Archive for ‘farmers’

05/05/2019

India’s rural pain goes beyond farmers, and it may be a problem for Modi

ZADSHI VILLAGE, India (Reuters) – Three years ago, brick mason Pundlik Bhandekar was always busy as farmers in his tiny hamlet in Maharashtra commissioned new houses and nearby towns were undergoing rapid urbanisation. Now, as the rural economy sinks and the pace of construction slows, Bhandekar is struggling to get work.

“I used to get a new construction project before I could even finish one. People would come to my house to check when I would be free to work for them,” said Bhandekar, as he sat with friends under the shade of a tree on a hot afternoon.

From daily wage workers such as masons, to barbers and grocery shop owners – just about everyone in Zadshi village, some 720 km (450 miles) from India’s financial hub Mumbai, says a drop in farm incomes has dented their livelihoods.

Their woes are symptomatic of a wider problem across India, where more than half of the country’s 1.3 billion people are dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods, as the slowdown in the rural economy is felt in the dampening sales of consumer goods, especially the biggest such as car and motorbike sales.

The slowdown has also dented Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity in the hinterland that propelled him to power in 2014, and political strategists say it may mean he struggles to form a majority after voting in a staggered general election that began on April 11 concludes on May 19.

Zadshi has been almost entirely dependent on annual cotton and soybean crops that, according to farmers, have given lacklustre returns in the past few years due to a dip in prices, droughts and pest attacks.

And as incomes have dropped, farmers have cut back on big-ticket spending such as building new houses, digging wells or laying water pipelines, squeezing employment opportunities for people such as Bhandkekar.

“No one is interested in hiring us. We are ready to work even at 250 rupees ($3.60) per day,” said Bhandekar, who charged 300 rupees a day when work was steady, but now gets work only once or twice in a fortnight.

LOWER WAGES, LESS SPENDING

Economic data reflects the plight of farmers and daily wage workers.

Retail food inflation in the fiscal year ended on March 31 fell to 0.74 percent, even as core inflation stood at 5.2 percent, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch Research, eroding the spending power of farmers.

Inflation adjusted wage growth for workers involved in crop sowing was just 0.6 percent 2018/19 compared with 6.5 percent in 2013/14.

The value of farm produce at constant prices grew 15 percent in the past five years, compared with 23 percent in the previous five, while the manufacturing sector grew 40 percent, against 32.6 percent in the previous five years, government data shows.

“Lower rural wages will result in lesser spending, which in turn will reduce demand for goods and services that are part of the rural basket,” Rupa Rege Nitsure, group chief economist at L&T Finance Holdings in Mumbai, told Reuters.

The government needs to spend more in rural areas to generate employment and boost incomes, Nitsure said.

Modi’s Hindu nationalist government did introduce various support schemes in the past six months, such as a 6,000 rupees yearly handout to small farmers.

The main opposition Congress party has gone much further with its pledges though, saying it would introduce a basic minimum income, where the country’s poorest families would get 72,000 rupees annually, benefiting some 250 million people.

RISING UNEMPLOYMENT

In Zadshi, as the mercury touched a searing 40 degrees Celsius(104F), a group of villagers gathered under the trees lining a dusty road and began chatting about everything from crop prices to politics.

“What else we can do? Had work been available in urban areas, we could have moved there but even in the cities construction has slowed down,” said Amol Sontakke, an unskilled labourer who works in farms and on construction sites.

Job opportunities have slowed even in urban areas and India’s unemployment rate touched 7.2 percent in February, the highest since September 2016, according to data compiled by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE). Official data is unavailable for recent periods.

The mood in Zadshi was glum. While four dozen villagers interviewed by Reuters were hopeful that if there was a good monsoon this year it could improve farm incomes, they’ve been cutting back on spending in the meantime.

“People are thinking twice before buying new clothes during festivals,” said Avinash Gaurkar, a farmer currently doubling up as a part-time driver. “Buying big-ticket items such as motorcycles or refrigerators is out of the question.”

Two years ago Gaurkar began building a house, but had to give up midway as his five-acre farm could not generate the money needed, he said, pointing towards a half-finished structure without doors.

In 2018, just four villagers bought new motorbikes compared with as many as 10 a year about four years ago, said cotton farmer Raju Kohale, whose son is sitting at home unemployed after graduating as an engineer.

“Poor monsoon or lower prices, something or the other has been hurting us in the past few years,” Kohale said.

MODI AGAIN?

In the 2014 general election, most in Zadshi voted for Modi, but the farmers’ distress has swayed many towards the opposition Congress party. That was clear from Reuters’ interviews with 48 villagers, who cast their ballots last month.

Farmers are at the bottom of the Modi administration’s priority list, said labourer Sagar Bahalavi.

“They are building big roads to connect metros and calling it development. How is that useful for us?” he said.

Some, though, want to give Modi a second chance.
“Modi’s intentions are good, it’s the bureaucratic system that is not supporting him,” said Gulab Chalakh, who owns a 20-acre farm and is among the richest in the village. “We should give him another chance.”
Source: Reuters
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28/04/2019

A really simple guide to India’s general election

Indian electionsImage copyright GETTY IMAGES

It is an election like no other. Those eligible to vote in India’s upcoming polls represent more than 10% of the world’s population and they will take part in the largest democratic exercise in history.

Voters will choose representatives for the Indian parliament, and in turn decide if Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi will run the country for another five years.

What is at stake?

Whoever wins these elections and forms a government will control the destiny of the world’s largest democracy.

While they are in charge,  is likely to overtake the UK’s and become the world’s fifth-largest.

Its population meanwhile – at more than 1.34bn people – is predicted to soon surpass China’s 1.39bn.

Hundreds of millions of Indians have escaped  since the turn of the millennium but huge challenges remain.

 is a major concern and is especially high among young people.

Millions of  about low crop prices.

How the nuclear-armed country engages with the outside world – and manages a tricky  – is also of immense importance to international security.

Graphic: The immense scale of India's elections

Who is being elected?

Indians are voting for members of parliament and the job of prime minister tends to go to the leader of the party or coalition with most seats. The current PM is .

His main rival is opposition leader .

Parliament has two houses: the Lok Sabha and the .

The lower house –  – is the one to watch.

It has 543 elected seats and any party or coalition needs a minimum of 272 MPs to form a government.

At the last election in 2014, Mr Modi’s  won 282 seats.

Mr Gandhi’s  only took 44 seats in 2014 – down from 206 in 2009.

Graphic: The battle for the Lower House of the Indian Parliament

Why does voting take so long?

Because of the enormous number of election officials and security personnel involved, voting will take place in seven stages between 11 April and 19 May.

Different states will vote at different times.

Votes will be counted on 23 May and results are expected on the same day.

Who will win?

This election is being seen as a referendum on Mr Modi, a polarising figure adored by many but also accused of stoking divisions between  and the country’s 200 million Muslims.

Until a few months ago, Mr Modi and his BJP party were seen as the overwhelming favourites. But the  in December’s regional elections injected a sense of serious competition into the national vote.

Analysts are divided on whether Mr Modi will be able to win a simple majority again.

A recent escalation of tensions with Pakistan has given the BJP a new and popular issue to campaign on.

It will be hoping that a focus on patriotism will help the party to get past the serious challenge mounted by powerful regional parties and Congress.

Source: The BBC

08/04/2019

India election 2019: Are India’s farmers receiving what they were promised?

Farmers near Mumbai protesting for better compensationImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

The plight of India’s farmers has been a major theme in the campaigns ahead of national elections, which get under way on 11 April.

Angry farmers have regularly taken to the streets demanding a better financial deal.

Many find themselves in debt and burdened by other liabilities they’ve taken on to buy seed, fertilisers and equipment.

Thousands of farmers commit suicide every year in India, although the reasons are often complex.

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Pledge: Speaking in 2016, India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, said farmers’ incomes would double by 2022.

Verdict: Official data shows farmers’ incomes were rising between 2013 and 2016. Income data for the past two years is not available but there are signs the rural economy is depressed. Unless there is a significant upturn, the doubling of farm incomes by 2022 is unlikely.

Modi quote card
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The government has now pledged to pay 6,000 Indian rupees (£64) a year to help farmers with holdings of less than two hectares (20,000 sq m), in a bid to reach that goal.

These moves have been criticised by opposition parties as vote-buying ahead of the elections.

The agricultural sector employs more than 40% of the workforce in India, despite its shrinking contribution to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), the total value of goods and services produced.

Farmer ploughing field near Jabalpur, India

What’s happened to farming incomes?

In 2016, the average monthly income of a farming household was about 9,000 Indian rupees (£100), according to a survey conducted by the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development.

This report also found that farmers’ income had increased by 40% in the three years up to 2016, the latest year for which data is available.

However, there is evidence of a more recent slowdown in the rural economy.

According to one estimate, farm income, which had grown by more than 14% in the year to 2017, slumped to just over a 2% growth rate between 2017 and 2018.

And in several state elections in December 2018, the ruling BJP fared poorly – something put down to growing discontent in rural areas.

What problems do farmers face?

Droughts, bad weather and a lack of modern equipment have plagued Indian agriculture for decades.

In addition, many of India’s farmers work on vulnerable small or marginal holdings.

Pie chart showing size of farm holdings

The current administration has introduced pro-farming policies that include:

  • a crop insurance scheme
  • a soil health card scheme to improve productivity
  • an online trading platform for agricultural produce

But it’s also faced criticism for other policies that have negatively affected farmers – such as the sudden decision to 2016 withdraw the 500 and 1,000 rupee notes from circulation in a bid to tackle the black economy.

Boy sorting tomato cropImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionThere are issues with storage and processing

Why aren’t farmers earning more?

A very good harvest in any year will result in a sharp fall in the price of a commodity.

This helps keep food prices in check for urban consumers but is not so good for rural producers.

To counter this, the government sets a minimum purchase price for major agricultural products each year.

However, a recent official report pointed out serious shortcomings of these price controls.

It cited a lack of awareness among farmers, delays in payments and insufficient facilities to enable farmers to store produce at government-controlled warehouses.

At various times over the years, national and state governments have also announced loan waivers for farmers to write off their debts.

These schemes are expensive and not everyone qualifies for help.

Source: The BBC

15/03/2019

Profile: Farmer lawmaker’s fight for rural prosperity

BEIJING, March 14 (Xinhua) — Farmer Zhao Huijie, spiced with humor when speaking at panel discussions at the second session of the 13th National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s national legislature, has a clearer vision for the development of her village.

The 48-year-old woman from north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region has fought for fortune for her fellow villagers after she became the village Party chief in 2009, and now for the interest of more people in rural China now that she is a deputy to the NPC.

At the ongoing second session of the 13th NPC, Zhao submitted a suggestion on pollution control in animal husbandry and farming in rural areas.

“Random disposal of livestock waste has not only damaged the rural environment, but also polluted groundwater,” she said, advising the government to fund major livestock farms in harmless waste treatment.

She also suggested the government to subsidize farmers to use degradable plastic films to protect the environment.

Unlike legislators in the West who make a career of politics, NPC deputies are from all walks of life and work part-time. Of the nearly 3,000 national lawmakers, more than 15 percent are workers and farmers.

Zhao, an ethnic Manchu, is also one of the 400-plus ethnic minority deputies.

URBAN WOMAN’S RURAL LIFE

Born into a worker’s family, Zhao worked at a gold mine in the city of Chifeng, Inner Mongolia, where she got married in 1991.

“He was four years older than me. I think it was a perfect match considering I am talkative, while he is quiet,” Zhao said of her husband.

Their daughter was born in 1992. In the same year, the gold mine went bankrupt, forcing the couple back to her husband’s home in Xiaomiaozi Village.

Located between two mountains with a river traversing through, Xiaomiaozi was known for its poverty back then. Shabby houses, bumpy roads and barren farmland formed the major landscape, and the only crop villagers grew was corn.

To make ends meet, Zhao’s husband found a job in town, and she rented a small plot of farmland at home.

She had to learn how to farm from scratch, including driving a horse to plow in the field. When she was farming, she had to place her baby on the field ridge.

“I didn’t want to depend on my parents after getting married. If the other villagers could get used to the country life here, how could I not?” she said.

In 1995, she started teaching at the village elementary school. Four years later, she was assigned to take charge of family planning and women’s work in the village.

“I was familiar with every household — newborn babies, young brides marrying into our village, and the elderly,” Zhao said.

In 2009, she was elected unanimously as the village Party chief.

As soon as she took office, Zhao was asked to attend “a meeting” in the township.

“It turned out to be a training for Party chiefs of backward villages. That was shameful,” she said, determined to change the situation.

NEW ROAD, NEW LIFE

The first thing she decided to work on was to build a concrete road, as she found corn buyers were reluctant to come due to the bumpy roads. Higher transport costs even dragged down corn prices in the village.

For more than a year, Zhao visited door to door to persuade villagers to relocate to give way to the road. She talked so much that she was diagnosed with sphagitis, and had to undergo a surgery.

“I liked singing in the past, but after the surgery, I could never hold a high note,” she said.

After the road project was completed, Zhao had a bridge built, ending the days when villagers had to trek in waters to cross the river.

In 2013, when Zhao engaged herself in the bridge project, she broke her left arm and knee in a road accident.

“After work, I was riding my motorcycle in the dark when a donkey rushed on to the road. I was thrown away along with the vehicle,” she said.

Instead of lying in bed, Zhao insisted going to the construction site on crutches, touching the villagers and drawing more and more followers.

Li Yongbo, a villager who used to work in Beijing, was persuaded home and led the farmers to grow traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) such as balloon flower root, which secures three times the income of corn.

According to Li, the sandy soil, big day-and-night temperature difference and easy access to irrigation made the village an ideal place for TCM plantation.

The village has expanded the TCM plantation areas to more than 200 hectares now, producing more than 4,000 tonnes of TCM every year. A TCM processing workshop has been established, further doubling the income from mere TCM plantation.

The per capita income of the village reached 14,000 yuan (2,087 U.S. dollars) in 2018, 10,000 yuan more than the levels of 2010.

“As villagers get rich and spend more, my tiny store now can bring me more than 100,000 yuan of profit every year,” grocery runner You Junguang said.

Last year, Zhao was elected as a deputy to the 13th NPC. She suggested utilizing private investment in rural development.

“To my delight, the Ministry of Finance replied to me, accepting my suggestion and pledging to encourage private investors to contribute to revitalizing the rural areas.”

Zhao said they had registered “Xiaomiaozi Village” as a brand, and were talking to a tourism company on cooperation to entice tourists with the village’s Manchu and Mongolian ethnic cultures, as well as its beautiful landscape.

After graduating from college, Zhao’s daughter found a teaching job in Changsha City in central China in 2014. Her son is studying in a senior high school in Chifeng City. Zhao is too busy to visit them.

“I feel guilty because I have rarely taken care of my kids. But I hope I can set an example for them by trying my best to do everything, be it vital or trivial, and making positive contribution to the society,” she said.

Source: Xinhua

07/03/2019

Tibet has 667,000 people engaged in environmental protection

LHASA, March 6 (Xinhua) — To conserve the ecosystem while eradicating poverty, southwest China’s Tibet Autonomous Region hired 309,000 farmers and herders as forest rangers in 2018, bringing the total number of people engaged in environmental protection to 667,000.

Average annual subsidies in the jobs increased to 3,500 yuan (522 U.S. dollars), according to the regional department of ecology and environment.

Last year, Tibet invested 10.7 billion yuan in environmental protection funds, with 74,133 hectares of trees planted and forest coverage rising to 12.14 percent.

The region also invested 100 million yuan in enhancing the ecology along the upper reaches of the Yangtze, China’s longest river.

“Protecting the forests is equal to protecting our homeland,” said a local Tibetan forest ranger.

The implementation of a series of measures contributed to environmental protection, making Tibet one of the areas with the best ecological environment in the world, authorities said.

Source: Xinhua

04/03/2019

China’s social endowment insurance covers over 523 mln people

KUNMING, March 3 (Xinhua) — China’s social endowment insurance for rural and urban residents has covered over 523 million people by the end of 2018, according to the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security (MOHRSS).

Over 49 million people in poverty have benefited from the insurance program directly, MOHRSS data showed.

The unemployment insurance premium has allocated 1.82 billion yuan (about 272 million U.S. dollars) of living subsidies to 402,000 migrant workers who had lost their jobs, the ministry said.

The social endowment insurance program covers groups including the self-employed, rural migrant workers and farmers, providing pensions for their retirement.

China faces the challenge of building a more sustainable pension system as its population ages.

By 2018, China had 249 million people aged 60 and above, accounting for 17.9 percent of its total population, becoming a country with the largest and fastest-growing aged population in the world.

Source: Xinhua

23/02/2019

Rakbar Khan: Did cow vigilantes lynch a Muslim farmer?

Members of Nawal Kishore Sharma's cow vigilante gang pictured in 2015Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES (ALLISON JOYCE)
Image captionCow vigilantes in Ramgarh in 2015
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A Muslim dairy farmer was stopped late one night last July as he led two cows down a track in rural Rajasthan, south of the Indian capital, Delhi. Within hours he was dead, but who killed him, asks the BBC’s James Clayton – the “cow vigilantes” he met on the road, or the police?

It’s 4am and Dr Hassan Khan, the duty doctor at Ramgarh hospital, is notified of something unusual.

The police have brought in a dead man, a man they claim not to know.

“What were the police like when they brought him in? Were they calm?” I ask him.

“Not calm,” he says. “They were anxious.”

“Are they usually anxious?” I ask.

“Not usually,” he says, laughing nervously.

The dead man is later identified by his father as local farmer Rakbar Khan.

This was not a random murder. The story illustrates some of the social tensions bubbling away under the surface in India, and particularly in the north of the country.

And his case raises questions for the authorities – including the governing Hindu nationalist BJP party.

Cow-related violence – 2012-2019

IndiaSpend map of cow violenceImage copyrightINDIASPEND
Rakbar Khan was a family man. He had seven children.

He kept cows and he also happened to be a Muslim. That can be a dangerous mix in India.

“We have always reared cows, and we are dependent on their milk for our livelihood,” says Rakbar’s father, Suleiman.

“No-one used to say anything when you transported a cow.”

That has changed. Several men have been killed in recent years while transporting cows in the mainly Muslim region of Mewat, not far from Delhi, where Rakbar lived.

“People are afraid. If we go to get a cow they will kill us. They surround our vehicle. So everyone is too scared to get these animals,” says Suleiman.

Everyone I speak to in the village where the Khans live is afraid of gau rakshaks – cow protection gangs.

Nawal Kishore Sharma's cow vigilante gangImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES (ALLISON JOYCE)
Image captionNawal Kishore Sharma’s cow protection group in 2015
Presentational white spaceThe gangs often consist of young, hardline Hindus, who believe passionately in defending India’s holy animal.

They believe that laws to protect cows, such as a ban on slaughtering the animals, are not being fully enforced – and they hunt for “cow smugglers”, who they believe are taking cows to be killed for meat.

Often armed, they have been responsible for dozens of attacks on farmers in India over the last five years, according to data analysis organisation IndiaSpend, which monitors reports of hate crimes in the media.

On 21 July 2018, Rakbar Khan met the local gau rakshak.

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There are some things we know for certain about what happened that night.

Rakbar was walking down a small road with two cows. It was late and it was raining heavily.

Then, out of the dark, came the lights of motorbikes. We know this, because Rakbar was with a friend, who survived.

Cow vigilantes on motorbikes in Yadavnagar, RajasthanImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES (ENRICO FABIAN)
At this point the details become a little sketchier. There are three versions of the story.

The gang managed to catch Rakbar, but his friend, Aslam, slipped away. He lay on the ground, in the mud and prayed he wouldn’t be found.

“There was so much fear inside me, my heart was hurting,” he says.

“From there I heard the screams. They were beating him. There wasn’t a single part of his body that wasn’t broken. He was beaten very badly.”

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Find out more

Watch James Clayton’s report for Newsnight, on BBC Two

The documentary India’s Cow Vigilantes can be seen on Our World on BBC World Newsand on the BBC News Channel (click for transmission times)

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Aslam says that Rakbar was killed then and there.

But there is evidence that suggests otherwise.

Much of what happened next focuses around the leader of the local cow vigilante group, Nawal Kishore Sharma.

Aslam claims he heard the gang address him by name that night, but when I speak to Sharma, he denies he was there at all.

Nawal Kishore Sharma
Image captionNawal Kishore Sharma

“It was about 00:30 in the morning and I was sleeping in my house… Some of my group phoned me to say they’d caught some cow smugglers,” he says.

According to Nawal Kishore Sharma, he then drove with the police to the spot. “He was alive and he was fine,” he says.

But that’s not what the police say.

In their “first incident report” they say that Rakbar was indeed alive when they found him.

“Nawal Kishore Sharma informed the police at about 00:41 that some men were smuggling two cows on foot,” the report says.

“Then the police met Nawal Kishore outside the police station and they all went to the location.

“There was a man who was injured and covered in mud.

“He told the police his name, his father’s name, his age (28) and the village he was from.

“And as he finished these sentences, he almost immediately passed out. Then he was put in the police vehicle and they left for Ramgarh.

“Then the police reached Ramgarh with Rakbar where the available doctor declared him dead.”

Ramgarh at nightImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES (ALLISON JOYCE)
Image captionRamgarh at night
But this version of events is highly dubious.

I go to the hospital in Ramgarh, where Rakbar was taken. Hospital staff are busily going through bound books of hospital records – looking for Rakbar’s admission entry.

And then, there it is. “Unknown dead body” brought in at 04:00 on 21 July 2018.

Hospital record of unknown dead body

It’s not a long entry, but it contradicts the police’s story, and raises some serious questions.

For a start, Rakbar was found about 12 minutes’ drive away from the hospital. Why did it take more than three hours for them to take him there?

And if the police say Rakbar gave them his name, why did they tell the hospital they didn’t know who he was?

Nawal Kishore Sharma claims to know why. He paints a very different picture of what happened to Rakbar.

He tells me that after picking up Rakbar, they changed his clothes.

He then claims to have taken two photos of Rakbar – who at this point was with the police.

Nawal Kishore Sharma's photograph of Rakbar Khan
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Nawal Kishore Sharma's photograph of Rakbar Khan

Sharma says that he went to the police station with the police. He claims that’s when the beating really began.

“The police injured him badly. They even beat him with their shoes,” he says.

“They kicked him powerfully on the left side of his body four times. Then they beat him with sticks. They beat him here (pointing at his ribs) and even on his neck.”

At about 03:00 Nawal Kishore Sharma says he went with some police officers to take the two cows to a local cow shelter. When he returned, he says, the police told him that Rakbar had died.

Rakbar’s death certificate shows that his leg and hand had been broken. He’d been badly beaten and had broken his ribs, which had punctured his lungs.

According to his death certificate he died of “shock… as a result of injuries sustained over body”.

I ask the duty doctor at the hospital whether he remembers what Rakbar’s body was like when the police brought it in.

“It was cold,” he says.

I ask him how long it would take for a body to become cold after death.

“A couple of hours,” he replies.

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“I don’t want to talk about Rakbar’s case,” says Rejendra Singh, chief of police of Alwar district, which includes Ramgarh.

Since Rakbar’s murder several police officers have been suspended. I want to know why.

He looks uneasily at me.

“There were lapses on the police side,” he says.

I ask him what those lapses were.

“They had not followed the regular police procedure, which they were supposed to do,” he says. “It was one big lapse.”

Three men from Nawal Kishore Sharma’s vigilante group have been charged with Rakbar’s murder. Sharma himself remains under investigation.

The vigilante group and the police blame each other for Rakbar’s death, but neither denies working together that night.

The way Sharma describes it, the police cannot be everywhere, so the vigilantes help them out. But it’s the police that “take all the action” he says.

Nawal Kishore Sharma investigates a lorry outside Bilaspur, near Ramgarh, in 2015Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES (ENRICO FABIAN)
Image captionNawal Kishore Sharma inspects a lorry transporting cows (October 2015)
Much police activity in Rajasthan is focused on stopping cow slaughter.

Across the state there are dozens of formal cow checkpoints, where police stop vehicles looking for smugglers who are taking cows to be killed.

I visited one of the checkpoints. Sure enough police were patiently stopping vehicles and looking for cows.

The night before officers had had a gun battle with a group of men after a truck failed to stop.

These checkpoints have become common in some parts of India. Sometimes they are run by the police, sometimes by the vigilantes, and sometimes by both.

This gets to the heart of Rakbar’s case.

Human rights groups argue that his murder – and others like his – show that in some areas the police have got too close to the gangs.

Cow vigilantes in Ramgarh check a suspicious load in November 2015Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES (ALLISON JOYCE)
Image captionThe vigilantes find what they are looking for (November 2015)
“Unfortunately what we’re finding too often is that the police are complicit,” says Meenakshi Ganguly of Human Rights Watch, which published a 104-page report on cow-related violence in India this week.

In some areas, police have been reluctant to arrest the perpetrators of violence – and much faster to prosecute people accused of either consuming or trading in beef, he says.

Human Rights Watch has looked into 12 cases where it claims police have been complicit in the death of a suspected cow smuggler or have covered it up. Rakbar’s is one of them.

But this case doesn’t just illustrate police failings. Some would argue that it also illustrates how parts of the governing BJP party have inflamed the problem.

Gyandev Ahuja is a larger-than-life character. As the local member of parliament in Ramgarh at the time when Rakbar was killed he’s an important local figure.

He has also made a series of controversial statements about “cow smugglers”.

After a man was badly beaten in December 2017 Ahuja told local media: “To be straightforward, I will say that if anyone is indulging in cow smuggling, then this is how you will die.”

After Rakbar’s death he said that cow smuggling was worse than terrorism.

Nails used by cow vigilantes to force lorries to stopImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES (ENRICO FABIAN)
Image captionNails used by the vigilantes to force lorries to stop
Gyandev Ahuja is just one of several BJP politicians who have made statements that are supportive of the accused in so-called “cow lynchings”.

One of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ministers was even photographed garlanding the accused murderers in a cow vigilante case. He has since apologised.

Meenakshi Ganguly of Human Rights Watch says it is “terrifying” that elected officials have defended attackers.

“It is really, at this point of time, something that is a great concern, because it is changing a belief into a political narrative, and a violent one,” he says.

The worry is that supportive messages from some of the governing party’s politicians have emboldened the vigilantes.

No official figures are kept on cow violence, but the data collected by IndiaSpend suggests that it started ramping up in 2015, the year after Narendra Modi was elected.

IndiaSpend says that since then there have been 250 injuries and 46 deaths related to cow violence. This is likely to be an underestimate because farmers who have been beaten may be afraid to go to the police – and when a body is found it may not be clear what spurred the attack. The vast majority of the victims are Muslims.

A cow shelter in RamgarhImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES (ENRICO FABIAN)
Image captionA cow shelter in Ramgarh
A BJP spokesman, Nalin Kohli, emphatically rejects any connection between his party and cow violence.

“To say the BJP is responsible is perverse, inaccurate and absolutely false,” he tells me.

“Many people have an interest in building a statement that the BJP is behind it. We won’t tolerate it.”

I ask him about Gyandev Ahuja’s inflammatory statements.

“Firstly that is not the party’s point of view and we have very clearly and unequivocally always said an individual’s point of view is theirs, the point of view of the party is articulated by the party.

“Has the BJP promoted him or protected him? No.”

But a month after this interview, Ahuja was made vice-president of the party in Rajasthan.

Shortly afterwards, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Rajasthan – publicly slapping Ahuja on the back and waving together at crowds of BJP supporters.

presentational grey line

In Mewat I speak to Rakbar’s wife, Asmina.

“Show me how you raise seven children without a husband. How will I be able to raise them?” she says, wiping away tears.

“My youngest daughter says that my father went to God. If you ask her, ‘How did he go to God?’ she says, ‘My father was bringing a cow and people killed him.’

“The life of an animal is so important but that of a human is not.”

The trial of the three men accused of his murder has yet to take place, but perhaps we will never know what really happened to Rakbar.

In November 2015, photographer Allison Joyce spent a night following Nawal Kishore Sharma’s vigilantes in the countryside near Ramgarh. One of her photographs shows a police officer embracing Sharma after a shootout between the vigilantes and a suspected cow smuggler.

Though the police now accuse the cow vigilantes of killing Rakbar Khan, and the vigilantes accuse the police, the photograph illustrates just how closely they worked together.

A policeman embraces Nawal Kishore Sharma after his group chases down a lorry in November 2015Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES (ALLISON JOYCE)
In the Indian media there have been claims that the police took the two cows that Rakbar had been transporting to a cow shelter, as Rakbar lay dead or dying in a police vehicle.

There are also claims that the police stopped and drank tea instead of taking Rakbar to hospital.

Whatever they did, they did not take Rakbar to hospital immediately.

Source: The BBC

20/02/2019

China to deepen reforms of agriculture sector to boost rural areas

  • Policy statement outlines broad goals including plan to revive domestic soybean production
A farmer picks tea leaves in Mianxian county, Shaanxi province. Beijing’s policy document reiterated a strategy to improve income levels and living standards in China’s countryside. Photo: Xinhua
A farmer picks tea leaves in Mianxian county, Shaanxi province. Beijing’s policy document reiterated a strategy to improve income levels and living standards in China’s countryside. Photo: Xinhua
China will deepen reforms of its agriculture sector to promote its rural economy, the government said in its first policy statement of 2019, as it seeks to bolster growth and offset trade challenges.

Beijing’s statement, released late on Tuesday, comes after the world’s second-largest economy saw its weakest growth in 28 years in 2018 and remains entangled in a trade war with Washington.

“Under the complicated situation of increasing downward pressure on the economy and profound changes in the external environment, it is of special importance to do a good job in agriculture and rural areas,” the government said in the document issued by the State Council and published by official news agency Xinhua.

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Known as the “No 1 document”, this year’s policy reiterated a rural rejuvenation strategy first laid out in 2017 to improve income levels and living standards in China’s countryside.

It also highlighted a plan to boost domestic soybean production but did not offer further details.

Chinese President Xi Jinping visits a farm in northeastern Heilongjiang province during an inspection tour in September. Photo: Xinhua via AP
Chinese President Xi Jinping visits a farm in northeastern Heilongjiang province during an inspection tour in September. Photo: Xinhua via AP

Industry analysts said on Wednesday they were eagerly awaiting further details to assess the impact of the plan, which had already been flagged by Agriculture Minister Han Changfu earlier this month.

China has been overhauling its crop structure in recent years, reducing support for corn after stocks ballooned, and seeking to promote more planting of oilseeds that it mostly imports.

That goal has become increasingly important since a trade war with the United States, which led China to slap tariffs on soybean imports, tightening domestic supplies.

Han has previously urged authorities in China’s northeast to support soybean production through subsidies and called for rotating of soybeans with other crops including corn and wheat.

Beijing also aims to support the production of rapeseed in the Yangtze River Basin, according to the document.

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As in previous years, it also called for stable grain production, but also an increase in imports of agriculture products where there are shortages in the domestic market.

“The focus now is on retaining production capacity, in the form of high quality farmland, and using the international market to make up production shortfalls,” said Even Rogers Pay, an agriculture analyst at China Policy, a Beijing-based consultancy.

The reference to imports is positive for trade partners like the United States, said Cherry Zhang, analyst with Shanghai JC Intelligence, who said it raised the likelihood that China will buy more US agriculture products.

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Shares of Chinese livestock companies, along with pig and poultry breeders, rose on Wednesday following the release of the policy paper.

The document also outlines plans to accelerate development of a new farm subsidy policy system and further crack down on the smuggling of agriculture products.

Additionally, the government said it plans to strengthen the monitoring and control of African swine fever outbreaks, after more than 100 cases were reported in China since August.

Other plans include continuing to tackle rural pollution and promoting recycling of agricultural waste such as manure and agricultural film.

Source: SCMP

08/02/2019

Feature: Returning to organic farming: next generation of Chinese farmers

BEIJING, Feb. 7 (Xinhua) — Wang Xin, 33, is a landscape designer by profession and farmer in practice. The strawberries coming from his organic plantation in the southern outskirts of Beijing are believed by his clients to be “the best of China.”

Every day in Beijing, when men and women of his age are sucked in heavy traffic and endless meetings, Wang lives a life in the countryside, far from the maddening crowd.

He rises with the sun, works all day in the field or goes to farmers’ market to sell fresh produce. At the end of the day, he goes to bed with sore muscles and falls into a deep sleep.

He does not take the time to consider whether it is hard work, preferring to get on with the job. “It has become a lifestyle. This is the life I chose to live.”

In a country where food is so central to the culture, many well-educated city dwellers like Wang have returned to the countryside to dedicate themselves to fresher, healthier food.

RESEARCH FARMERS

Every Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday, Wang brings freshly-picked strawberries to the organic farmers’ market in Beijing. The fruits are grown naturally in nutrient-rich soil, without use of fertilizers, pesticides, growth hormones or chemicals.

“I don’t plan to be filthy rich, or I wouldn’t have gone for organic farming,” Wang said. With his firm athletic build and healthy tan, it is hard to imagine him the designer who used to spend days and nights in front of a computer screen.

Majoring in landscape botany, Wang has always been a plant lover. When he was 25, he realized his sedentary life made him put on weight, and he could no longer stand being an office drone. He quit his job, rented two plantation sheds in the suburbs and started his career from scratch.

On Tuesday, Wang presented this winter’s first batch of fruit he planted in September. But work had begun in July, when he prepared all-natural organic matter to enrich the soil.

The formula has been perfected through years of research in collaboration with Beijing University of Agriculture, to simulate the formation of the fertile dark forest soil in Northeast China, known for its high crop productivity.

Logically, the true foundation of organic farming lies in soil content: if the soil is right – as a living organism with a complex organic structure – the outcome is safe and tasty food farmed without the need for fertilizing chemicals, according to Wang.

But quality produce is not the only objective. Wang hopes to build a production model that rehabilitates the soil itself – in regular plantations, the soil can degrade within a matter of years after being over-exploited.

Wang’s work on the farm has not always been a smooth ride. But after a rough start he believes he has learned valuable lessons. He has gone back to the university and visited his colleagues in Tochigi Prefecture, Japan, to study the most modern organic farming techniques.

“For the organic farming to become truly sustainable, to revitalize the soil is key. I am certain that in three to four years, the soil that I have been reviving will keep getting healthier and healthier,” he said.

Wang is not alone.

In Araxan, a semi-arid region located in northwest China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Ma Yanwei has spent years reinvigorating saline soil by applying water-saving methods to cultivate fruit and crops suitable for local conditions.

Sweet melon is the best-selling produce on Ma’s farm. The sweetness of the melons comes from many years of study, experiment and hard work in the desert. Ma aims to find an ideal organic farming methodology to maximize the utilization of scarce water resources and mend the soil. “As long as the soil improves, it is natural to harvest healthy produce,” Ma said.

In the last six years, he has seen more and more young people returning to the countryside to take on farming. In 2017 Ma set up a network for these new farmers to communicate, exchange experience and help each other. “So we could avoid longer detours and mistakes previously made by others,” he said.

AN IDYLLIC FARM REBUILT

For 18 years, Zhang Zhimin, a former foreign trade expert, has been building an idyllic farm in the far southwestern end of Beijing to produce food and preserve biodiversity.

Zhang speaks several languages, so was designated to work in food imports and exports when China opened its market to the world outside. She believes that “agriculture is the art of man and nature working together.”

On her bio-farm, the nature rules over man. Instead of eliminating weeds and pests, the wholesome biosphere works on its own to render seasonal harvests.

“Agriculture is the management of life, and life should be nourished by life itself,” she said. On her farm Heaven’s Blessings, trees, bushes, grass, insects, birds and cattle coexist in harmony. It is more like a habitat than a farm. In early summer she chops tender leaves and branches of weed under peach trees to feed the cattle and make room for the gramineous crops to thrive. In early autumn, she let cows roam free to finish the weeding.

In Wang’s vegetable shed, the natural ecosystem works for the harvest to be healthy while no intervention from the outside is necessary.

“I have observed that the grass that coexists with the crops functions as a regulating factor of the microclimate by keeping the soil humid,” Wang said.

Also, a native breed of spiders that leaves webs among the vegetables, feeds on the whiteflies that are usually hard to detect due to their miniscule size, preventing the need for harmful insecticides.

Wang has also gone back to ancient Chinese agricultural traditions to find inspiration to better coordinate human actions with nature, after learning the latest farming models in Japan, Germany and Israel.

At a “Farmers’ Assembly” held in China Agricultural University (CAU) last month, Professor Meng Fanqiao with CAU’s College of Resources and Environmental Sciences said organic/ecological farming is an important measure to improve the quality and safety of agricultural products.

“Organic/ecological farming is of vital significance for economic development as well as environmental protection in rural areas, for which it should play an imperative role in China’s rural revitalization and the building of an ‘ecological civilization,'” Meng said.

“The green development of the countryside is a strategy that goes hand-in-hand with the food supply security and the income level improvement,” said Jin Shuqin with the Ministry of Agriculture’s Research Center for Rural Economy. “To revivify ecology constitutes a crucial aspect of overall rural revitalization.”

“It is our hope to promote healthy eating to become a mainstream choice, as well as the organic way to produce healthy foods,” said Ma Xiaochao, project officer with Know Your Food, a self-publishing community focused on food sustainability.

Source: Xinhua

06/02/2019

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