Down to Earth – 1th to 15th April Summary - New Age Executives (Part - 3) (Download PDF)


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Strength Aggregation -India has about 119 million small and marginal farm households that own less than 2 ha, as per Census 2011. It could go to 95 % in next decade. Small farmers have no say in the market. Small landholdings mean high input costs, reduced output and low market price.

  • A group of farmers aggregate their produce and can hire tractors to transport and still make a profit. An individual farmer has no say in a mandi, a group of farmers can negotiate with traders on the selling price.
  • FPCs also draw private investment in agriculture for construction of godowns, , cleaning and grading machines by micro financing facilities.
  • In 2017, the National Bank For Agriculture And Rural Development (nabard), too, decided to promote 2, 000 FPCs.
  • Data shows that cooperatives have seen a massive decline in the past two decades, coinciding with the rise of FPCs. The biggest reason behind the rise of FPCs is the long-drawn agrarian crisis in the country.

New Issues

  • The rise of FPCs has triggered a rise of contract farming. Under contract farming, farmers can undertake agricultural production on the basis of pre-harvest agreement with buyers.
  • Companies like Pepsi and McDonald’s are engaged in contract farming in Maharashtra, Punjab and Gujarat.
  • According to a 2016 paper published in the ‘International Journal of Agriculture Sciences’, contract farming in the country is less than 2 % of the cultivable land. Contract farming in India is changing towards this corporate contract model as reflected by the entry of many Multinationals.
  • At present, 20 states provide for contract farming, which requires registration with the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC). APMCs also resolve disputes arising from a breach of contract.
  • APMCs do not allow FPCs to market their produce in the mandis, is one of the flaws of APMC.
  • In January 2018, the government has put a draft Model Contract Farming Act 2018 in the public domain for feedback. Experts feel the act would take away power from FPCs.
  • A threat of contract farming, the buyer will dictate what crop to cultivate, which could lead to mono-cropping, which is environmentally disastrous.
  • According to the 2017 annual report of the National Commodity and Derivatives Exchange, or NCDEX, 29 FPCs and 0.4 million farmers are engaged in derivatives trading, an impact of FPCs.
  • Derivatives’ trading is gaining popularity among farmers because it offers better and assured returns.
  • The prices of a crop are high in its sowing season and fall when it is being harvested. It is, therefore, beneficial for farmers to sell it at the time of sowing, which is possible through derivatives trading.

What Ails The New Sector

  • Many agri-companies are indirectly supporting FPCs under corporate social responsibility initiatives. For instance, Syngenta, a Swiss agrochemical and seed manufacturing company.
  • A US-based company that manufactures genetically modified (GM) seeds is “spreading awareness” about the benefits of GM seeds in Rajasthan through FPCs.
  • Devinder Sharma, an agriculture policy analyst based in Chandigarh, also says that FPCs are just another form of intermediaries.
  • G V Ramanjaneyulu, executive director of Hyderabad-based non-profit Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, says FPCs will soon face the problems the cooperatives faced.
  • Experts are divided on the future of FPCs, since getting loans from banks is still troublesome for FPCs which hinders their access to technology as well as markets.
  • The Report of the Committee on Doubling Farmers’ Income: Volume IV, published last year, India has only 8, 900 mandis while it requires 30, 000 for farmers to have fair price discovery mechanism.
  • FPCs can make markets more friendly to small and marginal farmers and trigger infrastructure creation in backward and tribal areas.
  • FPCs are limited to farming, a cooperative can be formed from other sections also. Also, FPCs cannot replace the vast network of cooperatives and they should complement the latter.

Race to a New Drive

  • Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) may be in headlines for all the wrong reasons (like different accidents), but they are changing the face of transportation systems.
  • Using artificial intelligence system, AVs are making inroads in various parts of the world. Tesla has sold more than 120, 000 cars with built-in autonomous features in the US.
  • Taxi services like UBER, governments of countries like Sweden, UK are launching experiments for testing AVs.
  • In Germany, the road and transport company, Deutshe Bahn, along with the technology company, Easymile, has started a fully autonomous bus service in Bavaria.
  • Google’s Waymo is offering free rides to people on the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, a robotaxi service. Waymo has also tied up with Chrysler to build fully autonomous cars.
  • Automobile manufacturers like Ford, General Motors (GM) and Toyota are planning to upgrade their current fleet of cars with autonomous technologies.
  • In India, companies like Tata, Mahindra and Infosys have launched autonomous technology projects which are in various levels of development. Many start-ups are working on cheaper version of AVs.
  • A large number of global automobile companies believe that mobility in the future will be driverless.

How it Works

  • An AV uses an artificial intelligence system which receives data from the surroundings in real time through onboard instruments. There are two types of technologies—one that uses the Light Detection and Ranging (lidar) and others which don’t.
  • Cameras are used to see markings on the roads while short range radar technology is used to calculate distances from objects. This data is then analysed by an on-board computer to take real time decisions to manoeuvre through busy city streets
  • Tesla cars do not use the fine detailing of lidar but its vehicles provide full semi-autonomous functions.
  • Autonomous technologies are at different levels of development and are graded on a scale of 1 to 5. At each of the levels, the degree of the autonomous nature of the vehicle increases. A level 5 AV would equal the performance of a human driver


  • At levels 4 & 5, AVs would leave no option for a human to takeover even in an emergency, which brings forth a host of issues regarding the safety of the car.
  • Experts have raised doubts about the inability of AVs to take moral decisions in a situation where it would need to decide whether to save the passenger or someone on the road.
  • There are also legal hurdles and questions for accountability. Different countries like US, UK and Germany are working on laws.
  • While formulating laws, accountability of an accident is main concern.
  • Instruments like noises or light flashes can be used to warn people and other vehicles around the AV.
  • AVs have performed well in controlled environments where routes are fixed and uncertainty is less. AVs may work in a scenario where human-driven vehicles are banned
  • In the real world, an AV would have to wade through complicated traffic congestions, read road signs with graffiti on them and respond to non-verbal gestures used by drivers and traffic personnel. This would need technology to be as robust as a human being.
  • Other concerns are, what about the jobs of drivers and would people feel safe in a AV?

Classroom: Monsoon and Civilizations

  • US and Chinese scientists found and studied limestone formations and ancient traces of oxygen trapped inside The Sahiya cave in Uttarakhand to unravel that there is strong correlation between rainfall fluctuations and the fate of civilisations in Indian sub continent
  • A variant of oxygen (isotope) in these formations is an indicator of the atmospheric temperatures and the flow of rivers originating in the Himalayas for the last 5, 700 years.
  • The subcontinent hosted seven civilisations, including the Indus Valley civilization, the first one dating back to 3700 BC known as the Mehrgarh culture.
  • The civilisations were completely dependent on agriculture, which was dictated by the flow of water in channels which got flooded during the monsoons.
  • Declining monsoons forced the Indus people to move eastward to the Ganga basin between 1850 BC and 1300 BC, where they settled down in smaller villages and practised farming in fragmented landholdings.
  • The cities of the Indus Valley civilization were occupied by nomadic people from Central Asia in 1400 BC who established the Vedic Age. As monsoon intensified, Vedic civilization gained ground after 1050 BC.
  • Once the monsoon decreased, the vedic civilization started declining after 450 BC.

The Ink and Line Of Nature

  • Burrum chundalli (Codariocalyx motorius), a small shrub that grows in damp forests and on moist river banks. Recent studies reveal that its roots have antidiabetic properties.
  • The rule of EAST India Company’s (EIC) rule over India saw scientific renaissance in the west, and India’s natural wealth was the subject of intense research from west.
  • Thousands of plant specimens were collected during the studies and made their way to botanical gardens like the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE), Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, the Natural History Museum, London, the British Library and the Linnean Society of London.
  • Botanists depend on dried specimens to study plants. But there are always risk of damage from pests and moisture. Botanists regularly prepare diagrams and sketches which have an advantage over dried plant specimens.
  • Many such botanical drawings made their way to rbge and were recently compiled into a book Botanical Art from India.

Collection By Coincidence

  • Like any collection, the one at RBGE grew largely by happenstance – people who donate the drawings.
  • The earliest paintings reproduced in the book were commissioned by James Kerr, an assistant surgeon in Calcutta (now Kolkata) in 1772.
  • One of them was Codariocalyx motorius, commonly known as burrum chundalli, or the moving plant of Bengal.
  • In the northern parts of the country, these artists—trained in Mughal miniature traditions. Documents reveal that a number of botanical artists were employed at the gardens of Kolkata and Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh, which was lacking in South India.

An indigenous style

  • The “company school paintings” had a style of their own. The artists would bring out detailed patterns by the use of rich colours, which would be opaque paint, heightened with a tree-based gum.
  • Few artists like Rungiah and Govindoo were acknowledged. Robert Wight, an assistant surgeon with the Madras Medical Service in 1819 had as many as 2, 000 illustrations of plant species, named an orchid after Govindoo.
  • The items were stuck to poor quality backing sheets; if they were too large, they were cut or folded and two species were depicted on a single sheet, that must be cut into two.
  • It is estimated that there could be about 3, 000 original drawings and several thousands of ink and watercolour copies from printed collections.

Profiteering on Old Drugs

  • Non-patented drugs, too, need robust policies to protect patients and public health systems from overcharging.
  • Pharma Bro’s real name is Martin Shkreli, shot to notoriety in 2015 after his start-up Turing Pharmaceuticals acquired the drug called Daraprim in a US $55 million deal.
  • Turing immediately raised the price from $13.50 a tablet to $750. Daraprim became an instant money spinner for Shkreli but the cost of treatment for some patients shot up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
  • Daraprim is used to treat serious parasitic infection in babies born to women who are infected during pregnancy, and also patients with compromised immune systems, like those with AIDS and cancer. The drug is also used in the treatment of malaria.
  • Another drug which such a trend was Cycloserine that is used to treat multidrug-resistant tuberculosis.
  • Shkreli was jailed and fined in early March for misleading investors about the hedge fund.
  • Investors view many off-patent drugs as undervalued assets because patients and insurance companies can be made to pay the high costs of such treatment.
  • San Diego-based Imprimis Pharmaceuticals is planning to supply capsules containing Daraprim’s active ingredients at much lower prices. Imprimis, means it mixes approved drug ingredients to fill individual patient prescriptions, and would have a limited impact.
  • In India, a huge array of generics manufacturers does provide generic versions of most old drugs.
  • China, Brazil, Egypt and some Southeast Asian nations have schemes to control drug prices. India’s largest pharma public sector undertaking, the Indian Drugs and Pharmaceuticals Ltd, is been written off.

Chill With Kakdi

  • Kakdi-The water-rich fruit is popular among both farmers and consumers as it requries little inputs, grows quickly and is healthy.
  • kakdi fruit can double in size overnight. It is a long, slender fruit which looks and tastes like cucumber, but is related to muskmelon. Kakdi is scientifically called Cucumis melo variety flexuosus.
  • Kakdi is a one-time investment as some fruits are deliberately left in the field to mature, and these provide seeds for the subsequent years. This self-sufficiency bodes well as very few seed varieties are sold in the market. It grows in 2 months.
  • Sometimes the fruits are bitter and should not be consumed.

Savouring Points

  • Apart from being used as a salad, it can be also prepared as a raita (a curd preparation), a sabji (hard and over ripe).
  • Kakdi is commonly called snake cucumber or Armenian cucumber, originated probably on the foothills of Himalayas.
  • Kakdi has several medicinal benefits according to Ayurveda in treating heart burns and burning sensation during urination, protect brain from oxidative stress caused by diabetes.
  • Due to the presence of high oil content in seeds, they are being explored as potential for source of oil.

Coffee Out of Cafe

  • Wild coffee first grew in Africa. Coffee originated in the southwestern region of Kaffa in Ethiopia. Kaffa, a montane, heavily-forested area, has long been held to be the source of coffee.
  • Coffee trees grow in the wild in the cloud forests of Bonga, Mankira, Kombo, Gela and Boginda—all in Kaffa
  • Jeff Koehler is an award-winning American food writer, wrote about 4 threats being faced by coffee, they are disease, poor genetic diversity, climate change and deforestation.
  • Coffee leaf rust, a fungal disease, is destroying large plantations across the world, and climate change and deforestation threaten even worse consequences.
  • Genetic diversity is highest at the point of origin or source. Kaffa’s forests are thus a rich storehouse from where new varieties can be bred, which may even take on the mighty coffee rust disease and also adapt to climate change.
  • In 2010, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization declared the Kaffa forests a biosphere reserve, which has given it complete legal protection.

Law for Waste Pickers

  • Waste pickers recycle almost 20 % of India’s wastes, but they are unrecognised, face discrimination and are not entitled to government schemes.
  • Waste picking is one of the most accessible means of livelihood for the impoverished in India as it requires minimal skills, knowledge or capital investment.
  • A study conducted in 2016 by Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing in Delhi, a non-profit, revealed that over 76 per cent of waste pickers interviewed sold their waste to formal buyers making them vital to the industry.
  • Waste pickers are not legally permitted by state municipalities to collect, segregate and sell waste from garbage dumps across the country, and they are deemed to be committing theft under the Indian Penal Code, 1860.
  • Enhancing Capabilities Through Labour Law: Informal Workers in India, a book, found that most waste pickers who were interviewed for a study in 2011 had been taken into police custody at least once in their lives and had been booked for petty cases.
  • Due to constant exposure to putrid and hazardous wastes, waste pickers are vulnerable to skin diseases, musculo-skeletal ailments, respiratory disorders, cuts and needle wounds. But due to non-recognition, waste pickers are often excluded from various government health schemes.
  • Post-privatisation, fewer people were able to earn a living from the same volume of waste. A study conducted in Punjab in 2016 found that privatisation had a negative impact on their access to wastes as well as their capacity to earn a livelihood.

Wanted: a comprehensive law

The need of the hour is the creation of a waste picker welfare law that recognises waste picking as a genuine profession and ensures that the rights and needs of waste pickers are recognised and addressed.

The law to include:

  • Provision of identification cards

  • Provision of subsidised waste picking gear

  • The creation of a nodal body for rights and welfare of waste pickers

  • The creation of waste picker member-based organisations (MBOS). Successful initiatives in this regard include Hasiru Dala in Bengaluru, swach in Pune and sewa in Gujarat

  • Inclusion of waste pickers in all social welfare schemes

  • Making bidding unnecessary for waste picker MBOS with regards to solid waste management contracts.

Two Seasons of Separation And A Deep Political Desperation

  • The challenge of ensuring farmers the right price for their produce when they deliver historic harvests is troubling the Union Government.
  • NITI Aayog is working on a “package” to double farmers’ income as promised by 2022. The government need to give out a message that it is serious about agrarian crisis.
  • The budget assertion of giving farmers 50 % plus cost Minimum Support Price (MSP), has become the axis of the government’s strategy to fix the crisis.
  • The government’s own Committee on Doubling of Farmers’ Income has junked the effectiveness of MSP as a measure to increase income. It is not sufficient by itself.
  • There is the need for a bouquet of procurement tools that can cater to different commodities in different ways.
  • According to a NITI Aayog study covering 36 districts in 14 states, only 10 % of farmers were aware of MSP before sowing while 62 % were informed after it.
  • The pricing policy of msps would be effective only if farmers are aware of it at the time of deciding which crops to grow.
  • The price dispersion at farm gates and between them and wholesale markets is large for most crops. This is to be considered while assessing value of the produce and the share of that value assigned to farmers.
  • Administered returns to farms is needed to take agriculture into enterprise mode. A change in approach should define a new deal to farmers

Other Key Facts

  • Purple carrots treat liver dysfunction, hypertension, diarrhoea and microbial infections. They also restore the body’s salt balance.
  • Peepal leaves are helpful in treating asthma, diabetes, diarrhoea, epilepsy, gastric problems, inflammatory disorders and infections.
  • The Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority recently bought 25 electric buses. But green transport and connectivity remain a pipe dream in India.
  • Milk of the platypus: an answer to antibiotic resistance.
  • Indians are consuming banned genetically modified food due to lack of regulations.
  • Riverfront development projects have irreversibly damaged the ecology of rivers in India.
  • Keoladeo National Park in Rajasthan known as the Bharatpur bird sanctuary, is an important wintering ground for migratory waterfowl from Eurasia, North Africa and Arabian peninsula, as well as for resident birds.
  • The park is recognised as a Ramsar Wetland Site as well as UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park is in danger of losing these recognitions since a dam has been built on the upstream of the Gambhir river.
  • Stephen Hawking, the brilliant British theoretical physicist who suffered from a rare form of motor neurone disease, passed away at the age of 76.
  • 4.85 trillion microplastic particles are present in the global ocean, says study by researchers from The University of Manchester published in the Nature Geoscience.
  • Microplastics are pieces of plastic debris of less than 5mm in size and include microbeads (used in cosmetics), microfibres (used in clothing for outdoor pursuits and active sportswear) and plastic fragments.
  • 517, 000 plastic particles per square metre, the highest, were present in a site at the River Tame in Denton near Manchester in England
  • 70 % of the microplastics stored on the river beds were removed by flooding, ultimately ending up in the ocean
  • 60 countries, states and territories have legislation that fully prohibits using corporal punishment against children at home, say UNICEF and the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children.
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger, to take oil companies to court “for knowingly killing people”.
  • The cooperative set-up in India has over 0.8 million societies, with a membership of nearly 270 million.
  • The share of the cooperative sector in agriculture lending is 16%, in fertiliser production 25%, in sugar production 50%, in handloom production 54 % and in rural warehousing and storage 65%.
  • International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) formed one umbrella organisation— Farmers’ Forum— in 2005 to promote farmer organisations across the world. IFAD and governments, focus on rural development and poverty reduction.
  • IFAD has been executing 240 development projects across the globe.
  • East African Farmers Federation (EAFF), a forum of east African farmers organisations, pursued a legal framework to promote market linkages among themselves

- Published/Last Modified on: May 12, 2018


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