Sunday, December 5, 2010

Micro Finance companies make a killing from the rural poor

MFIs: Profiteering from poverty

Excerpts exposed by Devinder Sharma's in his blog Ground Reality

"Dainik Jagran, the largest selling newspaper in India (it is in Hindi), has carried today (Nov 27, 2010) an interesting report that should serve as an eye-opener. It says that the Ministry of Finance had a couple of days back held a discussion on microcredit in which a document detailing the profits earned by the MFIs was placed before the members. The details are shocking, and show how the MFIs have been extracting their pound of flesh in the name of poverty eradication.

An analysis of 13 major non-banking MFIs shows that the profits these firms accumulated by charging exorbitant interest from the poor borrowers had swelled from Rs 677.3 crore in 2007-08 to Rs 3776.93 crore in 2009-10. In other words, their profits had multiplied by 5.5 times over a period of two years. Since the MFIs have failed to expand the borrower base, it is quite evident that the profit increase is based on the interest amount they have managed to garner.

So while the poor took the fatal route to escape the humiliation that comes with coercive recovery of outstanding loans, the MFIs have made it rich. Bandhan Microfinance has broken all records. Its profits swelled by 34 times in two years. Some of the other players -- SKS Microfinance, Ujjivan Microfinance, BSS Microfinance, Share Microfinance, Sampada Safurti, and Grameen Financial -- have also managed to collect huge profits. Further investigations are on.

MFIs Interest Profit (in crore rupees)
2007-08 2009-10

SKS Micro finance 170.1 958.92
Bandhan 6.56 222.11

BSS 7.03 155.38
Share Microfinance 113.08 475.27

Grameen FS 82.65 327.35

Samdana Safurti 127.45 724.09

Ujjivan 36.37 372.89

(Note: Rs 1 crore=Rs 10 million)

The above chart is self-explanatory. It tells us how lucrative is the microfinance business. If you are foreign educated, and have lost your job in the wake of US recession, it is time to head home and set up an MFI. You can make money from the laudable objective of helping the poor. Many of the stalwarts in the MFI business have done it like this.

And don't worry, you will have a huge support from an equally indifferent educated from the middle class who would call it a 'win-win' situation. Many iNGOs, who also thrive on lending for the poor, would back you up to the hilt. Mainline economists are always there to justify such financial crimes.

You make your profits by sucking the blood of the poor. The resulting social cost would be picked up by the poor.

A Norwegian film "Caught in the micro-debt" brings out the truth behind microfinance
All these months I have been telling you how microfinance kills the poor. But somehow I still find that many of the policy makers and planners are still sold to the flawed concept, and some genuinely believe that micro-credit actually helps the poorest of the poor. They (and this includes the Reserve Bank of India as well as the Finance Ministry) are reluctant to initiate any action that may pull down the shutter on something that I have always regarded as a crime.

What is however heartening to observe is that many concerned citizens across the globe have begun to see through the pernicious design, and have now started to question the very basis of the concept. An award-winning Danish documentary film maker, Tom Heinemann, has launched today his latest film "Caught in the micro-debt" (in Norwegian language). Premiered on the Norwegian State TV Channel NRK, the film is based on an investigation by Tom Heinemann who made 'several trips to Bangladesh, and talks with a number of international experts worldwide, shows that the Grameen Bank leads many poor women into a crippling debt spiral.'

You can watch the documentary at

The film also makes some serious allegations against Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank, had transferred Tk 7 billion to Grameen Kalyan, which has nothing to do with micro-credit operations. More at:

According to a media statement: "The women pay about 30 per cent interest on loans, as they already have to start paying back after a week. The documentary tells the poor to harsh collection methods from Grameen Bank, which has received the entire 400 million in aid from Norway."

This film shatters the claims that were made by the microfinance institutes worldwide. I only wonder how could distinguished economists, academicians and policy makers eulogise the MFIs without first ascertaining the truth behind the flawed claims. Why didn't academicians at least warn the world? How could the World Bank/IMF and even the donors sink millions of dollars in such dirty enterprises? Why was the truth kept hidden?

Well, not only microfinance, the sordid truth behind the hyper claims being made by the biotechnology industry (and backed by the mainline scientists) has been kept under wraps by a corrupt regulatory regime. Pharmaceutical as well as the food processing industry have also managed to keep the stark truth remain hidden from public glare.There is something terribly going wrong with the people/institutions who are supposed to regulate the system to protect us.

The Norwegian Development Agency Norad, according to the press statement, had supported the Grameen Bank from 1986 to 1997 with a total of 400 million. Focal Point (the NRK programme that has brought this film) has gone through the entire archive of Norad, which has the Grameen Bank to make. Here it emerged that employees of NORAD in the early 1990's was concerned that the poor were trapped in a debt spiral.

In a memo from Norad 20 December 1993 states the following:

"In fact, according to a survey done by David Gibbons and Helen Todd of the 40 women with 10 years of membership (of Grameen Bank), had almost all borrowed privately to pay installments."

And in another note from Norad 1 June 1994 states the following:

"One of the matters which the report points out is that the credit concept as it has evolved, created fertile ground for a practice in which new loans can be used to repay current loans. This may help to explain the impressive repayment statistics as Grameen Bank operates. "

This only goes on to show that even as far as 1993-94 it was known that microfinance was not working. The film then goes on to quote a small borrower, Hazera: "I have had loans from Grameen Bank for 15 years, and I paid my installments on time. At one point I got problems with your refund. The staff of Grameen Bank came and called me names. They threatened me with selling panels from the house. If I did not pay, they would throw me on the street. They said many nasty things to me. I was scared and sold everything I owned and paid installment. The house will collapse. There are holes in the roof. I have no one in the world."

This is nothing but Goonda Raj.

Posted By Devinder Sharma to Ground Reality at 11/30/2010 09:04:00 PM

Monday, November 29, 2010


DATES: 15-17 December (Wednesday to Friday)
Inaugural Session: 15 December 2010 @ 9.30 am.
Closure of the Convention: 17 December 2010 @ 4.30 pm

Bhaikaka Krishi Kendra,
Ravipura [Anand-Sojitra Road],
District Anand, Gujarat.
(Phone: 02692-281664. Use only from December 14-17, 2010)

The Organic Farming Association of India (OFAI) organises its convention of organic farmers every two years in a different State. This year’s convention is scheduled to be held near Anand, Gujarat. Earlier conventions were held in Wardha (Maharashtra) in 2006 and Trichy (Tamilnadu) in 2008.

The venue for the 2010 event is the outstandingly successful biodynamic farm of OFAI President Shri Sarvdaman and Mina Patel. OFAI is grateful to this wonderful couple for agreeing to host the TBC 2010 despite all the inconvenience it may cause them.
The convention will be limited to 670 persons, on a first-come, first served basis. All OFAI State Secretariats have been allowed quotas for participation. OFAI members will get priority for registering.

The theme of the TBC 2010 is “Cool Farming for a Hot Planet,” reflecting the widely held conviction that organic farming not only eliminates or minimises contributions to green house gases from agriculture (when contrasted with chemical agriculture), but also actively helps in keeping more carbon in the soil.

Three eminent guest speakers have been booked for the three days of the event. The first day’s eminent speaker will be Dr O.P. Rupela, former ICRISAT scientist who has endeared himself to the organic farming community by undertaking research that conclusively proves the efficiency of organic farming when compared with other methods. A scientist having total faith in organic farming, Dr Rupela will represent the scientific community.
Shri Prakash Raghuvanshi, the outstanding practising farmer from near Varanasi in UP who has revolutionised the propagation and dramatic improvement of indigenous seeds through ingenious seed selection processes, will share his expertise and seeds on the second day. Greatly admired by the farming community for his generosity in sharing his seeds and expertise, Shri Raghuvansi will represent the farming community.
On the third day, Shri Umendra Dutt, activist mobilising Punjab and Haryana farmers against green revolution technologies and fiercesome agitator and campaigner against GM seeds, will address the valedictory. He will represent the activist community working on farming issues.
Also invited to speak at the valedictory is Shri Kartikeya Sarabhai, founder of the Centre for Environment Education, the NGO which organised the series of public hearings on Bt brinjal. Sarabhai has always been committed to green farming and green development. Since the Convention is located this year in Gujarat, it was thought the event would benefit greatly from his association, presence, experience and advice.


1) To understand and discuss the importance of organic farming within the overall perspective of climate change challenges.
2) To learn from each others’ organic farming experiences and methods.
3) To develop and strengthen feelings of solidarity within the organic movement at the national level.
Bhaikaka Krishi Kendra – the venue for the event – is one of the best organic-biodynamic farms in the country and a wonder to behold. The farm is owned and personally managed by Sarvdaman Patel who is also President of OFAI. The farm has been growing various crops including fruits, vegetables, cereals and pulses organically since 2000.
Visitors will get to see a complete nutrient cycle in operation including biomass production, animal husbandry and dairy, compost, mulching, multilayer cropping, etc. Rainwater hardly runs out of the farm. Sarvdaman himself is an agronomy expert. He also runs a farm shop. Internationally known biodynamic expert Peter Proctor has organized many training courses on this farm. That his farm will become the venue of the convention is a matter of pride and joy to the organic farming community of India.
Besides the main focus speeches on organic farming and its role in mitigating the problems caused by climate change, the following programmes are also scheduled for the benefit of participants:
* Useful seeds for organic farming * Crop selection & planning * Water management in organic farming * Soil science & nutrition management * Natural plant protection * Experiences of organic farmers * Experiences of scientists & activists * Lectures & questions and answers * Demonstrations of soil, water & plant protection measures * Exhibition * Literature and books on organic farming * Songs from Vinay-Charul (Loknad) * Films-silde shows * Cultural programmes
Participating in this event would therefore be the experience of a life time.
All bookings relating to exhibition space should be done by 1.11.2010 through Jatan. It is subject to terms and conditions and through prescribed form only.

1. For Farmers & NGOs: Posters, farm produce, books, state-wise presentation. No costs for stalls.

2. For Commercial Groups: Input products & dealers promoting their products (subject to terms and conditions provided in the registration form). No display of GM products will be allowed. Likewise, all items promoting chemical fertilizers and synthetic pesticides will not be permitted. One-time minimum charge of Rs.5,000 per stall.
Please keep the following in mind to help us organize and manage this national level event to the satisfaction of all parties:
1. Get yourself registered in time and don't expect special exemptions / exceptions. No registration will be possible after the due date. It is absolutely essential to send all your registration dues to the respective offices before 20 November 2010. Registrations will be closed as the total capacity gets booked up. Please bear with this reality. No registration fees will be accepted at the event venue. Food coupons will not be sold at the counter.
2. Upon receiving the application and due amount, the participant will be sent a receipt along with a registration confirmation letter (with important instructions and registration number) before 1st December, 2010. Participants need to show this letter at the registration counter.
3. As OFAI has no commercial interests, no sponsorship or conditional donations will be accepted for this convention. All are welcome to support unconditionally and whole heartedly. By paying the registration fees you help this event to be financially independent. Your support in the form of an additional amount above the minimum registration fee or a donation will be highly appreciated.
4. If financial constraints are a hindrance to your participation in this event, please inform your state secretariat or OFAI. The association will try and ensure that you can participate if you are unable to raise your own resources.
5. Arrangements being made for stay, food and meetings will be simple, like at a common farmer's home. The whole event is organized on a organic farm in tents. The food will be organic as much possible. Although bedding will be provided, you are requested to bring personal lightweight pullover and bed sheets as it might be cold.
6. Those wishing to present their experiences in orally or through demonstrations MUST submit their papers, write-ups, presentations, demonstration requirements before 1st Nov., 2010. Since this is a national event, please cooperate with us to facilitate translation. Earlier experiences have taught us that late submissions always lead to farmers being dissatisfied.
Volunteers are solicited and welcome. The whole event is being organized totally through people's participation. Sixty to seventy volunteers will be needed to manage various different tasks like managing the kitchen & dining, residential arrangements, managing the auditorium, looking after the guests, running the registration office, the exhibition, photography, videography, computers, audio-visuals systems and so on. Discipline and an ability to carry out tasks until the results are achieved even in adverse situations are both necessary. Skillful and willing volunteers may kindly inform of their availability in advance and make this event their own. Volunteers are also requested to register by paying the necessary fees.
Registration begins on 15 September, 2010. First preference will be given to OFAI members. Please quote your OFAI ID number when registering. No spot registration will be allowed at the venue on convention days. Limited numbers of participants allowed since the venue is a farm. Registration closes 20 November, 2010. No admission at the gate will be permitted.
Participants must plan to arrive on 14th evening or early 15th morning either at Anand or Vadodara.
Registration fee for the Convention is Rs. 500/- to Rs.1000/- for farmers (pay according to ability) and Rs. 1000 to Rs.2000/- for non farmers [NGOs/Promoters, Scientists, Students, others]. Fee includes food and accommodation. Those small and marginal farmers who need sponsorship/concession may contact their respective OFAI Secretariats.
First fill the registration form (to indicate category of participant). There is only one form for all the categories.
Send both form and fees to:
Central Secretariat,OFAI, G-8, St Britto’s Apartments, Feira Alta, Mapusa 403507 Goa. For registration at OFAI-CS, send amount by Money Order payable to “Organic Farming Association of India” at Mapusa P.O. PIN 403507 with name and contact details [postal address, email ID and phone number] to reach by 20 November, 2010 latest.
First fill the registration form (to indicate category of participant). There is only one form for all the categories.
Send both form and fees to:
‘Satvik’, 26, Banker’s Colony, Near Jubilee Ground, Bhuj: 370 001, Dist: Kutch Ph: 02832-254872, Fax: 02832-251914 Email :
DD should be in favour of “Jatan”, payable at Vadodara. However, the DD should be sent to the Satvik address at Bhuj.
M.O. should be in favour of “Satvik”.
Cheques will not be accepted.
Special accommodation and registration charges:
Those who wish to avail of their own accommodation in guest houses/hotels nearby may do so themselves. But there will be no concession for registration fees in such cases.
We are repeating: registration will be on first-come, first-served basis. OFAI members will have priority.
It is important that all presenters take pains to utilise the services of Jatan and OFAI for translation of their presentations. Any write-ups that are being used even during oral presentations should be translated into other languages. All papers for translation should be sent either to Jatan or OFAI by 1.11.2010.
Gujarati language:
Contact: Jatan
Vinoba Ashram, Gotri,
Vadodara-390 021
Ph : 0265-2371429
Fax : 0265-2372593
Email :
All other languages:
OFAI Secretariat,
G-8, St. Brittio’s Apartments,
Feira Alta, Mapusa, Goa-403 507
Ph : 0832-2255913
Fax : 0832-2263305
Email :

The Bhaikaka farm is offering space for any organic farmer who wishes to have live demonstrations of his techniques or cropping practices during the convention days. Individual plots of 10 x 8 sq.feet are being prepared. Any planting and also number of plots required to be done must be intimated to Jatan by 15.10.2010.
People wanting to carry out these live demos should also mention material requirements in details before 15th October.
For those who wish to visit historic places and organic farms in Gujarat, there are two programmes being organised by Jatan:
a) One day tour on 14th December, 2010. Start at 9.00 a.m. from Gujarat Vidyapith, Ahmedabad. Visit to Sabarmati Ashram, Sardar Patel Bio-Dynamic Farm, Akshardham, Gandhinagar, end at event venue by the evening on 14th. (Advance to be paid: Rs.250. These should be included with the registration fees sent to the respective registering office.) For this tour, you must arrive in Ahmedabad in time and report for the tour on 14th morning at 9.00 AM at Gujarat Vidyapeeth.
b) Three day tour from 18-20 December, 2010. Start by evening of 17th soon after the closure of the event, from the event place. Visit to Dwarika, Porbander, Somnath, Wheat Research Station-Lokbharti, Panchvatibaug Farm and will end at the traditional food festival of Shristi, Ahmedabad on 20th evening. (Advance to be paid: Rs.1200. This should be included with the registration fees sent to the respective registering office.)
The advance charged is not the complete cost of the tours. The actual cost will be pooled together and divided among the participants of the tour after the tour programme. Tour expenses will include travel, meals and accommodation. Cancellation charge will be 50% of the advance.

The nearest railway stations to the venue are ANAND and VADODARA [one hour journey by road]. Please arrange to arrive by 14 December, 2010, evening
This is to bring to your urgent attention that all participants to the Convention travelling from outside Gujarat .will need to book their train tickets starting 13 or 14 September, 2010 [90 days in advance].
Please note that reservations for train travel to Gujarat are difficult to get at any time of the year. We have noted that tickets reach the "Wait List" on the very first day when the booking open. Tickets for travel up to the first week of December are already on Wait List. The reservations open exactly 90 days prior to the date and time of the train’s departure from the railway station of origin of the train [not your boarding station]. So if your train journey begins on 13 December, 2010, check the date and time when the train starts at the point of origin and get your online reservation from home, agent or railway station done at that time on 14 September, 2010 [since October has 31 days]. Please confirm the details of your train now.
If you want to participate in either of the two proposed tours, plan your train bookings accordingly.
For further details see in the coming days and read the OFAI newsletter “The Living Field” or “Shashya Shyamala”. For urgent information of any kind, call: 0832-2255913 (during office hours) or email:

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Our Food, Our Farmers - Let's support Kisan Swaraj Yatra

Today, the food that we eat and the farmers who grow our food are both in crisis. Food freedom lies in the hands of each one of us. So, if you wish for safe quality food come forward to support the Kisan Swaraj Yatra.

The Kisan Swaraj Yatra which left Gujarat on Oct 2nd has already made its way through 6 states to Tamil Nadu. I just signed their online petition to support their efforts on behalf of Indian farmers.

Thousands of people around India are joining the Yatra to mobilize support for the farmers who grow our food, and to address the crisis of our agriculture and food systems which is affecting the farmers' livelihoods, the environment and everyone's health. This bus Yatra started at Sabarmati Ashram in Gujarat on Oct 2nd and is traveling through 20 states to reach Delhi on Dec 11th – involving lakhs of farmers, farm workers, social activists, students and urban consumers.

Please join me in signing this petition, and in writing to all your friends and family to join the cause:

We all need to force the government to take a new approach to agriculture that ensures dignified livelihoods for the farmers and promotes sustainable farming. What is refreshing is that the Kisan Swaraj Yatra doesn’t see the problems of agriculture as just those of a distant farmer community in rural India, but as intimately connected to all of us as citizens and consumers. It is a question of the livelihoods of 700 million people; it is also a question of sustaining our health and environment.

In solidarity

Sangita Sharma

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The ugly underbelly of Microfinance

THE Microfinance Institutes (MFI) are the shaninighans of today, treacherously exploiting the rural in the name of extending financial services to reach millions of poor. Rather, they tighten the noose round the neck by strangulating them. For over six months Devinder Sharma has been exposing these MFI prankters and finally the media has woken up to it. Last week, Andhra Pradesh proposed an Ordinance to curb the malpractices that have become synonymous with MFI's forcing a large number of rural poor to take their own lives.

When i started to understand the logistics of MFI's and the articles exposing the creditanials of such MFI's I recieved flak and accusations from corporate associates who vociferously told me to correct my facts. Disgusting but true but these new age baniyas have ammassed a wealth of over 5000 crores, all by craftily robbing the poor!

Read on

The ugly underbelly of Microfinance by Roli Srivastava, Swati Bharadwaj-Chand & Partha Sinha, TNN, Oct 18, 2010, 05.07am IST

SKS Microfinance, India's largest microfinance player, arrived with a bang with its hugely successful IPO in August. However, the recent sacking of its MD and CEO Suresh Gurumani has opened up a pandora's box that is now threatening to expose the ugly underbelly of the sector which, many allege, is teeming with players who are no better than moneylenders but have so far been able to operate under the pious garb of poverty eradicators.

TOI spoke to a cross-section of people associated with the sector and found that most are of the opinion that far from pursuing their socalled vision of eradicating poverty and being poor-friendly , private MFIs are actually in it just for profiteering as they are lending to the poor at interest rates as steep as those charged by moneylenders, or 'Pathaani Vyaaj' , a sobriquet derived from the ruthless moneylenders of Afghan origin who operated during the early 20th century.

Those familiar with the functioning of MFIs point out that the lending model of for-profit MFIs is not exactly pro-poor . While offering a loan, they often quote a "10% flat" rate of interest, which, on the face of it, appears like a good deal. However, there is a catch. This 'flat' rate of interest means that it will not be calculated on reducing balance. It implies that even after the borrower has paid a few installments, the interest would still be calculated on the initial sum borrowed, and not on the balance loan amount. The result is a (hidden) final rate of interest of 24-30 %, or even higher for the poor who can barely afford a square meal a day. "Microfinance, as practised by MFIs is unethical to the extent that it evades the truth in lending," said R Balakrishnan, a financial market veteran turned independent adviser . The high rate of interest is also leading to defaults and fraud. Recently , there has been a spurt in suicides in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa, allegedly due to harassment by MFI agents who started resorting to strong-arm tactics to recover loans as chances of default rise. M Subba Rao, of NGO Masses, who trained under Grameen Bank founder and Nobel prize winner Muhammad Yunus in Bangladesh, describes the cases of alleged harassment by MFIs as the result of 'irresponsible lending' . "There is high pressure on the staff (of private MFIs) to lend. They have targets to meet and they dump money (on people)," said Rao.

Consider this: The loan outstanding , according to the latest estimate by Microfinance Institutions Network (MFIN), the organization of 40 MFIs, is about Rs 30,000 crore with about 3 crore poor banking on MFIs for their financial needs. While the four southern states of AP, Tamil Nadu , Karnataka and Kerala account for a chunk of this borrowing, West Bengal and Orissa too have rural poor relying on MFIs. Besides, the sector is also on an uptick in UP and Haryana.

SKS Microfinance founder and chairman, Vikram Akula, is at great pains to ensure that everything is above board in the company. And more so due to the bad publicity the company got after its board sacked Gurumani. "We believe there is a right way to do microfinance and we have been practising it over the past 13 years with not a single case of unethical practice against us." The company, Akula said, clearly communicates to the borrowers that though the loan was at a flat rate of 12.5%, it effectively works out to over 26% because there is an "extraordinarily high cost of doing microfinance" . Since most of its lenders don't understand rate of interest, SKS' agents communicate to its borrower how much they have to pay in terms of rupees per week.

Akula, whose company is the largest MFI in the country with over 73 lakh customers, also denies the possibility of its staff using strongarm tactics or misleading borrowers . Instead, he blames the bad name that the sector is getting to new MFIs jumping into the fray sensing a lucrative business.

Of course, eradicating poverty through the MFI route, for some, is a lucrative business. The IPO document by SKS disclosed that Gurumani was drawing an annual salary of Rs 1.5 crore, an equal amount or more as performance bonus, and also a one-time bonus of Rs 1 crore. Akula is entitled to up to 1% of SKS's net profit, in addition to ESOPs.

Not surprisingly the 'success' of some of the MFIs and the mega-listing of SKS recently have stunned even seasoned bankers. When asked about the success of the MFI business in India, during a recent interview with TOI, SBI chairman O P Bhatt said even he was surprised by their numbers. He wanted to go deeper into their finances and business model to understand how MFIs, which borrow from banks including SBI, can make profits which these very banks can't make. After all, like mobile tariff plans, no financial product is protected by patents and IPRs and the uniqueness of any new and lucrative one cannot last for more than 24 hours.

The problem seems to be with the business model, and not the approach . In India, there are three kinds of MFIs: The government-supported self-help groups, non-profit NGOs and the private for-profit firms. While private MFIs say that the smaller entities have earned the sector a bad name, social workers and industry veterans at the grassroots say that bigger players with bigger targets have led to such incidents. In many instances, multiple MFIs lend to the same clients, resulting in repayment problems and eventually to defaults.

'MFIs have lost ethical values'

ANABARD-funded study says Vijay Mahajan's Basix Microfinance — with funding from Ford Foundation , Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and Sri Ratan Tata Trust — became the first MFI with a 'forprofit model' not only in AP but also India.

Industry observers point to a trend: Register a company under Section 25 of Companies Act, 1956 as a not-forprofit entity, use grants — local as well as foreign — and do social lending to build a book, buy an NBFC (preferably a dormant one), do a reverse merger and become a for-profit MFI. Says the head of a financial services company : "The problem starts when shareholders of forprofit companies put pressure for return."

Read more: The ugly underbelly of Microfinance - The Times of India

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Feedback "FROM SOIL TO SEED", a workshop recently conducted by Annadana Soil and Seed Savers

"From Soil to Seed" a three day sustainable agriculture workshop recently conducted by Annadana Soil and Seed Savers, had participants from all walks. It was interesting to witness the diverse range of professionals from doctor, scientist, engineers, IT experts, NGO's, journalist, marginal farmers and home maker come together to understand the source of their food and take charge of it. Enthusiastic participants came from Earth Trust, Ooty, to partake in it. Also, participants from the previous workshop attended to gain know-how in seed saving techniques, a skill being revived as its fast being lost.

The most significant highlight was Nature bestowing pleasant weather on all three days. Thus permitting the new age green guardians to be armed with knowledge. A few days prior to workshop continuous heavy downpours made the fields, pathways between raised beds most slippery and wet. It was uncertain whether the workshop would happen after all. Perhaps the charged energies of these eager participants was heard vividly by the universe. Soon after, to open the bottled floodgates of rain once the show had concluded. This rain was a welcome treat to cool the thirsty soil and overcharged minds....

Batch of Oct 2010 were all geared to observe, absorb, soil hands in making their own compost, making vegetable raised beds, nurseries, sowing, transplanting and saving seeds. The interactive course conducted by Annadana's senior agriculture technical expert Sasi Kumar was very well received. The ground work to establish all systems in place in field as in course material for learning was steered by the dedicated efforts of John Paul, an agriculture expert in charge of Ishana Farms, assisted by Pavithra Prasan, a young biotechnologist. Every now and again after a session, I would have a participant complement the outstanding organising capabilities of practical training material made available on field. Having been through many training workshops in agriculture myself, theory always over powered practicals. Hence, a conscious decision was taken to overcome this. The workshop programme was designed in such a way - half hour theory on each topic, re-instated by half hour film followed by a interactive hands on field practice until the technique was mastered.

To make such a workshop happen, one can only compliment the backbreaking efforts put in by this lovely spirited team. For the last three months both John Paul and Pavithra armed by an array of committed farmers have been prepared the field to facilitate the practicals for the participants. Which is why language has never been a barrier as these interactive practical sessions unravels each step. Images above is just a peek at the action.

The pouring compliments after the workshop especially the hands on approach in field were truly gratifying. Twenty five more trained to safeguard bio-diversity....hope this pace moves faster! The constructive feedback received from participants and well wishers of biodiversity is pasted below.

In solidarity

Sangita Sharma

Feedback from participants re workshop

Date: 11 October 2010 5:57:11 PM GMT+05:30

Hello Sangita and Sasi

As is expected from you, the course conducted over the weekend was excellent. Thanks again for your initiative.

You may want to conduct one more quick 2 day course in November just to catch those who could not attend. I know for sure that about 4 to 5 students could not attend this course last weekend. There may be more also.

Also, I again offer Panchagavya and EM to whoever wants the same. When you get all the email IDs documented, please do let them know that I can provide the same.

Once again thanks for the wonderful course. This time, I hope that I will not take ANY more seeds from your bank, instead, I have already made plans to save my own seeds from the packs you have given and maybe even return some back to you for your bank. Let’s hope I can live up to this promise, I have Ravi Koushik and Rajesh Thakkar copied to this message as witnesses to this statement.

I am also going to do the seed saving course for the 2 batches of basic course students of our NGO, sometime in November. I hope Sangita will grace the workshop this time without fail.

Also, I have sent 6 packets of Annadana seeds for the OFAI conference, Sarvadman Patel wanted to plant them and showcase them at the event. Ravi Koushik is going to Sarvadman’s farm and work there in November and can report to us on the progress.

Thanks and With Best Regards



Sent: Wednesday, October 13, 2010 8:17 AM

Dear Sangeetha/Sasi/John/Pavitra & Annadana Team,
1. The Soil to Seed workshop was very well structured, and absolutely well organized (thanks to endless coordination by Pavitra !)
2. This workshop was also hands-on, and very practical, instead of the general "theoritical" workshop programs
3. All the people assosciated with Annadana had that exceptional "glow" really showing their life in harmony with nature,people and everything
4. I also liked the passion people had with plants, trees and all organisms, instead of the western way of analysing plant behaviour from a botanical standpoint.
A few suggestions:
a) Given the fact that there are non-english participants from agricultural communities, it is better to atleast have a vernacular summary at the end of each session. We can get volunteers for this among the participants.
b) A brief allocated time for group interaction for exchanging experiences could be done at the end of morning and afternoon sessions
c)The third day on seed saving might be better with a bit of practicals
To all the participants:
It was wonderful meeting one and all of you, and without your dedicated and committed participation, all the sessions would not have been such fun. I am sure we shall be in constant touch, and keep sharing our experiences and enriching our knowledge..
Please convey my best regards to all the people on the ground like lakshmamma, ram charan and others....our deepest gratitude and love to all of them who actually make things work....and make the world better...
Wishing one and all the very best in all personal and professional endeavours,
Best Regards,
Sent : Wednesday, October 13, 2010 9:17 AM

From: "CS, Shobha" ,

Dear Sangita, Sasi and Annadana Team,
I echo Raghu's feedback. The training was concise, made as simple as one can get, enough scientific and practical.
Sasi's knowledge and his commitment to share what he knows is commendable. We felt the passion and hospitality in the entire Annadana team. It was not like going to a training institution and getting trained, it was like connecting with an extended family and learning.
Thanks to entire Annadana team for making it a great learning with joy. It was great to interact with all participants, would like to be in touch with all of you, and hear our experiences.


Dear Sangita,

I was very happy to learn about the workshop. Feedback is highly satisfying and participants liked the 'hands on approach'. Hearty congratulations to the team at 'Annadana'. Keep up the good work.

Om Rupela

former Principal Scientist, ICRISAT

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Plagiarism plagues India's genetically modified crops by Priya Shetty

The finding that parts of an interacademy report on GM crops were plagiarized could spell the end of Bt brinjal.Ajay Verma/REUTERS/Corbis
Published online 29 September 2010 | Nature |

Transgenic aubergine still banned after encouraging report is discredited.

Students hold a mock funeral procession against Bt (Bacillus thuringenesis) brinjal or genetically modified brinjal (a type of eggplant) crop in the northern Indian city of Chandigarh January 28, 2010The finding that parts of an interacademy report on GM crops were plagiarized could spell the end of Bt brinjal.Ajay Verma/REUTERS/Corbis

India's moratorium on genetically modified (GM) food crops is unlikely to be lifted after it emerged that key sections from a landmark report by six Indian science academies, which recommended that the country resume planting of GM food crops, had been plagiarized from an article in favour of such crops.

The environment ministry this week rejected the academies' report. The anti-GM-crops lobby has seized on the controversy, and Indian scientists fear that the episode has undermined the country's international scientific reputation.

Nandula Raghuram of the Society for Scientific Values, an ethics watchdog based in Delhi, says that what should have been a rigorous assessment by India's top scientific institutions has ended up as the mouthpiece of Ananda Kumar, a plant scientist who is director of the National Research Centre for Plant Biotechnology and a known proponent of GM crops.

The plagiarism "reflects the larger tragedy of Indian academies", says Raghuram, a molecular biologist at Indraprastha University in Delhi. The academies have "a total lack of social sensitivity, objectivity and public honesty", he says.

Devinder Sharma, chairman of the Delhi-based Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security, a group of scientists that is against GM crops, calls the entire report "a cut and paste exercise".

If the six top national academies have to go by what just one scientist says, "it clearly indicates how hollow and useless the science academies are," says Sharma. "Where is the scientific rigour that is expected from such 'distinguished' bodies?"

A statement signed on Tuesday by Mamannamama Vijayan, the president of the Indian National Science Academy — which coordinated the report — focused solely on the "inappropriateness" of copying text without citations, ignoring any accusations of a lack of scientific rigour. Vijayan told Nature that he is "very agitated that such a thing happened", but added that although the report will be reviewed, "it is very unlikely that the recommendations will change".


In October 2009, India's Genetic Engineering Approval Committee gave the go-ahead to commercial planting of Bt brinjal, a variety of aubergine modified to produce a protein from the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) bacterium that is toxic to insect pests. But this February, after an outcry from farmers and activists, environment minister Jairam Ramesh put a moratorium on planting the vegetable, pending the interacademy assessment of its safety to human health and the environment.

“Where is the scientific rigour that is expected from such 'distinguished' bodies?”

The academies' report was released on 24 September. But, on the following day, the advocacy group Coalition for GM Free India pointed out that it contained text copied verbatim from two 2009 documents: Bt Brinjal: A Pioneering Push, written by Kumar for the magazine Biotech News, and The Development and Regulation of Bt Brinjal in India by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, a lobby group based in Ithaca, New York, and funded by biotechnology corporation Monsanto, headquartered in St Louis, Missouri. Kumar had also contributed to this second report.

The interacademy report and the Biotech News article both contain the lines: "Bt brinjal ... has been subjected to a rigorous biosafety regulatory process encompassing all aspects of toxicity, allergenicity, environmental safety, socio-economic assessment etc."

Kumar told Nature that the plagiarism was unintentional, and that he did not feel he had to reword statements of fact before submitting them for inclusion in the academies' report. Indian scientists contacted by Nature say that because Kumar contributed to all three reports, the plagiarism is more a matter of shoddy writing and lack of citation than of serious misconduct.

Govindarajan Padmanaban, a biochemist and former director of the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, agrees. He says that the plagiarism is an "indiscretion rather than any deliberate misrepresentation of facts".

Starting again

Nevertheless, questions remain about the rigour of the interacademy report. Kumar says that the report's conclusion that Bt brinjal is safe is based largely on data analysed by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee last year — suggesting that a report commissioned to supplement the committee's scientific guidance is actually based on the committee's recommendations.


Indeed, Ramesh seemed frustrated more that the report offered nothing new than by suggestions of misconduct. "My idea of referring the GM crops to academics was to get a view of the larger scientific community but not the view of one Ananda Kumar which I knew even before the moratorium was put on Bt brinjal," he told the Times of India this week.

India needs "transparent, scientific methods of assessing risks and benefits of GM crops", says Monkombu Swaminathan, an agricultural scientist often referred to as the father of India's green revolution for his role in developing high-yield varieties of wheat. He calls for "a regulatory authority that inspires public, political and media confidence".

Meanwhile, Sharma says that any confidence in the academies' report has evaporated. "This fake report should be shelved and the chiefs of the six top national academies sacked," he says.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Public opinion stopped GM, says campaigner

Independent On Sunday

Global resistance has halted the biotech giants, reports Environment Editor Michael McCarthy from the IoS co-sponsored Sustainable Planet Forum

Sunday, 26 September 2010

The tide has turned globally against the introduction of genetically modified crops, Lord Melchett, the former director of Greenpeace and campaigner for organic farming and food, said yesterday.

Fifteen years ago, many governments thought GM crops and food would become the norm, but it has not happened because of rising public resistance around the world, and it will not happen, he said.

"This is a redundant technology and many people in Europe may be unaware of the extent of the resistance to GM in places like India and China, because they swallow the GM industry line that it is supported all across the world," he said. "I have to say that where we are now with GM leaves me feeling very optimistic."

Speaking at the Sustainable Planet forum in Lyon, France, he said GM technology, put forward by firms such as Monsanto, the US agribusiness giant and pesticide manufacturer, had achieved its initial success only "through secrecy", he said. Many aspects of it had been kept a secret from farmers and consumers, but once labelling of GM products began, public support collapsed. He cited the case of Monsanto's GM bovine growth hormone milk.

"America is where we're told GM is a huge success, and where everyone from farmers to consumers loves GM, but it's simply not true," he said. "If anybody tells you this, ask them, where is GM wheat? Monsanto had it ready to go but it was stopped by American farmers. Ask them, where is the GM version of alfalfa, the fourth most commonly grown crop in the world? American farmers went to court to stop it being commercialised," he told the conference, which is being co-sponsored by the French newspaper Libération, The Independent and La Repubblica from Italy.

Lord Melchett is now the policy director of the Soil Association, the organic farming and food campaigning body. An organic farmer himself, he has been one of Britain's most prominent anti-GM activists and in 1999, when head of Greenpeace, led a raid to trash a field of trial GM crops in Norfolk.

He and 27 other Greenpeace volunteers were arrested and charged with criminal damage, but acquitted by a jury after claiming that the damage they had prevented – potential contamination of non-GM crops by pollen from the GM trial – was greater than the damage they had caused.

In the Lyon forum yesterday, attended by thousands of people, Lord Melchett joined with a French anti-GM campaigner, Philippe Martin, to examine the question (perhaps reflecting French preoccupations) of whether it is possible now to have a menu with no GM items on it.

Mr Martin, a socialist MP and council leader from Le Gers, the south-western France department with the highest percentage of farmers in the country, began by saying there were four great existential questions: Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going? What's for dinner?

He said that, personally, he would not like a menu without confit de canard on it (his local regional speciality of preserved duck), but that was a matter of choice. He was concerned about cases where consumers might have no choice at all.

He hit out at the decision by the European Commission last July to authorise the import of six more GM strains of maize to be used for animal feed. Lord Melchett agreed, saying it was vital to label clearly milk and meat that came from animals fed on GM products. "There is a huge amount of GM soya fed to chickens, pigs and dairy cows, and you will eat it whether you want to or not," he said. "Simply to get these products labelled is a crucial battle."

Anti-GM demonstrators briefly disrupted a debate between two senior French politicians at yesterday's conference. They carried banners on to the stage at the Lyon opera house to protest against what they called the French government's "hypocritical" approach to genetically modified foods.

Their target was the senior French environment minister, Jean-Louis Borloo, who was debating with François Hollande, the former Socialist party leader, on whether green issues and mainstream politics were compatible. France has taken a restrictive attitude to GM foods in public, the demonstrators said, but quietly approved the planting of a score of GM plant varieties earlier this year.

Mr Borloo replied that France had done more than any other EU nation to slow the advance of GM and make certain that Brussels undertook scientific studies before giving approval for new products.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Ramesh trashes academies’ report on Bt brinjal

Absolutely scandalous, leading science institutes hand in glove with GM industry. Consumers are blissfully unaware of such catastrophic decisions taken on their behalf re their foods. Check this link "Gutter Science: Inter-Academy Report on GM Crops", sums it up starkly and crisply. In a shocking revelation "Six Indian science academies had earlier this week approved the limited release of GM brinjal for cultivation in a joint report that contained 60 lines of plagiarised text, a near verbatim reproduction of an article in a biotechnology advocacy newsletter which itself had lines extracted from an industry-supported publication" to quote the

It turns out that important parts of the report have been copied from the reports from the industry and an article by a biased scientist.
India Today and a host of leading media unravel this below. Those interested, please find enclosed the academy report for reference.

Sangita Sharma

Ramesh trashes academies’ report on Bt brinjal

NEW DELHI: Virtually trashing the report by six top academies which favoured “limited release” of genetically modified brinjal, the Environment Minister, Mr Jairam Ramesh today said it does not give a larger scientific view and focused only on findings o f a scientist.

Endorsing views of an advocacy group that alleged that the report was plagiarised, Mr Ramesh said, “I had asked the academics to give the broader scientific view. But it is nothing else but the views of one scientist (Anand Kumar) which I had already kno wn much before the moratorium was placed on the release of the Bt brinjal.”

Clearly unhappy over the report which he had sought from the country’s leading academic institutes, the Minister said, “I do not want the six top science academics to tell me Anand Kumar’s view. I already know that.”

Mr Ramesh, who had imposed moratorium on release of Bt brinjal on February 9 citing lack of consensus among various stakeholders, said, “I have not heard since then a single state government in the country wanting its revocation”.

“Even the most aggressive anti-NGO state in India, Gujarat, did not want Bt brinjal,” he added, making it clear that unless there is consensus on the issue in the society and states agree for its release, the moratorium on GM food will continue.”

The Indian Academy of Sciences, Indian National Academy of Engineering, Indian National Science Academy, National Academy of Agricultural Sciences, National Academy of Medical Sciences and National Academy of Sciences (India) were asked by Mr Ramesh and Mr K Kasturirangan, Member, Planning Commission in March to submit a report on GM crops.

“It is appropriate now to release Bt Brinjal for cultivation in specific farmers’ fields in identified states,” said the report of the six science academies on Bt brinjal which was submitted to the Government recently.

However, levelling allegations of plagiarism against the academies, advocacy group ‘Coalition for GM Free India’ had said that the report was a biased, political position paper.

“Rather than a rigorous scientific review that it is supposed to be, it is absolutely scandalous that the six top science academies used plagiarised material in their attempt to promote Bt brinjal,” said Ms Kavita Kuruganti on behalf of the coalition.

According to the advocacy group, the academics had heavily relied on an article “Bt Brinjal: A Pioneering Push” in Biotech News — a publication of the Department of Biotechnology written by Kumar, a vocal supporter of Bt brinjal and developer of GM crops himself. - PTI

Bt brinjal: Academies copied report
India Today, New Delhi September 26, 2010

India's top science academies have done the unthinkable. They have copied and quoted extensively from an
industry lobby report to give a clean chit to the controversial genetically modified (GM) brinjal.
Key portions and data in the much touted Inter-Academy Report on Genetically Modified Crops have been
lifted straight from a report of a lobbying group funded by seed companies, including Monsanto and Mahyco.

In March, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh had asked the six science academies - the Indian Academy of
Sciences, the Indian National Academy of Engineering, the Indian National Science Academy, the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences, the National Academy of Medical Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences (India) - to give an unbiased scientific assessment on the feasibility of transgenic crops and the proposed regulatory mechanism for GM food. They submitted the report to Ramesh this week, recommending the commercial release of Bt brinjal.

But it turns out that the academies have relied heavily on data generated by USbased GM lobby International Service for the Acquisition of Agri- biotech Applications (ISAAA). They have recommended the commercial release of Bt brinjal and the lifting of the moratorium imposed on it by Ramesh.
Earlier, science and technology minister Prithviraj Chavan had plagiarised from reports by the same ISAAA in a letter to cabinet colleague A. Ramadoss while defending Bt brinjal. This was exposed by M AIL T ODAY in February this year.
The report in question currently has copied most of the data and information in support of Bt brinjal from an ISAAA report The Development and Regulation of Bt Brinjal in India and an article Bt Brinjal: A Pioneering Push by Dr P. Anand Kumar in Biotech News - a publication of the Department of Biotechnology.
Both were published in 2009. Being a developer of GM crops himself, Kumar is a vocal supporter of Bt brinjal.
The academies have declared Bt brinjal safe by copying the following paragraph verbatim from Dr Kumar's article: " Bt brinjal ' Event EE- 1' has been subjected to a rigorous biosafety regulatory process encompassing all aspects of toxicity, allergenicity, environmental safety, socio- economic assessment etc.
"Studies on food and feed safety have been conducted on rats, rabbits, fish, chickens, goats and cows. Similarly, environmental impact assessments to study germination, pollen flow, invasiveness, aggressiveness, weediness, and effect on non- target organisms were also carried out." The data that has been lifted from the industry
document relates to key issues.

The copied portion says: "It (brinjal) is an important cash crop for poor farmers who transplant it from nurseries at different times of the year to produce two or three crops, each of 150 to 180 days' duration."
Again, on losses caused by pests, an entire paragraph has been lifted from the ISAAA report: "Brinjal Shoot and Fruit Borer (BSFB) causes significant losses of up to 60 to 70 per cent in commercial plantings. Damage starts in the nursery, prior to transplanting, continues to harvest and is then carried- over to the next crop of brinjal. BSFB damages brinjal in two ways.

First, it infests young shoots during the vegetative phase, which limits the ability of plants to produce healthy fruitbearing shoots, thereby reducing potential yield."
Another piece of data used to justify Bt brinjal has been lifted from the industry report: "Farmers usually spray twice a week, applying 15 to 40 insecticide sprays, or more, in one season depending on infestation levels."
Figures relating to the financial cost of insecticide spray by farmers too come from the industry document. The similarities in the ISAAA report and the Inter-Academy report go on without anyone getting a hint about the source of the data. No references or citations have been given, as is normal with any scientific document.


NOTE: David Andow, the author of the new report, is Distinguished McKnight University Professor of Insect Ecology at the University of Minnesota, specialising in: ecological risk assessment of biological stressors, such as invasive species and GMOs; insect resistance management, gene flow and its consequences, and non-target species effects; and science policy associated with GMOs. He's also the Coordinator of the International Project on GMO Environmental Risk Assessment Methodologies (GMO ERA Project)

Bt brinjal unsafe, says new report
Indian Express, September 26 2010

New Delhi: After a period of lull, the debate over genetically modified crops, specifically the use of Bt brinjal, is suddenly heating up once again. A day after it became known that a report by six top science academies had recommended an immediate release of Bt brinjal, people opposed to GM crops on Saturday produced a counter report - from an American scientist - with diametrically opposite conclusions.

What is more, these people slammed the report by the six academies as being "shoddy" and "without sufficient arguments and supporting evidence", and went on to allege that parts of the report pertaining specifically to Bt brinjal had been plagiarised from an article by a GM-crop developer that had appeared in a biotechnology magazine in December last year. The author of the article in question, P Anand Kumar, a project director at the Delhi-based National Research Centre on Plant Biotechnology, rubbished the allegation.

“I happen to be a member of the National Academy of Sciences. I was asked to submit my inputs for the inter-academy report. I gave my views. Obviously, my views are the same that I had expressed in the magazine article. Where is the question of plagiarisation?” he asked.

The counter report has been authored by David Andow of the Department of Entomology, University of Minnesota, United States. It was released by Aruna Rodrigues, the lead petitioner in the Supreme Court case seeking a ban on genetically modified crops. Rodrigues claimed that Andow was an acknowledged international expert on the environmental risks of genetically engineered crop plants. She said she herself had asked the scientist to produce the report.

This report finds faults with the clearance granted to Bt brinjal by the Genetic Engineering Approval (now Appraisal) Committee (GEAC), India's top regulatory body on genetically modified products, in October last year. Anand Kumar happens to be a member of GEAC. The GEAC decision, however, was overturned by Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh in February and the introduction of Bt brinjal had been put on hold.

The report by the American scientist says that the expert committee, on whose recommendation GEAC had given its clearance, had relied on “dubious scientific assumptions” and had either ignored or inadequately evaluated environmental concerns.

"The potential advantages of hybrid Bt brinjal seem marginal and uncertain for most Indian farmers, and the environmental risks (including socioeconomic risks) to Indian farmers and consumers remain very uncertain. Several significant environmental risks have not been considered and nearly all of the others have been inadequately considered," the report says.

The inter-academy report, however, had claimed that the safety of Bt brinjal for human consumption had been established "adequately and beyond reasonable doubt" and recommended that the limited release of Bt brinjal could be done almost immediately.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

"From Soil to Seed" a 3 day Technical Workshop by Annadana

Greetings from Annadana Soil and Seed Savers

Soil and seed are sacred to us. Ishana Farms, Bangalore welcomes you to join in conserving this delightful diversity of crops. Learn these simple integrated farming techniques successfully practiced for over a decade by Annadana and become hands on experts. Indulge in the delight of growing your own food. Annadana equip's you with sound technical know-how on Soil regeneration techniques from the preparation of organic growth promoters, compost making, mulching, bio extracts to seed sowing techniques followed by Seed Saving.

The details of three day training workshop FROM SOIL to SEED are as follow:

Date: 8th, 9th &10th Oct 2010

Time: 10am - 6pm

Venue: "Ishana", Gopathi Farms, Village Singapura, Post Vidyaranyapura, Bangalore - 560097.

For more information please contact - Pavitra Prasan,
Here is your chance take charge of your food as farming is no rocket science.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Absolute power comes from absolute control over food by Devinder Sharma

Read below, this to me is no longer shocking. Consumers have been made docile by the refined processed and junk foods and so addicted to tastes. Because this is what processed foods are designed to do! This branded camouflaged toxic foods enters the bloodstream. No wonder the brains have become numb and slow to reacting nor able to resist.
Moreover, the lackadaisical approach is adding to the consumers worst nightmare which is fiercely unraveling its lethal tyrannical head.
Watch this link -

World over, the processed food mafia only wants you addicted, so that they fill their greedy coffers. So much so, they adopt a dictatorship attitude over a handful of consciously awakened consumers who dare to stand up for themselves and for others, for what is their constitutional right to safe food.
This is gross injustice and appalling. Hope this never happens in India!
Wake up before it is the end of Choice and a Sad end to your Life in hospitals!!!
Sangita Sharma

Ever since I was a child I have been drinking milk bought directly from a small dairy in my neighbourhood. When I moved to New Delhi, for some months I managed to get my direct supply of milk from a neighbourhood supplier. But soon, the buffalo-keeper moved out his animals under pressure from builders. This was almost two decades back, and since then I am left with little option but to buy processed milk.

However, there are millions in India who can afford to avoid intake of processed milk and I think they are the lucky ones. I wish I could still buy my daily requirement of milk from the small neighbourhood dairies that dot the outskirts of New Delhi, and elsewhere.

I was therefore shocked when I viewed the accompanying video on YouTube.

Police raiding an organic grocery shop in California.

This is certainly outrageous. But this is a grim pointer to where the next battles would be fought. It is not water, as many people believe, but food that will be putting nations at war. You can clearly see, if you want to, where it is coming from. Multinational food giants have been slowly but steadily gaining control over food. They know that absolute control over food is the road to absolute power.

The process of takeover of food simultaneously began on several fronts. It began with Green Revolution in the late 1960s, which was essentially to provide controlled technology to increase farm production in developing countries. This was followed with Structural Adjustment Programme that the World Bank/IMF pushed seeking policy changes through the 150-odd conditionality's that came with every loan. To provide more teeth to the process, the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and the Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) have been brought in.

Technology is now controlled through the instruments of Trade-related Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs), and unhindered grain trade is made possible by the unjust obligations that developing countries have been made to accept under the so-called free trade paradigm. To complete the control over the entire food chain, the third actor in the game -- food retail -- is now being moved across the national borders. G-20 is pushing for compliance, asking member countries to streamline the norms that facilitate the entry of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Multi-Brand Retail.

Internationally, the food trio -- Monsanto/Syngenta as symbol of the technology providers; Cargill/ADM among the major food trading companies; and Wal-Mart and Tesco representing food retail -- have formed an unholy alliance They operate in unison, making the governments fall in line. Food laws are being changed everywhere across the globe to make it easy for the trio to operate. WTO is helping to push farmers out of agriculture thereby making it easier for these multinationals to march on. IPR laws are bringing the necessary changes in national laws in conformity with internationally designed parameters bringing private control over technology.

The process of takeover of food is now complete.

But there are still irritating impediment on the way to absolute control over food. Alert and conscious consumers are not giving up so easily, and they are gaining in strength. Even in the United States and Europe, more and more people are realising the dangers of processed foods, and silently moving away to organic foods. The annual market for organic foods is growing at a phenomenal 20 per cent. This has to be stopped. So the regulators are now working overtime to outlaw organic foods. The underlying objective is to limit your food choice. You will be left with no option but to buy what the food giants want you to buy. Hobson's choice, isn't it?

In the name of food safety, which is a misnomer, food laws are being changed. S 510 is one such law that the US is considering to bring in. One of the world's most corrupt body -- US FDA -- is at work. It is working overtime to outlaw organic food. The prescription is simple: GM food is what you should be eating, organic food is bad for your health. That's the best it can do. The police raid in an organic store in California therefore is just the beginning. You wait and watch. The day is not far when the police will enter your kitchen. In the name of Mendel in the Kitchen, Nina Fedoroff, presently science advisor to the Secretary of State, is working hard to police your kitchen.

There are some who realise the threat ahead. This is what someone wrote in the comments section of the YouTube: I go to my apt garbage bin and search out empty general mills cereal boxes and various gmo containers, wash them out and sterilize them and place my organic foodstuff inside because I don't want to be dragged down to jail. I can't afford a criminal record, to maintain my job.

I don't know what is happening to the United States. Whenever I see the Statue of Liberty I can't miss the tears in her eyes. Only the Americans refuse to see it. As my film-maker friend Ajay Kanchan often says: America is the country where civil liberties have been mortgaged to the multinationals. People live in virtual tyranny. I am in complete agreement. I can only feel sorry for fellow Americans. But I can assure you the world outside is waiting to help you, to pull you out of the police rule. Come, let us join hands. Let us try to regain our control over what we eat.

And if you still believe, the police is acting right. Read this letter (from someone with the user name 12dogpal): They did not ban the H1N1 virus infection at the factory pig farm in Mexico where the virus was released. The pork was still sold in the USA. They didn't close the Wright County Egg farm for poisoning the food supply, they didn't close Wal-Mart for passing out e.coli beef. They didn't stop the drug co's from putting out dangerous drugs, lets face it folks, your government is your worst enemy.

As Jawaharlal Nehru had said during the days of the British Raj: Freedom is in peril, defend it with all your might. Start by saying no to S 510. Remember, regaining control over our food is the ultimate satyagrah.

Posted By Devinder Sharma to Ground Reality at 9/20/2010 09:54:00 AM

Sunday, September 12, 2010

New Food Rules - a right-to-food programme in Chhattisgarh

The Chattisgarh food security model is indeed a flagship model and should definitely be replicated in each state of our country. Local production, local procurement and local distribution. It is so refreshing to read that saving seeds for the next season, a time tested technique is being revived. Farmers can feel the respite from the debt syndrome caused by the hounds the seed corporations. If the State government's were to buy locally what the farmers grows at a competitive price with the rest being retained by farmers as seeds or for self-consumption” not difficult, is it?

Concerted efforts by States can make this into a replicable viable model, if only corruption was brought well under control. Millions then could be saved from going to bed hungry or prevented from dying of starvation.

2nd September, Economic Times page 10.
New Food Rules
How will the proposed National Food Security Act impact livelihoods, cropping patterns and productivity? Chhattisgarh, which has been running a right-to-food progr
amme for four years now, throws up some interesting answers, reports M Rajshekhar

IN ITS HEYDAY, KHOSLA MUST HAVE been a beautiful village, with fields as far as the eye can see and a pond around which its houses arrange themselves. Today, though, the houses are ageing, the pond is algaeflecked and the streets a mess after the rains. In one of those ageing houses, Ram Prasad Kurmi, a former sarpanch of the block in Chhattisgarh’s Janjgir-Champa district of which Khosla is a part, talks about another kind of change.
“In the old days, whenever the MP, MLA or local babus came to the village, people unloaded grievances on them —dissatisfaction with the ration shop, non-delivery of pension, missing doctors and teachers,” he says. “Today, they only ask for a second ration card.” Such a difference a ration card makes to the lives of the poor in Chhattisgarh.
For four years now, Chhattisgarh has been giving 35 kg of grain — comprising rice and wheat — a month at heavily subsidised rates to 3.6 million of its 4.4 million households. The ultra-poor pay Re 1 per kg, while the poor pay 2 per kg, against the market price of 12-17 a kg. The ration card is the document that enables this subsidised transfer.
This transfer of grain has come to mean many things to many people. It’s a stamp of food security. It’s a passport for choices they didn’t have earlier: to work on the fields or in industry, to grow subsistence crops or cash crops, to consume their produce or sell it in the market.
Chhattisgarh wasn’t the first state to roll out a near-universal food-security programme. Tamil Nadu was, in the nineties. However, Tamil Nadu is not a large producer of paddy, from which rice is derived; Chhattisgarh is. Hence, Tamil Nadu’s farmers could never be touched by the programme the way Chhattisgarh’s farmers are. Chhattisgarh not only diminishes the fear of hunger that sits at the heart of the livelihood strategy of the poor, it also assures farmers of a market for their produce.
The Chhattisgarh programme has come to impact the lives of everyone involved: the labourer, the small farmer, the large farmer, the middleman, the mandis and the government. Food security is just the starting point in Chhattisgarh. The myriad ways in which such a welfare programme touches lives and other aspects of the economy have shaped — and accelerated — several ongoing trends. These might well be replicated, in varying degrees, as and when the Centre rolls out a national food programme on similar lines.
There’s a drop in starvation numbers
A food-security programme is also a cashtransfer scheme. At the current price of
grain of 12-17 per kg, it would cost a Chhattisgarhi household 420-595 to buy 35 kg of grain from the market. Through the scheme, they pay 70. That’s a saving of
350-525 a month.
The scheme has created a safety net for the poor, says Yasna Singh, a PhD student at the London School of Economics, who recently finished her field work on the Satnami community in Meu village of Janjgir-Champa. “People are now eating two meals a day, which is a new experience for many of them.” Adds local right-to-food activist Vibhishan Patrey: “We don’t hear about starvation deaths anymore.”
Nutrition levels have improved, but only marginally. While the programme has protected people from a rise in prices of rice and wheat, it hasn’t insulated them from the price escalation in pulses and oilseeds. Says Samir Garg, advisor (Chhattisgarh) to the commissioners of the Supreme Court (food security): “My guess is we are stagnant on the nutrition front, the gains from the food security programme counter-balanced by inflation.”
The labourer is getting empowered…
For labourers, things are getting better, relatively speaking. Historically, labourers have worked in the fields for subsistence. Instead of money, they would take home grains. But with the public distribution system (PDS) assuring a minimum supply of grains, they would rather work for money than for food, which they can use to buy other staples or anything else. “In that sense, it confers freedom from village labour,” says J Jeyaranjan, director, Institute for Development Alternatives.
Reetika Khera, a development economist, says the agrarian economy across India is monetising. “There is a greater need for money and greater supply of it,” she says. This process has been accelerated by inflation. “Earlier, we could buy vegetables for one kg of paddy,” says Shiela Tandon, a resident of Meu. “Not anymore.”
In Tamil Nadu, the food-security programme accelerated a move towards work for money. Says Mr Jeyaranjan: “Agriculture, which was giving the household food and money, had to compete with other activities that provide only money.” In Chhattisgarh, labourers go to work in brick kilns and mines. Or, they migrate.
Says Sunil Kumar, the editor of Dainik Chhattisgarh, a Raipur-based daily: “Migration from the Janjgir-Champa district continues unabated.” A big reason for the continuing exodus is the lack of alternative employment opportunities in the village. In Chhattisgarh, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) is corrupt and doesn’t inspire confidence among villagers — either in terms of providing work or paying on time. And so, it seems the pressure for landless labourers to migrate has not been reduced by greater food security at home.
…at the expense of the
small farmer
Labourers working less or migrating puts farmers, who depend on local and cheap labour, in a bind. Bharat Lal Sahu, a large farmer in Meu, says the scheme is making workers lazier. “Where I need 10 labourers, I get just two or three. And even they ask for 100 a day, against the 50 earlier.”
Labourers in Chhattisgarh, empowered by the all-around changes brought on by the food-security programme, now prefer to work for large farmers, for 120-130 a day. They are organising themselves for better bargaining power. In the Bastar block, they increasingly move around — and negotiate contracts — in groups. For instance, to transplant paddy in a farmer’s field over 10 days, in return for a consolidated sum.
More than the large farmer, it’s the small farmer who is being squeezed by these realignments. Take Kulu Ram Dewani, a farmer
with four other family members. A resident of Bastar block, he has one acre of land, on which he grows paddy.
On the one hand, his 35 kg entitlement lasts 15 days. So, he doesn’t dare sell most of his harvest. That means he doesn’t have much cash income. But his labour wants to be paid in cash. “I can’t compete against large farmers,” he says. “I can neither offer them (labourers) work for a large number of days nor accommodate so many people. And all I can pay is 50-60 a day.” But, in the new dispensation, that is not the ‘market rate’.
This experience might be different for farmers who rent land from larger farmers and give them part of the harvest, says PS Vijaya Shankar, co-founder of grassroots organisation Samaj Pragati Sahayog. “Mostly, the terms of contract are loaded heavily in favour of the landlord. If minimum assured consumption is provided through PDS, the share-cropper will have a greater incentive to cultivate cash crops.” They could take on higher risks and try their hand at earning more.
Paddy is becoming a commercial crop
Paddy, from which rice is derived, is big in Chhattisgarh. About 63% of its arable land is under paddy, which has historically been a subsistence crop. Of the paddy they grew, farmers would first think of seeds for next year, for self-consumption and for paying the farm labour. The surplus, if any, would be sold in the market. This is changing.
Now, the PDS gives them 35 kg of grain every month at a maximum of 2 per kg. For a five-member household, this will last about 15 days. What farming households are doing is retaining just enough from their harvest to make up the shortfall and selling the rest.
There’s also incentive for them to sell in the market. The minimum price Chhattisgarh pays for paddy has increased from 775 a quintal in 2007 to 1,080 in 2010. Further, the state government has committed to buying every kg of paddy put into the market by farmers. Explains Rajeev Jaiswal, joint director, Chhattisgarh’s food and civil supplies department: “We cannot cap procurement at 1.6 million tonnes (what the state needs to feed its PDS) because large farmers would find a way to sell their produce first. This would exclude the small farmer.”
However, acreage and production numbers, as put out by the state’s department of agriculture, indicate the farmer in Chhattisgarh is not shifting from other crops to paddy. In 2006-07, when the state started giving 35 kg of grain, its area under paddy was 3.8 million hectares. In 2009-10, this dropped to 3.5 million hectares. “Land under paddy has peaked,” says Jaiswal. “We will now see a move towards other crops.” Similarly, rice production has dropped marginally from 5 million tonnes to 4.95 million tonnes. But this is also a function of rainfall — just 30% of the cultivable land in Chhattisgarh is irrigated.
Other numbers, less hostage to environmental factors, suggest a pick up in commercial farming, led by paddy. Farmers are looking at agriculture differently. The offtake of seeds has increased from 128,000 quintals in 2006-07 to 319,000 quintals in 2008-09. Says Umashankar Banjare, a rural extension worker in the Pamgarh block: “In the past two to three years, established seeds like swarnadhaara (a high-yielding paddy variety) have been replaced by even higheryielding varieties.”
This trend is corroborated by RK Chandravanshi, deputy agriculture director, Department of Agriculture, Chhattisgarh, who says the area under high-yielding varieties climbed from 52% in 2004 to 62% in 2009. Similarly, agricultural credit has increased from 457 crore in 2006-07 to 931 crore in 2009-10.
While it wouldn’t be accurate to attribute these changes entirely to the food-security scheme, it’s likely that the arrival of the food-security scheme has accelerated these trends. It has given farmers the confidence that the government will buy all that they grow, thus improving their willingness to invest in the crop.
It’s possible that the availability of cheap food from the PDS could persuade medium and large farmers to diversify into cash crops. But, says Shankar: “Punjab shows that government procurement of rice and wheat is associated with a disappearance of all other crops and end of crop diversity.”
The grain mandis are losing relevance
Ten years ago, Chhattisgarh grew 4 million tonnes of paddy, of which the state government acquired 300,000 tonnes, or 7.5% of the produce. In 2009-10, it grew 7.6 million tonnes; of this, 4.4 million tonnes, or 58%, was procured by the state. Of the rest, says Jaiswal, the state government official: “Only about 500,000 tonnes went to the mandis, the rest being retained by farmers as seeds or for self-consumption.”
Chhattisgarh bypassed its mandis in paddy procurement, instead buying through cooperative societies and procurement centres at the village level. The mandis, though, are unaffected, as the societies have to pay a procurement tax, the revenues from which go to the mandis. However, says Rakesh Kumar Sahu, an accountant at the Akaltara Mandi: “Traders, especially those who don’t have milling operations, are being badly affected.”
State energy & funds are poured into this scheme Chhattisgarh has an expenditure budget
of about 25,000 crore, half of which comes from the Centre. From its portion
of 12,000 crore, the state spends about 1,600 crore — or 13.3% — on the foodsecurity scheme. By virtue of becoming the state’s flagship programme, it gets disproportionate attention from administrators. “Collectors start their meetings by asking about the PDS,” says Samir Garg, advisor (Chhattisgarh) to the commissioners of the Supreme Court (food security). “The same level of attention and funding is yet to be given to other welfare programmes.”
In the various forms it is being debated, the proposed national Food Security Act will cost the Central government 80,000-90,000 crore. So far, much of the discourse has centred on who should get the subsidised grains, how much and at what price. Chhattisgarh is throwing up broader issues that also need to be factored into the ongoing discussion.

The Labourer

When we met her, Sanita Kadha was working in a relative’s field. For her efforts that day, she would be paid Rs 60 — a good jump over Rs 20-30 two years ago. Large farmers in this part of Bastar have been shifting from paddy to corn and other cash crops. Between that and NREGS, work is easier to come by. And the food programme helps

The Big Farmer
Ten years ago, Golchand Nayak did something different. On his 25 acres of land in Bastar, he stopped growing paddy. “It was difficult to get labour during the growing season, as most labourers were occupied on their own small tracts,” he says. He now plants tomatoes and cucumbers in November, uses groundwater for irrigation, and farms till the end of August.

The Small Farmer
Unlike Kadha and Nayak, small farmers like Kulu Ram Dewani are struggling. He grows paddy on his one acre of land, but sells none of it. His family’s 35 kg PDS entitlement finishes in 15 days and he needs his harvest. Other things complicate his life. Labour is getting costlier and wants to be paid in cash, but he doesn’t have an income and doesn’t get loans.

State Reaps A Rich Harvest

Since Chhattisgarh began its food programme in 2006, agri-credit has grown at twice the rate it did in the last five-year block. And rice production is expected to see a spike this year.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Health: Fat is a financial issue by Andrew Jack

Wide world: public bodies are responding to a global obesity epidemic with campaigns such as US first lady Michelle Obama’s Lets Move, inspired by concern about her own daughters

As New York officials mark the first anniversary of an aggressive health campaign called “Don’t drink yourself fat” by stepping up their advertising, one group is not offering its congratulations: the soft drinks industry.

The posters and videos released by the city’s health department portray images of a man opening a fizzy drink and swallowing orange fatty goo. “When did Big Apple become Big Brother?” retaliates the Center for Consumer Freedom, a business-funded lobby group.

New York’s action is among the escalating initiatives being taken by public bodies in the US and around the world, driven by an increasing international recognition of the need to tackle one of the world’s most troubling ill-health trends: obesity.

The efforts raise the question of which approaches work best – and how far the food and drinks industry, long part of the problem, can become part of the solution, particularly at a time when economic slowdown is threatening government spending on such programmes.

The intensified action may yet trigger a new round of more aggressive regulatory controls affecting industry, just as employers feel the squeeze of rising healthcare costs and falling productivity linked to more obese staff.

The public policy response could also lead to a much wider use of the most drastic solution, for those willing to submit to it: surgery. In the UK – where on current trends obesity is forecast to cost the National Health Service nearly £50bn ($77bn) a year by 2050 – John Black, president of the Royal College of Surgeons, on Wednesday called for gastric bands to be fitted to many more people than the current annual 3,600. If just one in four who met the clinical criteria were to undergo the procedure, the net gain to the economy within three years would be an estimated £1.3bn.

Rising obesity has not yet slowed the advances in longevity achieved in recent decades, but treatments for complications of the overweight are incurring growing costs. Obese patients report higher rates of diabetes, heart disease and stroke, and have an increased risk of cancer, arthritis and lung disease.

“The costs of medical care linked to obesity are enormous, reaching $150bn a year in the US,” says Thomas Farley, New York’s health commissioner, who has championed policies ranging from calorie counts in the city’s restaurants to architecture designed to encourage use of stairs rather than lifts in new buildings. “We are moving to a situation where diabetes is becoming a normal part of human existence.”


An industry’s search for a lucrative yet elusive weight-loss treatment

With obesity rates rising in developed and developing nations alike, accompanied by declining productivity and rising morbidity, there is an immense medical demand for safe drugs to help stem the epidemic. Yet, in spite of decades of research, the pharmaceutical industry has failed to launch a pill that removes excessive fat without unacceptable side-effects.

Several products launched with high hopes in recent years have been withdrawn after failing safety trials, or circumscribed with restrictions that discourage doctors from prescribing. But the potential market for a successful drug is so big – billions of dollars a year – that many companies persist in trying to develop them.

Three of the most watched contenders come from Californian companies: Lorcaserin from Arena; Qnexa from Vivus; and Orexigen’s Contrave. All have completed extensive clinical trials and are awaiting decisions by the US Food and Drug Administration this year. The verdicts will determine whether they receive marketing approval and, if so, under what conditions.

Obesity drugs work either on the guts, reducing food absorption; or on the brain, curbing the appetite. Xenical from Roche of Switzerland uses the first mechanism – it reduces fat intake through the digestive tract – but its gastrointestinal side-effects have restricted sales.

Most obesity drugs in development, including the Californian trio, act on the brain. This fits in with recent discoveries showing that the majority of genes influencing body weight affect mental rather than metabolic activity. “Considering how many factors are involved in obesity, it is interesting that research is increasingly pointing to the brain as being very important in its development,” says Robert Kaplan of New York’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

However some experts doubt the long-term value of drugs, which fail to address the psychological causes of overconsumption and lack of exercise in sedentary western and, increasingly, developing nations. They have “been focused predominantly on weight loss”, says Jason Halford of Liverpool university.

“Obesity is the result of many motivational factors that have evolved to encourage us to eat, not least our susceptibility to the attractions of food and the pleasures of eating energy-rich foods – factors which are, of course, all too effectively exploited by food manufacturers.”

His concern is shared by other public health experts, who were lent high-profile support this spring by Michelle Obama, the first lady, with her Let’s Move campaign to encourage exercise and improved nutrition. Her commitment, which she said was inspired by doctors’ concerns about her own daughters’ weight, comes as a generation of strong public health officials rise to influential positions and employers including the US military are struggling with obesity among recruits.

Over the past 30 years, obesity in the US has more than doubled, affecting well over one adult in three, and has tripled in children and adolescents to above 17 per cent. Amid the economic downturn since 2008, there is some evidence that sales of cheap but unhealthy fast food have held up better than healthier alternatives.

“This is a major public health problem and the only widespread one that is getting worse,” says Tom Frieden, Dr Farley’s predecessor as New York City’s health commissioner, who helped launch the aggressive campaign now being copied in other parts of the US. Dr Frieden has since championed a fresh emphasis on the topic as head of the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But obesity, once seen as a disease of decadence, is spreading fast in the poorer as well as the more industrialised world, sparking expressions of concern and a range of recent initiatives in China, India and the Middle East, as well as parts of Latin America – which have among the highest rates anywhere. Worldwide, an estimated 1.6bn adults are now overweight, with 400m of them classifiable as obese.

Brazil, long a champion of public health, is debating warnings on some foods akin to those on tobacco packets. The UN has resolved to hold a first-ever summit on non-communicable diseases in September next year, including discussion around obesity. Ala Alwan, assistant director of the World Health Organisation, says that while infections such as HIV long captured policymakers’ attention, other diseases were until recently neglected, with none identified in the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. He adds: “We are moving towards a much more forceful era to strengthen the control and prevention of non-communicable disease.”

Most scientists agree on the causes of obesity. While human beings’ physical activity has declined significantly since their hunter-gatherer ancestors, their consumption of energy-dense food has remained stable or increased. And while it is easy to put on weight, it is much more difficult to lose it afterwards. “Once you get locked into a state of obesity, for a very substantial proportion of people it is phenomenally difficult to go back to their original weight,” says Philip James, head of the International Obesity Taskforce, a think-tank. “The evidence of a ratchet effect is pretty overwhelming: the brain chemically adapts.”

Some recent studies also suggest obesity may be higher in children born to overweight or smoking mothers; and a poor diet in young children may have a long-term impact on the formation of bacteria in their guts, increasing their long-term vulnerability to diseases including allergies.

Social changes including urbanisation and industrialisation, with a shift towards more sedentary lifestyles, have played a role. Yet while these trends have been taking place over many generations, the explosion in obesity has taken place in the past 30 years, pointing to the primary role of changing food intake.

David Kessler, a former head of the US Food & Drug Administration, argues in his recent book The End of Overeating that social trends have led to the breakdown of well-prepared, regular and healthy family meals. In their place is industry-backed “hyper-eating” throughout the day, with a combination of aggressive marketing, widespread availability and low-cost, supersized portions of “ultra-processed foods” containing ever more tempting but unhealthy combinations of fat and sugar.

Many of the same trends apply in developing countries. Stephan Rossner of the Karolinksa Institute in Stockholm says: “There is evidence that Asians are more vulnerable than Caucasians. And in China, with the one-child family, parents reward their kid for studying passively by giving them food and [electronic] games. Things are going the wrong way.”

There, as elsewhere, the result is rising medical bills as well as workplace absenteeism. Employers are starting to respond with staff wellness programmes. A smaller number take a harsher approach: Alabama and North Carolina government employees refusing to participate in health checks are from this year being charged a “fat tax” in the form of higher health insurance premiums.

Yet progress in tackling obesity has been extremely limited. While weight loss has become a huge industry, there is little evidence that most diets and supplements work in the long-term. Prescription medicines have so far also proved only modestly effective, with unpleasant and potentially severe side effects. Prof Rossner says: “It’s depressing to me as a scientist but the results of anti-obesity drugs are not very impressive and we have little to offer patients.”

Not all is gloomy. At the International Congress on Obesity held in Sweden in July, some reports suggested that for the first time the rate of growth of obesity in children in some countries including France, the UK and Sweden was beginning to slow. Tim Lobstein from the International Association for the Study of Obesity, a group of specialists, says: “We may be seeing a plateau.”

But he cautions that in spite of such signs, the trend remains upwards, particularly among the poor. Furthermore, dips in the past have been followed by fresh surges in obesity, and there are suggestions that slowing growth may be exaggerated because some obese children or their parents are no longer co-operating with studies and being weighed as in the past.

France’s Epode programme has generated international interest, with its apparent success linked to strong political leadership overseeing a range of initiatives from improved school nutrition to town planning designed to encourage exercise.

Yet neither Epode nor the UK’s more recent Change4Life programme has so far produced much systematic, peer-reviewed data. That makes it difficult to assess the impact of initiatives and to focus on those with the greatest chance of succeeding, especially as governments struggling with austerity measures are tempted to pare back on prevention programmes that will show little immediate return.

Of additional concern is the impact of the food and drink industry itself in fighting obesity. Epode’s sponsors include Orangina Schweppes, the drinks producer owned by Suntory of Japan; Kellogg, the US cereal manufacturer; and Italy’s Ferrero chocolate maker. Change4Life’s partners include Mars, the confectioner, and McCain, the frozen chips company, both of the US, and Britvic, the UK soft drinks group.

Derek Yach, in charge of global health policy at PepsiCo of the US, another Change4Life partner, which has pledged significant reductions in sugar, salt and fat in its products and to eliminate sales of sugary drinks in schools, says: “There are a lot of industry efforts, but many governments are not thinking about getting behind them.”

Others are more sceptical of industry’s involvement, suggesting its participation helps burnish its image while compromising the ability of governments to take a tougher line on issues such as restrictions on food advertising and labelling, taxes on salt and sugar content, and reduced subsidies that differentially favour less healthy ingredients such as palm oil. Tam Fry, a director of the National Obesity Forum, a UK-based group, says: “The time has come for governments to take a firm hand. They are there to govern, not to kowtow to vested interests.”

Certainly, corporate health promotion initiatives may seem modest in comparison to countervailing trends, such as a recent estimate from the Federal Trade Commission that in the US alone, companies spend $1.6bn a year just on food advertising directed at children and adolescents.

Equally, labelling remains contentious, with industry successfully lobbying this year to prevent the European parliament approving a “traffic light” system, as advocated by the UK’s Food Standards Agency, to warn consumers of less healthy food ingredients. In its place come vaguer guideline daily allowances.

Finding the right partnership with the food and drink industry will prove one of the most testing issues in the coming years in any efforts to reverse the current trends in obesity. Dr Kessler, a long-standing advocate of tough action against tobacco companies to improve public health, argues: “This will prove much tougher. We all have to eat.” Christopher Caldwell: Why fat is not a First Lady’s issue