24 January 2012

Dangers of developing India

India's development, social issues, environmental problems are mounted one of top of each other, add climate variance to all spells a huge dilemma coming at us.

Recently in Durban we concluded the 17th Confederation of parties (COP) where over 190 countries assembled in Africa to reach decisions on the growing climate problem world over. This was one of the most important meetings since Kyoto will be expiring in 2012 and countries debated on whether a renewal treaty should be put in place or not. India's role took a tongue lashing from environmentalists and adamantly refused to co-operate on lowering carbon emissions. The country's per capita global emission is far less than the total carbon footprint, agreed, but what Jayanthi Natarajan our honourable environmental minister misses out is that we are a growing population of 1.2 billion. People's carbon footprint increases as more than 50,000 vehicles are added on the road every year, employment has shot up in cities increasing numbers, mining in South India is taking an ecological toll, Wiping out forests and disregard to wildlife in the name of development increases, hence there are many many reasons to growing India's carbon footprint.

Highlighting this issue, the root of most of India's problems stems from: Extreme poverty. Lack of education, health, security, benefits, unemployment and zero access - a trend of problems arise. One is of course high growth of population in India. Contraception and family planning is virtually unknown in most parts of the country with no education in this matter. The other issue is the demand for the male children, which results in having more children the better likelihood of producing a male, many parts of India don't want girl children. The problem largely falls on lack of education and knowledge, inadequate health access which leads to bigger families. With development centered on urban centric locations we miss addressing the root of the problem which lies in most underdeveloped and neglected areas of India.

Our agriculture, food and water security is in deep trouble today. The population still largely sits in villages and small towns and little or nothing is done on upliftment of those livelihoods which are directly responsible for the food on our table. Bureaucracy, corruption and exploitation leaves a trail of tragic endings to agriculture farmers who are completely helpless in the face of an insensitive system. The climate crisis is affecting their livelihoods at a greater level prompting many farmers to turn to alternate sources if possible.

But where there are problems, who says solutions are not possible? It's not that we can't, we don't. India has made tremendous progress in the last 10 years, catapulting the country in the paths technology, science, energy and gaining respect world over. A 360 degree view needs to implemented right away in this way. Green employment today is becoming a growing sector, the terms solar, wind are a trend witnessed everywhere. Providing alternate energy is not only 'green'  environmentally healthy but generates employment opportunities in rural and urban sectors. Sustainable livelihoods with indigenous tribes/ forest people of India is important ground level opportunity. The country still has one of the largest natural capital, the need to protect these areas is vital for economic growth. Education is 'the' most important, it provides the backbone to any growing economy. Health, food and water security are of course natural demands.

As business takes importance and ecological takes a backseat many forget that its because of ecology we thrive today. If we take her for granted business and economy will fall, it is inevitable.

By Kavya Chandra

13 January 2012

An Extraordinary Journey

By Kavya Chandra

Pushpanath aka ‘Push’ as he is fondly known stands out from the crowd with his bushy white-black hair, calm expression and radiating energy. A charismatic man, Push is someone who is driven by passion, love for the outdoors, storytelling and believes actions speak for themselves.

An amazing and difficult journey undertaken in November 2011 by Push who walked 550 kilometers from Chikmagalur (north belt of Karnataka) to Mysore for 16 days in his fight for climate justice. His message was simple, “India is feeling the pain of climate change, when a child is ill his mother applies a wet cloth to his forehead, similarly India is getting hot but the world leaders at Durban are too busy fighting over the colour of the cloth”. Words simple, yet impactful.

This is the second walk by Push who walked from Oxford to Copenhagen in 2009 as a run-up to the Copenhagen summit carrying the same message to world leaders in Copenhagen. He has travelled far and wide over the past 16 years as a global campaigner for climate action, seen the sufferings of the poor in African countries, experienced poverty faced by children in South Asia and witnessed women in developing countries bear the full brunt of climate conflict.

A follower of Gandhi and a radical at heart, Push says that the Dandi March inspired him to walk, ‘‘It is the simplest thing anyone can do, if you feel strongly about something walking is the best way to express yourself’’. 

Similarly this year, Push takes a message to our world leaders who recently wounded up the Durban meeting, “Stop pushing around papers on the desk and playing with people’s lives, its time to stop acting politically and start actual ground work, you have the power to set an example, act, and be remembered in history for facing one of the biggest challenges of man”.

During the walk Push received unstinting and overwhelming support from The Karnataka Growers’ Federation (KGF); a mother body of top coffee growers and planters in the state and world. Push’s journey began in Chikmagalur from Baba Budangir, across many small towns passing the heart of Coorg (commonly known as coffee country) and finally Mysore. Every town welcomed him like a hero, garlands and flowers were thrown, firecrackers burnt with lots of band baja and dance. It felt like a wedding only absentees the bride and groom. The locals graciously put him up every night at each passing town, prepared delicious Coorg cuisine and opened their hearts and homes to Push supporting him till the very end. Children listened to him, danced with him, and hugged him, shouting ‘Chalo Durban’. One unforgetful memory was when a small child of 7 removed him shoes and walked 8 km with Push. Coffee growers, local activists, self help groups from all over the state came to meet Push, tell him their stories and problems with changing climate, some of them being with him till the very end.

Push personally reached out to 30,000 people in the course of 16 days and lakhs more through media. He walked 2, 25, 00,000 steps totally and was widely covered by the media in Karnataka especially in local towns of Chikmagalur and Coorg, Mysore and Bangalore.

‘‘These kinds of stories are the inspiration for us all... to do what we do!!! For today,and the generations to come!”
- Marc Matheiu, Hindustan Unilever

“One day your name will be the reason of the change in the world, your name might appear even in HISTORY textbooks as “the soul cause of our change”
- Dhruvi, High school student

"You’ve not only accomplished an astonishing personal physical achievement, but raised awareness on climate change and fired the imagination of all those you have come into contact with. With your example they will surely think that anything is possible!"
- Malini Mehra, CEO,Centre for Social Markets (CSM)

Visit Pushpanath's blog on http://gopushgo.com/

Whose Money Is It Anyways?

By Viva Kermani

I am not an economist. Neither do I subscribe to The Financial Times nor to The Economist. Nor do I care to seriously read  any of the salmon colored newspapers.

 Despite all of this, I am amazed at how, in the very recent past, there has been a flood of articles, op-eds, stories, blog posts, tweets and re-tweets on the rise in income inequality.  Outrage seems to be on how we have allowed capitalism to grow into the form that it is today - which is killing equality, destroying the world’s ecology  and causing severe environmental degradation .The manner in which there is an overzealousness in  natural resource exploitation , one would imagine that  our natural capital is here for us to last till perpetuity.
The rise of disparity of incomes is not limited to countries such as India, where there has been a history of  stark inequality, but the rise of income inequality is growing notoriously in developed countries such as the US and UK. A recent study done in the US showed that the top 1% households' income grew by 275% - this is just one revealing statistics – there is a lot  more data out there to show that more wealth is shifting to fewer  people, with few bankers having a disproportionate control  over the economy.  As a recent New York Times article puts it – it has been the era of the rise of the super rich. If not the ultra-rich.

Forbes annually tallies the fortunes of the world’s billionaires. The world’s 1,210 current billionaires, Forbes reported in March 2011, hold a combined wealth that equals over half the total wealth of the 3.01 billion adults around the world.  Something is seriously going wrong. Despite India s economy growing anywhere between 7% and 8 % in the last few years, income inequality has doubled in 20 years. Surely, GDP growth cannot be the only measure of development and progress or for that matter prosperity.

Nevertheless, why is all this happening? What are we missing that is driving this rapaciousness? Is it because of our inability to perceive the difference between public benefits and private profits?

I have come to see this polarisation more acutely and closely over the last 12 months in my work with the Karnataka Growers Federation.   I have been working extensively with the small to medium-sized coffee farmer in the southern state of Karnataka. Coffee is now big business in India.  According to India’s Coffee Board, domestic consumption has been witnessing a steady growth of five to six per cent in the last five years. And we can see this – almost all of urban India today is dotted with coffee bars. Coffee is the preferred choice for the upwardly mobile and uber cool. With the ubiquitous CafĂ© Coffee Day, Baristas, Costa Coffee, and the much awaited entry of the more expensive Starbucks into India, the latte and cappuccino are here to stay.

The world has been gulping down so much coffee that  it is now the second most globally traded commodity after oil.  But coffee is one of the few internationally traded commodities that is still mainly produced not on large estates or plantations but on small holdings. The economies of the some of the poorest countries are highly dependent on trade in coffee –in some African countries like Ethiopia and Burundi -but the producer today hardly makes a living from his or her coffee bean, given their small holdings – the majority being anywhere between 2.5 acres  to10 acres.

 The story is no different in India. Contrary to popular perception, 98.5% of coffee growers in India are small farmers. Today India produces 4.5% of the world’s coffee. This is good news – to some.

The bad news is that coffee is produced by 90 countries globally but consumed by just 40 countries. The global coffee trade today is close to USD 96 billion. Of this USD 96 billion trade, a meagre USD 8 billion comes back to coffee-producing countries. There is not a chance in hell that the farmer, who produces coffee on say a  10 acre holding, has any control on the market prices or access to any share of this mega profit. The producer s share of this profit is unusually low while the usual suspects in between and at the end, laugh all the way to bank. The world’s big four coffee roasters  also have big coffee brands – and therefore enjoy huge margins - while the producer benefits the least. Squeezing the small farmer for the lowest possible price – in the long run is a bad business idea – it will drive the coffee farmer out of business.

Coupled with no control over prices, there is another challenge facing the farmer today – that of unseasonal rain and unpredictable weather patterns. Whilst climate change is just one of numerous factors that may affect global coffee production, the International Coffee Organization considers it will likely be one of the most important ones with smallholders (who produce the majority of the world's coffee) the most vulnerable group.  In Karnataka, the state that produces about 70% of India’s coffee, there were 3 years of continuous drought during the coffee season from 2002 to 2005 followed by heavy rainfall in 2006 and 2007. This lead to severe infestation of pest and disease, like stem borer and leaf rust, which resulted in huge crop loss.  For the first time we heard of suicides among coffee farmers.

When it comes to coffee, India is unique. It is the only country on the world map that grows  all its coffee in the shade. Indian coffee is  grown in forest like conditions –verdant and rich in biodiversity. India also grows both the varieties of coffee – Arabica (Coffea Arabica) and Robusta(Coffea robusta). Arabica is high-end coffee – it is rich and yet delicate in flavour and therefore  commands a higher price.  Robusta is the low-end variety – it  is hardier but commands a lower price. One would think that Indian farmers would want to grow Arabica and get a higher price for their coffee bean. But sadly the trend is the reverse. Arabica-growing farmers instead are opting out of this highly-flavoured cherry to grow the Robusta variety (which requires less care), partly because the Arabica plant cannot stand up to climate variability and unpredictable weather patterns.  And this is the other thing – we are now drinking more and more coffee but of less and less quality.  

So whether Arabica survives or not, or whether farmers only grow Robusta because they have to, I know that if Baba Budan were around today, he would have probably been a very rich man.