What follows is the third part of a talk called “Women’s Rights Perspective in Birth, Breastfeeding and Food” that I presented at a Training Program on Gender, Work and Health held at the National Labour Institute, Delhi in March 2014. The earlier two parts concern Birth and Breastfeeding. Continue reading
On 10 March 2014, I spoke about Women’s Rights Perspective in Birth, Breastfeeding and Food at a Training Program on Gender, Work and Health held at the National Labour Institute, Delhi. In one session, graduate students from institutes in various parts of India attended. In another session, Health Officials from various countries attended. Continue reading
Beyond small mercies
December 25, 2013 01:16 IST
APHARD TIMES: Even in relatively well-off families, money is always in short supply and the comfort of the elderly often takes the back seat.
In the harsh lives of the elderly, the pension is a chance to enjoy small comforts — relieving their pain with some medicine, winning the affection of grandchildren with the odd sweet, or simply avoiding hunger
Rs. 200 / month? I spent Rs. 200 this morning. What did I get?
2 kg tomatoes – Rs. 80
6 santras – Rs. 45
1 kg atta – Rs. 36
1 loaf of bread – Rs. 38
Apart from the atta, which will last 4 days, the other items will be finished by tomorrow, by our family of 4. Not to mention provisions already in stock.
Why 2 kg tomatoes? Everyone at home is sniffly & sneezy. Cold and cough are going around. Tomato soup, made with onion, garlic, ajwain and tulsi aid our recovery. So will the santras.
The same cold and cough can turn much worse for the weak and hungry, especially without clean water, proper shelter or blankets. Or Rs. 200 for fruits and vegetables.
Food prices are through the roof. Six months ago I paid Rs. 150 for the above. Rice and wheat are subsidized – so far. What about pulses? The WTO has put the brakes on supplying oil and pulses in the PDS.
The elderly are rising – and not a moment too soon. We need their voice in the struggle for food security for all.
Don’t sell out local food traditions with packaged food in the name of rehabilitation and development.
In the immediate rescue-and-relief scenario, packaged foods may play a role in ensuring that people do not go hungry in the aftermath of a disaster. However every packaged food company wants its product to be considered ‘normal’ and everyday food, not just for emergency. The food industry has managed to convert huge populations in Western and urban Indian areas to their ways, accepting packaged food as an ordinary everyday item. When these industries and the people they have converted are in charge of disaster aid, then there is a likelihood that the packaged foods and nutri-powders that are heavily marketed on front pages and prime time television will be considered not only as emergency relief material but a part of ongoing rehabilitation assistance packages.
As Naomi Klein reports in Disaster Capitalism: How to Make Money out of Misery, “‘Where has all the money gone?’ ask desperate people from Baghdad to New Orleans, from Kabul to tsunami-struck Sri Lanka.” The answer, she explains, is to those who already had money.
Klein and other journalists have reported on this after Hurricane Katrina, Sandy, and other disasters in the United States. I have seen this happen after the earthquake in Gujarat and the tsunami in Tamil Nadu. Lakhs of rupees are budgeted for something like a feeding center, but if spent on packaged food, those lakhs end up in the hands of Britannia, GlaxoSmithKline, Parle, and Nestle. What ends up in the people’s hands are biscuits and powders. What ends up in their lands is the packaging. The brands get recognition. The biscuits and powders boast nutrients on their labels but in reality offer little value compared to foods prepared locally from fresh ingredients. Though this may seem obvious, the relentless push of the food industry to make packaged food normal and indeed preferable to homemade food tends to extend its use beyond the period of relief, into the phase of rehabilitation and eventually into the normal diet.
Commenting on the inappropriate use of the emergency food “Plumpy Nut” made by Nutriset, World Health Organization officer Zita Weise-Prinzo says, “Donors like seeing a product. They like being able to say they have distributed so many tonnes of this magic pill or whatever and it was distributed to so many thousands or millions of children.” (Sophie Arie, “Hungry for Profit,” BMJ 2010;341:c5221, )
Local Food Sovereignty
When we recognize the local food that people have traditionally grown and eaten in an area, we can look for ways to rebuild the supply through diverse channels, sustainable agricultural practices, and thus build local food sovereignty rather than bringing food and food-like substances from remote locations through centralized routes.
We must also guard against the role agribusiness plays in pushing government policy in their favour, as Biju Negi of Beej Bachao Andolan has written today in “Deceptive Intervention for Millets.” He warns that government intervention will destroy traditional millet farming in the Himalayan region.
In the same state or district where a disaster has struck, there may be farmers who can supply food required for rehabilitation. If not immediately, then some time after, especially if building their capacity is part of the rehabilitation plan. It is important to link with and procure from these suppliers, sustaining local livelihoods as well as food traditions. This requires us, after the initial relief phase, to look beyond “feeding the disaster-affected” to approaching community rehabilitation in a holistic way, drawing on the strengths and resources of disaster-affected and non-disaster affected people.
When I met the Koya tribal people who had been displaced from Chhattisgarh by Salwa Judum, I saw that they carried with them their seeds of sama, korra and other varieties of millets and were growing them in whatever small space they could make in the forest, processing them at home and eating them.
From the government as well as the local NGO, however their relief package consisted of white rice, nutritionally inferior to millet. Even though in the very same Khammam district, there were farmers growing the very same grains that these people were used to eating. Why hadn’t the NGO bought those grains to use in the feeding centre? Throughout India farmers and social organizations are fighting an uphill battle to sustain local grains. Yet they are neither included in the public distribution system (PDS) of the government nor through the private suppliers who have the infrastructure to work with large donor agencies. In this case, the donor agency had stipulated that the food should be procured through specified routes that conformed to their supply and billing systems. This meant that rice coming from some other part of the state or even other states could be used in the program, but not the millets growing in the same district. After eating white rice, would the next generation remember how to recover their diverse food traditions?
Even if the NGO had found a way to include diverse and local grains in the relief package, they would have been more expensive since they aren’t part of the public distribution system and don’t receive the subsidies that white rice does. The question is, can the donor agency recognize the value of the local food traditions, biodiversity, local economy and community health that are part of that grain, above and beyond its weight in kilograms? This calls for strengthening local distribution routes as well as local capacity, and commitment to existing Acts such as the Forest Rights Act and to the policy of land to the tiller, which would guard against further insecurity and in fact would have helped people resist this displacement in the first place.
Global Economic Policy
Disaster capitalism goes beyond industrial food, Big Ag, Big Aid and Big Box, to the heart of economic policy. As United States secretary of state, Hilary Clinton declared openly that the pillars of American foreign policy were development, defense and diplomacy and these would be used to ensure America’s (meaning corporate America’s) access to global markets. Read, for example, Hilary Clinton, America’s Pacific Century.
Commenting on Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, economics professor and former World Bank economist Joseph Stiglitz writes about “the political machinations required to force unsavory economic policies on resisting countries (Stiglitz, “Bleakonomics,” New York Times, September 30, 2007). These policies include privatisation of natural resources including water and land (or as Luke Erikson puts it, “Land from the Tiller”), public utilities such as electricity, and even public services such as health, education, and transport. Though touted as the solution to poverty, these policies further deprive the poor, by defining development and progress in a way that discounts their own strengths and resources.
Consider the case of water. The Ministry of Water Resources’ draft water policy (2012), encourages the private sector and cuts agricultural and domestic subsidies, in line with World Bank recommendations. It states as a basic principle: “evolving an agricultural system which economizes on water use and maximizes value from water.” Unfortunately the history of water policy in India shows that maximizing value is not counted according to the numbers of people who have secured food and water, but rather the monetary value of that water and the goods it is used to produce. This serves the needs of the food (and beverage) industry.
The hundreds of dams that are part of the drive to privatize have also aggravated the present floods in Uttarakhand which in the past week have claimed thousands of lives and rendered more than one lakh people homeless. India Climate Justice has called for a halt to construction of dams in the Himalayas pending review, and has noted that the Comptroller and Auditor General warned that this series of dams and hydropower projects could be environmentally damaging. Himanshu Upadhyay has detailed the failure to heed these and other crucial CAG warnings in Uttarakhand: Ignoring the writing on the wall. Apart from potential to aggravate floods, the series of dams diverts water to power houses and away from traditional irrigation systems, serving small local farms.
In situations of chronic hunger, the food industry need not wait for any specific disaster to strike before bidding to introduce their products. Since the hunger is chronic, the contracts will be long-term. Consider this ominous title of a UNDP Report: The Roles and Opportunities for the Private Sector in Africa’s Agro-Food Industry. The author of the report is “UNDP Africa Facility for Inclusive Markets.” Its stated focus – namely, ”development and expansion of regional value chains in job creating sectors such as agribusiness…” – works against the goal of local food sovereignty towards privatization and globalization.
Industrially packaged food that enters as an emergency measure must not come to be regarded as the new normal. Those involved in supporting rehabilitation programs should take care to guard against the push of this industry to reach new consumers, particularly in vulnerable times, and thus move more people away from the local, diverse, whole and home- made food that is the foundation of health, livelihood,community and food security.
Note: India Together has published this as “Beware of disaster profiteering” on 2 July 2013 .
Among the threats to food security today are:
- Cultural Change
Unsustainable agricultural policy
Non-implementation of land rights
Loss of forests, depriving forest-dwelling communities of livelihood as well as food / medicine that comes from the forest, as well as overall health of ecosystem.
Loss of bees
Pollution, Submergence, and Diversion of agricultural land for non-agricultural use
- Dams and diversion of water for cash cropping, tourism and other non-agricultural use
Land acquisition for industries and projects that benefit industries, rendering 1 million people per year landless, homeless and food-insecure.
- Food Industry – nutritionally inferior products, false advertising, government subsidy, corporate lobbyists,
25th August 2012
GM crops are no way forward by SATYARAT CHATURVEDI
The Hindu, 24 August 2012
It is very good to hear directly from one of the members of Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture. People must unite behind this committee’s recommendations and see that the government of India stop all field trials and ban Genetically Modified food crops (such as Bt. brinjal).
“For years the biotechnology industry has trumpeted that it will feed the world, promising that its genetically engineered crops will produce higher yields.
That promise has proven to be empty, according to Failure to Yield, a report by UCS expert Doug Gurian-Sherman released in March 2009. Despite 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization, genetic engineering has failed to significantly increase U.S. crop yields.”
from: Union of Concerned Scientists report: Failure to Yield
Concerned Scientists in India must study and report on matters like this that impact policy and people’s lives.
GM crops are no way forward
Food security is not about production alone; it is also about bio-safety, and access to food for the poorest
We are predominantly an agricultural economy, with the agricultural sector providing employment and subsistence to almost 70 per cent of the workforce. There have been some remarkable contributions from the agriculture sector to food grain production in the last six decades, when from a meagre 50 million tonnes in the 1950s, the country has been able to produce a record 241 million tonnes in 2010-2011. Despite these achievements, the condition of the farming community is pitiable considering that 70 per cent of our farmers are small and marginal, and there is a complete absence of pro-farmer/pro-agriculture policies which has led us to an environment of very severe agrarian distress.
PROS AND CONS
In this situation, food security has been one of the main agendas of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government and also one that the government has been struggling with. There is a strong opinion among policymakers that biotechnology holds a lot of promise in achieving food security and that transgenic crops, especially, are a sustainable way forward. But given the opposition and controversies surrounding Genetically Modified (GM) crops and the differences of opinion among stakeholders, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture decided to take on the mammoth task of an objective assessment of the pros and cons of introducing GM crops.
We expect the observations in our report to answer the big question on the role of GM crops in achieving food security. We hope the recommendations will be acted upon at the earliest. The committee felt this was all the more necessary in the light of the Prime Minister’s exhortation at the Indian Science Congress about the full utilisation of modern biotechnology for ensuring food security but without compromising on safety and regulatory aspects.
In India, the only commercialised GM crop is Bt cotton. Industry and the Central government have painted a picture of success about it — saying it has led to an increase in production and that the costs of cultivation have gone down. But the ground reality is starkly different. This was evident during the extensive interactions of the committee with farmers in different cotton growing regions around the country during study visits in March 2012.
Besides analysing the facts and figures provided by government agencies and listening to eminent cotton scientists, the committee’s consultation with farmers in Vidharbha helped us conclude that the Bt cotton saga is not as rosy as made out to be. In Vidharbha, the per-acre investment in cultivating traditional varieties, or even pre-Bt hybrids, could be less than Rs. 10,000. That was certainly the case until the first half of the previous decade. But for Bt cotton, even the un-irrigated farmer is spending upwards of Rs. 15,000-18,000 or even more per acre. And irrigated farmers complain of input costs exceeding Rs. 45,000 per acre. While the investment and acreage rose dramatically, the per acre yield and income did not increase in equal measure and actually fell after initial years. Indeed, the Union Agriculture Minister spoke of Vidharbha’s dismal yields on December 19, 2011 in the Rajya Sabha.
It was clear that at least for the rain-fed cotton farmers of our country, the introduction of Bt cotton offered no socio-economic benefits. On the contrary, it being a capital intensive practice, the investment of farmers increased manifold thus exposing them to greater risks due to massive indebtedness. It needs to be remembered that rain-fed farmers constitute 85 per cent of all cotton growing farmers.
Added to this, there is desperation among farmers as introduction of Bt cotton has slowly led to the non-availability of traditional varieties of cotton. The cultivation of GM crops also leads to monoculture and the committee has witnessed its clear disadvantages. The decade of experience has shown that Bt cotton has benefited the seed industry hands down and not benefited the poorest of farmers. It has actually aggravated the agrarian distress and farmer suicides. This should be a clear message to policymakers on the impact of GM crops on farming and livelihoods associated with it.
From the various deliberations to which the committee was privy, it is clear that the technology of genetic engineering is an evolving one and there is much, especially on its impact on human health and environment, that is yet to be understood properly. The scientific community itself seems uncertain about this. While there are many in this community who feel that the benefits outweigh the risks, others point to the irreversibility of this technology and uncontrollability of the Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) once introduced in the ecosystem. Hence, they advocate a precautionary approach towards any open release of GMOs.
One of the concerns raised strongly by those opposing GM crops in India is that many important crops like rice, brinjal, and mustard, among others, originated here, and introducing genetically modified versions of these crops could be a major threat to the vast number of domestic and wild varieties of these crops. In fact, globally, there is a clear view that GM crops must not be introduced in centres of origin and diversity. India also has mega biodiversity hotspots like the Eastern Himalayas and the Western Ghats which are rich in biodiversity yet ecologically very sensitive. Hence it will only be prudent for us to be careful before we jump on to the bandwagon of any technology.
The committee’s findings on the GEAC-led regulatory system for GM crops show that it has a pro-Department of Biotechnology (DBT) and pro-industry tilt. It has also come under the scanner due to its inefficiency at the time of Bt Brinjal approval and for behaving like a promoter of GM crops rather than a regulatory body mandated to protect human health and environment from the risks of biotechnology. The DBT, whose mandate is to promote GM crops and fund various transgenics research, has a nominee as the co-chair of the GEAC, who gives the final approval for environmental and commercial release of GM crops.
The current regulatory system is shameful and calls for a complete makeover. While the government has been toying recently with the idea of a Biotechnology Regulatory Authority, the committee dismisses this and instead recommends an all-encompassing Biosafety Authority. While the committee has also evaluated international regulatory systems on GM crops, it recommends the Norwegian Gene Technology Act whose primary focus is bio-safety and sustainable development without adverse effects on health and environment, as a piece of legislation in the right direction for regulating GM crops in India.
The committee strongly believes that the problem today is in no measure comparable to the ship-to-mouth situation of the early 1960s. Policy and decision-makers must note that the total food grain production rose from 197 million tonnes in 2000-2001 to 241 million tonnes in 2010-11. A major argument by the Department of Agriculture and Cooperation before the committee in favour of GM crops was their potential to ensure the country’s food security. But the issue of food security is not about production alone; it also means access to food for the poorest. Moreover, there is no evidence as yet that GM crops can actually increase yields.
The committee, therefore, recommended the government come up with a fresh road map for ensuring food security in the coming years without jeopardising the vast biodiversity of the country and compromising with the safety of human and livestock health.
The committee unanimously feels that the government should take decisive action on the recommendations of this report and rethink its decision of introducing transgenics in agriculture as a sustainable way forward.
(Satyarat Chaturvedi is spokesperson, Indian National Congress, and member of Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture)
Abstract Submitted to World Breastfeeding Conference | http://www.worldbreastfeedingconference.org/
to be presented in the session : Forgotten Foods – Use of local foods for complementary feeding
I would like to discuss two cases, from Srikakulam and Khammam Districts respectively, of people’s experience with traditional foods, the obstacles people face in “remembering” them, and the impact this has on people’s breastfeeding, health and the social fabric of life.
Nutritional supplementation with local millets.
In rural Srikakulam District, a program of nutritional supplementation with local millets has been in place for 5 years. Run by an NGO, AID-India, the program targets malnourished children below the age of 5, and has successfully brought the children to normal weight as per ICDS weight charts. However obstacles remain in restoring millets as a normal part of the local diet – it is fast becoming or has already become a “forgotten food.” It is not procured by PDS, not served in ICDS, and not supported in agricultural policy in spite of its demonstrated value for individual health, farmer’s livelihood, and land.
At the same time, we observe that communities still practicing traditional diet with not just one but several varieties of local millets as part of their diet, are facing threat of extinction. One example is the Koya adivasis, forced to flee their homes and lands, and now living as Internally Displaced Persons without land.
Update – To Be presented on Dec 8, 2012: http://www.worldbreastfeedingconference.org/abstract
Note from JP Dadhich <firstname.lastname@example.org>:
Greetings from Organising Committee of World Breastfeeding Conference 2012!
We are pleased to inform you that the abstract for the presentation submitted by you for World Breastfeeding Conference to be held on 6th-9th December, 2012 in New Delhi has been accepted for oral presentation in conference programme on 08/12/2012 at 16.30-18.00 hrs.
Your presentation has been scheduled for the session TS-14 (Research papers on various aspects of infant feeding) as indicated below in session summary.
Technical Session – 14 Research papers on various aspects of infant feeding
Title of paper
Foods: nutrition, tradition and the price of memory
Desogestrel mini pill: Is this safe in lactating mother-A prospective Study
Dr Dilip Kumar Dutta
Breastfeeding and equality
Impact of the promotion of breastfeeding support for women in four hospitals in the Pacific island country of Solomon Islands.
James Auto, Divi Ogaoga, Shakila Naidu
Microbiological assessment of expressed and stored breast milk of lactating mothers in Abia state, Nigeria
Ukegbu PO Uwaegbute AC, Ijeh, II, Ukegbu AU
FoneAstra: Improving safety and monitoring systems for low-tech human milk banks
Rohit Chaudhri, Lysander Menezes, Anna Coutsoudis, Penny Reimers, Darivanh Vlachos, Maya Newman, Kimberly Amundson, Noah Perin, Kiersten Israel-Ballard
Each speaker will be allotted 8-10 minutes for completing the presentation. We’re looking forward to your participation at the conference.
If you have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact us. Please Note: If you are not the author presenting your paper, please forward this message to your co-author who is doing the presentation.
Dr. JP Dadhich MD,FNNF
Organising Secretary, World Breastfeeding Conference (WBC-2012)
National Coordinator, Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India (BPNI),
Consultant, Breastfeeding and HIV – IBFAN Asia,
Co-coordinator, WABA Taskforce on Global Advocacy,
South Asia Regional Focal Point Coordinator for WABA