Monthly Archive December 19, 2013

Stop Pesticide Poisonings: Time travel through international pesticide policies (2nd edition)

A new edition of the popular PAN Germany publication “Stop Pesticide Poisonings! A time travel through international pesticide policies” is now available at:
It takes the reader on a quick journey through the years since pesticide poisonings in developing countries first came to international attention. It highlights the global efforts to solve pesticide-related problems, and looks behind the statements and statistics of dangerous pesticide use and poisonings in developing countries. The key message of Stop Pesticide Poisonings is that “safe use of highly hazardous pesticides” is not possible, especially in developing countries. It suggests the urgent need for a progressive ban of highly hazardous pesticides, while phasing in sustainable, ecosystem-based plant production systems.

7 lakh Indians died of cancer last year: WHO
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LONDON: Nearly seven lakh Indians die ofcancer every year, while over 10 lakh are newly diagnosed with some form of the disease.
According to the latest World Cancer Report from the World Health Organisation (WHO), more women in India are being newly diagnosed with cancer annually. As against 4.77 lakh men, 5.37 lakh women were diagnosed with cancer in India in 2012.
In terms of cancer deaths, the mortality rate among men and women in India is almost the same. While 3.56 lakh men died of cancer in 2012 in India, the corresponding number for women was 3.26 lakh.
One in every 10 Indians runs the risk of getting cancer before 75 years of age, while seven in every 100 runs the risk of dying from cancer before their 75th birthday.
Cancer of lip and oral cavity has emerged as the deadliest among Indian men while for women, it is breast cancer.
The top five cancers in men are lip/oral cavity, lung, stomach, colorectum and pharynx, while among women they are breast, cervix, colorectum, ovary and lip/oral cavity.
The global cancer burden jumped to 14.1 million new cases in 2012, with WHO saying the marked increase in breast cancers must be addressed.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), WHO’s specialized cancer agency, has released the latest data on cancer incidence, mortality and prevalence worldwide.
The new version of IARC’s GLOBOCAN 2012 provides the most recent estimates for 28 types of cancer in 184 countries and offers a comprehensive overview of the global cancer burden. It reveals striking patterns of cancer in women and highlights that priority should be given to cancer prevention and control measures for breast and cervical cancers globally.
According to GLOBOCAN 2012, an estimated 14.1 million new cancer cases and 8.2 million cancer-related deaths occurred in 2012, compared with 12.7 million and 7.6 million, respectively, in 2008.
Prevalence estimates for 2012 show there were 32.6 million people (over the age of 15 years) alivewho had had a cancer diagnosed in the previous five years.
The most commonly diagnosed cancers worldwide were those of the lung (1.8 million, 13% of the total), breast (1.7 million, 11.9%), and colorectum (1.4 million, 9.7%). The most common causes of cancer death were cancers of the lung (1.6 million, 19.4% of the total), liver (0.8 million, 9.1%), and stomach (0.7 million, 8.8%).
Projections based on GLOBOCAN 2012 estimates predict a substantive increase to 19.3 million new cancer cases per year by 2025, due to growth and ageing of the global population. More than half of all cancers (56.8%) and cancer deaths (64.9%) in 2012 occurred in less developed regions of the world, and these proportions will increase further by 2025.
In 2012, 1.7 million women were diagnosed with breast cancer and there were 6.3 million womenalive who had been diagnosed with breast cancer in the previous five years. Since the 2008 estimates, breast cancer incidence has increased by more than 20%, while mortality has increased by 14%.
Breast cancer is also the most common cause of cancer death among women (522,000 deaths in 2012) and the most frequently diagnosed cancer among women in 140 of 184 countries. It now represents one in four of all cancers in women.
“Breast cancer is also a leading cause of cancer death in the less developed countries of the world,” says Dr David Forman, head of the IARC Section of Cancer Information, the group that compiles the global cancer data. “This is partly because a shift in lifestyles is causing an increase in incidence, and partly because clinical advances to combat the disease are not reaching women living in these regions.”

India: Direct cash transfers is aimed at dismantling food procurement, and moving away from food self-sufficiency.


Some weeks back, I was participating in a panel discussion on  on a national TV channel. While the discussion wheeled around the merits and demerits of cash transfer, I think the anchor was taken by surprise when I said that  is in effect a ‘cash-for-vote’ programme. Supporting my argument with a World Bank study for Latin America, I found the entire focus of the discussion thereafter shifting to whether the real intention behind the aggressive push for  is aimed at the 2014 elections.While the media as well as most panellists who frequent the TV channels, for some strange reasons, were and are still reluctant to talk about the political ramifications of cash transfers, it was Rahul Gandhi who made it abundantly clear when he told his party men that cash transfer could win them not only 2014 but also the 2019 general elections. The entire academic euphoria over the proposed aggressive roll out of Aadhar-based (UID-lined) cash therefore is simply overbearing and needs to be seen in the light of political bias. In fact, the visible trend in the ongoing national debate is more towards being seen as politically correct.
A World Bank working paper, entitled: “Conditional Cash Transfers, Political Participation and Voting Behaviour,” studied the voting behaviour for a conditional cash transfer programme launched in Colombia just before the 2010 elections. Subsequently, a 2011 study of an unconditional cash transfer programme in Uruguay clearly established that cash transfers did help the ruling party get a large share of the votes, and thereby helped the party to romp home at the back of cash transfers. In India, the political urgency and the aggressiveness with which the massive cash transfers are expected to cover the entire country by April 2014 is therefore quite obviously aimed at bringing electoral benefit to the ruling party.

The unconditional direct cash transfer programme that is proposed to be launched from Jan 1 in three phases will start with 43 districts involving a cash provision of Rs 20,000-crore. Eventually, all forms of subsidies to the poor, including food and fertiliser, will be in the form of cash flow, and would add up to Rs 3 lakh crore annually. I fail to understand how and why such a massive cash outflow pipeline will reach the beneficiaries without first putting up a fool-proof delivery system in place. The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) too was envisioned with a lot of expectations but has failed miserably to deliver. Several studies have pointed to nearly 70-80 per cent leakages, and yet somehow the impression is that MNREGA has transformed the rural economics.With only 40 per cent of the population having access to banks, and with an over ambitious target of reaching the remaining population through banking correspondents – who will be operating like the village postmen except they will now be equipped with portable handheld machines acting like micro-ATMs – we are perhaps expecting too much from the most important human link between the technology and the money delivery. So far, there are only 70,000 banking correspondents and the experience has not been very encouraging. In the next one year, the number of banking correspondents will have to increase ten-fold to reach a staggering figure of 7 lakh.
Knowing that the entire rural and agricultural banking operations are rooted in corruption, I wonder how we have accepted that the banking correspondents will not be swayed by corrupt practices. If 60 per cent of the beneficiaries have to be reached through an army of banking correspondent, who will be handling over Rs 1.5 lakh crore by any conservative estimate, the delivery mechanism is certainly fraught with over-confidence stemming from political urgency. This is where I think the policy makers and bureaucrats have failed to rise above assumptions. This is where I think the aadhar-based cash-for-vote will end up being no different than the hype generated at the time of launching MNREGA.
Nevertheless, what worries me more is when cash transfers move to the next phase, and that means meeting food entitlements directly with cash. Thanks to the concerns raised by the civil society, the government has deferred cash-for-food for the time being. It was more because of the fear that the cash-for-food programme could go completely out of control, and therefore could negate the political advantage that the ruling party is hoping to garner, that it has been kept in abeyance. At a time when the proposed National Food Security bill is pending introduction before the 2014 elections, any tampering without a proper evaluation could backfire.
It is true that close to 60 per cent of the food that is channelized through the public distribution system is either wasted or siphoned off in transit, and that the entire system is mired in corruption. What reaches the poor beneficiaries is often not even fit for consumption. The answer however does not lie in dismantling the  system, but reforming the world-largest food delivery system to riddle it of corruption, and make it more effective. This is certainly possible, but given the extent of political meddling in the allotment of ration shops to transportation of grains, it has never been attempted in right earnest.For several decades now, the international emphasis has been to force India to dismantle the PDS. The first attempt was made at the time of the infamous Dunkel draft during the primitive years of world trade negotiations. WTO aimed at curtailing the PDS role, and wanted markets to ensure food security. Strong opposition from India, cutting across political lines, forced the WTO to eventually withdraw that clause.Subsequently, in the name of decentralisation of food procurement and storage system, an attempt was made during the tenure of Atal Bihari Vajpayee to divest the Centre of its onerous responsibility of procuring foods for the central pool, and leave it to the States to manage grain procurement, storage and distribution.
Several chief ministers had opposed the decentralisation move thereby forcing the government to retreat.
For several years now, the emphasis has once again been on discarding food procurement. Allowing Food Corporation of India (FCI) to increasingly take on a commercial role by shifting focus from its sovereign role of ensuring domestic food security to looking for opportunities for grain exports, and finally to engage in future trading in wheat so as to offload and earn profits from the mounting surplus it carries. This has also to be seen in conjunction with the proposal to cap food procurement to the country’s buffer stock needs, and thereby deprive farmers of getting benefit of the assured price of wheat and rice. At present, FCI is under an obligation to purchase the surplus grains flowing in to the mandisat the Minimum Support Price. Once this role is withdrawn, farmers would be left at the mercy of trade.
Providing cash in the hands of poor beneficiaries means less emphasis on the PDS ration shops. The idea is to provide coupons or provide food entitlements in the form of cash, and leaving it to the people to buy their quota from the market. Whether the money provided would be used primarily to buy liquor, junk foods or other consumer goods is an important issue, but what is more important is to understand how it is aimed at dismantling the food procurement system. This subtle way, very cleverly designed, would undo the gains of food self-sufficiency so assiduously achieved after the advent of Green Revolution.The underlying objective is very clear. Once the direct cash transfers begin, the ration shops would be gradually phased out. Once the PDS shops are removed, the cap in food procurement that is being suggested for FCI will come into play. With food procurement limited to meet the buffer requirements, which is somewhere between 14 to 22 million tonnes a year (against 82.3 million tonnes stocked with the FCI in June 2012), wheat and rice farmers would no longer get the benefit of the minimum support price. Farmers would be left to face the vagaries of the trade, and as has been the experience in those States which do not have a robust system ofmandisand thereby unable to provide farmers with assured prices, distress sale will become a norm.
Withdrawal of food procurement system will have an impact on food production. This would help farmers to abandon farming, and migrate to the urban centres. This is exactly what the World Bank has been proposing for several years now. The 2008 World Development Report had called for land rentals and providing farmers with training opportunities so that they can be absorbed in the industry. The government, as directed, made budgetary provisions for setting up 1000 industrial training institutes across the country. It is therefore obvious that the government had wanted to withdraw from food procurement and distribution for quite long now, following the dictates of the World Bank/IMF. Cash-for-food will facilitate the process and make it easy. Food requirement will then have to be met from imports, and there is already a dominant thinking within the government which advocates importing subsidised food off-the-shelf from the western countries rather than spending more on growing food within the country.
FDI in retail comes at a time when contract farming is receiving greater attention. The idea is to link the farmers growing cash crops with the supermarkets. This will help the government from doing away with the system of announcing the minimum support price and thereby reduce the subsidy outgo. This is exactly what the World Trade Organisation (WTO) had wanted several decades ago. The process to dismantle food procurement, a highly emotive issue in India, actually began in mid 1990s. It is now receiving the final touches.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had repeatedly said that the country has 70 per cent more farmers than what is required. Cash-for-food will provide the smokescreen needed to accomplish what the WTO/World Bank/IMF have been telling India for long. It is only when of the farming population is moved out of the villages that the agribusiness can find a stronghold in India. The predominant economic thinking is that the population in agriculture has to be cut back drastically for any country to grow economically. Cash transfers will then be part of the bigger promise of igniting country’s economic growth. #