The Divisive Politics of Communalism

Infographic source: Time of India, September 10, 2013, Ahmedabad edition

Infographic source: Time of India, September 10, 2013, Ahmedabad edition

By Priya Prasad

A series of events led to the build-up of the violence: it started with the harassing of a Hindu teenage girl by a Muslim boy at Kawal village which resulted in community clashes on August 27. As an isolated case of crime, this is a commonplace incident in a region where people are killed for “dishonouring” the community.

Following this, the situation further intensified on August 30 when many inflammatory speeches were made at a meeting by Muslim leaders from the Congress, SP and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

Furthermore, on September 3, a fake video was circulated showing the deaths of boys from the Jat community. As a reaction to this, local Hindu leaders organised a mahapanchayat—allegedly the BJP was behind this—which was as incendiary as the August 30 meeting.

On September 7, after the meeting at the mahapanchayat, Muzaffarnagar city descended into violence, leading to a curfew.

In all of this, police inaction was stark; no leaders were arrested for making those provocative speeches and neither was anything done when the public gatherings took place despite Section 144 being enforced which prohibits such large-scale meetings.

The demographic make-up of Muzaffarnagar, comprising Jats and Muslims, make it a breeding ground of sorts for communal conflagration, and this is exactly what the political class took advantage of. Analysts say that it is not religion but a combination of caste, community and land politics that has spurred the violence.

Jaitapur—20 years in the making

On site - Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant. Photo credit: Priya Prasad

On site – Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant. Photo credit: Priya Prasad

 By Priya Prasad and Eeshanpriya M.S

The agitation against Jaitapur nuclear power plant has all but died down. With doubts and speculation surrounding the plant, will the project see daylight?

The Jaitapur plant is estimated to have a total electricity generation capacity of 9,900MW, of which 50% will be used by Maharashtra. Of the six reactor units commissioned, two have received government sanction. Building a high capacity power plant requires safety measures. “Yet, is the common man benefitting?” exhorts Abhijit Minakshi, member of Lokayat, a Pune based NGO.

“The government has increased the ex gratia amount of land settlement to Rs 9.5 lakhs per acre,” says Satyajit Chavan, media coordinator for Konkan region. Yet for the fishermen, the situation is complicated. The sea cannot be compensated for. Satish Lad, electrical engineer from the Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL), said, “As a form of compensation, the government will provide the fishermen with boats, nets and cold storages”.

However, the fishermen fear that water released from the plant will increase the temperature of sea water and affect fish stock. Dr. Surendra Gadekar, an anti-nuclear environmentalist and physicist said, “All the research available about nuclear power plants is conducted abroad, with colder countries as models. In India, a rise of 5 to 7 degrees in water whose temperature is already over 25 degrees, will kill marine life”.

Mr Lad said “The pipes disposing warm water into the sea will be constructed 20 to 25 meters under the sea and there will be several nozzles diffusing it. Water will be disposed about 2km from the shore. When it comes to the surface, it’s temperature will be around 1 degree higher. According to environmental clearance committee, temperature can rise by 7 degrees.”

Why build the plant near the sea? Large amount of water is required for cooling. Steam rotates the turbines. To condense this steam, it is estimated that 2,500 crore litres of water will be used per day.

“The site for Jaitapur is the Madban Plateau which is 25 meters above sea level. The government plans to chop this plateau down to eight meters. If water has to be raised to a height of 25 meters, the amount of electricity consumed will be equal to half the electricity produced by the plant”, said Rajendra Phatarpekar, an environmentalist.

The Madban plateau prevents sea water from gushing into the villages around. It is also a sweet water reserve. Chopping it off spells disaster.

Then there is the fear of radiation but Satish Lad said, “Jaitapur won’t be allowed to reach the uncontrolled supercritical stage.” Mr Gadekar counters this point. “Nuclear fission is a chain reaction, and it is uncontrolled. The number of elements released after the atomic fission will react with each other and produce many toxic gasses.”

Mr Lad further said, “The world today is seeing nuclear power as green power because these plants do not harm the environment. The waste generated from the plant will be uranium, which will be used as fuel for the reactor. There will be zero leakage. ” This uranium will then be converted to plutonium which is recycled and used in a second stage reactor at Kalpakkam.

Ratnagiri falls in the Seismic zone. “The region comes under seismic zones 3 & 4 and has witnessed more than 93 Earthquakes of magnitude up to 6.3 on Richter scale during the period of 20 years from 1985 to 2005. It is extremely dangerous to construct heavy structures like the series of nuclear reactors in this area,” said Dr. M K Prabhu, in a letter appealing withdrawal of Jaitapur.

Lad said, “The nuclear reactor buildings have double containment of 1.5 meter thickness each. Between these walls is a space of one meter with six to seven mm of steel plating. The known epicentre for this seismic zone is several hundred kilometers into the Arabian sea. It will take three hours for the impact of disturbed water (in case an earthquake should occur) to be felt on the plant. On the other hand the plant will take 20 to 25 minutes to shut down completely.”

There is still a long way to go. Construction on the first unit of the plant will take a minimum of five to six years, according to Lad; additionally, Areva is yet to iron out issues with the Department of Atomic Energy regarding final cost of the plant.

The Inequities and Inefficiencies of Electricity

'Powerless,' a documentary, looks at electricity theft in Kanour. Image source: www.powerless-film.com

‘Powerless,’ a documentary, looks at electricity theft in Kanpur. Image source: http://www.powerless-film.com

By Priya Prasad

In 2012, India suffered a massive power outage in its north and eastern parts. According to media coverage of this incident, people across various sectors were affected, from industry to agriculture, from urban to rural. What does this say about our dependence on electricity?

The problems of power in India are well documented. A documentary film, ‘Powerless,’ traces the issue of electricity theft. Considered the “leather capital of India,” Kanpur suffers electricity outages for 12 to 15 hours. The power crisis in the city has directly and indirectly created a number of problems for the citizens—high rates of tuberculosis, substandard living conditions, extensive pollution from the widespread use of diesel generators are just a few. As the price of electricity is very high, theft is rampant in the city. Enter the protagonists of ‘Powerless’—Loha Singh, an electrician who steals electricity from paid connections and Ritu Maheshwari, head of the state electricity company in the city, KESCO, who is attempting to control the chaos surrounding the theft and power shortages.

What ‘Powerless’ captures is a microcosm of the electricity crisis in India. Such stories as well as the power failure of 2012 are symptomatic of the uneven distribution of electricity in India. Demand and supply of electricity is unbalanced.

According to a report by the Central Electricity Authority (Load Generation Balance Report, 2013–2014), India’s total energy requirement (including thermal, hydro, gas, coal, etc.) for the current fiscal year is 10.4 MU and the availability is 9.7 MU, thereby indicating a shortage of 6.7 per cent. This has been attributed to “transmission constraints,” in the northern, eastern and southern grids.

An Imbalanced Power Grid

What also contributes to the imbalance in power and electricity in the country is the division of the national power grid. The Indian grid is divided into five sections—northern, western, eastern, north eastern and southern. With the exception of the southern grid, the remaining grids are integrated with one another. According to a 2012 Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry report (Lack of Affordable & Quality Power: Shackling India’s Growth Story), the distribution of power is as follows:

Grid

Power Distribution

Western Grid

66,757 MW

Northern Grid

50,000 MW

Southern Grid

30,000 MW

Eastern Grid

26,838 MW

North Eastern Grid

2,455 MW

Source: (i) Lack of Affordable & Quality Power: Shackling India’s Growth Story, FICCI Report. (ii) Report on Grid Disturbances on 30th and 31st July 2012, Central Electricity Regulatory Commission

Although the western grid produces the most power, the northern grid caters to a larger number of people and covers a wider geographic area, 31 per cent according to the FICCI report. Furthermore, the north eastern grid is dependent on the northern one, while the southern one lies in isolation. With such an uneven distribution of power, it is not difficult to see why the power outage in 2012 occurred on such a massive scale.

Operational Efficiency

Efficiency of running a power plant is another factor that accounts for losses and inefficiencies in electricity. Plant load factor (PLF)— the rate or frequency with which a power plant is used—is one measure to determine a power plant’s operational efficiency. According to a report from the International Energy Agency (IEA), the PLF fell exponentially from 90 per cent in FY 2007/08 and 2008/09 to 67 per cent in FY 2011/12. This drop in performance has been attributed to poor maintenance of power plants in addition to shortages in fuel supply, namely coal and gas and the poor quality of coal. When the frequency with which a power plant is utilised is not optimal, it has a direct effect on the finances of the power company, which in turn leads to a reduction in the amount of electricity generated.

In such scenarios where power plants are unable to provide sufficient electricity, people rely on diesel generators. A New York Times India Ink report mentions that during the electricity failure in 2012, diesel generators kept some businesses and hospitals functioning, but this was only in the urban areas, particularly the more affluent neighborhoods. The article attributed this to the high price of diesel, which, according to the New York Times report, is subsidised by Rs 13 per litre.

Similarly, in Kanpur, since the amount of electricity generated is less, people use diesel generators which besides being intensely polluting are also extremely expensive. When the generators become unaffordable, the last resort is theft.

Electricity Theft

In ‘Theft and Loss of Electricity in an Indian State,’ Miriam Golden from Princeton University and Brian Min from University of Michigan take an in depth look at how politics, particularly, electoral votes is associated with electricity theft in the state. They cite three ways in which electricity is stolen—drawing electricity from illegal connections, meter fraud and unmetered use. Meter fraud involves bribing an official to produce inaccurate readings; another form of meter fraud is tampering with the mechanism of meters to provide more electricity to users than what they have paid for. Unmetered use of electricity is widespread not only in urban areas but in rural as well. They state that since the advent of the Green Revolution in the 1970s, power to farmers has been subsidised. Farmers use electricity to power irrigation pumpsets and tube wells to draw up groundwater. What Min and Golden conclude in their analysis is that unmetered theft is most common in agricultural areas, and this involves farmers receiving more electricity that what they are due. Moreover, this extra power is given to rich farmers who comprise “a powerful interest group” for the local politicians.

Rural Electrification

The power failure of 2012 put the spotlight on India’s electricity problems, including those of the rural areas. In 2005, the government launched a scheme, the Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana electrifying 115,000 villages and 23.4 million BPL households by 2012. An Economist article on rural electrification states that although this was the official plan, with a reported 90 per cent of electrification achieved, it does not indicate the actual amount of electricity reaching those villages. The article then enumerates the work of several “social entrepreneurs” and NGOs in providing “rural off-grid power.” These organisations are using solar power to electrify rural households. For example, Mera Gao Power, an organisation in Uttar Pradesh provides solar panels and has claimed to have serviced 9,000 homes.

If the electricity grid in India in unable to cope with current demand, could alternatives like solar power offset imbalances in the grid?

Solar Power: An Alternative?

According to a Times of India report on India’s burgeoning solar power industry, there are about 1.8 GW of installed solar power plants in India. Furthermore, the report mentions a programme—Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission—implemented by the government which aims to install 20,000 MW of solar power by 2022, all in three phases. A recently released World Bank report commended the programme, stating that it has played a key role in reducing the price of solar power and dependence on depleting fuels such as coal and gas. However, the question still remains, will such technology meet rising demand? And what about existing inequalities, how are those going to be addressed? Is solar power the only way out?

Power sector in India in graphs

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Related Links

Understanding Energy Challenges in India – Policies, Players and Issues

Energy Statistics 2013 from the Central Statistics Office, Govt of India

Lighting Up Rural India

Ministry of Power, GoI – All India electricity sector at a glance

Theft and Loss of Electricity in an Indian State

An Area of Darkness

Solar power in India

An Energy Alternative

World Bank report on rural electricity in India, 2010

FICCI report: Lack of Affordable and Quality Power: Shackling India’s Growth Story

NYT India Ink – The Diesel Generator: India’s Trusty Power Source

The Science of Movement – An Interview

By Priya Prasad

“What I understand from my career of 14 years and one lakh patients is that movement is very important for everyone, movement is life.”

In India, there is little awareness of the benefits of physiotherapy. In developed countries, patients are first offered physiotherapy before opting for any surgical procedure. Dr C Anand Jyothi, owner of Sri Sugam Physiotherapy Institute tells me why this is so. An inspired and committed individual, Dr Jyothi recounts his inspirational journey into the field of physiotherapy.

What is your specialisation?

I’m Anand Jyothi and I’m a physiotherapist specialised in musco-skeletal, manipulative and sports physiotherapy. I’m the chairman of Sri Sugam Physiotherapy Institute since 1999.

What kind of work do you do here?

I’m a specialist, a physiotherapist. As we all know, physiotherapy is a movement science so we deal with movement and posture. We deal with all types of people, young and old who have movement dysfunction; for example, those who are not able to walk, stand, bend or perform any daily activities.

We also provide prevention treatment for the sporting group of people. Sports persons require more physical intensity, physical strength and stability. Different sports need different types of stability. Let’s say, if you see a basketball player, the stability is different from a golfer and a football player; they always move on one leg to kick the ball; a tennis player moves on both legs but uses one limb, the right hand, more often. We deal with movement analysis and biochemical evaluation for sporting people. We correct their body mechanics. For example, certain elite athletes have some difficulty with the back hand stroke, so we’ll do a video analysis and then give a sports-specific exercise to improve that particular technique, not just general training.

Other than that, we provide physiotherapy services pre- and post-surgery. Generally, in India, the awareness for physiotherapy pre- and post-surgery is very less. People think that after surgery the treatment is over. But in Australia, where I studied my post graduation, the rehabilitation after surgery, even for caesarean pregnancies, joint replacement or spinal surgery, will be around six months to one year, where we will take patients through different phases of rehabilitation, from non-weight bearing and weight bearing exercises, strength training , stability training and functional training. We follow this method at Sri Sugam.

The clinical diagnosis is key to physiotherapy practice. For example, consider somebody with neck pain, they may have a different muscle problem or sometimes a postural [problem], they may have a booking chin and rounded shoulder. We don’t just treat the pain, we understand which structure is causing the pain, it may be a muscle or the area around the neck or it may be a nerve root. Sometimes contributing factors like pillows can cause the neck pain. This diagnosis is quite different from a medical diagnosis or what they do in an investigative procedure such as MRI scan and X-ray.

What was your inspiration for setting up this clinic?

Physiotherapy has been a childhood dream. I’m from Vellore and I’ve been inspired by my school teachers who have helped the community. When I was in school, every three to four months, the teachers would take us to a rehabilitation centre on Sundays, like the cerebral palsy home.

During my undergraduate years, I realised that we treat patients every day. When I used to work at the government hospital, I would see at least 70–100 patients per day. But at the end of the day, to be honest, I didn’t know what I was doing. We know how to treat the patients but if they would ask me a question, I wouldn’t know how to answer them. During my final undergraduate year, I realised I needed to expand my knowledge. I heard about an extension Master’s degree programme in Australia.

In India, physiotherapy is not a very popular profession. It is the case in present times as well as 13 years ago.  When I went to Australia, my first class was on clinical reasoning. When I was an undergraduate, I never reasoned. If the patient has knee pain, then I would prescribe four exercises, similarly for other aches and pains; we have a recipe of treatment. But in my first class on clinical reasoning, I learned that we must think first before touching the patient. We would talk with the patient for at least half an hour to 45 minutes or even one hour.

What I understand from my career of 14 years and one lakh patients is that movement is very important for everyone, movement is life. That’s why our caption at Sri Sugam Physiotherapy is ‘Keep Moving.’ We kept it very simple. When people lose movement, they become dependent and definitely lose their morale, their confident level and they become sick.

Are your services restricted only to the middle class and elite sections of society?

From the health point of view, people from all walks of life come here. We treat car drivers, gardeners, IAS and IPS officers. When it comes to pain it’s not a matter of affordability. Relief is of utmost importance. In Sri Sugam, as a matter of policy, we have a CSR activity for poor people. We sometimes charge less or at times, give treatment free of cost. We do this unofficially.

We support a lot of schools. I provide honorary, i.e., free services, at the Paralympics Association of which I am a part. We also have an association where we provide a bit of sponsorship and some people themselves become sponsors.

For 14 years, from 1999, we have worked only through word of mouth. Right now we have crossed more than 1, 25,000 patients which is huge in rehabilitation.

Not just another library

By Priya Prasad

As you drive down Kotturpuram, it is difficult to ignore the massive behemoth that will loom up. What is most striking about the structure is the modern design. You do not see such structures in India; it seems to have been magically transported from New York or London or Tokyo.

At first glance, you would think it’s another monument dedicated to some great Tamilian personality or politician; it even seems to look like the place where government secrets are housed.

The glass edifice, clinically clean green lawns, open air amphitheatre resembling a Roman theatre, a cafe and eight floors of a plethora of books, magazines and periodicals—it’s a bibliophile’s wildest fantasy come alive!

Architecture and Facilities

There’s much to be said about the architecture of the library. Designed by architect, C R Narayan Rao, and constructed by East Coast Construction and Industries (ECCI), each section of the library is designed to suit the various categories of books housed there. For instance, as you enter the children’s section, you are greeted with a cosy atmosphere, where colourful small chairs and children’s books of different shapes, sizes and lengths pepper the area. A large artificial tree dominates the centre of the room with colourful table and chairs surrounding it; this is the children’s fun activity area. Outside, in the balcony is a little play area for the little ones. The reading areas in every section are located near windows allowing in just the right amount of heat.

The children's section at Anna Centenary Library. Photo credit: www.aclphoto.blogspot.in

The children’s section at Anna Centenary Library. Photo credit: http://www.aclphoto.blogspot.in

“What I like most about the library is the infrastructure. For a public library, it is very large. Every library is unique but this one is different altogether. I have never seen any library have so many floors,” says Kavitha (name changed), an employee at the library. “Of its many facilities, the library allows the public to bring their own books. This is not the case in any other library, even in the previous place [Connemara Public Library] where I worked,” she adds.

This uniqueness itself is what attracts the 1,000–1,500-odd visitors to peruse the services of the library. “Researchers, students, people appearing for competitive exams as well as people who read the newspapers regularly come here. A lot of engineering students from IIT and Anna University visit the library because it has many of the expensive books that they need to refer to,” says S Karthikeyan, Library Information Officer.

“This is my second home. I use the competitive examination section and the ‘own-book’ reading section,” says Ramakrishnan, an IAS aspirant who is a regular at the library. He says that the library management have designated a special time slot for civil service aspirants, from 8am to 9pm, which is a “gracious attempt by the management people.”

Karthikeyan says that each section has been structured bearing in mind ease of access for the public. For example, being the most visited area, the newspaper and periodicals section is housed on the first floor so that even the old and differently abled can easily access it.

He further states that the library has an exclusive Tamil section with about 24,000 books. “We also have a Braille section where there are about 1,000 registered users from Tamil Nadu as well as from outside the state,” he says.

The Controversy

Established in 2010 by former Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, the library was constructed to commemorate the 100th birth anniversary of C N Annadurai. However, in 2011, when Jayalalithaa came to power, she ordered the 230 crore library building to be shifted to Nungambakkam and a paediatric hospital to be constructed in its place (Jayalalithaa’s decision to shift Anna Centenary Library stayed by court, Times of India, November 4, 2011). A PIL was subsequently filed in the Madras High Court and ever since then the issue has been in limbo. Karthikeyan says that the pending court case has caused a number of problems for the library—the staff are not confirmed; books, periodicals and other publications are not renewed; there is no membership so there is no borrowing or lending. “Earlier, before the problem with the court, we used to have many children’s programmes,” says Kavitha.

However, despite this, the library continues to draw its usual share of visitors. Employees too are satisfied. “There is no membership here, despite that the atmosphere here is different. It is well maintained. The housekeeping staff work all the time to ensure its upkeep,” says Kavitha.

There are various ways the library can generate revenue. “We are going to shift some of the services online,” states Karthikeyan. Perhaps, by creating online membership, the library can open its services to people outside Chennai. Moreover, an amphitheatre, a lecture hall for events and an auditorium are some of the means by which the management is ensuring the library is up and running. Last year, the state government began renting out the auditorium for wedding receptions and parties (Anna Library auditorium turns into marriage hall, Times of India, July 2, 2012)

A Dedicated Work Force

Despite its problems, the library is efficiently managed by a management team of professionals. All employees have a minimum qualification of a Master’s in Library Science. There is a process through which the employees are chosen. First, applicants have to appear for an exam organised by the Teacher’s Recruitment Board. Once that is cleared, candidates are shortlisted for interviews. Many people apply, few are chosen. “That is how I got recruited. I have been working here since 2010 and I am very satisfied with the working conditions here,” says Kavitha.

“We cannot find this kind of infrastructure in other cities. I have been to various districts, Coimbatore, Delhi; I think it is one of the finest libraries,” says Ramakrishnan.

Being the largest library in India with state-of-the-art facilities, it would indeed be a tragedy if the library were to be shifted elsewhere.

An Awareness Campaign on Early Intervention

By Priya Prasad

The Spastic Society of Tamil Nadu

The Spastic Society of Tamil Nadu

“The impact of early intervention can be seen in the physical, social, cognitive and social-emotional development of the child,” says L V Jayashree, director of the Spastics Society of Tamil Nadu (SPASTN). ‘Early Intervention’ is the theme of ‘Munnetra Padhai – Badhte Kadam,’ a campaign funded by the National Trust and run by SPASTN. Running in its fifth year, the aim of this campaign is to provide “equal rights and privileges for persons with disabilities.” A report by the National Institute for the Mentally Handicapped states that efforts to provide early intervention services are far too few and scattered, concentrated only in the urban areas, with hardly any reach in the rural areas. Badhte Kadam is one endeavour to increase this awareness.

“Badhte Kadam is a discoverability campaign which means we discover the potential of people with disabilities where they showcase their talent so that the community at large can see what they can do,” adds Jayashree. The children at SPASTN present their talent via dramas, dances, ramp walks, mimicry and fun games. Besides this, there are many other schemes that come under the umbrella of the National Trust. “Every state has initiated a number of initiatives, so we dovetail the Badhte Kadam campaign as one of the schemes of the Tamil Nadu government,” says Jayashree. She adds that this needs to be communicated to people and to avail of these programs and schemes, persons with disabilities need to have a card indicating their status. Initiatives such as this make persons who are differently abled aware of their rights.

According to Jayashree, creating an environment that is physically accessible to persons with disabilities will bring down psychological barriers as well. “When the physical barriers are broken down, you see more people as part of the social landscape, you won’t even notice them [persons with disabilities] then,” she says.

Jayashree and her team of physiotherapists liaison with public health centres (PHCs) and educate the staff about at risk factors of pregnancies that they should look out for. Early intervention does not start when the child is born, it begins much before, at the prenatal period, when the child is in the womb. In order to determine if a mother is at risk, Jayashree says they look out for a number of ‘red flags’—pregnancy-induced diabetes, increases in blood pressure, whether the mother is on medication. “So when you say early intervention, I will not see it as in silo, I will always see it before and after,” she adds.

Her team of physiotherapists visit certain designated PHCs within the city and semi urban areas where they conduct screenings of potential at risk new born babies, who are lined up in advance by the PHCs. This, Jayashree says, is a good indicator of a partnership between an NGO and government. “They allow us to go into their space which is their domain so they respect our professional expertise,” she says.

She adds that initially, to reach this stage, it required considerable networking and advocacy with different levels of government officials, starting with the director of medical services. She and her team would conduct sensitization sessions on disability at their offices. This has clearly paid dividends—SPASTN is a recognizable name among some PHCs across the city.

Research has shown that the rate of human development is most acute during the early years, hence the need for early intervention for children with developmental delays. The age range for early intervention is between zero and six years, after which development delays are difficult to correct. “Some research has shown that within three years, complete neuronal exuberance takes place from the time of birth to three years. On the other hand, some say that neuronal exuberance takes up to six years to completely evolve, so it’s important to provide the right intervention at the right time,” says Jayashree.

There are various ways in which the benefits of early intervention manifest itself. One would be imitating behaviour which, according to Jayashree, lays the foundation for other behaviours—it helps develop cognitive skills, memory, attention as well as social skills. “When we develop an individualised educational plan we have all the four domains [physical, social, cognitive, emotional] in mind to work towards at the classroom level,” she adds.

Initially, the theme of Badhte Kadam was ‘Issues of Violence and Sexual Harassment of People with Disabilities,’ but the National Trust made a mid-stream correction and changed the theme to ‘Early Intervention.’

“Early intervention is always a green topic, how much ever you do it’s never enough. There are still communities we have not reached. Early intervention will always be relevant. It will never go out of fashion,” concludes Jayashree.

Addressing an agricultural crisis in the context of climate change

By Priya Prasad

Labelling itself as “A Foundation for Food Security,” former politician and executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, Marie Haga emphasised the need for a “specific mandate for food security.” “There is a need to conserve diversity of major food crops and making it available to farmers and breeders,” she adds. She says this in the context of climate change, which scientists say will benefit crops in certain areas but would have adverse effects worldwide, bringing down food production by 2%.

“The challenge facing agriculture is that there are too many people. This would need a 15% increase in food production in 10 years, and this will occur in the midst of climate change,” Haga says. In a document prepared by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), climate change will have a negative impact on agriculture. A one degree rise in temperatures globally will lead to a 10% reduction in rice yields. “Agriculture has to adapt, and it has to adapt quickly,” says an emphatic Haga.

Haga praised India’s Food Security Act, saying that more countries need to make food security and its conservation high on their political agendas. “Now they are working in the UN for the 2015 development goals. I don’t doubt that food security will be on the agenda but we’ve got to make sure that it is sufficiently strong,” she says.

According to Haga, crop diversity is the way forward. Having varieties of food crops available will help address the agricultural shortage that will occur. But the challenge now lies in making this diverse food crop available to farmers and this would require conserving crops. Plant genebanks are one such method of storing a variety of seeds. This is where the role of organsiations such as the Global Crop Diversity Fund come in, which was established at the United Nations Johannesburg Summit in 2002. “Genebanks are not meant to be museums, but seeds need to be stored and made available to farmers,” she adds.

The Trust works under the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. It was established as a system of sharing the benefits of storing seed varieties with the global community. A back-up facility was  created on an island near the Arctic pole, Svalbard which houses 781,148 samples of seeds from all over the world. The facility includes major international collections from organisations such as Africa Rice, Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Biodiversity International to name a few as well as national collections from individual member states.

The collection at Svalbard is supported via an endowment fund from the various governments that are part of the International Treaty. The proceeds of this fund account for 15% of the overall costs of managing the collection.

Questions were raised regarding patentcy issues of sharing the national collections of seeds at Svalbard with other countries. Haga and her colleague, Luigi Guarino, a senior scientist at the Trust said that this would only apply to countries that fall under the International Treaty.

The talk on food security, “Feeding a Growing World Despite Climate Change,” was held at the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation. In his opening address, Mr Swaminathan said that the work of such organisations such as the Global Crop Trust Fund is to keep “genetic resources in trust for posterity” in order to ensure the wellbeing of future generations.