Monthly Archives: June 2012

The Milky Way……caught in the Chakravyuha

We’ve all read / heard extensively about how the White Revolution or Operation Flood changed the face of milk production in India. Small milk producers in Gujarat and the rest of the country found their voice through the cooperative movement. More than 30 years after that “revolution” India is still the largest milk producing nation (17% of the world’s milk production according to NDDB reports from 2010-2011) but the small milk producers who contribute to 80% of the milk production in India are in debt traps and not a part of cooperatives that support livelihoods (for an incisive report on small farmers and global milk production see – http://www.grain.org/entries/4426-the-great-milk-robbery). What has happened?

As in agriculture so in dairying – skewed Government policies have contributed extensively to this situation. Exotic breeds of cattle more at home in the temperate climes of Western Europe were indiscriminately introduced into the country with the promise of 25-30 litres of milk production/day by each animal. Government programmes drove this into the homes of small farmers through captive channels like the women’s Self Help Groups. These resource intensive animals which require huge amounts of green fodder (grass), feed, water (for drinking and to be kept cool in the torrid heat of the Indian summer) became “white elephants” in the homes of small farmers. Not only did they require resources in the form of water and food but their medical costs were very high because these animals were more susceptible to diseases in the tropical conditions where they were introduced – purer the breed more susceptible it is to disease! In addition, cross-breeding them with native, hardy breeds led to destruction of the local gene pool of native cattle breeds. E.g., the Gir cow, a native of the Gujarat area, that reportedly produces 48-50 litres milk / day has pretty much vanished from India. The irony is that today we are importing the semen of the Brazilian Gir, which was developed locally from stock imported from India early last century, to revive the local Gir!! (see http://devinder-sharma.blogspot.in/2010/09/holy-cows-acclaimed-abroad-despised-at.html).

This fascination with exotics has wreaked havoc on the largely rain-fed countryside with farmers being driven into debt traps. What has made the situation even worse is the pricing of milk. Most small farmers are pouring their milk to Government dairies where the price offered for milk has no relationship to the expenses incurred by the farmer in producing the milk. So the small farmer who is struggling to maintain this “white elephant” with the hope that it will produce the “promised” milk and bring money into the house is left watching the money slip from the dairy to the bank /money lender…..with this skewed price all he / she is doing is servicing loans. Where is the promised livelihood or “poverty alleviation” from dairying???

Summer is usually the time when milk demand is high and milk supply falls (lack of water and therefore not enough grass to feed the cow and so low milk yield). However this summer in parts of Chittoor and in Karnataka, milk availability has been high…why I am not sure. However, as a result Government dairies have a surplus and to disincentivize farmers from producing milk, dairies have slashed milk prices! The cow’s udder is not a tap that can be shut off! How will these small and marginal farmers particularly in rain-fed areas reeling with drought pay off those loans if they cannot sell the milk produced? The very same Government departments and dairies who promised loans and pushed small farmers into buying exotic cross-breeds (no subsidy if you do not buy a cross-breed!) do not want to touch the milk.

When is the Government and the Planning Commission going to wake up to the ground realities? Why are there no subsidies and no insurance facilities provided for local, hardy breeds of cattle? Why is the price of milk not linked to the cost of production of milk by the farmer? In the midst of this crisis the Government of India wants to throw open the dairying sector to the EU under the EU-India Free Trade Agreement. In one sweeping action this will destroy livelihoods and lives in rural India.

I think we should just close down all Government Departments / Ministries that ostensibly speak about rural development. This way at least people are not living with the illusion that we as a Nation are committed to “inclusive growth.”


Do we need to live with droughts?

An existentialist question or a rhetorical one? Come summer and everybody asks this question – more so in the “other India” – the one that is not part of the Indian growth train! The editorial in the current issue of Down to Earth (http://www.downtoearth.org.in/content/six-sins-make-drought-invincible) is a relevant read particularly the listing of “the six sins that make drought invincible”.

The two “sins” that I’d like to take forward for a discussion are the the fifth and sixth particularly in light of the Draft National Water Policy 2012 (available for downloading and comment at http://wrmin.nic.in/) currently under debate: The fifth sin – “we forget underground aquifers meet a considerable part of water demand. So we do not factor in the need for recharge of groundwater. Instead we extract more and more water, leading to scarcity”.  We seem to forget that we are largely a groundwater civilisation with groundwater meeting a large part of not just rural drinking and agricultural water but also urban potable water demands.  So unless groundwater management is made the centrepiece of this Policy we are not going to make a dent in addressing this problem.

We also forget that water is a common resource – while land can be owned by a private entity and a well on it may belong to the entity, the water below the land is not the private property of that individual / entity! Water is a universal right and therefore in spirit, letter and on the ground any water policy and resultant legislation must ensure  equity and social justice in the access to water. The doublespeak and schizophrenia in the Draft Water Policy is remarkable….the Preamble expounds the philosophy of social justice and equity while the body of the Policy advocates privatization as the panacea to the current water crisis. Nothing new here…..this schizophrenia is the norm be it the Food Security Bill, Land Acquisition Bill or the Water Policy.

The sixth sin  – “our inability to link investment in watershed and soil conservation to groundwater recharge. In the past few years, attention has been paid to building ponds and tanks and to protecting watersheds. But investment in these assets—coming largely through employment guarantee schemes—is hardly ever productive. The schemes provide jobs and do not care about the quality of the work. Watersheds are planted with trees but protection of trees is not ensured. The tank is desilted, but the channels or the catchment that bring water to the tank are not.” This country has been engaged in watershed management since 1880 with Government supported programmes coming into prominence since the 1950s. In spite of this vast body of experience we still do not link watershed management to groundwater conservation. Watershed development in some rain shadow areas has led to groundwater recharge BUT this has led to increased water withdrawal to irrigate water intensive crops leading to more severe depletion of the scarce groundwater resources in summer….yet another example of fragmented thinking – the hallmark of our Policy planning.

The agencies implementing these programme do not coordinate with local agricultural or livestock departments to support livelihoods that can be sustained in the long-term because of the improved groundwater resource.   E.g. as part of the activities under a watershed development programme provide support for rainfed crops such as millets. This could be in the form of access to hardy, local seed varieties, infrastructure to store, process and add value to the produce, creating local markets etc. Another e.g. could be to ensure that water-intensive white elephants (exotic breeds of cows that are best at home in the Netherlands) are not provided to landless women farmers in rain-fed areas!

Do we need NASA photos to tell us that groundwater levels are abysmal in the Gangetic plain thanks to the myopic agricultural and livestock policies?? And then we are shocked as a nation which passes when the next exciting bit of news appears on our 24×7 news.

To do anything seriously commonsensical about this our erstwhile leaders must find time in Parliament where they are so busy debating over “serious” issues such as the appropriateness of cartoons in textbooks.



Now is the Governance of Disconnect….(apologies to the Bard)

The Indian Growth story has evoked a variety of responses – India Shining, Asian tiger, giving China a run for its money etc. etc.  More recently however, journalists in India and abroad have been commenting on a daily basis on the blips in the growth rate and how it will impact the poor (hysterically on TV and print, as if the growth of any economy can be realistically monitored on a daily basis!)!   A recent article in the The New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/06/business/economic-view-forget-europe-worry-about-india.html) “Never Mind Europe Worry about India” discusses the fall in growth rate in India stating – What is disturbing is that much of the decline in the growth rate is distributed unevenly, with the greatest burden falling on the poor. If the slower rate continues or worsens, many millions of Indians, for another generation, will fail to rise above extreme penury and want. At this point I have to ask – What about the distribution when the growth rate was rising? The very same  “poor” referred to in the article did not see the benefits of any of that growth so the situation can’t get worse! The disconnect in understanding the relationship between growth and development (evident in the NYT article) is prevalent also among our policy makers and planners as well and among most urban Indians.

In this context I must cite a recent piece in the Times of India on “Growth pangs” (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/sunday-toi/special-report/Growth-pangs/articleshow/13757467.cms) I couldn’t help but laugh at the question raised – “Why is an emerging economy doing so badly on human development index?” What a naive question?  The article concludes with – At the heart of India’s skewered development story lies the paradox between India’s phenomenal GDP growth and its abysmal score on human development. This is what happens  when there is an all pervasive disconnect in the understanding of the relationship between growth and development! An increase in growth rate (measured as GDP) is not a magic bullet to alleviating poverty. What is this growth? Where is this growth taking place? At what cost and who’s cost?  If there are any benefits from this growth where is it being channeled?

In the face of this disconnect one wonders how rural India is going to lift itself out of poor sanitary conditions, poor health, debt-traps into which people have fallen due to skewed and distorted Government policies. However, encouraging stories of innovation and courage (both in working with and working the Government), from rural and marginalised communities learnt through personal experience and from reports indicate that in spite of the disconnect in Governance, communities are empowering themselves towards a better life. More on some of these stories later……………..