Thursday, May 29, 2008

Rice Paddies, PL 480 and Ghosts

Troubled Galaxy Destroyed Dreams: Chapter Six

Palash Biswas

Thanks! President George Bush! You have reminded us of our Food Habits. We third world Indigenous, aboriginal people have never been accustomed to US life style of Diet Control. Rather,we have always been the victims of famine and all types of natural hazards. Latest happens to be Global Warming, contributed by the so called developed first World hijacking all food ingredients!

Our ancestors in East Bengal were masters of growing Rice paddies. I grew amongst Green Paddies under the Blue dark sky of Nainital Terai.

My entire childhood have been waterlogged like the Rice paddies. How much methane we consumed, we never had the opportunity to fathom! Under heatwave or Heavy Rain we worked on our fields as the indigenous families share the responsibility to feed every one. My mother Basanti Devi and other women of the family kept the kitchen run round the clock. My mother believed that the Food should be available every time for everyone and the Kitchen should be an emergency zone. We never knew the Zunk Food, Fast Food!

Who changed our food habits?

Who snatched our Food?

Who is responsible for this running Food crisis worldwide?

In 1956, my Father led the refugee movement in Rudrapur. In 1958, he led the Peasants Uprising in Dhimri Block on line of Telengana. He was put behind the bars. In 1960, he had been in riot torn Assam. Thus, the family had to do without him. Chhotokaka, a medical practitioner was only doctor available in Dineshpur as well as Shaktifarm, in a thirty six mile area. He has been always busy with his assigned job. Jethamashai and the women folk led by Thamma with children, me and my cousin sister Meera di, later cousin brother Subhash had to do all the domestic as well as field works.

I was the eldest boy in the family, a most sensitive working hand. I had to work round the clock with other members of the family. The indigenous enslaved aboriginal poor folk never have the scope to ensure any privilege for childhood. Either they happen to be Bonded labour or they have to grow earlier to earn Bread and Butter for the household.

As much as the Japanese, South East Asian or Vietnam farmers are. US warplanes bombing Rice fields in Vietnam in sixties were reminiscent of Bengal famines for me. The aboriginal peoples converted as Hindu Untouchables in Bengal carried the art with them and scattered it all over India. We introduced Rice planting in Uttar Pradesh, North India.

It was quite amusing to see our family worshipping Ghosts to drive away evil forces from our Rice Fields. i wondered why the Vietnam farmers did not try the Trick against US all out aggression!

Before the sun could rise , we had to land on our field. Rice was to be cooked and after performing rituals, the food had to be offered to the Ghosts around. The Brahmin, two Brahmin families resided in our village would lead the performance but it was closely monitored by Thamma.

We never see ghosts as they were said to be crowded all around us. No electricity was available in those days. There was no Pucca road anywhere. We had to be aware of poisonously snakes like cobra. We have to drive away the wild animals around. The tiger would be walking anywhere in excursion. We children were alerted of the invisible spirits around. As darkness enveloped the Green horizon, we were never allowed to loiter around. But it was me who would accompany anyone to water our paddy fields. Under hot Sun, we would be fishing into the Rice field. We would have to invite snake bites and wild adventure in the dark Night for field duties. We had no respite.

I was known for my studies. It costed the farming time. We could not afford much helping hands. Every time,whenever they felt short of labour , everyone would try to locate me. The result have always been a good thrashing. our priorities have always been to run the Indigenous Agro based production system.

Who destroyed our harvesting?

I had to go to school in under wears as it was quite impossible to move in any type of dress in the waterlogged paddies. We had to crate the routes amongst water.

Later, in Shaktifarm, where I had been banished for my Naxalite links, I witnessed my school friends to swim across the flooded river. In Dineshpur school also, the Sunderpur and Makrandpur Children had this practice of swimming as they never had link roads until late eighties.

We were somewhat lucky that we had not to cross any river unless we tried short cut via Vijay Nagar, Buksaura and Durgapur to reach our school. We had no vehicle to cross the three miles distance. Even the Rickshaws were scarce. We had no option but walking. We could reach the Jafarpur Gularbhoj road just crossing half a mile. We had to reach Haridaspur where I got primary education from Pitambar Pant.This road was always muddy. Even in 1983, when I married , this link road was full of mud. Freedom fighter Ramji Roy had given his Jeep. I screened my friends and only a few of them accompanied me. But the Jeep was stranded halfway. The new bridegroom Sabita refused to walk. Our friend Vivek managed a Rickshaw. It is our best memory of Honeymmon period.

This is our Honeymoon style.

Grooms would walk amongst the paddies with a cycle or radio set and the brides would follow.

Now we have Bikes, Cars, Tractors, Link Road, metalled roads around our villages and fields. We have TVs, Mobiles, computers and anything available in Metros. but we have not the Food which was abound once upon a time when we grew rice paddies only. Our folk have given up the Rice paddies. urbanisation and Industrialisation have taken over us. Most of our people have been displaced. Most of them fell sick. Most of them lost their green fields. Most of them have been ejected out from their traditional livelihood.

Who is responsible for all these changes?

What if these changes oblige me to assess the results of imported Green revolution?

Why do we remember the Great Bengal Famine?

Green Revolution in North India changed the traditional East Bengal pattern of Rice farming in North India. Hybrid Tychun and IR 8 took over indigenous species of rice paddies. Later, the Bengali refugees accustomed themselves as Sugar cane growers. Now they have adopted cash crops like soybeans and sunflowers.

During intense Food crisis in sixties , we had to consume the rotten imported Food made of PL 480 of US origin. until then, even in Terai, surrounded by Sikh and Hindi speaking communities we never tried bread. in our childhood, we used to take Rice three times.

Call it environmental art, public art, whatever, more and more artists are getting interested in working with nature to alter the environment and create outdoor art with plants. The world saw it on the walls of the National Theatre in London, where artists grew grass on the outside of the building for 6 weeks. Now in Japan, as part of an annual celebration, rice farmers grow wonderful pictures in their fields of rice paddies. Since starting the tradition in 1993, the farmers in Aomori prefecture have become famous, attempting more and more complex pictures every year. In the past they have grown the Mona Lisa, Japanese warriors, and this year they have done two images from the series of woodblock prints, 36 Views of Mount Fuji, by the famous wood block print maker Hokusai. The view of the great wave and Mt. Fuji are in two adjoining fields, in purple and yellow rice.

To do this, the farmers grow some purple and yellow-leafed kodaimai rice along with their regular green-leafed tsugaru-roman variety. The paddies will be on view until September, when the rice is harvested. :: psfk

World market prices for major food commodities such as grains and vegetable oils have risen sharply to historic highs of more than 60 percent above levels just 2 years ago. Many factors have contributed to the run up in food commodity prices. Some factors reflect trends of slower growth in production and more rapid growth in demand, which have contributed to a tightening of world balances of grains and oil seeds over the last decade. Recent factors that have further tightened world markets include increased global demand for bio fuels feed stocks and adverse weather conditions in 2006 and 2007 in some major grain and oilseed producing areas. Other factors that have added to global food commodity price inflation include the declining value of the U.S. dollar, rising energy prices, increasing agricultural costs of production, growing foreign exchange holdings by major food importing countries, and policies adopted recently by some exporting and importing countries to mitigate their own food price inflation.

MF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn said some countries affected by the world food crisis were implementing remedial policies that would be effective.

But, he told a video conference of civil society organizations (CSOs), other countries' policy responses to the international food price surge are causing concern at the IMF.

Paddy field

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A paddy field is a flooded parcel of arable land used for growing rice and other semiaquatic crops. Rice can also be grown in dry-fields, but from the twentieth century paddy field agriculture became the dominant form of growing rice. Paddy fields are a typical feature of rice-growing countries of east, south and southeast Asia, including Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam. They are also found in other rice-growing regions such as Piedmont (Italy), the Camargue (France) and the Artibonite Valley (Haiti).

Paddy fields can be built adjacent to otherwise natural areas such as rivers or marshes. They can be constructed, often on steep hillsides with much labor and materials. The fields require large quantities of water for irrigation. Flooding provides water essential to the growth of the crop. Water also provides a favorable environment for the rice strains being grown as well as discouraging the growth of many species of weeds. The water buffalo is the only draft animal adapted for life in wetlands so they are extensively used in paddy fields.

Growing rice has an adverse environmental impact because of the large quantities of methane gas it generates. World methane production due to paddy fields has been estimated to be in the range of 50 to 100 million tonnes per annum.[1] This level of greenhouse gas generation is a large component of the global warming threat produced from an expanding human population. However, recent studies have shown that methane can be significantly reduced while also boosting crop yield by draining the paddies allowing the soil to aerate, which interrupts methane production.[2]

Archaeologists generally accept that wet-field cultivation originated in China. At Caoxieshan, a site of the Neolithic Majiabang culture, archaeologists excavated paddy fields [4]. Some archaeologists claim that Caoxieshan may date to 4000-3000 B.C.[5][6], but as of now the oldest excavated rice paddy field dated by absolute scientific dating techniques are from Korea[7]. There is archaeological evidence that unhusked rice was stored for the military and for burial with the deceased from the Neolithic period to the Han Dynasty in China.[8]

Korean paddy-field farming is ancient. A pit-house at the Daecheon-ni site yielded carbonized rice grains and radiocarbon dates indicating that rice cultivation in dry-fields may have begun as early as the Middle Jeulmun Pottery Period (c. 3500-2000 B.C.) in the Korean Peninsula[9]. Ancient paddy fields have been carefully unearthed in Korea by institutes such as Kyungnam University Museum (KUM) of Masan. They excavated paddy field features at the Geumcheon-ni Site near Miryang, South Gyeongsang Province. The paddy field feature was found next to a pit-house that is dated to the latter part of the Early Mumun Pottery Period (c. 1100-850 B.C.). KUM has conducted excavations that have revealed similarly dated paddy field features at Yaeum-dong and Okhyeon in modern-day Greater Ulsan[10].

The earliest Mumun features were usually located in low-lying narrow gullies that were naturally swampy and fed by the local stream system. Some Mumun paddy fields in flat areas were made of a series of squares and rectangles separated by bunds approximately 10 cm in height, while terraced paddy fields consisted of long irregular shapes that followed natural contours of the land at various levels[11][12].

Mumun Period rice farmers used all of the elements that are present in today's paddy fields such terracing, bunds, canals, and small reservoirs. We can grasp some paddy-field farming techniques of the Middle Mumun (c. 850-550 B.C.) from the well-preserved wooden tools excavated from archaeological rice fields at the Majeon-ni Site. However, iron tools for paddy-field farming were not introduced until sometime after 200 B.C. The spatial scale of paddy-fields increased with the regular use of iron tools in the Three Kingdoms of Korea Period (c. A.D. 300/400-668).

The first paddy fields in Japan date to the Early Yayoi period[13]. The Early Yayoi has been re-dated and thus it appears that wet-field agriculture developed at approximately the same time as in the Korean peninsula.

In the Philippines, the use of rice paddies can be traced to prehistoric times, as evidenced in the names of towns such as Pila, Laguna, whose name can be traced to the straight mounds of dirt that form the boundaries of the rice paddy, or "Pilapil." [14]

Wet rice cultivation in Vietnam dates back to the Neolithic Hoa Binh culture and Bac Son culture [15]

Strauss-Kahn told representatives of some 30 northern- and southern-hemisphere CSOs that some countries affected by the crisis are taking sensible steps to cushion the impact and improve agricultural output. These include

• transfers targeted at vulnerable groups

• investment in infrastructure, and

• more access to financing for agricultural investment.

But he cautioned countries against adopting other policies to address the global food price crisis that may have longer-term drawbacks. He warned against some apparently "obvious" food price solutions, such as price and export controls and subsidies.

"I must say that I see some responses that concern us—like price controls, which discourage production; and [controls] on exports, which export hunger from one country to another; and indiscriminate subsidies that help the rich more than the poor and undermine gains made in recent years in reducing poverty and achieving macroeconomic stability," Strauss-Kahn said.

Strauss-Kahn was speaking at a May 23 videoconference involving CSOs from Africa, North and South America, Asia, and Europe that was held at the World Bank's headquarters in Washington D.C. The conference was also attended by UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman. Strauss-Kahn identified three priorities in addressing the world's food crisis.

`Feed the hungry'

"The first priority, obviously, is to feed the hungry. The most serious risks are starvation and malnutrition, which will stunt children's development for decades," Strauss-Kahn said. "In the short term we need to get food—and money to buy food—to the most affected places."

It was also important to fully fund the World Food Program, Strauss-Kahn added, urging global CSOs to assist multilateral institutions by urging their governments to do all they can.

Social safety nets

A second priority covered actions needed in the coming six months, Strauss-Kahn said. These included providing additional finance for seed and fertilizer for the next harvest, and at the same time reinforcing social safety nets. The IMF and the World Bank had helped with these objectives both by making some room in budgets for additional spending, and also by providing balance of payments support.

"We at the IMF are already talking with about 15 governments having this kind of problem in front of them," Strauss-Kahn stated. He added that an IMF task force is looking at the impact of high food and fuel prices on different countries' policies.

A third priority was to look at the issues that caused the food price problem. Some sources of the crisis were clear: distortion of global and local agricultural markets that discourage production in low-income countries; some biofuel policies; and high energy prices that drive up the cost of fertilizer and food transport.

Fast-track support

World Bank President Robert Zoellick told the videoconference the Bank is trying to work with some countries to enable them to lower some tariffs and import food more cheaply. "This does sometimes cut into their revenues, and that's where we're working with the IMF on offsets," Zoellick added.

Zoellick said the Bank was trying to put together a global food crisis response program to fast-track financial support for the most vulnerable countries. "We've actually got some packages moving right through our system right now for Haiti, Djibouti, Liberia, we've done some reallocation for Burkina Faso, we're doing some for Bangladesh and Togo; we've got a list of about 15 countries that are most on the edge," Zoellick said.

In a separate interview with IMF Survey online, Mark Plant, Deputy Director of the IMF's Policy Development and Review Department, explains the status of the various strands of work taking place within the IMF on food and fuel prices and their policy implications, and outlines how the IMF is collaborating with the United Nations and other agencies to help relieve the impact.

Agricultural commodity prices should ease from their recent record peaks but over the next 10 years they are expected to average well above their mean levels of the past decade, according to the latest Agricultural Outlook from OECD and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Current high food prices will hit the poor and hungry people hardest, particularly urban net food buyers and rural non-food producers in low income countries. Humanitarian aid must be urgently mobilized to face this dramatic situation, but to find sustainable solutions and avoid similar cases in the future, the emphasis in these countries must be on boosting agricultural production and productivity as well as growth and broader economic development.

“The way to address rising food prices is not through protectionism but to open up agricultural markets and to free up the productive capacity of farmers, who have proven repeatedly that they will respond to market incentives,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría at the Outlook’s launch in Paris. “Governments can also do more to foster growth and development in poor countries, so as to improve the purchasing power of the most vulnerable food buyers.”

Food prices and their impact on the world economy will be one of the issues that will be addressed at the OECD Ministerial Council Meeting in Paris on 4-5 June 2008. At a separate summit at FAO headquarters in Rome, on 3-5 June, world leaders, including many Heads of State and Government from around the world, will discuss policies and strategies on how to improve and ensure world food security and re-launch agriculture in rural communities of developing countries.

“Coherent action is urgently needed by the international community to deal with the impact of higher prices on the hungry and poor,” Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the FAO said at a press confence launching the Outlook in Paris. “Today some 862 million people are suffering from hunger and malnourishment – this highlights the need to re-invest in agriculture. It should be clear now that agriculture needs to be put back onto the development agenda.”

In comparing averages of the coming decade with those of the past, real prices, i.e. nominal prices corrected for inflation, are projected to increase in a range from less than 10 percent for rice and sugar, under 20 percent for wheat, around 30 percent for butter, coarse grains and oilseeds to over 50 percent for vegetable oils, according to the report.

More volatile

Prices may also become more volatile because stock levels are expected to remain low and as some of the demand for agricultural commodities becomes less responsive to price changes. The recent increase in investment funds on commodity futures markets might also become an additional factor in price variability. Climate change, too, would affect crop production and supply in unforeseen ways.

The report says that drought in some of the world’s main grain-producing regions in the context of low stocks was a large – but transitory – factor in the sharp price rises of the past two years. More permanent factors such as high oil prices, changing diets, urbanisation, economic growth and expanding populations, are also at play and are behind the expectation of higher average prices in the coming ten years relative to the past decade.

Growing demand for biofuel is another factor contributing to higher prices. World fuel ethanol production tripled between 2000 and 2007 and is expected to double again between now and 2017 to reach 127 billion litres a year. Biodiesel production is seen to expand from 11 billion litres a year in 2007 to around 24 billion litres by 2017. The growth in biofuel production adds to demand for grains, oilseeds and sugar, so contributing to higher crop prices.

In OECD countries, at least, the growth of biofuel production has thus far been driven largely by policy measures, and the report says that it is not clear that the energy security, environmental and economic objectives of biofuel policies will be achieved with current production technologies. The report suggests further review of existing biofuel policies.

Among other findings of the report are the following:

• Both consumption and production is growing faster in developing countries for all agricultural commodities except wheat. By 2017, these countries are expected to dominate trade in most farm products.
• High prices will be beneficial for many commercial farmers both in developed and developing countries. However, many farmers in developing countries are not linked to markets and are unlikely to benefit from the projected higher prices.
• Cereal markets are expected to remain tight as stocks are unlikely to return to the high levels of the past decade.
• Consumption of vegetable oils, both from oil seed crops and from palm, will grow faster than for other crops over the next 10 years. The rise is being driven both by demand for food and for biofuels.
• Brazil’s share of world meat exports is expected to grow to 30 percent by 2017.

The U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) today released "Synthesis and Assessment Product 4.3 (SAP 4.3): The Effects of Climate Change on Agriculture, Land Resources, Water Resources, and Biodiversity in the United States." The CCSP integrates the federal research efforts of 13 agencies on climate and global change. Today's report is one of the most extensive examinations of climate impacts on U.S. ecosystems. USDA is the lead agency for this report and coordinated its production as part of its commitment to CCSP.

"The report issued today provides practical information that will help land owners and resource managers make better decisions to address the risks of climate change," said Agriculture Chief Economist Joe Glauber.

The report was written by 38 authors from the universities, national laboratories, non-governmental organizations, and federal service. The report underwent expert peer review by 14 scientists through a Federal Advisory Committee formed by the USDA. The National Center for Atmospheric Research also coordinated in the production of the report. It is posted on the CCSP Web site at: .

The report finds that climate change is already affecting U.S. water resources, agriculture, land resources, and biodiversity, and will continue to do so. Specific findings include:

Grain and oilseed crops will mature more rapidly, but increasing temperatures will increase the risk of crop failures, particularly if precipitation decreases or becomes more variable.
Higher temperatures will negatively affect livestock. Warmer winters will reduce mortality but this will be more than offset by greater mortality in hotter summers. Hotter temperatures will also result in reduced productivity of livestock and dairy animals.
Forests in the interior West, the Southwest, and Alaska are already being affected by climate change with increases in the size and frequency of forest fires, insect outbreaks and tree mortality. These changes are expected to continue.
Much of the United States has experienced higher precipitation and streamflow, with decreased drought severity and duration, over the 20th century. The West and Southwest, however, are notable exceptions, and increased drought conditions have occurred in these regions.
Weeds grow more rapidly under elevated atmospheric CO2. Under projections reported in the assessment, weeds migrate northward and are less sensitive to herbicide applications.
There is a trend toward reduced mountain snowpack and earlier spring snowmelt runoff in the Western United States.
Horticultural crops (such as tomato, onion, and fruit) are more sensitive to climate change than grains and oilseed crops.
Young forests on fertile soils will achieve higher productivity from elevated atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Nitrogen deposition and warmer temperatures will increase productivity in other types of forests where water is available.
Invasion by exotic grass species into arid lands will result from climate change, causing an increased fire frequency. Rivers and riparian systems in arid lands will be negatively impacted.
A continuation of the trend toward increased water use efficiency could help mitigate the impacts of climate change on water resources.
The growing season has increased by 10 to 14 days over the last 19 years across the temperate latitudes. Species' distributions have also shifted.
The rapid rates of warming in the Arctic observed in recent decades, and projected for at least the next century, are dramatically reducing the snow and ice covers that provide denning and foraging habitat for polar bears.
USDA agencies are responding to the risks of climate change. For example, the Forest Service is incorporating climate change risks into National Forest Management Plans and is providing guidance to forest managers on how to respond and adapt to climate change. The Natural Resources Conservation Service and Farm Services Agency are encouraging actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase carbon sequestration through conservation programs. USDA's Risk Management Agency has prepared tools to manage drought risks and is conducting an assessment of the risks of climate change on the crop insurance program.

Thomas Kutty Abraham writes for

Kurukkupotta Kandai Vasu's family has grown rice in Kerala, India, for four generations. Now, the 62- year-old farmer buys the food staple in his local store.

When the annual monsoon rains reach India's southernmost state this week, Vasu will sit out the planting season because he can't recoup the cost of fertilizer, seeds and pesticides.

``The cost of cultivation has more than doubled, but the yield has only fallen,'' said Vasu, pointing at his barren paddy field below a green hill near Mundur, a village 2,665 kilometers (1,656 miles) from New Delhi. ``There's a shortage of rice globally, and the government is finding it difficult to supply enough rice to people at a reasonable price.''

To ensure it can feed India's 600 million poor, the government banned rice exports April 1, contributing to a shortage on world markets that drove the price of the grain to a record last month and sparked food riots from Haiti to Egypt. The curb caused local prices to lag behind the international increase, encouraging Vasu and other growers to switch to more lucrative crops and further reducing supply.

``Paddy cultivation today is a complete loss for the farmers,'' said K.A. Jayachandran, 64, who advises farmers on growing and cultivation techniques at the Integrated Rural Technology Centre, a nongovernment organization. ``If the farmer doesn't make money in one season, then he's ruined.''

The area growing rice in Kerala has fallen to 276,000 hectares (682,000 acres) in 2006 from 801,700 hectares in 1980, according to the state's Planning Board. Production almost halved to 630,000 tons from 1.27 million during the same period.

Price Tripled

The price of rough rice has almost tripled in the past two years, reaching a record $25.07 a 100 pounds on April 24 on the Chicago Board of Trade. It closed at $20.35 a 100 pounds on May 23. In India, rice sells for 18 rupees a kilogram (19 cents a pound) at local markets, and government-run stores distribute it to the poor for a sixth of that price.

To make ends meet, Vasu and his two brothers have devoted a fifth of their 20-acre plot to vegetables to feed their family, and reckon they can double the 10,000 rupees ($234) they earned from one acre of paddy by planting natural rubber.

Rubber prices rose to a record 123 rupees a kilo in Kerala after crude oil prices more than doubled in a year, according to the government's Rubber Board. The state accounts for more than 90 percent of the natural rubber produced in India, the world's fourth-biggest grower.

Tropical Climate

The tropical climate in Kerala is ideal for rubber, helping growers achieve an average yield of 1,879 kilograms a hectare, the highest in the world. The area producing rubber has almost doubled to 494,400 hectares during the past 25 years, according to the Planning Board. Still, government curbs on converting paddy land for cash crops are forcing farmers to hold back.

Since 2002, the local government has required paddy farmers to obtain permission to put their farmland to other uses, though construction of houses is permitted in small plots.

The order restricting land use hasn't been effective because it isn't widely enforced, said K. Jayakumar, Kerala's agriculture production commissioner. The state plans to introduce rules that will prevent the use of wetland for purposes other than rice.

``There's a crisis, and we see an opportunity in this to address this issue to some extent,'' he said. ``The state plans to double rice production in the next two years.''

Knee-Deep in Water

The prospect of spending six months of the year knee-deep in brown paddy water for scant reward is encouraging rice farmers to abandon their land. About 2.5 million people, or a 10th of the state's population, work in the Middle East, where they help build apartments, hotels and offices.

The exodus has led to a tripling of wages for day laborers who stayed behind, and fueled a building boom on drained paddy fields as engineers, surveyors and construction workers send money back.

At least 60 percent of the land traditionally used for rice in the Palakkad district, about 110 kilometers northeast of Kochi, Kerala's largest city, has been lost to other crops and to the construction of homes, villas and shopping malls, said Jayachandran.

The share of agricultural land devoted to food crops, including rice, fell to 12.5 percent in the year ended March 31, 2006, from 37.5 percent in 1981.

``The younger generation no longer wants to dirty his feet and hands working in paddy fields,'' says Jayachandran. ``He prefers a job in a factory or a shop.''

Vasu may well be the last rice farmer in his family. His 29-year-old son, who earned a diploma in electronics engineering, works in a cement company.

Still, Vasu said he could be tempted to resume rice farming if the government increased subsidies above the 160 rupees an acre it pays, and provided cheaper fertilizer and pesticides.

``Rice is close to our heart,'' Vasu said. ``But we need to be practical.''

Reuters reports:

PAW KAHYAN LAY, Myanmar, May 28 (Reuters) - With their rice paddies drenched in sea water and cattle gone, farmers in Myanmar's cyclone-hit Irrawaddy delta are struggling against huge odds to plant a new crop to avoid long-term food shortages.

"We have only until June to plant the main rice crop," one farmer called Huje said in the village of Paw Kahyan Lay, 40 km (25 miles) southwest of Yangon.

"Our fields are flooded with salt-water and we have no water buffalo to plough with," the 47-year-old said, standing with his daughter in the ruins of their home. The 12-foot (3.5-metre) sea surge from Cyclone Nargis on May flooded over a million acres of arable land in southwest Myanmar, state media said on Wednesday, and killed more than 280,000 cattle and water buffalo.

The ruling generals' main mouthpiece, the New Light of Myanmar, said there was an urgent need for tractors, power tillers, seed, fertiliser and fuel for the "timely cultivation in storm-affected areas".

Myanmar has appealed for $243 million in aid to get rice farmers back on the land, and $20 million for new livestock.

The June planting, watered by the seasonal monsoon rains, produces the main rice crop in the delta, the "rice bowl of the Asia" in the days when Myanmar was called Burma and administered as part of the British empire.

A smaller summer harvest between December and March relies on irrigation and is not as critical as the June harvest, 80 percent of which is exported, mostly to Sri Lanka.

International aid groups and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said that while farmers faced near-impossible odds to get the crop in, they might be able to manage just enough to get by.

"If they can grow one acre of rice, that will be enough to provide for domestic needs until the end of the year," said Brien Agland, who heads relief efforts for CARE in Myanmar.

The U.N. estimates that 2.4 million people were severely affected by the cyclone, which also left 134,000 dead or missing, and says it may have to feed 750,000 people for months.

In the next three weeks, aid agencies face the huge task of finding seeds for new crops, draining saltwater from paddies, buying salt-tolerant rice varieties and bringing in buffaloes to plough fields.

"We will find animals in Myanmar, but they then have to be tamed to plough fields and that isn't easy," Agland said.

They are also competing against shattered infrastructure and the stifling bureaucracy of a military that has been in power for 46 years.

The only lucky break will be if the torrential rains of the last two weeks have washed out much of the saltwater from fields, as happened after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

"We are racing against the clock," an FAO spokesman said. "But we hope that the ground at least may not be that bad. It has been raining hard and we hope much of the salt has been washed away." (Writing by Darren Schuettler, Editing by Ed Cropley)

From producers to consumers: how rice farmers face catastropheIn the second part of our series, Jonathan Watts reports from the Philippines, where poor farmers are struggling to feed their families as the cost of rice soars

Jonathan Watts reports from Banaue, in the Philippines

Just after dawn, Marlon Tayaban makes his way down the terraced paddies in Banaue, in the northern Philippines where the rice farmer has his home and fields.

It is a stunning vista. The steep, thin steps and strips of cultivated land mottle the mountain slopes in infinite shades of green. As the 36-year-old descends the narrow path, he is surrounded by rice as far as the eye can see. On one side is a flooded paddy full of light green shoots. Higher up the distant hillsides on the other side of the misty valley are darker fields almost ready for harvest. Every inch of land appears to be given over to rice.

It is hard to imagine a more abundant symbol of Asia's most important crop. But Tayaban's journey down the giant steps highlights the growing problem facing millions of small-scale farming families.

The farmer is on his weekly trip to the market, where he has to buy more food than he sells because his ability to produce children has far outpaced the capacity of his land to feed them.

Thirteen years ago, when Tayaban started tilling the paddies, he had two fields and two mouths to feed. Today he has no more land, but six children. The producer has had to become a consumer. That was not a problem when grain was cheap. But in the past year, global prices have tripled.

Tayaban has little inkling of the reasons why. There is no television reception at his home, so he hasn't heard about UN warnings of a food crisis or seen the reports about tortilla rallies in Mexico, pasta protests in Italy and onion demonstrations in India.

He hasn't heard about climate change or biofuels, and knows nothing about the cyclones in Bangladesh and Burma that worsened the global balance between supply and demand.

But he can feel the consequences with each weekly journey to market. A year ago, he spent 2,200 pesos (£25.40) on rice each month. Today, after a surge in the price, he has to find 3,700 pesos. In a good month, Tayaban earns 3,000 pesos by fixing the rice terrace walls or other labouring jobs. "Life is more difficult now. Even though the price of rice is going up, we still have to buy it. I will just have to work harder," he says.

The high-altitude terraces of the Cordillera mountains are one of the oldest and best preserved examples of hydrological engineering on the planet. The stepped paddies, said to date back more than 2,000 years, are an ancient testament to man's ability to cultivate crops in the most uncompromising of environments.

But it has been many years since the area was self-sufficient. The main problem is population growth. The average couple here has five or six children. Tayaban is one of eight siblings as well as being a father of three sons and three daughters. Despite migration to the cities, Banaue's population is steadily rising. Fifteen years ago it was 18,000. Today it is 21,500.

But the amount of land is fixed and yield increases are limited because it is difficult to harvest more than one crop per year in this high-altitude environment.

Tayaban's two fields yield 150kg of rice per year, enough to last the family just six weeks.

It is a similar story throughout Banaue, where local officials say the average family produces barely enough rice to last half a year.

The same problem of demand exceeding supply applies to the country. The Philippines is the world's biggest importer of rice. It expects to ship in 2.7m tonnes this year, almost 10% of the total needed to feed a population of 91 million that is growing annually by more than 2%, one of the fastest rates in the world. Large tenders by the Philippines on the international market helped drive up rice prices by 76% between December 2007 and April 2008, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation.

But the fault does not lie only with the Philippines. The world has been consuming more food than it produces for five years now. Global rice stocks are down at levels not seen since 1976.

The reasons for the global food crisis are manifold, including rising consumption in fast-developing nations like China and India, droughts in Australia, the rising cost of oil, and the increasing use of crops for fuel. But more than any of these, in the Philippines the pressures are demographic. "At the end of the day, it is about the huge population more than biofuels or climate change," says Duncan Macintosh of the Philippine Rice Research Institute.

Such is the value of rice that some farmers in Thailand have started camping out in their fields with shotguns to prevent rice rustlers. Several big rice-producing nations, including Cambodia, Vietnam, Egypt, India, Pakistan and China have capped or halted exports to ensure food security for their own people. With so little rice traded internationally even during a good year, this makes the market volatile. The best Thai rice has tripled in price from $334 (£170)to $1,050 per tonne.

The economic and social impacts are rippling outwards, particularly on poor families such as Tayaban's.

According to the Manila-based Asian Development Bank, the 30 million people in the Philippines who live on less than a dollar a day spend nearly 60% of their income on food.

Thanks to a surge in rice and oil prices, inflation hit a three-year high of 8.3% in April. According to the bank, a 10% rise in food prices will push an additional 2.3 million into poverty.

Maintaining the stability of rice prices is rule number one for Asia's leaders. President Gloria Arroyo knows that from personal experience. Her father lost power to the old dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, in 1965 amid anger at shortages. She is determined not to suffer the same fate. The food situation is "putting a strain on all hardworking Filipinos", Arroyo said last month. "We need to prevent this strain on individuals and economies from becoming a crisis by taking decisive action."

She has convened a national food summit, launched a campaign against rice and flour hoarders, issued orders to temporarily halt the conversion of the country's farmland and promised an extra 40bn pesos for rice seeds and subsidies.

The agriculture ministry has encouraged fast food outlets and restaurants to serve half portions of rice so there is less waste by the middle class. For the poor, extra support has been offered to ease the risks that some may go hungry. The government plans to give up to 1,400 pesos a month to 300,000 low-income families. Cheap rice is being distributed through national depots, attracting snaking queues in the cities even though people can only buy 3kg a time.

Tayaban's family have adopted a more traditional coping mechanism. When the rice farmers of Banaue are in trouble, they do two things: the women go overseas to work and the pigs get sold in the marketplace.

In April, Tayaban's wife, Yugenia, took a job as a maid in Dubai. She sends back 1,700 pesos per month to keep the bellies of her children full. It is a common story in the Philippines, which gets more than 5% of its GDP from overseas remittances.

Tayaban says he could not cope by himself. Even with two small incomes, life is a struggle. Last month, he cashed in what passes for an insurance policy in this part of the world: the family's four piglets. "When we run out of money that is what we do. It was a shame. The piglets were only 45 days old so I could only sell them for 1,000 pesos. It is better to wait until they are older and fatter because then you can get 4,000 pesos for each one. But I had no choice. I couldn't afford the feed."

The sale has kept the family in rice for a few more weeks, but it means no meat for a while. They are also more vulnerable to further price shocks. All they have left now is one sow and a few fighting cocks. Others are in a worse situation. At the local clinic, a district nurse, Roman Lingan, warned that inadequate diets were already a serious problem.

Out of 2,524 preschoolers in Banaue, 137 were malnourished. The rate is higher among older children. "The increase in the price of rice will have a big influence. We have a government programme to provide cheap rice but it is hard for people from the barrios to come into town and line up just to buy 3kg of rice. I think malnutrition will rise next year."

It is not easy to be self-sufficient here. The 1,000 metre altitude is unsuitable for hybrid rice, which can be harvested two or three times a year. Instead, most families grow a variety of organic rice, which has a long gestation period, so it can only be planted once annually. It provides far more energy per kg than other rice, but there is just not enough of it to go around. Tayaban has never heard of global warming - cited by many experts as a factor in the world food crisis - but he has noticed a change in the weather. May is usually the driest month. But this year there has been heavy rain every afternoon. It hammers down on the corrugated iron roof as he naps and his children huddle around a tiny, six-inch screen to watch a DVD of an old drama.

The head of the local agricultural bureau, Jimmy Cabigat, says climate change is putting pressure on paddies. "The rice terraces are a very fragile environment. Too much water damages the walls. Too much of a dry spell and the walls crack," he says. "Every year there is a change in the weather pattern. Because of climate change, we have more phenomena like el Niño." A steady water flow is crucial. To make one kg of rice, you need 2,000 litres of water.

Mixed blessings
Migration is a mixed blessing. Every year, millions of young Filipinos move into the cities, where they consume rather than produce food. Banaue also has a huge outflow, both into urban centres and local tourist businesses. This is pushing up the average age of the rural labour force and leaving fewer hands for the heavy work of irrigation and terrace wall management. Of Banaue's 1,118 hectares of agricultural land, 15% has been abandoned.

"The fields used to be pristine, but with the coming of tourism, labour has been diverted so people spend less time on the fields. The young generation own the land but they leave the elders to do all the work on it. That is why areas are becoming abandoned," says Cabigat. "When all the children leave to go to Manila or other cities, the old folk cannot manage the land and the irrigation."

Tayaban hopes his children will also leave the land. "If I could afford it, I would pay for the children to get a good education so they don't have to work in the fields. Working in the fields is hard work and sometimes there is no income."

For the moment, farmers like Tayaban struggle on. With bumper harvests expected worldwide, the pressure on prices should ease, at least until the next natural disaster. "Things have calmed down now, but we are on perilous ground. This is a wake-up call," said Duncan Mackintosh of the Philippine Rice Research Institute. "There is no reason to panic now, but the sense of crisis could return. If not after the typhoon season in the summer, then during the monsoons in May or June."

Demographic drivers
Longer term, the challenge is to grow enough rice for an expanding population. The Catholic Church - a powerful force in the Philippines - is predicting rice instability for at least three more years. A solution will depend on improved technology, new hybrid strains, more efficient irrigation and measures to tackle the demographic drivers of demand.

President Arroyo has said family planning is important if the Philippines is to become more self-sufficient in rice. Tayaban's family, at least, will not expand for a generation. Before she left for Manila, his wife had her fallopian tubes tied. Now he is putting his hopes - like his forefathers - on a good harvest and praying that the typhoon season will not blow his family into destitution.

"Perfect Storm" in Food Prices Caused by Many FactorsAalok Mehta
National Geographic News
May 28, 2008
From Kenya's slums to India's rice paddies to Brazil's cafes, the skyrocketing cost of food has left no corner of the globe untouched. This is the first in a special series that explores the myriad local faces of the world's worst food crisis in decades.

In Australia a struggling farmer watches another harvest shrivel under the country's worst drought on record.

Food Crisis In Niger Will Strike Again, Experts Say (September 12, 2005)
Biofuels Could Do More Harm Than Good, UN Report Warns (May 9, 2007)
Hardy Plant May Ease Biofuels' Burden on Food Costs (April 21, 2008)
Another new member of the Chinese middle-class finally has enough cash to buy his first steak.

And a U.S. agricultural executive decides to grow corn instead of wheat to take advantage of the growing demand for biofuels.

Alone, none of these events would have been responsible for today's troubled stock markets, rampant civil unrest, and increasing famine and malnourishment for the world's poor. (See a video on the world food crisis.)

Together, they've caused the world's worst food crisis in a generation.

"A convergence of factors has led to what is sort of a perfect storm for food prices," Erik Thorbecke, an economist at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, told National Geographic News.

"I can't think of a time we've had this large an increase."

According to data from the International Monetary Fund, average global food prices have jumped nearly 50 percent since the end of 2006.

In response to the "agflation," belt-tightening has become commonplace even in affluent areas such as the U.S. and Europe.

But it's the world's poor—who already spend a disproportionate amount of their money on food—that are suffering the most.

Basic grains have shown one of the largest jumps, nearly doubling in cost since April 2007, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) calculates.

This cuts deeply into the pockets of the approximately 2.6 billion people the UN estimates live on the equivalent of U.S. $2 or less a day.

FAO says that price increases are expected to continue for the rest of 2008, particularly for developing nations.

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Food Crisis In Niger Will Strike Again, Experts Say (September 12, 2005)
Biofuels Could Do More Harm Than Good, UN Report Warns (May 9, 2007)
Hardy Plant May Ease Biofuels' Burden on Food Costs (April 21, 2008)
"Supplies are relatively strong, but demand is stronger," said Ephraim Leibtag, an economist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Economic Research Service.

Food and Fuel

One of the biggest factors in the global crisis is growing economic prosperity around the globe, especially in Asia.

The expanding economies of India, China, and other countries need ever-increasing amounts of fuel and raw materials, which has sent the prices of oil and other commodities skyrocketing.

At the same time, millions there are entering the middle class and for the first time have the cash for resource-intensive "luxury" foods like meat and dairy.

Up to seven pounds (3.2 kilograms) of grain, as well as large amounts of water and fertilizer, are needed to create a single pound (0.45 kilogram) of meat.

"Clearly, the rapid improvement in diets has had an impact on world markets," said Wallace Tyner, an economist at Purdue University in Indiana.

Oil prices, meanwhile, have exacerbated the situation by driving up costs for farmers and food distributors.

In the first four months of 2008 alone, fuel prices for U.S. farmers have gone up 43 percent, feed prices 23 percent, and fertilizer prices 67 percent, according to USDA data.

Also, only about 20 percent of the cost of food for consumers comes from growing crops, USDA says. Oil-intensive labor, packaging, and transportation account for the remainder.

Adding to the supply crunch are weather-related problems. In addition to Australia's high-profile drought, unfavorable weather has hit the U.S., India, and Eastern Europe during recent harvests, cutting into food availability.

These events often occurred in line with predictions about global warming, the effects of which are expected in increase in coming years. (Related: "Warming May Cause Crop Failures, Food Shortages by 2030" [January 31, 2008].)

Many people also blame the prices on an increased use of biofuels in developed nations—in particular ethanol produced from corn—due to subsidies and changing fuel standards.

Government officials from several nations have claimed that biofuels are only a small contributor to the price increases. But critics counter that increasing food production in a time of crisis should outweigh energy needs.

Panic at Home

Those initial triggers have led to a cascade of further actions that have made the problem worse, experts say.

Markets have panicked, with countries rushing to make large purchases of grains and speculators also buying up stock in anticipation of even more price increases. Many countries have since launched efforts to stamp out hoarding and price-gouging and ensure the smooth flow of food to consumers.

"Speculators are probably betting prices are going to rise," Thorbecke said. "The whole process is feeding on itself."

Many countries have also responded by issuing export restrictions, taxes, or even outright bans on staple food items to help alleviate internal demand and keep domestic prices in check.

For example, "at the moment, only Thailand, Pakistan, and the United States, among leading exporters, are exporting rice without any constraints," FAO expert Concepcion Calpe said in a statement earlier this month.

"Net exports are going down," Thorbecke added. "In the past, there were much greater exports."

In addition, global markets are reacting quickly and uneasily to even small events, as stocks held by farmers and suppliers have dropped significantly because consumption outstripped production in seven of the past eight years.

"People got complacent," Tyner said. "So even a small shock leads to larger price jumps."

Far From Over

In the face of such high prices after years of low profit margins, farmers are rushing to return idle land to service and increase production.

Economists expect a slight increase in overall supply, moderating prices somewhat. But it's unlikely that the price of food will fall back to pre-crisis levels in coming years—if ever.

Hundreds of millions of people are expected to enter the middle class in the next decades, further pressuring fuel and food supplies.

But most of the available arable land in the world is already being used for crops.

In addition, vast areas, particularly in Asia and Africa, are expected to be lost to desertification, depletion, or pollution, and dwindling water supplies are expected to cut into usable land.

So the only answer, experts say, is to increase the amount of food grown on existing land, using more efficient methods—which will require years of research and investment.

Beginning in the early 1970s, after the last great food crisis, "there was a big and sustained increase in investment in agricultural productivity," Tyner explained.

New crop varieties and more efficient farming methods led to enormous increases in output, he said, but those gains begin to slow down in the '90s, helping to set the stage for the current crisis.

"We need to look long-term, because we've got a long-term problem," U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer said at a recent press briefing on food and fuel.

"If you look at how to deal with this, we need to convince other nations in this world to increase yields. And that means the use of biotechnology products. It means better water management, better fertilizer management, and precision farming methods," he said.

"If other countries do not increase yields comparable to those that we see here in the United States, people are going to go hungry. It's that simple."

Methane Sources - Rice Paddies

At between 50 and 100 million tonnes of methane a year, rice agriculture is a big source of atmospheric methane, possibly the biggest of man-made methane sources. The warm, waterlogged soil of rice paddies provides ideal conditions for methanogenesis, and though some of the methane produced is usually oxidized by methanotrophs in the shallow overlying water, the vast majority is released into the atmosphere.

Rice is grown very widely and rates of methane emission may vary greatly between different areas. Differences in average temperature, water depth and the length of time that the rice paddy soil is waterlogged can all result in big regional variations. However, methane emission from worldwide rice agriculture has been well studied in recent years and fairly reliable estimates of global emissions now exist. Emissions from rice paddies can vary hugely during the course of a year.

On average, the rice paddy soil is only fully waterlogged for about 4 months each year. For the rest of the time methanogenesis is generally much reduced and, where the soil dries out sufficiently, rice paddy soil can become a temporary sink for atmospheric methane.

Human Impact
Clearly, humans are directly responsible for the world's paddy fields and so also for their methane emissions. The expansion of the human population has necessitated increased rice production and so methane emission from this source. There are, though, strategies which may lessen our impact via this greenhouse gas source as outlined below.

Potential for control
With an increasing world population, reductions in rice agriculture remain largely untenable as on methane emission reduction strategy. However, through a more integrated approach to rice paddy irrigation and fertilizer application substantial reductions remain possible. Many rice varieties can be grown under much drier conditions than those traditionally employed, with big reductions on methane emission without any loss in yeild. Additionally, there is the great potential for improved varieties of rice, able to produce a much larger crop per area of rice paddy and so allow for a cut in the area of rice paddies, without a cut in rice production. Finally, the addition of compounds such as ammonium sulphate, which favour activity of other microbial groups over that of the methanogens, has proved successful under some conditions.

Green Revolution

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

This article is about the Green Revolution of the 20th century. For the earlier medieval Green Revolution, see Muslim Agricultural Revolution.

The Green Revolution refers to the transformation of agriculture that began in 1943 in the developing world, and led in some places to significant increases in agricultural production between the 1940s and 1960s. The associated transformation has continued as the result of programs of agricultural research, extension, and infrastructural development, instigated and largely funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, along with the Ford Foundation and other major agencies.[1] [2] The consensus among some agronomists is that the Green Revolution has allowed food production to keep pace with worldwide population growth. The Green Revolution has had major social and ecological impacts, and with multi-million dollar backing from organizations including the Gates Foundation, the deployment of Green Revolution policies will continue for some time.

The term "Green Revolution" was first used in 1968 by former USAID director William Gaud, who noted the spread of the new technologies and said, "These and other developments in the field of agriculture contain the makings of a new revolution. It is not a violent Red Revolution like that of the Soviets, nor is it a White Revolution like that of the Shah of Iran. I call it the Green Revolution."[3

Bengal famine of 1943

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The Bengal famine of 1943 is one amongst the several famines that occurred in British administered Bengal. It is estimated that around 1.5-3 million people died from starvation and malnutrition during the period.



[edit] Possible Causes

The United Kingdom had suffered a disastrous defeat at Singapore in 1942 against the Japanese military, which then proceeded to conquer Burma from the British in the same year. Burma was the world's largest exporter of rice in the inter-war period, the British having encouraged production by Burmese smallholders, which resulted in a virtual monoculture in the Irrawady delta and Arakan [1]. By 1940 15% of India's rice overall came from Burma, whilst in Bengal the proportion was slightly higher given the province's proximity to Burma [2].

It seems unlikely, however, that these imports can have amounted to more than 20% of Bengal's consumption, and this alone is insufficient to account for the famine, although it ensured that there were fewer reserves to fall back on. British authorities feared a subsequent Japanese invasion of British India proper by way of Bengal (see British Raj), and emergency measures were introduced to stockpile food for British soldiers and prevent access to supplies by the Japanese in case of an invasion.

A 'scorched earth' policy was implemented in the Chittagong region, nearest the Burmese border, while large amounts of rice were exported to the Middle East to feed British and Indian troops there, and to Ceylon, which had been heavily dependent on Burmese rice before the war, and where large military establishments were being created as it was feared that the Japanese might invade the island.

On the 16th October 1942 the whole east coast of Bengal and Orissa was hit by a cyclone. A huge area of rice cultivation up to forty miles inland was flooded, causing the autumn crop in these areas to fail. This meant that the peasantry had to eat their surplus, and the seed that should have been planted in the winter of 1942-3 had been consumed by the time the hot weather began in May 1943. [3].

This was exacerbated by exports of food and appropriation of arable land.

However, Amartya Sen holds the view that there was no overall shortage of rice in Bengal in 1943: availability was actually slightly higher than in 1941, when there was no famine [4]. It was partly this which conditioned the sluggish official response to the disaster, as there had been no serious crop failures and hence the famine was unexpected. Its root causes, Sen argues, lay in rumours of shortage which caused hoarding, and rapid price inflation caused by war-time demands which made rice stocks an excellent investment (prices had already doubled over the previous year). In Sen's interpretation, while landowning peasants who actually grew rice and those employed in defence-related industries in urban areas and at the docks saw their wages rise, this led to a disastrous shift in the exchange entitlements of groups such as landless labourers, fishermen, barbers, paddy huskers and other groups who found the real value of their wages had been slashed by two-thirds since 1940. Quite simply, although Bengal had enough rice and other grains to feed itself, millions of people were suddenly too poor to buy it.[5]

[edit] The Response

The Bengal government reacted to the crisis lazily and incompetently, refusing to stop the export of food from Bengal.

In contrast to the incompetence of the civil service, the British military commanders and the British military in general performed as best as it could to combat the famine[6], providing food to the suffering and organising relief. During the course of the famine the government organised roughly 110,000,000 free meals [7] which proved pathetically too small to cope with the disaster.

Winston Churchill was Prime Minister of the time and, although the famine occurred under his own watch his involvement in the disaster and indeed his knowledge of it remain a mystery. When in response to an urgent request by the Secretary of State for India, Leo Amery, and Wavell to release food stocks for India, Churchill responded with a telegram to Wavell asking, if food was so scarce, "why Gandhi hadn’t died yet."[8] Initially during the famine he was more concerned with the civilians of Greece (who were also suffering from a famine) compared with the Bengalis [9]. In the end Churchill did ask for US assistance, writing to Roosevelt that he was "no longer justified in not asking for aid" but the American response was negative[1]

The Bengal Government failed to prevent rice exports, and made little attempt to import surpluses from elsewhere in India, or to buy up stocks from speculators to redistribute to the starving. Overall, as Sen shows, the authorities failed to understand that the famine was not caused by an overall food shortage, and that the distribution of food was not just a matter of railway capacity, but of providing free famine relief on a massive scale: "The Raj was, in fact, fairly right in its estimation of overall food availability, but disastrously wrong in its theory of Famines".[10] The famine ended when the government in London agreed to import 1,000,000 tons of grain to Bengal, reducing food prices.[11]

[edit] Famines and democracies

Citing the Bengal Famine and other examples from the world, Amartya Sen argues that famines do not occur in functioning democracies. Nobel Laureate Kenneth Arrow provides a discussion of this argument [2] It should be noted that between 1950 and 1984, as the Green Revolution transformed agriculture around the globe, world grain production increased by 250%.[12][13]

The Bengal Famine may be placed in the context of previous famines in Mughal and British India. Deccan Famine of 1630-32 killed 2,000,000 (there was a corresponding famine in northwestern China, eventually causing the Ming dynasty to collapse in 1644). During the British rule in India there were approximately 25 major famines spread through states such as Tamil Nadu in South India, Bihar in the north, and Bengal in the east; altogether, between 30 and 40 million Indians were the victims of famines in the latter half of the 19th century (Bhatia 1985).

Though malnutrition and hunger remain widespread in India, there have been no famines since the end of the British rule in 1947 and the establishment of a democratic government. There has been a recurrent threat of famine in Bangladesh[3][4], which unlike India has spent a considerable period of its existence under military rule.

[edit] "Food Availability Decline" or "Man Made"

Year Rice production
(in million of tons)
1938 8.474
1939 7.922
1940 8.223
1941 6.768
1942 9.296
1943 7.628

Severe food shortages were worsened by the Second World War, with the British administration of India exporting foods to Allied soldiers. The shortage of rice forced rice prices up, and wartime inflation compounded the problem.

The civil administration did not intervene to control the price of rice, and so the price of rice exceeded the means of ordinary people. People migrated to the cities to find food and employment; finding neither, they starved.

Amartya Sen has cast doubt on the idea that the rice shortage was due to a fall in production. He quotes official records for rice production in Bengal in the years leading up to 1943 as reported in the table to the right.

The 1943 yield, while low, was not in itself outside the normal spectrum of recorded variation, and other factors beyond simple crop failure may thus be invoked as a causal mechanism.

[edit] Diseased rice vs. Total Rice Yield

It has been argued that the famine was primarily due to an epidemic of brown spot disease Cochliobolus miyabeanus (formerly Helminthosporium oryzae), affecting the crop. This argument, based on data collected by S. Y. Padmanabhan, has been developed by the historian Mark Tauger.

In the rice growing season of 1942, weather conditions were exactly right to encourage an epidemic of the rice disease brown spot following a cyclone and flooding. The outbreak of the disease caused a variation in the 1942 crop ranging from a 236.6% gain to a 90% crop loss in Bankura and Chinsurah according to Padmanabhan.

Tauger argues that Sen's analysis based economic entitlement overlooks the role of food shortage. Tauger argues that the yield in 1942 was low (based on Padmanabhan's data) causing a serious food shortage in Bengal and was the most important cause of the famine. Others dispute this argument, primarily based on the fact that Padmanabhan's data is yield per acre for different varieties, and from this data it is impossible to estimate total production without knowing the total area of the different varieties.

The official famine inquiry commission reporting on the Bengal Famine of 1943 put its death toll at about 1.5 million Indians. Source : Famine Inquiry Commission, India (1945a),pp. 109-10.

Years later in 1974, W.R. Aykroyd, who was a member of the Famine inquiry commission and was primarily responsible for the estimation, conceded that the figures were an underestimate. Quote by W.R. Aykroyd "I now think it (the death toll) was an under-estimate, especially in that it took little account of roadside deaths".[14]

Amartya Sen has recently estimated that three million may be slightly too high an estimate and that two to two and a half million fatalities may be more accurate[15]

[edit] The Famine in Bengali culture

Artists, novelists and film-makers have tried to capture the enormity of the famine in their works. The renowned Bengali painter Zainul Abedin was one of the early documentarians of the famine, with his sketches of the dead and dying.

The novelist Bibhuti Bhusan Bandyopadhhay penned his novel Ashani Sanket with the famine serving as both backdrop and protagonist. The novel was adapted in 1973 by Satyajit Ray into an award-winning film, also titled Ashani Sanket, which focussed on the role of hoarding as a cause for the famine. Mrinal Sen also made a National Award winning film in 1980 about the famine, called Akaler Sandhane (In Search of Famine'). Sen's other films that relate to the theme of the 1943 famine are Baishey Sravan and Calcutta 71

Bengal famine of 1770

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The Bengal famine of 1770 (Bengali: ৭৬-এর মন্বন্তর, Chhiattōrer monnōntór; lit The Famine of '76) was a catastrophic famine that between 1769 and 1773 (1176 to 1180 in the Bengali calendar) affected the lower Gangetic plain of India. The famine is estimated to have caused the deaths of 10 million people ( that is, 1 in 3 among the population of 30 million Bengalis died). The Bengali names derives from it's origins in the Bengali calendar year 1176. ("Chhiattōr"- "76"; "monnōntór"- "famine" in Bengali).[1]



[edit] Background

The famine occurred in the territory which was called Bengal, then ruled by the British East India Company. This territory included modern West Bengal, Bangladesh, and parts of Assam, Orissa, Bihar, and Jharkhand. It was originally a province of the Mughal empire, from the 16th century, and was ruled by a Nawab, or governor. The Nawab had become effectively independent by the beginning of the 18th century, though in theory was still a tributary power of the Great Mughal in Delhi.

In the 17th century the British East India Company had been given a grant on the town of Calcutta, by the Mughal emperor Akbar. At this time the Company was effectively another tributary power of the Mughal. During the following century the Company obtained sole trading rights for the province, and went on to become the dominant power in Bengal. In 1757, at the battle of Plassey, the British defeated the then Nawab, Siraj Ud Daulah, and plundered the Bengali treasury. In 1764 their military control was reaffirmed at Buxar. The subsequent treaty gained them the Diwani, that is the taxation rights: in effect, the Company became the ruler of Bengal.

[edit] The famine

About 10 million people, approximately one third of the population of the affected area, are estimated to have died in the famine. The regions in which the famine occurred included especially the modern Indian states of Bihar and West Bengal, but the famine also extended into Orissa and Jharkhand, as well as modern Bangladesh. Among the worst affected areas were Birbhum and Murshidabad, in Bengal, and Tirhut, Champaran and Bettiah, in Bihar.

A partial shortfall in crops, considered nothing out of the ordinary, occurred in 1768 and was followed in late 1769 by more severe conditions. By September 1769 there was a severe drought, and alarming reports were coming in of rural distress. These were, however, ignored by Company officers.

By early 1770 there was starvation, and by mid 1770 deaths from starvation were occurring on a large scale. There were also reports of the living feeding on the bodies of the dead in the middle of that year. Smallpox and other diseases further took their toll of the population. Later in 1770 good rainfall resulted in a good harvest and the famine abated. However, other shortfalls occurred in the following years, raising the total death toll.

As a result of the famine large areas were depopulated and returned to jungle for decades to come, as the survivors migrated in mass in a search for food. Many cultivated lands were abandoned: much of Birbhum, for instance, returned to jungle and was virtually impassable for decades afterwards. From 1772, bands of bandits and thugs became an established feature of Bengal, and these were only controlled by punitive actions in the 1780s.

[edit] East India Company responsibilities

Fault for the famine is now often ascribed to the British East India Company policies in Bengal. According to others, however, the famine was not a direct fault of the British regime, but was only exacerbated by its policies (Simon Schama, A History of Britain, Volume II, page 504).

As a trading body, the first remit of the Company was to maximise its profits and with taxation rights the profits to be obtained from Bengal came from land tax as well as trade tariffs. As lands came under company control, the land tax was typically raised by 5 times what it had been – from 10% to up to 50% of the value of the agricultural produce.[citation needed] In the first years of the rule of the British East India Company, the total land tax income was doubled and most of this revenue flowed out of the country.[2] As the famine approached its height in April of 1770, the Company announced that the land tax for the following year was to be increased by a further 10%.

The company is also criticised for forbidding the "hoarding" of rice. This prevented traders and dealers from laying in reserves that in other times would have tided the population over lean periods, as well as ordering the farmers to plant indigo instead of rice.

By the time of the famine, monopolies in grain trading had been established by the Company and its agents. The Company had no plan for dealing with the grain shortage, and actions were only taken insofar as they affected the mercantile and trading classes. Land revenue decreased by 14% during the affected year, but recovered rapidly (Kumkum Chatterjee). According to McLane, the first governor-general of British India, Warren Hastings, acknowledged "violent" tax collecting after 1771: revenues earned by the Company were higher in 1771 than in 1768. [3] Globally, the profit of the Company increased from 15 million rupees in 1765 to 30 million rupees in 1777.

Why Green Revolution

The world's worst recorded food disaster happened in 1943 in British-ruled India. Known as the Bengal Famine, an estimated four million people died of hunger that year alone in eastern India (that included today's Bangladesh). The initial theory put forward to 'explain' that catastrophe was that there as an acute shortfall in food production in the area. However, Indian economist Amartya Sen (recipient of the Nobel Prize for Economics, 1998) has established that while food shortage was a contributor to the problem, a more potent factor was the result of hysteria related to World War II which made food supply a low priority for the British rulers. The hysteria was further exploited by Indian traders who hoarded food in order to sell at higher prices.

Nevertheless, when the British left India four years later in 1947, India continued to be haunted by memories of the Bengal Famine. It was therefore natural that food security was a paramount item on free India's agenda. This awareness led, on one hand, to the Green Revolution in India and, on the other, legislative measures to ensure that businessmen would never again be able to hoard food for reasons of profit.

However, the term "Green Revolution" is applied to the period from 1967 to 1978. Between 1947 and 1967, efforts at achieving food self-sufficiency were not entirely successful. Efforts until 1967 largely concentrated on expanding the farming areas. But starvation deaths were still being reported in the newspapers. In a perfect case of Malthusian economics, population was growing at a much faster rate than food production. This called for drastic action to increase yield. The action came in the form of the Green Revolution.

The term "Green Revolution" is a general one that is applied to successful agricultural experiments in many Third World countries. It is NOT specific to India. But it was most successful in India.

What was the Green Revolution in India?

There were three basic elements in the method of the Green Revolution:

(1) Continued expansion of farming areas;

(2) Double-cropping existing farmland;

(3) Using seeds with improved genetics.

Continued expansion of farming areas

As mentioned above, the area of land under cultivation was being increased right from 1947. But this was not enough in meeting with rising demand. Other methods were required. Yet, the expansion of cultivable land also had to continue. So, the Green Revolution continued with this quantitative expansion of farmlands. However, this is NOT the most striking feature of the Revolution.

Double-cropping existing farmland

Double-cropping was a primary feature of the Green Revolution. Instead of one crop season per year, the decision was made to have two crop seasons per year. The one-season-per-year practice was based on the fact that there is only natural monsoon per year. This was correct. So, there had to be two "monsoons" per year. One would be the natural monsoon and the other an artificial 'monsoon.'

The artificial monsoon came in the form of huge irrigation facilities. Dams were built to arrest large volumes of natural monsoon water which were earlier being wasted. Simple irrigation techniques were also adopted.

Using seeds with superior genetics

This was the scientific aspect of the Green Revolution. The Indian Council for Agricultural Research (which was established by the British in 1929 but was not known to have done any significant research) was re-organized in 1965 and then again in 1973. It developed new strains of high yield value (HYV) seeds, mainly wheat and rice but also millet and corn. The most noteworthy HYV seed was the K68 variety for wheat. The credit for developing this strain goes to Dr. M.P. Singh who is also regarded as the hero of India's Green revolution.

Statistical Results of the Green Revolution

The Green Revolution resulted in a record grain output of 131 million tons in 1978-79. This established India as one of the world's biggest agricultural producers. No other country in the world which attempted the Green Revolution recorded such level of success. India also became an exporter of food grains around that time.
Yield per unit of farmland improved by more than 30 per cent between 1947 (when India gained political independence) and 1979 when the Green Revolution was considered to have delivered its goods.
The crop area under HYV varieties grew from seven per cent to 22 per cent of the total cultivated area during the 10 years of the Green Revolution. More than 70 per cent of the wheat crop area, 35 per cent of the rice crop area and 20 per cent of the millet and corn crop area, used the HYV seeds.

Economic results of the Green Revolution

Crop areas under high-yield varieties needed more water, more fertilizer, more pesticides, fungicides and certain other chemicals. This spurred the growth of the local manufacturing sector. Such industrial growth created new jobs and contributed to the country's GDP.
The increase in irrigation created need for new dams to harness monsoon water. The water stored was used to create hydro-electric power. This in turn boosted industrial growth, created jobs and improved the quality of life of the people in villages.
India paid back all loans it had taken from the World Bank and its affiliates for the purpose of the Green Revolution. This improved India's creditworthiness in the eyes of the lending agencies.
Some developed countries, especially Canada, which were facing a shortage in agricultural labour, were so impressed by the results of India's Green Revolution that they asked the Indian government to supply them with farmers experienced in the methods of the Green Revolution. Many farmers from Punjab and Haryana states in northern India were thus sent to Canada where they settled (That's why Canada today has many Punjabi-speaking citizens of Indian origin). These people remitted part of their incomes to their relatives in India. This not only helped the relatives but also added, albeit modestly, to India's foreign exchange earnings.

Sociological results of the Green Revolution

The Green Revolution created plenty of jobs not only for agricultural workers but also industrial workers by the creation of lateral facilities such as factories and hydro-electric power stations as explained above.

Political results of the Green Revolution

India transformed itself from a starving nation to an exporter of food. This earned admiration for India in the comity of nations, especially in the Third World.
The Green Revolution was one factor that made Mrs. Indira Gandhi (1917-84) and her party, the Indian National Congress, a very powerful political force in India (it would however be wrong to say that it was the only reason).

Limitations of the Green Revolution

Even today, India's agricultural output sometimes falls short of demand. The Green Revolution, howsoever impressive, has thus NOT succeeded in making India totally and permanently self-sufficient in food. In 1979 and 1987, India faced severe drought conditions due to poor monsoon; this raised questions about the whether the Green Revolution was really a long-term achievement. In 1998, India had to import onions. Last year, India imported sugar.
However, in today's globalised economic scenario, 100 per cent self-sufficiency is not considered as vital a target as it was when the world political climate was more dangerous due to the Cold War.
India has failed to extend the concept of high-yield value seeds to all crops or all regions. In terms of crops, it remain largely confined to foodgrains only, not to all kinds of agricultural produce. In regional terms, only Punjab and Haryana states showed the best results of the Green Revolution. The eastern plains of the River Ganges in West Bengal state also showed reasonably good results. But results were less impressive in other parts of India.
Nothing like the Bengal Famine can happen in India again. But it is disturbing to note that even today, there are places like Kalahandi (in India's eastern state of Orissa) where famine-like conditions have been existing for many years and where some starvation deaths have also been reported. Of course, this is due to reasons other than availability of food in India, but the very fact that some people are still starving in India (whatever the reason may be), brings into question whether the Green Revolution has failed in its overall social objectives though it has been a resounding success in terms of agricultural production.
(4) The Green Revolution cannot therefore be considered to be a 100 percent success.