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Hope Has Withered for India’s Farmers

Henry Chu, LA Times
As the nation touts its high-growth economy, the poor who work the land commit suicide
…An epidemic is sweeping through the Indian countryside, killing farmers by the hundreds in the nation’s vast, sun-baked heartland. What afflicts them is not disease or famine but despair, so deep that it is driving men such as Chatale and Gurnule to take their lives at the rate of two a day.

Fueled by crushing debt, failing crops and government indifference, the suicides are a stark reminder of the desperate poverty that continues to engulf huge swaths of this nation of 1 billion, despite the enthusiastic portrayals of India at home and abroad as a software powerhouse, an outsourcing giant and an economic juggernaut with growth of 8% a year.

Fifteen years of market-oriented reforms have unleashed a wave of capital and entrepreneurialism across India. But though high-end sectors such as information technology have made impressive strides in cities like Mumbai and Bangalore, the benefits of reform have yet to extend to the hundreds of millions who toil on the land.

“Seventy percent of our population live in rural areas, live in hostile conditions,” farming activist Kishor Tiwari said. “And they talk of ‘mega-India,’ ‘India shining’? That’s a lousy picture.”

Falling commodities prices have put the squeeze on Indian farmers, the great majority of whom have only a few acres. The government also has slashed or phased out subsidies for some crops, shredding a key safety net.

The result is a growing social crisis most bleakly illustrated by the rash of suicides, in states from Punjab in the north to Kerala in the south, where 1,500 farmers are reported to have taken their lives in the last five years.
(11 Aug 2006)

Acid rain in China threatening food chain

Robert J. Saiget (AFP), Yahoo!
BEIJING (AFP) – China’s sharp rise in sulphur dioxide emissions, the main component of acid rain, is ruining the nation’s croplands and threatening the food chain in rivers and lakes, experts have said.

The emissions, largely caused by burning coal to sate China’s booming appetite for electricity and by vehicle exhaust, are further exacerbating severe ecological degradation in the world’s most populous nation, they said.

China announced this week that it emitted nearly 26 million tons of sulphur dioxide last year, a 27 percent increase since 2000, making the nation the world’s biggest polluter of acid rain-causing substances.

“The sulphur dioxide acidifies the soil, hurting the roots of the crops that farmers are growing and reducing total yields,” Edwin Lau, assistant director of the Hong Kong branch of Friends of the Earth, told AFP.

“Acidity of rivers and lakes also affects the growth of marine organisms, killing the lower-level species needed by bigger organisms to survive and disrupting the food chain.”
(5 Aug 2006)

Cuba’s agricultural revolution an example to the world

Andrew Buncome, UK Independent via Seattle Post-Intelligencer
To the right lay revolutionary tomatoes and to the left lay revolutionary lettuces, while in the glass in my hand, filled to the brim and frothing with vitality, was the juice from revolutionary mangoes. It was thick, unfiltered and fabulously sweet. It was also organic.

“Yes, it is very good. It’s all natural,” said Miguel Salcines Lopez, his brow dotted with sweat from the midday sun, as he raised a glassful to his lips. “Growing food in this way is much more interesting. It is much more intelligent.”

Almost five decades after the now ailing Fidel Castro and his comrades overthrew the dictator Fulgencio Batista and seized power in Cuba, another revolution, largely unnoticed by most visitors and tourists, is well under way on this Caribbean island. And Salcines and his small urban farm at Alamar, an eastern suburb of the capital, Havana, are at the center of a social transformation that may turn out to be as important as anything else that has been achieved during Castro’s 47 years in power.

Spurred into action by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disastrous effect this had on its subsidized economy, the government of Cuba was forced to take radical steps to feed its people. The solution it chose — essentially unprecedented both within the developed and undeveloped world — was to establish a self-sustaining system of agriculture that by necessity was essentially organic.
(13 Aug 2006)
Also at Common Dreams.

What the West’s only communist nation has done right (Grist magazines: Soapbox)
Castro the Conservationist? By Default or Design, Cuba Largely Pristine (National Geographic)