the number of moments of gratidue, happiness and humility.

Outsourcing governance- Is the new “inn” thing? – Parastatals

In the class on democracy and ecology, I have always had an alternate possition from that of the course instructor. While he upholds the constitution ( although he is not a lawyer, but still! ) above everything, I feel there have be changes in ways of state’s doing business in the context of the larger world.  While I had my reasons to question his point of views, I did agree to his reasoning in certain matters. One of them is the case of parastatal agencies.  The funny thing is when I did agree with him this time, he was unable to see it as he is tuned to believe that I wont agree with him.

Parastatal agencies , what are they? They are agencies that “aid” state in doing its job well by doing certain specific , specialized jobs that generic state can not be expected to do. For example an ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation)is a parastatal agency. At the same time a KUIDFC (Karnataka Urban Infrastructure Development & Finance Corporation) is also a parastatal agency. And there exist other parastatal agencies that are neither an offshoot of government bodies, nor are non-governmental organizations. They are somewhere inbetween. They ( in the name of helping the state) play the role of state and also not stay answerable to the public that has elected its local representatives – councilors/ corporators / MLAs.  There is a requirement for a parastatal agency like a ISRO to provide and implement experitse, as it is a very specialized task. Whereas requirement of a KUIDFC does exist too, but to provide expertise through advocacy but not implementation. Why this distinction?

Because:

  1. The activities that KUIDFC plans/implemented are constitutionally mandated by the Urban Local Bodies to do it by themselves , on behalf of the citizens of the urban area. 
  2. Also agencies like KUIDFC are given the trump card to override these constitutionally guaranteed powers vested with the ULBs. (See image below , snippet from KUIDFC-Municiapl corporation contract).
  3. KUIDFC then takes loans from IFIs (International Financial Institutions) on behalf of the city corporation and further imposes the rules from the IFIs on the city and in this process also changing the laws and policies of the state.

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The KUIDFC atleast is a parastatal agency constituted by the state, they can be questioned at some point by the state.

There are other type of parastatal agencies that are set up by  influencial citizens “to do good” for the larger city. In the case of Bangalore one of them is Janagraha. Janagarha, one of the urban specialist NGOs is one example. Bangalore has a handful of such influenctial agencies. I have worked for one of them in the past ( I guess!). The point is all of them intend well, but why are they bestowed with powers that are mandated to the state bodies? Why are they given them without being asked to be accountable for the same?  The questions raised by the instructor were pertinent- why is  a Janagraha a signing authortity for the city plans that cities were supposed to put together under JNNURM?  And who funds these agencies? Do these organizations even know the landscape of politics and governnance? They do not engage with areas that are asthetically not apealign for them in their “citizen engagement assigment” they assign themselves. Like the BATF did not want to engage with the slum board as it ” is a political cesspool” while doing the City Development Plan for the BDA.

It definitely is not a bad idea to have parastatals help state in an advisory role, but they definitely can not be engaged to “do” things without being held accountable.

Also another intersting thing about Bangalore- there was a report commissioned under Kasturirangan on how the Bangalore metropolitan should be governend. But is not available on any goverment website but on archive.org.- https://ia801001.us.archive.org/18/items/DrKasturiranganCommitteeReportOnBBMP/Dr-Kasturirangan-Committee-Report-on-BBMP.pdf

Why???

That, that!!!!

Intial thoughts- Environemental goods and Market Based Environmental Policies

Market Based Environmental Policies , can they really work a solution to the environemtal crisis we face today? I have been trying to understand this for a while now. There are two concepts that address this matter  and they can be associated with two economist. One of the olden times A.C. Pigou and other of these times Ronald Coase. The problem of environment is not something they tried to address but the negative externality of any economic transaction. most times the negative externality of any economic transaction was borne by the environment. So their theories can largely be applied to addressing problems that are related to pollution/ exploitation of environment. 

While Pigou lived in the 19th and 20th century, Coase lived in the 20th and 21st century. Pigou tried to address the issue of environmental pollution by suggesting taxation. Later this evolved into the idea of regulating the industries that pollute. But taxation is tricky, as one may not know the actual cost of the polluting activity. Regulation may be technology specific regulation , although this means reduced bandwidth from the state to monitor , this will be a disincentive for innovations on less polluting technologies. The other type of regulations is to do with respect to specifying the quality/ quantity of pollution produced. This increases and facilitates innovation whereas costs high on monitoring of the industries. 

Ronald Coase in 1960 in a paper suggested to reduce negative externality what was needed was not taxation or regulation but property rights.  Property rights that are –  well defined ( of which object, what rights does the right provide), divisible ( are the rights separate and tradable) and defendable (enforceable , recognized by norms or customs of community or government). He got a nobel prize for this particular thought. It did do good in resolving many disputes.

My reason to look at these two regimes of addressing negative externalities is to understand what are the present form of -pollution control boards and environmental clearances processes following. The regime as in India is that of regulation – more Pigouvian as we have not ( and in some cases, it is not easy) to ascertain property rights to certain geographical entities like rivers, lakes etc. Why is Coase’s approach not practices in India – it could be because of the lack of establishing of property rights or inability to allocate rights. 

The other aspect with respect to Coase’s application to environmental goods, internationally, carbon trading is a perfect implementation of it. But can we trade carbon? Does environement work in the ways economist perceive it. Is it so simplistic that I pollute in America and ask some other entity in another nation to do forestration on my behalf. Will it work? Will America will also get to exchange “pure air” generated in that country where forestration is done “ in lue of” that industry in America? 

One needs to explore this further….

Forest Right Act (2006) and Compensatory Afforestration Bill (2015)

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A conveyer belt  of Vedanta that carries the bauxite, with the Niyamgiri in the backdrop. Place and date: Odisha ( October,2015)

Last year around this time I wrote a paper on Forest Right Act (2006) – The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 – Who’s right and bestowed by whom? –  looking at the postivies apects regarding the  the rights that it bestwos to the tribal and indigeneous people and also the gaps in the act that dealt with the issues regarding the precedural requirment for the people to avail / assert their right. The gaps were stark especially given the sociological context and economic background of these communities. The critique was on how the act is still not rolled out completely.

The enactment of the act was an uphill task. To get this act to come into effect the biggest struggle the activitst working for these communities had was not with the industry but with  the state forest departments. All the officicals of this department form the Conservator of Forests to the forest rangers were against this act because: they did not want to let go of their turf of power, where they wielded influence.  In the garb of being custodians of forest, these department staff have been taking bribes from  ( and at times exploiting)  these tribals to gather minor forest produce from the forest they have inhabited and protected for generations together, and take bribe from the industries to allow them to do illegal activities. The allegations I make may sound quite activisty and blanket remark. But this is the experience of majority of the communities that dwell in and around forests. To descibe the attitude of the staff of Forest Department, a paper written about them in year 2000 still hold good. Donal M Schug in his paper  (Bureaucratisation of Forest Management in India) talks about the internal culture of the department and how it has only been detrimental to both forest conversation and to the communities dependent on them. And in the minds of certain other bureaucrats from other departments, like a  Rural Welfare Department office  I met in Odisha ( in Octover 2015), they think giving rights on the forest to the communities by awarding individual rights, decreases the land cover under forest. And therefore they would rather award community forest rights to the whole village rather than individual rights. Eventually move to the strategy of awarding only community forest right rather than any individual rights at all.   This attitude is only supportive to that of  the forest department’s.

It has been more than 9 years since the enactment of the Forest Right Act and during a field visit conducted 8 months ago in Odisha it was found that not all the households and commutieis have secured their rights. Gujarat is the best performing state with respect to  awarding the rights (both individual and community). The state has awarded to most percentage from the total applicants. Madhsudan Bandi in his paper looks at the implimentation of FRAs in further depth with respect to Gujarat and Chattisgarhh state.

Why is it importnat to look at the status of FRA implementation and the awarding of rights to the communities? The innate inefficiency with respect to roling out this act is a matter of seperate discussion. In this post I am trying to raise up this point in the light of the new Compensatory Afforestration Fund Bill, 2015,(known in short as CAF Bill) that was passed in the upper house (Rajya Sabha)and after it was passed in the the lower house ( Loksabha) of the parlimanent of India.

What is CAF all about, why did it come to exist?

(Excerpt from PRS Legislative Research )

Highlights of the Bill

  •   The Bill establishes the National Compensatory Afforestation Fund under the Public Account of India, and a State Compensatory Afforestation Fund under the Public Account of each state.
  •   These Funds will receive payments for: (i) compensatory afforestation, (ii) net present value of forest (NPV), and (iii) other project specific payments. The National Fund will receive 10% of these funds, and the State Funds will receive the remaining 90%.
  •   These Funds will be primarily spent on afforestation to compensate for loss of forest cover, regeneration of forest ecosystem, wildlife protection and infrastructure development.
  •   The Bill also establishes the National and State Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authorities to manage the National and State Funds.Key Issues and Analysis
  •   The Bill establishes the Funds for compensatory afforestation and forest conservation. However, there are several factors (other than administration of funds) which affect compensatory afforestation and forest conservation. These factors are mentioned below.
  •   A 2013 CAG report noted that state forest departments lack the planning and implementation capacity to carry out compensatory afforestation and forest conservation. With the share of funds transferred to states increasing from 10% to 90%, effective utilisation of these funds will depend on the capacity of state forest departments.
  •   Procuring land for compensatory afforestation is difficult as land is a limited resource, and is required for multiple purposes, such as agriculture, industry, etc. This is compounded by unclear land titles, and difficulties in complying with procedures for land use.
  •   A High Level Committee on Environment Laws observed that quality of forest cover has declined between 1951 and 2014, with poor quality of compensatory afforestation plantations being one of the reasons behind the decline.
  •   The Bill delegates the determination of NPV (value of loss of forest ecosystem) to an expert committee constituted by the central government. As NPV constitutes about half of the total funds collected, its computation methodology would be important.

There are many issues regarding the bill, starting from the understanding of the word “compensation” by it, how the compensation is calculated, who is assigned to calculate the compensation among many other things. But in the context of FRA the issue is of the rights of Forest. The CFA does not have any text regarding how is is going to be implemented without making the FRA redundant.

To summarise in short:CFA  has taken the forest rights from the tribals & forest dwellers and slyly placed it  back in the hands of  forest department.

How did it do it: In the version fo the bill that was passed in the Rajya Sabha there was no rule  that acknowledged the power of the local self governing body – Panchayat or the Gram Sabha on their say in how the forest will be dealt with. This is in direct conflict with what FRA and the PESA act bestows upon these communities.

These points of concern were  raised by the opposition party  to the the finance minister and environment minster of the ruling party. Their concerns were placated by saying these will be addressed once the bill was “passed” in the Rajya Sabha.

The role of the local self governing bodies is not codified in the CFA act and the implementation of FRA is still far from complete. The attitude of the Forest department still remains that of the owners of the forest, rather than custodians. What is the government going at? Is it a game to ammend constitution and make permanent promise to marginalized lot, just to make another new ammendment that trumps the older promise? If this is some sort of a joke, it is a cruel one at that.

Watching – War on Democracy

It has been a year long in a course in study of public policy. Its been a busy year of working and studying and falling fatally ill. This trimester is a little easy and I am trying again to write and share my thoughts and experiences on issues of public concern.

As a part of the course one has to see, read and question the aspects of local and international politics and policy making. The dynamics involved in it.  For this purpose I am now seeing the documentary- War on Democracy. The movie is about what has United States of America done to its neighbors – Venezuela, Chile , Bolivia ,Guatemala, Panama, Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador from 1950s until early 2000s.

Had it been a year ago, I would have say crying wondering why would innocent people get killed in the larger politics of greed in this world. A question that begets answer of “collateral damage” from people who work at the upper echelons of any nation. I would have found it insensitivity and outrageous and disturbing. But having spent a whole year looking at issues after issues, I feel as much value emotions have in addressing a problem passionately, there is a place for strategic thinking which may or may not provide logically correct answers/solutions. So now I am looking at this documentary with these pair of dry eyes.

John Pilger interviews several ex-CIA agents who took part in secret campaigns against democratic countries in the region. He investigates the School of the Americas in the US state of Georgia, where Pinochet’s torture squads were trained along with tyrants and death squad leaders in Haiti, El Salvador, Brazil and Argentina.

The film unearths the real story behind the attempted overthrow of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez in 2002 and how the people of the barrios of Caracas rose up to force his return to power.

It also looks at the wider rise of populist governments across South America lead by indigenous leaders intent on loosening the shackles of Washington and a fairer redistribution of the continent’s natural wealth.

Source: http://johnpilger.com/videos/the-war-on-democracy

The documentary has a strong case to make. But the clips of the documentary seem to show clips that fit the narrative John Pilger wants to show us. I am not trying to make the point that the USA’s intervention here was in anyway benovalant. If anything it was clear display of vested interest. The installation of dictators , coup against  Hugo Chavez in Venezuela or the  killing of Salvador Allende of Chile have happened under their purview. The historical documents from CIA show the clear hand of Americans in it.

The point on Chicago boys, the loot of the Bolivians, the privatization of every service in Bolivia is all real, relevant and important. There are few points I would like to make about such documentaries. The ones that describe and delve into any problem in depth. They are good in bringing forth the issues none of the mainstream media ever cover. They give the perspective of the people who go through these policy interventions. Be it the effect of Washington Consensus   or the complete ostracization of Cuba or the experimentation of Chicago boys on real people of these countries. This perspective is very important, rather one of the most important perspectives in  understanding the cascading effect of any national or international policy or intervention. The documentary in the end shows how Venezuela and Bolivia now are doing well for themselves because of the people’s movement against the exploitative “empire”. Quite a relief.

But is the other side of the story of greed and a want of a new age empire ( like the imperial form). Is the narrative that simplistic?

Let us assume that is to be the case. In the world scenario where this empire seems to be so powerful does a country confront it with raw courage or it plays strategically so that it does good for its own people? Playing strategically is what is required. And thats politics right? It is not about confrontation of the wrongs in a simplistic manner, but to play the dirty game of politics and get what a nation wants. The virtues of equality, liberty and freedom etc  are  things a nation can bestow upon “its own people”.  It can not expect another nation to bestow it upon the world.

Nations, the minute nationality is ascribed to any individual, there comes into existence  “my people” and “others”. Nationstate is the status quo of the world order today. And wellbeing of economic kind is the only understood wellbeing in todays times. In the documentary the Bolivian hill people ask, if we were so rich with gold and silver, why are we beggars now. Why  are we so poor now. As much as one wants to glorify and romanticize simple living and living in sync with the nature, the times have forced people to seek economic wellbeing to meet their daily needs. Given these two basic premise, it will be foolish for any nation to believe or to think another nation will want to be benevolent towards them. Every nation state is always working for its own interest. May be its own rich people’s interest in some cases (That,the disparity within a nation is a topic of discussion for a later time).

The portrayal of one country as evil and another as a the victim seems to be inherently problematic. The victimized nation has to grow and to oust the evil in a strategic manner. It will be good to see documentaries and read books/ papers which show how did Venezuela come out of the coup and how are they now – as a nation and with respect to their economic status. What were the ways and means adopted? There is no doubt that, the background information on how a powerful nation interfered is as much necessary information. But a more nuanced narrative that covers aspects of more constructive aspects of such struggles ( like that of Venezuela and Chile)  especially emphasizing on  -how to come out of a bad situation may make a useful documentation for the world. The War and Democracy kind of documentaries are good for “awareness generation” ( like we call it in our development work lingo). But what we need more badly is documentation of lessons (training material 😉 ) on how to do it.

 

 

 

 

Food, enough and nutritious , for the producer! What about wellbeing???

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Old lady farmer from a village in Andhra Pradesh

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have always wanted to understand why a farmer, who produces food, and his family went hungry. I found it cruel and completely unacceptable that a producer of food had to go hungry, and not even feed his children. This and the fact that they resorted to suicides is even more saddening.

I am trying to understand if  in the current world context, the problem of food production and that of farmers – soil loosing its organic nutrition ( due to use of chemical fertilizers), water scarcity, salinity increase in soil etc can be addressed by organic farming, or sustainable farming or climate smart farming.

All these words organic, sustainable and climate smart seem to be synonymous to me. But they are not to be so. I am looking up Food and Agriculture Organization documents, International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement, policy documents n organic farming by many states in India. From the readings until now the following is what the picture looks like:

  1. High yielding variety of seeds actually yield high produce, but are high on inputs ( fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides  and water) compared to organic farming in certain geographies. But one of the inputs required – water is becoming scarce. Also pests are becoming resistant to pesticides and yada yada.
  2. But when the world was going through food crisis especially in the developing world in the 1960s these high yielding, high input crops helped in increasing the food produce without destroying virgin forest to expand production. At that time the input demand of the cropping did not pinch as the exploitation of resources had just began and the limits of exploitation were not known to us.
  3. There is biomagnification of pesticides ad other chemical inputs in the food produced from this method. This is harmful for health. This is true. But the gravity of the issue is something I am yet to explore.  I do not want to dwell into it without concrete proof. Nonetheless, there is a lot of hue and cry about the health effects of chemical farming.
  4. Chemical farming in short is now perceived as a problem in the world. Even agencies like FAO are proposing organic farming at large scales.(Save and Grow).
  5. Organic farming definitely has very little negative health effects as the input that goes into it is all natural. Verdi compost, cow dung, leaf mulches.
  6. But the yield of it is less than the irrigated high yield varieties. The organic produce yield is less than chemical by 9-25% according to few studies. This is only in the case of irrigated high yield fields.
  7. When it comes to rained areas, organic yields better than chemical and this is consistent with many studies.
  8. Organic’s yield is better than chemical farming even in case of irrigated field during the period of drought.

The questions that I have running in my head are:

  1. Can small/ marginal farmers actually shift to organic farming gainfully? Right now there is very little support from the governments for them. Whereas chemical farmers have input subsidy. There is no such thing for organic farmers.
  2. With very little ecosystem to support a organic farmer and his risks,is it right to push these small guys towards it?
  3. What about the yield, the high yield and GMO proponents scare the hell out of people by saying when we move to organic we won’t be able to feed the world. How true is this?
  4. Generic farmer insurance ecosystem is very bare minimum with only crop insurances made available to them. Will the existing financial ecosystem make way for organic farmers too or not?

In short does both ecology and economics suggest our move to organic or only ecology? If one can prove with numbers that its both ecology and economics, then the shift should not be that difficult.

This apart there needs to be political will to move in that direction too. Chemical fertilizer and pesticide firms have huge cloud and therefore ensure that the politicians are well taken care off. So if the science and numbers say yes, still there is this huge irrational- illogical ( for the larger nation, not the politician. For the politician it is rational and logical to gain from this disputed situation from the huge firms) hurdle to be crossed.

And yes! How can one forget the agreements we sign up to. The Agreement on Agriculture with WTO and similar such multilateral agreements we sign as a nation. They may also try to restrict us even if economics and ecology permit our organic endeavor.

So, I will share more… as I know more of it….