Monday, March 28, 2016

28th March,2016 daily global regional local rice e-newsletter by riceplus magazine

Trade Policy 2015-18

March 26, 2016
The Federal Minister for Commerce Khurram Dastgir unveiled the three-year Strategic Trade Policy Framework 2015-18 with the overarching objective of achieving $35 billion exports by 2018, the election year, which at first glance appears to be more realistic than previous trade policies given that the current level of exports is around 24 billion dollars. The budgeted amount for the achievement of this ambitious trade policy in the current year was 6 billion rupees; however, sources in the Commerce Ministry informed Business Recorder that with only three months remaining in the current year they would propose to the Finance Minister to defer this amount to next fiscal year. There is little doubt that the Finance Minister would readily accede to this request as it would reduce the pressure on him by that amount in terms of meeting the deficit target agreed with the International Monetary Fund team under the 6.64 billion dollar Extended Fund Facility.

 Be that as it may, without the necessary funding and with tax concessions announced in the trade policy unlikely to be implemented till next year's budget, again because of Ishaq Dar's focus on meeting the deficit agreed with the Fund team, the trade policy is in effect a two-year policy - 2016-2018. And this raises the question of whether the 11 billion dollar increase in exports that the policy envisages is indeed realistic as it is a two-year period and not three. The policy consists of four pillars, in marked contrast to previous policies that either focused on import substitution or export promotion: product diversification and sophistication which one would hope envisages producing exportable products rather than exporting what we produce, market access, institution development (though no mention was made during Dastgir's press conference as to which institutions would be developed and how) and trade facilitation. 

Dastgir asserted that the main reason for Pakistan's poor performance in exports is a competitiveness crisis which he defined as heavy reliance on only two products. He further averred that cotton output fluctuates which is in the nature of the crop; however, what he ignored was the fact that the fluctuation in farm output, including cotton, is also attributable to government policies particularly the lack of support extended to the agriculture sector by the federal government. This is unlike our regional competitors who extend massive subsidies on fertiliser and other inputs, including high quality seed as well as on the maintenance and expansion of the irrigation system.

 The trade policy envisages providing support to the agri-business sector with a 50 percent support on the cost of imported new plant and machinery for specified undeveloped regions or 100 percent mark-up support on the cost of imported new plant and machinery throughout Pakistan. This concession raises two questions: would the envisioned support be extended by the commercial banking sector and if so this scheme may well go the way of the Prime Minister's youth scheme as the private banking sector's requirements for a loan can only be met by those with guarantees/assets? And if the government is to bear the cost then one would have to wait and see if this is budgeted for the next fiscal year.
With the IMF programme still ongoing, it is unlikely that the Dar-led Finance Ministry would be able to extend any subsidy in 2016-17. A short-term strategy, the Commerce Minister noted, would target three markets (Iran, China and Afghanistan) and focus on four products (horticulture, meat and products, jewellery, basmati rice). It is unclear how Dastgir defines short-term as many economists would define it as at least 2 years with respect to raising exports by 11 billion dollars which is the duration of the entire policy.

Two of the three target identified markets raise a lot of questions given that our official trade with Iran has never been high while our trade with Afghanistan remains hostage to the ongoing conflict in relation to dealing with the Taliban. China, as the minister stated in his press conference, is suffering from an economic downturn which incidentally is not expected to reverse in the next year or so. With respect to the four products it is necessary to point out that the three countries are unlikely to be buying jewellery given the state of their economies. Meat and products or horticulture exports would perhaps have been more successful were the focus Middle Eastern countries.

Basmati rice would be a product that is saleable in the three countries however India exports basmati rice and takes the lead in sales to Iran and Afghanistan. 
Dastgir maintained that leather, pharmaceuticals, fisheries and surgical instruments have higher export potential. Indeed, but the fact remains that these items are already being exported and if cotton and products are taken out of the equation these items are high on the list of generating export revenue. One would have hoped that the focus would have been on leather manufacturers including footwear, engineering goods and sports goods.
 The new policy aims to boost pharma exports. But so far none of the 600 pharma companies has the World Health Organisation (WHO) approval let alone certification by FDA of the US or European Drug Regulatory Agency's certification. Perhaps, TDAP could help out in paying the dollar 20,000 fee and facilitate the visit of WHO inspectors to local pharma companies.

WHO certification would allow export of Pakistani drugs in case of emergency to WHO-registered countries. To conclude, the delay in approval of the trade policy, attributed to the Prime Minister, shortened its duration to two years; and while one would have expected the Commerce Minister to present a two instead of a three-year policy or failing that to extend it to 2019 yet for the Sharif administration the buck stops in 2018 - the election year. One must not lose sight of the fact that Finance Ministry holds the key to successful exports. It has consistently denied refund/rebates to exporters - which are due as far back as 2002. We need to 'walk the talk' or else it will remain 'talk the talk'.

Export diversification (in terms of products and regions) and greater market access have been aims of trade policy for over two decades with little or no progress. We are afraid that mere rhetoric will not suffice. Incremental refunds have never worked. Let us not create another circular debt in the export sector as we have done in the energy sector. Refund of taxes to exporters is long overdue. But our fiscal woes continue to worsen. We need to urgently issue bonds as planned and seek permission from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in this regard.

MoU signed for setting up Pak-Iran Chamber of Commerce
March 27, 2016
Our Staff Reporter

Lahore - The business community on Saturday termed visit of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to Pakistan as highly significant, which will mark the beginning of a new era of cordial economic ties between both brotherly countries.Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI) President Abdur Rauf Alam said that the two countries must benefit from each other strengths and increase economic cooperation, which was lower than their actual potential.
Alam said that during the visit of Iranian president, FPCCI has also signed MoU with the Iran’s Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture (ICCIMA) for increased cooperation and establishment of Pakistan-Iran Chamber of Commerce. He said that economies of both the countries were taking off; therefore it was high time the business community explored these opportunities.

Rice Exporters Association of Pakistan Chairman Ch Shafique stated that Pakistan’s rice export was stagnant for the last many years. “Although Iran could be a huge market for Pakistani rice, but country’s rice sector is not yet ready to take advantage of this opportunity, because most of the Pakistani rice exporters are waiting GMP (good manufacturing practices) certification from Iran,” he lamented. He requested the Ministry of Commerce to take up the issue with the Iranian health ministry to get the issue of GMP Certification resolved on a priority basis, as without this certification rice export to Iran was not possible. He said that the landmark visit of the Iranian president provided Pakistan with a historic opportunity to increase mutual trade and investment. “Three Pakistani banks, including one Islamic bank, have almost completed spadework and they would be able to open LCs within six weeks for which credit goes to the State Bank of Pakistan,” he said.Shafique added that during the past few years, lack of trustable payment mechanism through banks proved to be a single largest factor, hindering bilateral trade. “Bilateral trade with Iran fell drastically as a result of sanctions and the unwillingness of banks to finance trade,” he informed. 
He said now the last hurdle in resuming smooth trade relations between the two countries was only GMP certification, which if removed would provide an opportunity to execute the projects which have been in limbo for the last few years. “In the absence of a banking channel, bilateral trade with Iran has been affected badly, and the SBP’s move would help facilitate the business community in terms of secured bilateral trade transactions,” Shafique opined.High-Tech Lubricants Chief Executive Officer Hassan Tahir called for good communication links and direct cargo flights to Iran without which trade could not flourish. “Pakistan-Iran bilateral trade relations will now touch new heights in coming years as both the sides have a huge unexplored potential,” he said, adding, “The visit of Iranian president would pave the way for the two sides to do business in an enabling environment.”

He urged the Pakistani businessmen to expedite the process of joint ventures with their Iranian counterparts, as both the countries had the capacity to touch the staggering figure of $10 billion.
“I expect that bilateral trade between Pakistan and Iran could reach over $3 billion just in one year,” Tahir added.He said that Pakistan and Iran had the potential to cater to each other’s needs, provided the businessmen had the exposure to the available opportunities.
He said the government should consider importing 5,000 megawatt of electricity from Iran, which would attract $1.5 billion of investment that will revolutionise the industrial sector.
Pakistan Foam Manufacturers Association Chairman and LCCI EC Member Sheikh Ibrahim said that the vision of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had helped raise the GDP and forex reserves, while inflation was going down, which was a very positive sign. He said Pakistan had one of the largest coal, salt, and copper reserves, while it held significant place as far as the production of cotton, wheat, milk and beef was concerned. “Pakistan’s middle class is fifth largest in the world, awaiting to be tapped, while our expertise in textile and IT sectors can be of great use to Iran,” he conclude

'Rice Syndicate' Formed to Deal with Pakistan Rice Sector Problems

Mar 24, 2016
The small to medium sized rice growers, millers, processors and exporters in Pakistan have formed a 'rice syndicate' under the Union of Small and Medium Enterprises (UNISAME) to deal with the problems faced by the country's rice sector, according to Pakistan Observer.The UNISAME President told reporters that: "the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are frustrated with the attitude of the trade bodies who are simply not interested in advocating the cause of the growers, millers, processors and exporters of rice have resolved to tackle their problems collectively on self-help basis."
He noted that the Syndicate would give serious consideration to the problems of farmers who are not able to recover their production costs due to high input costs and low prices. He said the problems of millers, most of whom are operating at lower capacities due to lack of demand from processors and exporters. The official also noted that exporters are also facing problems due to stiff competition from India and other exporting nations.
The UNISAME President noted that the 'Rice Syndicate' would bring all of them under one platform as their issues all are inter-connected. "The supply chain, the logistics, the poor quality of insecticides, pesticides, fertilizers, the shipping companies inefficiencies, the costly packing materials and other issues of rice imports from India by the rice mafia and their demands to allow imports of rice from the Wag-ah border are serious issues," he said.He noted that the Syndicate members will meet regularly the stakeholders, comprehend their issues and take up their cause with the concerned provincial and Federal Ministries.

Trade for peace and prosperity

A mutually dependent Pakistan-Iran region is the guarantee of a peaceful and prosperous neighbourhood

Pakistan-Iran regional connectivity through business and trade is important. From neoliberal perspective, business relations are a prelude to both peace and economic prosperity.This is not to suggest that there is any conflict between Pakistan and Iran but to highlight the fact that relations between the two neighbours have not been congenial either. The construction of the about 40-kilometre concrete wall by Iran in 2006 on Pakistan-Iran border, the Iranian government’s charge of alleged intrusion from Sunni militants and smugglers from our side of the border, and the sporadic firing of Iranian rockets into Pakistani territory are all indicators of never-too-friendly relations. More, an especial case is Pakistan’s consulate in Zahidan.

A 120-year-old building, a hangover from the British, the consulate in Zahidan is allegedly on a disputed land between Pakistan and Iran. During a visit to the consulate, I observed that it does not even have a concrete boundary wall, exposed to any untoward incident. The mud building has deep cracks inside rooms, vulnerable to collapse in the event of any earthquake. “We cannot carry out any construction or renovation work as the Iranian authorities do not permit us. All our appeals for taking the issue seriously have fallen on deaf ears,” lamented a staffer.After the partial lifting of sanctions against Iran and Hassan Rouhani’s visit to Pakistan, aiming at furthering economic relations, Islamabad and Tehran have the opportunity to let trade relations dominate politics and not vice versa. In case of Pakistan, Iran’s rice demand, which is more than 1 million tonnes annually, is a case in point.

But Pakistani rice, which some traders in Zahidan believed was better in quality than Indian rice, cannot compete with rice from India. For example, in 2014/15, India exported more than 0.9 million tonnes of rice to Iran. There were two main reasons as to why Pakistan could not benefit from trade with Iran at par with India. One is the transfer of money through hawala system rather than the regular banking system. “The hawalasystem owners charge high commission on transaction,” stated a Pakistani trader in Zahidan. “They charge us many folds more than the normal banking system if one would have been in place,” he lamented. “There is absolutely no bank-to-bank transaction between Pakistan and Iran,” he added.Another Pakistani trader, who moves between Lahore and Zahidan, said that Pakistani rice had a huge demand in Iran but could not compete with Indian rice “due to payment through hawala — the cost of Pakistani rice goes up leaving Indian rice cheaper for buyers.”

Secondly, the Iranian government prefers trade with India over Pakistani “because India is the second largest buyer of Iranian oil,” stated another Pakistani trader. True, Iranian banks — Pasargan Bank and Parsian Bank of Iran — have oil-related accounts in United Commercial Bank Kolkata. Indian rupee-denominated trade with Iran helps both Delhi and Tehran to mutually benefit from trade while easily bypassing the ban over the use of dollar in any Iran-related transaction. Since July 2011, India paid Iran its dues under the head of oil imports by sending 55 per cent of it in euro channeled through Halkbank Ankara and remitting 45 per cent in rupees to Iranian banks accounts in UCB until February 6, 2015 when transaction in euro through Ankara was stopped.
Of course, it is the American pressure that is the biggest impediment in Islamabad’s way to meaningfully engage in trade with Tehran. In wake of unwinding of sanctions against Iran, though the pressure is petering out, it is not going to completely disappear any time soon. As a matter of fact, mostly EU sanctions against Iran have been removed. Only US’s secondary sanctions were discarded. What these measures suggest is that while non-American individuals and companies can do business with Iran, American individuals and companies are still largely barred from doing business with the country. Even the American dollar, in which 85 per cent of global transaction takes place, cannot be used in any Iran related transaction.What is significant is that the partial lifting of sanctions over Iran has its utility for Pakistan too. The central government’s unwinding of its own sanctions against Iran is a step in the right direction. Similarly, the government’s asking of state bank to draw a mechanism without involving the use of dollars so that Pakistan can enter Iranian market without bothering about American currency and the recent unveiling of midterm strategic trade policy framework with a focus on boosting export and increasing Pakistan’s share of regional trade speak of sheer pragmatism.

What our central government needs to do is to take cue from India by dealing with Iran in euro and allowing Iranian banks to open accounts within Pakistani banks so as to do business in Pakistani rupee. Iran can be a great help in ending our energy woes. Tehran is world’s fourth largest oil producer and is home to world’s second-largest proven reserves of gas.Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a senior government official, who has remained privy to Pakistan-Iran government-to-government meetings said, “On various occasions, Iran has offered 1000 megawatts of electricity on cheap rates to Balochistan. It will not take more than three months to add the electricity to national grid provided that the idea materialises.” Already, Taftan town and the contiguous areas with the Iran border are benefiting from 24-hour electricity supplied by Iran since 2007. A mutually dependent Pakistan-Iran region is the guarantee of a peaceful and prosperous neighbourhood.

Trade policy encouraging in prevailing conditions: FPCCI

The Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI) Thursday termed the strategic trade policy framework (STPF) 2015-18 as encouraging in the prevailing circumstances.“The business community would help achieve the STPF export target of US$ 35 billion up to 2018,” said FPCCI President Abdul Rauf Alam.However, he said the target could be achieved by simplifying tax system and ensuring uninterrupted supply of electricity and gas to the industry.
He urged for resolving problems of export sector to minimise the cost of doing business to make Pakistani products competitive in the international market. The FPCCI president stressed the need for exploring new markets with special focus on Iran and Afghanistan, adding that Pakistan could export rice, beef and other products to these countries and earn valuable foreign exchange. He also urged for prioritising value addition over the export of raw material and highlighted the importance of innovation and research.

March 25, 2016

KARACHI: A leading business association on Thursday opposed the signing of the free trade agreement (FTA) between Pakistan and Iran in haste on the eve of a scheduled visit by the Iranian president. “FTA does not necessarily carry advantages for Pakistan,” said Atif Bajwa, chairman of the Pakistan Business Council (PBC), speaking at a forum.The PBC represents around 48 large local and foreign companies. It organised the forum, in collaboration with the ministry of commerce, to discuss the opportunities of business deals with Iran. “A lot of research work needs to be done (before the agreement),” Bajwa said.He said Iran took far greater advantages of the existing preferential trade agreement.
PBC chief said a great difference between import and export figures reported separately by the two countries has been found. He called for the need of exploring the reason behind the disparity.  He, however, marked the lifting of world sanctions on Iran in January as “a fundamental transformation in the region and economic scene for Pakistan”.  He urged the business community to take full advantage of business opportunities in the neighboring country.Iran is the second largest economy in the Middle East and North Africa region, with exports of nearly $74 billion and imports of $54 billion in 2014. Pakistan’s top potential exports to Iran include rice, cotton and petroleum preparations with a potential of $1.6 billion, $123 million and $100 million, respectively.  Iran Consul General Mehdi Sobhani said the two countries enjoy good relations for year.

 “Unfortunately, trade and economic ties are not on equal basis in this era of inter-dependents,” Sobhani said.He said economic sections were affecting the economic ties, “but they have been lifted now and there will be no hindrances anymore.”Iranian envoy said Pakistan can put an end to the energy crises after completing the part of the gas pipeline on its side as well as buying electricity from Iran.Executive Director Operations Ashraf Khan at the State Bank Pakistan said efforts on both the sides of the border have been made to open banks’ branches in each other countries. “Iran has again recently approached to open its bank's branch in Pakistan. We have shared the criteria. The same is from Pakistan financial side,” Khan said.Despite lifting of sanctions, the two counties have not been allowed to do trade in U.S. dollar. “Asian clearing mechanism can be used for the settlement of trade and investment,” Khan added.  Senior official Rabiya Javeri Agha at the Trade and Development Authority of Pakistan invited Iranian quarantine officials to Pakistan to inspect and conduct audit of Pakistan’s rice and meat processing and exporting firms.

In the past, Iran certified two meat and nine rice processing and exporting companies in Pakistan. However, the time-barred certificates have been expired and need to be renewed.Agha said annual rice demand in Iran stands at 3.5 million tons. The country produces only two million tons. The deficit of 1.5 million tons provides a big room for Pakistan rice exporters.Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director Nadeem Karamat of Pakistan Iran Investment Company said Iran is as advanced country as any developed country in the world with per capital income exceeding $5,000.  Karamat said Pakistan’s businessmen must take advantage of the developed business sector in Iran
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The Government Must Act on the CAG’s Damning Report on Rice Milling and Paddy Procurement

The current policies and systems of implementation result in heavy losses and are a huge disservice to farmers and consumers.

Worker unloads sack of rice husk.

Former prime minister Manmohan Singh once remarked in an interview that “we are a democracy but we are also an indisciplined democracy.” I think he was referring to our bad habit of not putting our house in order till things don’t get completely out of hand.This propensity is shown by our institutions as well – and the best example of this is the recent report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) on procurement and milling of paddy for the central pool. The report has highlighted various deficiencies in the policy of procurement and milling of paddy and has projected losses to the public exchequer running into thousands of crores of rupees.
The Central government procures paddy and other grains under its food management policy, whose objective is to cater to the need of public consumption of food grains in the country. Since most Indians still live in poverty, providing them food at subsidised rates then becomes a duty of the government. It should be stressed here that the government is fulfilling its duty by providing Indians grains at subsidised rates through its massive public distribution system. However, the way in which the government is fulfilling its duty has come under the scanner of the CAG, which has highlighted many deficiencies in the  policy of paddy procurement and implementation.
Paddy procurement: how it works
Under the government’s existing procurement policy, paddy for the central pool is procured by various agencies such as Food Corporation of India (FCI), state government agencies (SGAs) and private rice millers.However, there are two ways in which milling of the paddy is done. The first method is custom milling, in which the FCI, SGAs and other co-operative societies procure paddy directly from the mandis and then send it for further processing to rice mills. The second method is ‘levy rice.’ Under this method, private rice mills procure paddy directly from the farmers and then after processing it, send a minimum amount of rice to the government as provided under the Essential Commodities Act, 1955.When the FCI procures rice from rice millers in the form of a levy, the latter deliver the rice to SGAs after processing the paddy, and the SGAs in turn hand the rice over to the FCI. During this whole process, the procurement/distribution expenditure is incurred by SGAs, and FCI reimburses them based on the cost sheets issued by the ministry before each rabbi/kharif marketing season (R/KMS).

Unexplained irregularities with heavy costs

There are several items of expenditure on procurement/distribution which are called ‘procurement incidentals’. It is observed by the CAG in its report that an extra burden of Rs 3594.93 crore was incurred by the government during 2009-10 to 2013-14, because of the administrative irregularities and policy lacunae in the mechanism of disbursement of procurement incidentals.In citing one instance of irregularity in its report, the CAG has noted that though mandi labour is engaged only for operations at the mandi and not for operations at storage point or onwards, most of the time all operations performed by labour up to the point of delivery to FCI/distribution point are listed under the head ‘mandi labour’ – and this gives undue advantage to the rice millers.

In Odisha, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh, for example, before reimbursing the private millers, the FCI did not make any inquiry into whether paddy was procured at the mandi or farm gate, which resulted in undue benefits to millers to an extent of Rs. 194.23 crore in these states during 2009-10 to 2013-14. In one more instance, the CAG has observed that in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, while paying Rs 144.44 crore as custody and maintenance charges to private rice millers, the FCI did not make any inquiries into whether these charges were actually incurred by the SGAs or not.It is a well known fact that if the work of, for example, five persons is done by one person, the overall efficiency is bound to decrease. This is the main reason cited by the CAG in its report for the inefficient functioning of mandis across India. The CAG observed that in 16 districts of Punjab only 1,336 officials were deputed for 2,390 mandis during the KMS 2009-10 to 2013-14 which was less than even one person per mandi.

This inefficiency caused by a lack of staff and mandi officials has severely impacted the quality of rice procured by the FCI. The CAG has observed that the FCI in Haryana and Punjab has no mechanism to test the quality of rice procured from these regions as per the standards laid down by the the Food Safety and Standards Act (FSSA) – which provides that uric acid (not more than 100 mg per kg) and Aflatoxin (not more than 30 mg per kg) must be within prescribed limits. Given that the majority of the consumers of subsidised grains are poor, giving them rice of low quality under the public distribution system is nothing but adding insult to their injury.

Underrated by-products
Coming to the policy front, one of the major policy flaws highlighted by the CAG in its report is the non-revision of the rates of by-products generated during the conversion process of paddy by the government.By-products like broken rice and husk that are generated during the conversion process have a realisable market value, and are retained by the rice millers as per the policy of the Central government. In return, the Central government recovers the market value of by-products at rates fixed in 2005 on the basis of a report submitted by the Tariff Commission (TC), Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Government of India.

It is intriguing, however, that these rates have neither been revised thereafter, nor is there any provision for yearly increase in the by-product recovery rates. The CAG report, based on the data available from Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, has pegged the loss to the Government because of non-revision at Rs 3,743 crore. What is more, since the data from other states has not been taken into account, this figure may actually go up.

Corrupt intermediaries

The CAG has also scathingly remarked that the Central government has been allowing one percent extra allowance to the rice millers of Punjab not on the basis of expert scientific opinion, but because of the concerted pressure put on the government by the rice miller association of Punjab. This is nothing but a hijacking of the policy-making function of the government by powerful groups.Further, the report also highlights the abuse of rules and procedures by katcha arthias (intermediaries in the process of grain procurement). It observes that, while paying farmers, these intermediaries do not take into account the authenticity of the farmers’ land holdings, possible doubtful identities of farmers, the delivery of paddy in excess of the land holdings, and other issues.

Citing the example of Haryana and Punjab, the CAG has observed that under Punjab Agricultural Produce Market (General) Rules, 1962, the katcha arthia shall make payment to the seller through account payee cheque or by electronic transfer after the weighment is over. However, in Punjab and Haryana, during KMS 2011-12 to 2013-14, FCI had purchased 2.32 LMT paddy valuing Rs. 296.64 crore, but had not obtained the details of farmers, such as the name of the village, bank account number, phone number, details of purchase and details of payment along with acknowledgment of farmers from the katcha arthia. This oversight is in direct violation of the instructions of the government of India. It also casts doubt on whether the actual MSP was given to the farmers or not, for we often encounter cases where katcha arthiasbuy paddy from farmers at a rate lower than MSP and charge the government at MSP.

Lingering questions
At the end of the report, however, the CAG has given some suggestions, and most of them have even been accepted by the government.The government may have good intentions in accepting the recommendations. Yet the deficiencies in the policy of paddy procurement and implementation highlighted by the CAG in its report still raise some important questions:
Who should be held accountable for the losses incurred by the Central government because of flaws in the policy of paddy procurement and implementation? Is it not the case that the government is guilty of breaching the trust of the public by not putting in place proper policies and better implementation mechanisms?
Is it not that the non-revision of the prices of the by-products generated during the processing of paddy forces us to draw the conclusion that the government has colluded with private rice millers to defraud farmers and poor?
Finally, even if some recommendations of the CAG are accepted, what is the guarantee that the government will implement them in a timely manner?
The government owes the public the answers to these questions

Paddy For Millers, Not People

Procurement of paddy at generous prices have neither benefitted the people nor the farmers. Rice Millers turn out to be the real beneficiaries
While the media and the Government are both in a tizzy over unpaid bank loans of industrialists like Vijay Mallya and others, they do not seem equally concerned about losses and the unpaid debt of state governments, which are often even more frightening.Chhattisgarh is a case in point. While the state continues to be feted as one of the best administered in the country, accumulated losses suffered by the state government in the process of procuring paddy, for example, was to the tune of Rs 5,598.58 crores (10.2% of the state budget for 2014-15) till the year 2013-14. The total unpaid debt of state agencies on account of paddy procurement and PDS was a whopping ₹ 10,404.79 crores in 2014 (19% of the state budget for the year 2014-15).

The general perception is that Chhattisgarh is the "Rice bowl of India". It's a bit of a misnomer though because the productivity of paddy in the state is fairly low. The state is in fact ranked 13th among the top 14 rice-producing states in the country in terms of productivity. Paddy procurement in the state, in contrast to the productivity, is amongst the highest in the country. While production of paddy grew slowly and failed to even double between 2001 and 2014, paddy procurement by the government during this period increased 13 times. In 2001 the state government procured just 5.87 lakh MT of paddy, but in 2013-14 it was 79.69 lakh MT.

More importantly, paddy procurement by the state does not seem to have benefitted small and marginal farmers. During 2015-16 for example, Rs 1,400 crores were disbursed to 4.9 lakh marginal farmers but over three times more money (Rs 4521 crores) was disbursed to 2.6 lakh big farmers.It also appears to have created regional imbalances. Only around 4% of the money on paddy procurement was spent in Bastar and a little over 6% in Surguja division, while a whopping 60.3% was paid in Raipur-Durg division.The state government's own figures also suggest that this policy worked to the disadvantage of Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes who constitute 31.8 % and 12 % of the state's population respectively. Together the ST and SC population may constitute 43 % of the total but only about a quarter of the funds meant for the state government's most ambitious plan of monopoly paddy procurement, seem to have gone to them.Absurd as it may sound, the biggest beneficiaries of this scheme are neither farmers nor the people of the state.

The biggest beneficiaries are the rice millers, who constitute a strong lobby and make a lot of money by moulding Government policy. This favoured lot of millers are paid Rs 30 per quintal over and above the milling charges approved by Government of India and an additional charge of Rs 4 per quintal for lifting paddy from procurement centres. That is not all. While a gunny bag contains 40 Kg. of paddy, it carries 50 Kg. of rice (rice yield is generally 67% of the paddy). Instead of deducting the full value of gunnies left with the millers, the state allows them a depreciation of Rs 9.43 per quintal.

The millers also retain 22 Kg. of rice husk, 8 Kg. of rice bran and 2 Kg. of broken rice for every 100 Kg. of paddy milled. These by-products, the Comptroller & Auditor General has estimated, has resulted in a loss of Rs 100,000 crores to the country.The business of rice milling is also profitable because the millers invariably take a long time to return custom milled rice to the Government. Millers actually sell the rice and use the money as working capital for their private business. With a milling capacity of 17 lakh MT per month in the state, it should not take more than seven months for the entire lot of paddy procured to be milled. However the average time taken by the millers during the last 15 years has been between 15 to 18 months.So the Government borrows money from the market at high interest rates to purchase paddy and gets its money back only when it delivers the custom milled rice to Food Corporation of India. The delay, therefore, results in a huge, interest burden on the Government.

As a result of the delay large quantities of paddy/rice are declared 'Not fit for milling' and 'Not fit for human consumption'. These stocks are sold to millers at very low prices or sold as cattle feed. In the absence of any investment in modern storage technology, huge shortages in procurement and storage centres are reported and blamed on loss of moisture, rodents etc.The unholy nexus between officials and rice millers does not end there. Millers purchase summer paddy at very low prices as the Government does not procure summer paddy in Chhattisgarh. They also buy low quality paddy from other states and then sell them at the Minimum Support Price to the Government. They make a killing whenever the Government declares bonus on paddy.The way forward is to ensure end of Government's monopoly in paddy and rice trade. The Government should intervene only if the prices fall below MSP.

Alok Shukla is a serving IAS officer.

Milling norms’ relaxation caused Rs188-cr loss to Punjab Agro

Amaninder Pal
Tribune News Service
Chandigarh, March 27

By giving relaxations to rice millers who failed to deliver milled rice on time, the state government has caused a loss of Rs 188 crore to the state-run procurement agency Punjab Agro Foodgrains Corporation Limited (PAFCL).The corporation faced the massive loss due to delayed delivery of milled rice by millers to the procurement agency from 2010-11 to 2014-15, observed the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) in its report tabled in the Punjab Vidhan Sabha last week.

Paddy procured in grain markets is sent to rice mills for milling. As per rules laid down by the Centre, it is mandatory for millers to mill paddy stock within two months (termed as weighted period) and return the consignment of milled rice to the procurement agency.CAG, however, pointed out that the state government had allowed millers to keep the stock with them for more than two months. This resulted in the loss of interest of Rs 188.87 crore between 2010 and 2015.Relaxations to extend the weighted period all these years were granted by the Centre, but only after state government approached the Centre to do so. But, according to CAG, when it came to bearing the losses due to these relaxations, the state government didn’t compensate PAFCL even once in these years.The auditors observed that against the norm of average weighted period of two months, the weighted average period was 3.75 months in 2010-11, 4.7 months in 2011-12, 4.15 months in 2012-13 and 4.52 both in 2013-14 and 2014-15.

Banaue-Sagada lesson on rice

Corporate Watch
Amelia H. C. Ylagan

God wrought His miracle there, hewing awesome amphitheaters of carved jade mountains sequined in glistening waters and frilled with swaying rice stalks. Perched 15,000 feet above sea level, the Philippine Rice Terraces are called “the Eighth Wonder of the World” for their breathless beauty and the amazing thought that these terraces were built 2,000 years ago by the indigenous people mostly by hand, with crude tools. They are fed by an ancient irrigation system from the rainforests above the terraces.But more than for beauty and ingenuity, the Rice Terraces are a monument to the indigenous mountain people’s determination to harness their formidable environment, in the basic fight for self-sufficiency and survival. Landlocked and further isolated by the mountains and the forests, they insisted on producing rice for staple food, basic to their nutritional pyramid that consisted of vegetables and root crop, and the occasional hunted meat that would have needed salt (which they did not have) or smoking for preservation.Rice has been the logical major crop of the country, ahead of corn and sugar, which for the latter were politically encouraged by the later colonizers for trade and commerce. What has happened that Filipinos now have to eat imported rice?

In his 2011 State of the Nation address (SONA), President Benigno S. C. Aquino III worried about rice production: “First, an end to over-importation that only serves to benefit the selfish few. Second: we want rice self-sufficiency -- that the rice served on every Filipino’s dinner table is planted here, harvested here, and purchased here.”

Dr. Romulo A. Virola (retired in 2012), Secretary General of the National Statistics Coordinating Board (NSCB) said after that SONA: “In the ’70s and the ’80s and as late as 1992, we were self-sufficient in rice. But so much hectarage that used to be planted to rice had given way to subdivisions, commercial, and industrial establishments, and golf courses. Some say the agrarian reform has not been all that good either.

“Until 1992 we were a net exporter of rice. With a population of 65.34 million in 1992 and 238.71 grams rice per person per day, we needed about 5.7 million metric tons (MMT) per year of rice. We produced 5.97 MMT and exported 35,101 metric tons. Rice cost P10.25 per kilo in the NCR, about 8.7 % of the minimum wage of P118 for non-agriculture workers.

“Since 1993, we have been a net importer of rice. In 2010, we had a population of 93.87 million and 308.93 grams rice per person per day for a national requirement of 10.59 MMT per year of rice. We produced only 10.32 metric tons and imported 2.4 MMT. Rice cost P30.00 per kilo in NCR, about 8% of the average minimum wage of P374.50 in 2010” (NSCB data, 2011).

Aquino reminded that his predecessor, Gloria Arroyo imported 2.3 MMT of rice in her nine-year term as president ( 04.29.13). In 2011, Aquino promised rice self-sufficiency by 2013, meaning there would be enough for local demand. Rice, imported and subsidized by the National Food Authority, remained at an average P45 per kilo.

But in 2014, a 71% increase from the previous year in the volume of rice imports totaling 1.2 MMT was reported by the global Food Authority Organization (FAO), ( 04.14.14). Based on the FAO estimate, the Philippines was the eighth-largest rice importer globally and the largest in Southeast Asia in 2014, importing mostly from Vietnam and Thailand.

The government has defaulted on its 2013 target date for its plan to be completely self-sufficient in the production of rice, a senior government official said, likely still open to imports beyond the (adjusted) goal of 2016 (Reuters, 07.09.14) The Philippine Statistics Authority showed that rice production in 2015 only reached 18.86 MMT which is 1.22 MMT short of the 20.08 MMT target. It was also 0.6% percent lower than the 18.97 MMT output in 2014 (Philstar, 02.03.16). Some analysts think we will still be importing rice well through 2022 (Philippine Daily Inquirer 07.26.15).

The dilemma of government is whether to continue to subsidize the market with cheaper imports (social aspect) or to let the market force the true price equilibrium, and this latter can be done if the NFA ceases to be the lone importer of rice for the country (free market). The trouble with option two is the control of big business over this most basic commodity, and the more grievous is the disincentive to the poor small farmer to improve his offering at competitive pricing. A drastic upheaval on the rice situation will have deep socio-economic effects on the already-vulnerable people besieged with increasing food costs.

“The Philippines can no longer claim to be an agricultural country,” Arangkada 2016, a trade association of the American Chamber of Commerce with the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce of the Philippines (JFC) said in a policy note released March 1. Still, agriculture, which accounts for only 10% (P789 billion) of GDP remains a significant factor in the economy, specially since close to one-third of the work force (12 million of 38 million in 2013) relies on agriculture for livelihood. Seventy-three percent of the country’s poor (38% are farmers and fishermen) live in the rural areas, where agriculture provides an economic lifeline...crucial to achieving inclusive growth (Arangkada 2016).

Some of Arangkada’s recommendations include revisions of the Comprehensive Land Reform Program Extension with Reforms (CARPER) which expired June 30, 2014 and still unacted by Congress for renewal. Landholding limits and restrictions to consolidation, and to selling/mortgaging are recommended for lifting, encouraging instead the integration of small farmers into large enterprises. Banks should be given the confidence to give loans (not merely substitute compliance with bonds under the mandated Agri-Agra loans) with the reduction of risks connected with inadequate infrastructure support to the agri sector. Private business must contribute to this in Private-Public Partnership (PPP) projects helping to build farm-to-market roads, processing facilities, irrigation, food terminals and processing factories, aside from technical training in joint ventures. Good suggestions.

It would do well for the new administration after the May 2016 elections to still strive for rice self-sufficiency, despite the fallback exacerbated by more advantaged global competition in rice production. If the indigenous mountain people strategized effectively for their rice since 2,000 years ago, this present generation has no excuse to be less creative and less productive with producing staple rice for a hungry young generation growing 2% per year. Some 20 metric tons per year of native rice from Kalinga and Ifugao have been exported since 2006 to gourmet shops and restaurants in 15 states in the US.

And the rice god of Banaue, that rough-hewn wooden “bulul”, seated with crossed arms on folded knees watches over our rice granary, like he has quietly watched over generations of Ifugaos whose rice supply has been the most important treasure in their thatched huts.

Beyond the Banaue Rice Terraces a bumpy four-hour jeepney ride takes you to Sagada, where on the craggy cliffs the hanging coffins of ancestors smoked black in fetal position wait to hear the calls on Echo Valley at the cleavage between the mountains. The Kakana-ey, natives of Sagada believe the ancestors reply with repeated assurances of perpetual protection in the Sunrise Rituals at Kiltepan Viewpoint. At the foot of the mountains lie more emerald rice terraces. Awesome!

Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a Doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.

FG’s land borders’ rice ban

Posted By: webmasteron: March 28, 2016

The Federal Government has banned the importation of rice through all land borders nationwide, says the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) some days ago. National Public Relations Officer of NCS, Mr. Wale Adeniyi, said the ban came on the heels of the realization by the Customs Service that revenue made by the country from rice imported through land borders was dwindling despite the large volume of rice ‘handled in ports of neighbouring African countries’. Reports indicated that the government, in October last year, relaxed the restriction it placed for over five years now on rice coming into the country through land borders, ostensibly believing that the decision would translate to more Customs revenue streaming into government’s coffers. But available statistics revealed the contrary.

Between October, 2015 and March, 2016, when the restriction order was relaxed, 24.992 metric tonnes of rice valued at N2.4bn was reportedly imported through the land borders; and a total of N1.7 billion generated as revenue for the Nigerian government from the consignment; an amount considered disappointing by the authorities when compared with projected revenue yields from the relaxation of the import restriction. The quick reminder here, nonetheless, is that smugglers are having a field day across the length and breadth of the country’s land borders because the borders are not only poorly policed, they offer corrupt NCS officials the get-richquick leeway. Ours is a country where Customs officials shut the stable door when the horse has bolted.
They prefer ransacking shops in the city in search of imported contrabands, when they are officially kitted and maintained to keep the gate and stop the consignments from coming in, in the first place. It is, however, not quite strange that the FG has banned rice import through land borders. Indeed, it is baffling that the government did not place a blanket ban on both the importation of rice through the sea ports and land borders, considering the decision reached at a meeting the Presidency held with governors from rice-producing states about last November to fashion a new policy on sustainable food production in the country.

Chaired by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, the meeting, according to the Chairman of Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF), Governor Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara State, deliberated on how best to boost rice production in the country and the requisite policies government needed to put in place to facilitate rice importation ban. “We have the potential; we have the human resources; we have the arable land to grow rice. In the next two years, we will not need to bring rice from outside Nigeria. We are going to ban it…”, Yari told the media after the meeting. About 2012, the FG, under erstwhile President Goodluck Jonathan, also threatened to ban rice import effective from 2015 and impose 100 percent extra tariff on top of the bill rice merchants were already paying.

The then Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, said the N350 billion the country was spending annually on rice import was an imprudent option that created jobs in rice fields overseas, whereas Nigeria was blessed with enormous fertile land; and her youths in their millions were roaming the streets as a result of large scale unemployment. Indeed, research says all the six geopolitical zones in the country have enough fertile land to produce 48 varieties of rice. So popular in the country presently are also the Ofada, Ekpoma and Abakaliki rice varieties confirmed to be of better nutritional value than most brands of imported rice.
So what has been the problem with Nigeria’s self-sufficiency in local rice production? Again, Adesina pointed out one of the major setbacks when he said for 12 years, the governments led by former President Olusegun Obasanjo and the late President Umaru Yar’ Adua relied on greedy and selfish domestic riceimporters to lead the campaign for local rice production. “The same companies that are importing rice are the same companies you are relying on… No! That is asking the cat to look after the milk”.

Therefore, nothing seems new about government’s realisation of the need to grow rice locally. In short supply over the years, unfortunately, are leaders that truly appreciate the urgency and possess the political will to make it happen at the federal and state levels. What happens henceforth to poor rural roads’ network, incentives to genuine and committed rice farmers, construction of rice mills, policing smugglers and dealing with Customs officials that compromise their beats and aid smuggling, among others, will make a great difference.

Returning to Greener Pastures in Wayanad

A paddy field along the Bylakuppe-Wayanad Road. Credit: Nicolas Mirguet/Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

Wayanad has a rice variety for every situation. Many of them may be on their way out, but local farmers and biodiversity scientists have determined that a panchayat-led effort is our best chance at getting them back.The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami left paddy farmers in affected countries literally at sea. Rice is one of the most salt-sensitive food crops, and the seawater that swamped fields destroyed a lot of crops. Farmers in lowlands face this challenge every day, but thanks to special salt-tolerant varieties like Pokkali, they are able to tackle the salinity. It’s in situations like this that the worth of having a pool of rice varieties can truly be appreciated.

The hilly town of Wayanad in Kerala is known for being particularly rich when it comes to rice biodiversity. “Wayanad’s unique climate makes it home to several varieties that can only grow here,” says Mareen Abraham, a scientist at Kerala Agricultural University. This includes the GI-tagged Gandhakasala and Jeerakasala –known to be as aromatic as Basmati – the versatile Veliyan that can thrive in the midst of both droughts and floods, as well as north Kerala’s Navara, which is known to have several medicinal benefits.

Just not worth it?
However, rice farming in Wayanad is in crisis. From covering 40,000 hectares in the 1960s, paddy fields today cover merely 8,000-13,000 hectares in the region. With this decline, many traditional rice varieties have already gone completely extinct while some are slowly on their way out.The reason for this trend is common knowledge – rice cultivation is simply not profitable anymore. “The returns are low compared to cash crops and labour is a big problem,” says Prajeesh Parameswaran, a senior scientist at the Community Agro-Biodiversity Centre of the M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (CABC-MSSRF) in Wayanad.A Nature India article quoted a local farmer from the Paniya tribe saying that while one acre of land can yield them 12 quintals of paddy, worth between Rs 1,400 and Rs. 1,800 per quintal in the markets, the same area of land can get them Rs 3 lakhs by growing banana.

Discouraging them even further is the difficulty of obtaining labour. Labourers are opting for less physically demanding jobs under the MNREGA scheme, which, according to Parameswaran does not include agricultural work on paddy fields.

Because of this, more and more traditional farmers, comprising, in the main, tribal communities like the Kurichya and the Kuruma, are abandoning the crop that they know inside-out through knowledge passed on over generations. Traditionally, most of these tribes consisted of joint families. “As the joint family system disintegrates, the fields get continually split up,” says Parameswaran. As a result, if some stretches are converted to banana, then neighbouring lands are also pressured into doing so. Naturally banana plantations are taking over.

The price of rice
As it is, most of the rice consumed in Kerala comes from Andhra Pradhesh and Tamil Nadu. “This dependency, and the accompanying extra costs, will only increase if fewer farmers are growing the crop in Kerala,” says Abraham. This is a shame, she says, because nobody knows the intricacies of farming Wayanad rice like these farmers do – “not even scientists and researchers.”

Conserving rice varieties is even more important in the light of climate change. “In Wayanad itself, rain patterns are changing,” said Parameswaran. “Depending on the conditions, farmers know just which variety to grow.” With both the number of rice varieties and the rice farmers dwindling, biodiversity conservers have their work cut out for them.
Cultivating rice is not just advantageous for the yield. It is crucial to preserving the unique features of the wetland, like water retention. “It’s not as if farmers are unaware of the benefits of conserving their paddy fields. The proof is in the decreasing well water levels,” said Parameswaran. “However, without incentives in place for rice conservators, they will continue to move on to other crops.”

Plant genome saviours
In spite of all this, there are still some farmers in Wayanad who are staying strong and doing everything they can to encourage their peers to do the same. Cheruvayal Raman is one of them. Raman,64, belongs to the Kurichya Adivasi community and has been a farmer for over 50 years.
In his own way, Raman is doing what he can to encourage his peers to grow rice. He gives away his paddy seeds to other farmers citing only one condition: they have to return to him the exact quantity – a clever tactic to ensure that the recipients cultivate the seeds they are given. In an effort to encourage agricultural stalwarts like Cheruvayal Raman, he has been given the title of ‘Plant Genome Saviour’ by the government.
Obviously, it will take more than awards to make paddy farming attractive again. A significant step to do so was taken by the Indian government in 2001, with the passing of the Plant Varieties Protection and Farmers’ Rights Act (PVPFRA). This act is known as being one of the most progressive farmers’ rights acts in the world, primarily because of its holistic view of the farmer as not just the cultivator, but also a breeder and a conserver.

Righting the wrongs
The PVPFRA came about in response to the urgent need to ensure that farmers were not left without a share of a profits made using their crops and varieties. Once a farmer has registered his or her variety under the act, he or she attains rights to produce or reproduce, offer for sale, distribute, import, export, stock and transfer the rights to any other persons.

Organisations like MSSRF-CABC and grass roots associations like Seed Care frequently conduct programmes to make sure farmers avail these rights. They also organise an annual function called “Seed Fest” which aims to “spread the message of conservation, cultivation and consumption of diverse, safe and healthy plant and animal genetic resources, and by arranging seed exchange, melas and sales”.

The second edition of the fest, which concluded on January 30th, was the fruit of two months of planning. “We held extensive discussions with farmers and panchayat members from all 23 local panchayats and three municipalities,” says Parameswaran. The potential role of the panchayat in biodiversity governance was the main topic of these discussions. It was agreed that an incentive policy to retain farmers needed to come from a local level.At the inaugural function, district panchayat president T. Ushakumari acknowledged the vital service of traditional farmers and agreed that all governing bodies needed to support paddy farmers and foster paddy cultivation.

AlDub' rice paddy art hopes to attract millennials to farming

The rice paddy art, featuring the faces of the popular AlDub love team, aims to drum up young Filipinos' interest in farming and agriculture
PADDY ART. Popular celebrity love team Alden Richards and Maine Mendoza are seen in this rice paddy art, which aims to entice young Filipinos to go into farming. Photo courtesy of PhilRice

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines' lead agency on rice research is trying a new approach to attract young Filipinos to venture into rice farming: featuring the faces of popular celebrity loveteam Alden Richards and Maine Mendoza – better known as 'AlDub' – on rice paddies.The Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) created its rice paddy art using purple rice, a traditional variety, and NSIC Rc360, an inbred variety.To create the design, the institute's FutureRice program used the anamorphosis principle, a technique used in 3D art where a picture looks distorted but appears normal when viewed from a certain angle.“We used ‘AlDub’ as our design specimen for the paddy art and through Photoshop, we were able to incorporate the design in the dimension of the field,” said Nehemiah Caballong, FutureRice’s information and communications technology specialist.

“We adjusted the image to the vantage point of the viewing area. Then, we processed it into grids to determine where to plant the rice varieties on a certain coordinate in the field,” he added.Featuring the faces of the AlDub pop culture phenomenon is just one of PhilRice's strategies to entice millennials to go into agriculture, according to FutureRice program leader Roger Barroga.According to a PhilRice study, the average age of Filipino farmers is 58. Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala had earlier said that he wanted to make farming "sexy" again to young Filipinos to sustain the country's food security. “This is one of our strategies to make the youth of today be more informed about the current situation of rice farming in the country. There are many opportunities that await them in agriculture,” Barroga said.The rice paddy art also aims to drum up interest in the 5-hectare FutureRice farm, which features clean energy facilities, drone technology and advanced farm machines, as well as an experimental field using hybrid, inbred, and traditional rice varieties.

Creative strategy
The rice paddy art was launched on March 3, and since then, netizens have taken to social media to praise the creativity behind the new initiative.Netizen Rui Dx said on Facebook, “This is now part of my bucket list – to plant rice! This project is exceptional. You just encouraged people like me to be more involved in rice planting."Another netizen, Kevin Delgado, wrote, "This is a good and creative project. I never knew planting rice can be that fun."23-year-old PhilRice researcher Xarin Sto Domingo also expressed hope that the rice paddy art will convince millennials that farming can be "cool and exciting."

"I work in agriculture and I hope that more people from the youth sector will work for the Filipino farmers,” Sto Domingo said.To complement this effort, PhilRice is also mobilizing young people to spread information about its programs in rice-farming communities through its Infomediary Campaign.It is also offering a training program to update fresh graduates in agriculture on the latest technologies on rice production.The AlDub-inspired rice paddy art will be available for viewing until harvest day on April 3. –

The Simplest Synthetic Life Form Yet?

Researchers have for some years been trying to create a synthetic life form, consisting of the minimum number of genes possible. Such a life could allow them to investigate the functions of other genes, by carefully adding them onto the genome, and seeing what they do. In research published this week in the journal Science, Dr Craig Venter and colleagues announce the design and creation simplest form yet created, but surprisingly, the function of around of a third of its genes remains unknown.

Flood Defences

In Delft, the world’s biggest artificial waves are pitted against a new kind of super-strong sea wall. The Delta Flume team, led by Mark Klein Breteler, have created a giant concrete channel with a wave generator. Reporter Roland Pease turns up in time to see the team testing their artificial waves against a 10 metre dyke.

Moon Used to Spin 'On Different Axis'

The Moon used to spin on a different axis and show a slightly different face to the Earth, a new study suggests. Using data collected by Nasa's Lunar Prospector mission in the late 1990s, scientists spotted two hydrogen-rich regions near the Moon's poles, probably indicating the presence of water ice. The icy patches are opposite each other - the line between them passes through the middle of the Moon - so it appears that this used to be its spin axis. The work appears in the journal Nature.
Red Light for Red Lights

Cars are becoming increasingly wirelessly connected, with the ability to communicate with each other and the infrastructure around them. So much so, say a team of researchers at MIT in the USA that traffic lights may become an unnecessary impediment in getting through road junctions. The Science Hour talks to MIT’s Carlo Ratti.

Feeding the World

As the world’s population grows and the climate challenges our ability to grow crops, how can agriculture provide enough food? Can we get more from our current food crops for less? Scientists and farmers alike have been increasingly haunted by the environmental effects of high-intensity farming over the last half century. There is now an urgent need to be more mindful of the landscape and our finite ecological resources.

Professor Kathy Willis, science director of Kew Gardens, looks at how we can breed better-adapted and more efficient crops by exploiting the wealth of natural diversity in our so-called crop wild relatives. They are the species from which all our current crops originally evolved.

Many researchers now believe that these ancient relatives hold the key to future crop improvement. She finds out how the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines is breeding new varieties that can cope with droughts and floods at unpredictable times. Storm surges make farmland in coastal areas too salty for most crops to grow. Pathogens and pests evolve so rice varieties are losing resistance to new strains of pathogens or insects. Professor Willis meets the scientists who are reassessing our crops ancient ancestors that hold the genetic diversity that is needed to give the resilience we need to cope with the extremes of climate predicted for the coming decades.
Cochlear Implants

People with cochlear implants hear a degraded version of speech. Using subtitles helps train the brain to understand it faster. Matt Davis and Ed Sohoglu from the Medical Research Council’s Cognition and Brain Science Unit in Cambridge suggest that this feeds into a model of how the brain learns called Perception Learning.
Human Brain Project Platforms

The Human Brain Project is developing six information and communications technology platforms to enable large-scale collaboration, data sharing, and reconstruction of the brain at different biological scales. SpiNNaker (Spiking Neural Network Architecture) is intimately involved with the project as it attempts to build a new kind of computer that directly mimics the workings of the human brain. Gareth Mitchell talks to its key designer professor Steve Furber.(Image caption: Researchers have designed and synthesized a minimal bacterial genome, containing only the genes necessary for life © C. Bickel/Science 2016)

The Science Hour was presented by Gareth Mitchell with comments from BBC Science reporter Jonathan Webb
Producer: Alex Mansfield

See New Orleans, Baton Rouge-area business honors: Social worker named one of Louisiana's best

March 26, 2016; 2:56 p.m.



Linda A. Howard-Curtis, school social worker at Pierre A. Capdau Charter School, has been selected by the Louisiana Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers to receive the 2016 Louisiana Social Worker of the Year award. Howard-Curtis also was NASW’s 2016 School Social Worker of the Year for the Houma/Thibodaux region.
Howard-Curtis was recognized for her dedication and hard work in the best interest of students. She has secured more than $15,000 of free school uniforms for students and also school supplies, materials and other resources for children in the New Orleans Public School System through her relationship with the Adopt-A-Family program.


Four students from the LSU College of Agriculture School of Animal Sciences placed second in the American Society of Animal Science’s Southern Regional Academic Quadrathlon.

Team members are Sarah Ainsworth, Trent Dugas, Cobey Hendry and Spencer Tindal. The team placed first in quiz bowl, second in oral presentations, third in lab practicum and fifth in a written exam.

Ten universities participated in the event in San Antonio and College Station, Texas. Texas A&M University placed first overall. The University of Arkansas placed third.

LSU AgCenter forestry economist Shaun Tanger received a Southern Regional Extension Forest Resources Award for Excellence for his forestry market blog, Stumpage Speak, which details price reports, market trend analysis and the economic outlook for the forestry industry.

Southern Region Extension Forestry and Natural Resources Coordinators gave out 18 awards to 68 individuals from seven states. Innovation, ability to show impact and ability to be replicated are among the criteria for the awards.


The Southwest chapter of the ESOP Association named Acadian Ambulance as ESOP Company of the Year for the fourth year and presented its Best Communications Overall award to the company for communicating the values and benefits of Employee Stock Ownership Plans. Sheila Hebert was honored as the Employee-Owner of the Year Award. Hebert is the business office manager of Safety Management Systems, Acadian’s health, safety, environmental, medical, security and training division. She promotes employee ownership to her fellow employees and served on Acadian’s first ESOP committee 23 years ago. She is the third Acadian employee-owner to be honored with the award.
The Southwest chapter represents companies in Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico.


The two-year LSU AgCenter Agricultural Leadership Development program has graduated from the local area Kassi Berard, of Breaux Bridge; Hester Bourdier and John Compton, of New Iberia; Patrick Frischhertz and Billy Patout, of New Orleans; Heath Gajan, of Plaquemine; Clint Galiano, of Amite; Leigh Godchaux, of Abbeville; Chris Green, of Zachary; and Drew Maciasz, of New Roads.
They were among 22 graduates. The program prepares men and women who are dedicated to the agriculture industry to take leadership roles on issues that affect Louisiana agriculture at local, national and global levels.
LSU Agricultural Center scientists Steve Linscombe, Dustin Harrell, Don Groth and Eric Webster received the Distinguished Rice Research Team Award from the Rice Technical Working Group for their work helping farmers use Clearfield rice variety technology.
“This team has played a major role in the implementation of Clearfield in the southern rice-growing states,” said Lee Tarpley, a plant physiologist at Texas A&M University and the organization’s secretary. Tarpley said the team assisted farmers with managing water and controlling diseases and weeds.
In addition, Larry White, retired foundation seed director at the Rice Research Station, received the 2016 Distinguished Rice Service Award, recognizing his efforts in making the station’s foundation seed program a superior facility

Dera Sacha Sauda firm MSG All Trading launches 151 products


The products will also be sold online through teleshopping and mobile Apps

Press Trust of India  |  Chandigarh March 27, 2016 Last Updated at 18:32 IST

Devotees at a Dera Sacha Sauda satsang
A saint for our timesMaggi's Diwali comebackComedian Kiku Sharda arrested for mimicking Dera Chief Gurmeet Ram RahimMitali Saran: Random atheist thoughts on a weekendVHP's first lot of stones for Ram temple arrive, police on alert

MSG All Trading International Pvt Ltd, a Dera Sacha Sauda firm, on Sunday said it has introduced 151 products including food items.The products, launched by the sect's head Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, includ basmati rice, tea, pulses and biscuits, a Dera spokesman said.The company's Director C P Arora said the products will meet international standards.The company, which plans to open outlets across the country, said it will also sell organic fertiliser.The products will be sold online through teleshopping and mobile Apps, Arora said.

Singh also launched a website 'MSG my God and your choice' on which details of products will be available.He said that there is demand for the company's products from Canada, England, Germany, Australia and USA."We don't want to ruin our cars with spurious adulterated fuel, but do we even care about what we eat? Indeed, it is for this reason that India has become the heart disease and diabetes capital of the world.
MSG is the first brand to come out with an organic line of products, nationwide," Singh said.Apart from the organic range, MSG products include premium and standard choices, which go through a rigorous selection process, he said.Singh encouraged farmers to take up organic farming and has held farm fairs to disseminate appropriate know-how."The MSG products are also a step in the direction of having a healthy food business with eco-friendly and sustainable development at its heart," he said.

Wheat, other grains weaken on low demand

PTI | Mar 26, 2016, 02.15 PM IST
New Delhi, Mar 26 () Weak conditions prevailed at the wholesale grains market today with prices of wheat and a few other bold grains drifting by up to Rs 30 per quintal due to reduced offtake against adequate stocks position.Traders said fall in demand from flour mills against sufficient stocks position led to the decline in wheat prices.Reduced offtake by consuming industries too attributed fall in a few other bold grains prices, they said.In the national capital, wheat dara (for mills) shed Rs 5 at Rs 1,700-1,705 per quintal. Atta chakki delivery followed suit and eased to Rs 1,705-1,710 per 90 kg.

Atta flour mills, maida and sooji also slipped to Rs 865-875,Rs 950-960 and Rs 1,020-1,030 against last close of Rs 900-910, Rs 980-990 and Rs 1,030-1,040 Rs per 50 kg respectively on easing demand.Other bold grains like, maize and barley also ended lower at Rs 1,690-1,700 and Rs 1,350-1,360 from previus levels of Rs 1,720-1,725 and Rs 1,370-1,380 per quintal respectively.Following are today's quotations (in Rs per quintal):

Wheat MP (desi) Rs 2,035-2,635, Wheat dara (for mills) Rs 1,700-1,705, Chakki atta (delivery) Rs 1,705-1,710, Atta Rajdhani (10 kg) Rs 230, Shakti Bhog (10 kg) Rs 230, Roller flour mill Rs 865-875 (50 kg), Maida Rs 950-960 (50 kg) and Sooji Rs 1,020-1,030 (50 kg).
Basmati rice (Lal Quila) Rs 10,700, Shri Lal Mahal Rs 11,300, Super Basmati Rice Rs 9,700, Basmati common new Rs 5,300-5,400, Rice Pusa (1121) Rs 4,100-5,100, Permal raw Rs 1,850-1,900, Permal wand Rs 2,050-2,100, Sela Rs 2,200-2,300 and Rice IR-8 Rs 1,600-1,620, Bajra Rs 1,575-1,580, Jowar yellow Rs 1,800-1,900, white Rs 3,400-3,500, Maize Rs 1,690-1,700, Barley Rs 1350-1360. SUN KPS MKJ


Why rice self-sufficiency eludes us

by Andrew James Masigan
March 28, 2016 (updated)
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For us Filipinos,  our inability to achieve  rice self-sufficiency is a stigma  that hangs over our  heads.  After all,  it  was only a generation ago  when  the  Philippines was one of the world’s  most prolific rice producers and a net exporter of the commodity. We were in the forefront of  rice research what with the International Rice Research Institute  (IRRI)  headquartered  in Los Baños, Laguna.    Even today,  IRRI is  the global epicenter of  rice technology.  It  provides seedlings, technologies and training not only to  rice farmers in the Philippines but around the world.

The balance tipped in 1992  when local demand exceeded production. We’ve been operating at a deficit since and relying on imports from Vietnam and Thailand to fill the gap. We are famous for  being the world’s top importer of rice despite having vast  technologies at our disposal through IRRI.

Both the  Arroyo and Aquino  administrations  put  earnest efforts towards achieving rice self- sufficiency. It was a national dream. Both failed.To understand the reasons rice self-sufficiency eludes us,  I reached out to the Philippine Rice Research Institute  or “PhilRice,” an institute not many people know about.  PhilRice was established in 1985 upon the initiative of then UP President Edgardo Angara. Back then,   Angara saw the need to  have an equivalent of IRRI working solely for Philippine  interest.  The idea was supported by President Marcos who signed an executive order creating PhilRice and ratified by President Aquino. PhilRice mission  was/is   to champion the country’s rice industry  through  science-based  research and development.

PhilRice’ mandate  traverses the entire spectrum of rice research.    It includes  developing new rice varieties suitable for the varying ecosystems of the archipelago (eg. mountainous,   coastal and  craggy areas, etc. );  developing efficient crop management techniques;  training of farmers and local-government units;   and designing locally made farm equipment. On the administrative side,   it is responsible for policy analysis on everything relating to rice cultivation   while also maintaining a gene bank for which more than 3,000 strains of rice have been accumulated.

I visited PhilRice last week  to better understand our rice conundrum.  This is what I found out….

Natural and Self-

Inflicted Reasons

I arrived in Nueva Ecija at about noon. The  sun was blaring and the heat was oppressive. These conditions, I was told later, are the most conducive for rice cultivation. This is why  Nueva Ecija leads the country in rice production and why it  was selected as PhilRice’ headquarters.

I came without expectations but was impressed by both the facility and the talent at PhilRice. Its sprawling 120-hectare facility  is rigged with  several laboratories capable of  molecular genetics,  tissue culture, soil analysis and rice chemistry. On the premises, too, is a temperature controlled gene bank.  Most of the facilities were obtained through grants from the Japanese and Korean governments.

More impressive, however,   are the scientists,  who  work  there.   PhilRice, I discovered, is a bastion of our best and brightest  agricultural scientists,   most of them have doctorate degrees in  genealogy, botany , agriculture and the like. I spoke to a few of them to inquire why they chose to work for PhilRice instead of a  private corporation abroad.  Just as I suspected, the majority are UP graduates with strong sentiments of nationalism. They are there to do their  part in nation-building.  Others are  children of agricultural  families who have vowed to improve the plight of the farmers.  Patriots are aplenty  in these parts.

I was met by PhilRice  Executive Director,  Dr.  Calixto Protacio and Deputy Director Liza Bordey. Dr. Protacio himself has a PhD in  Plant Physiology  from Pennsylvania State University  while  Bordey  has a masters degree  in Agricultural Economics  from the University of Illinois . Going straight to the point,  I asked why  we have failed to attain rice self-sufficiency despite   Agriculture Secretary Alcala’s promise to do so.  More poignantly, why Vietnam and Thailand are more productive than the Philippines today.

The answers were more complex than I thought.

The reasons are both natural  and self-inflicted.  On nature’s side, both Vietnam and Thailand are fortunate in that they have more  arable land in which to cultivate rice.  As of 2010,  Vietnam had 7.5 hectares of harvested land  while Thailand had 11 million.  In contrast, the Philippines only has 4.5 hectares.   Exacerbating the situation is the  20 or so major typhoons we experience each year.

In addition, both Thailand and Vietnam have the natural advantage of  having great  water systems  running across  their lands. Water systems, like the Mekong,  provides natural irrigation in  places where  manmade irrigation is not provided.   It also allows farms to achieve as much as three planting cycles a year.   For its part, the  Philippines is an archipelago without massive rivers  running through it.  We have minor river systems  like the Pampanga River and the Cagayan River,  both of which contribute to Central and Northern Luzon being our  most  productive farm lands.

In terms of self-inflicted reasons,    the most obvious  is  our bursting population. While Thailand has 11 million hectares of riceland to feed its 66 million population,  the Philippines  has  4.5 million hectares to feed 102 million.   Sheer proportion puts the Philippines at a disadvantage.

Irrigation, or the lack thereof, is another reason weighing heavily on us.   As of last year,   the National Irrigation Authority has managed to irrigate only 68  percent of the nation’s rice lands as opposed to nearly a hundred percent in Thailand and Vietnam.

Masagana 200

 The more senior among us will remember a program called Masagana 99.   At the heart of the program was to achieve  an output of 99 cavans per hectare, per year.This would have made us self-sufficient in the early 70’s when our population was just  36 million. We achieved it.   Today, 99 cavans per hectare is par for the course.  Problem is, our population has tripled.

Where do we stand today?  We came close in  2013 when we attained 96% self-sufficiency. However, the number dropped to 92% in 2014 and 89% in 2015.   The Department of Agriculture blames the decline  on the  El Niño phenomenon and  the spate of typhoons that occurred. Personally,  I think to blame the weather is a cop out because it was foreseeable and predictable.

Making matters worse was Malacañang’s political  decision to split the Department of Agriculture in two  just to   give Kiko Pangilinan a reason to be relevant.  The move only added another layer to the already wieldy bureaucracy at the DA. What Kiko  has to show for  his stint is unclear.

Since  our inventory of rice lands are finite due to urbanization,  the only way we can become self-sufficient is to increase productivity,  says Exec Director Protacio. Hence, the new challenge of PhilRice  is to take productivity to 200 cavans per hectare.  This comes with the caveat that it must be achieved at a production cost of  three hundred  pesos per cavan (or roughly P5 per kilogram). Because after all, what use is a bumper stock if our people cannot afford it.

Achieving  200 cavans  per hectare is attainable,  says Protacio.  Broadly speaking,   there are three parts to  the formula.  The first part is  to plant  strains of rice with higher  grains per stalk.  No problem  here as  PhilRice  has already developed them. The second part is to have our farmers adapt  modern  techniques of rice cultivation. This is a challenge because   the training  of farmers has been devolved from PhilRice to the local government units (PhilRice role  is limited to creating the technologies and training the trainers).  This has led to varying levels of competence  among our farmers. The third part of the formula is irrigation.  This falls squarely on the hands and   shoulders of the National Irrigation Authority.

As for attaining a production cost of five pesos per kilo, the solution is mechanization.  The  “Combine Harvester”is a  machine best  suited for  Philippine conditions. It is a integrated piece of kit able to  thresh, cut and bag palay  in one conveyor-type process.   It cost around P1.75 million.

Only 10% of rice farms  in the Philippines are mechanized today, says  Director Borday, as compared to nearly 100% in Thailand. There are several reasons for this. The first is cost efficiency.   See,  the average size our rice farms is only 1.04 hectares.  Each hectare yields a net profit of P100,000  a year. To invest P1.75 million  for a Combine Harvester is beyond the farmers  means,  with or without government subsidies.   The only way to get around this  is to form  cooperatives where several farms  share the cost.  This is easier said than done.

Too, there is resistance among farmers to mechanize because  it  displaces the labor force.

Still, PhilRice is working hard  to spread the gospel of mechanization. Borday believes we  can achieve 50% mechanization by the turn of the decade.   Unfortunately,  a hundred percent is not realistic  since many farms are too narrow to accommodate the  bulky  Combine harvester.  Neither can they fit   in mountainous rice fields.

All things considered,  can the next administration still achieve rice self-sufficiency? Yes, it’s possible. PhilRice has done its part with the science aspect of the equation.  The weak links are in  the Department of Agriculture and the  National Irrigation Authority. Only with major reforms in these agencies can we realize this  national dream.


Andrew is an economist, political analyst and businessman. He is a 20-year veteran in the hospitality and tourism industry. For comments and reactions, e-mail More of his business updates are available via his Facebook page (Andrew J. Masigan). Follow Andrew on Twitter @aj_masiga

Fashion: Rice water helps in hair growth, research confirms 

Have you noticed that Asian women have baby-soft skin and shiny black hair? This beauty secret lies in their kitchen. Unlike the rest of the world, the Asian women do not throw away the water in which they washed or boiled rice. Instead, they make a concoction out of it and use it on their face and hair.This haircare beauty practice came into existence when women farmers in China, Japan, and other southeast Asian countries bathed in the water used for cleaning rice.
Yao women from Huangluo village in China have an average hair length of about 6 feet. These women made it to the Guinness Book of World Records as the ‘world’s longest hair village’. Strangely, these women did not have grey hair until their late 80s. The Yao women reasoned that the fermented rice water, which they used to cleanse their hair, kept their hair dark, shiny and long. The contents in the rice water helped these women de-tangle and manage their long hair. These women usually wrapped their hair around their heads in an elaborate high bun that is fondly called the ‘gazing god’s bun’ or the ‘cloud bun’.

A research article that appeared in the International Journal of Cosmetic science proved that this remedy is effective. The researchers studied the history of hairstyles and hair care practices of Japanese women, and found a very close relationship between the two. According to the study, “the court ladies of the Heian period, whose beautiful long hair, called Suberakashi, reached to the floor, were said to have combed their hair each day using Yu-Su-Ru (rinse water obtained from the washing of rice). Rice is considered to be the most important food in the Japanese diet, and the historical fact that rice was used for hair care is very interesting.”The researchers focused their attention on the Yu-Su-Ru hair care practice and examined its effects on hair. They found that Yu-Su-Ru exhibited haircare effects, such as reducing surface friction and increasing hair elasticity.

Older the better
The rice water will prove to be more effective when  left to ferment. This water is slightly sour and is abundant in antioxidants, minerals, B vitamins, vitamin E, and traces of pitera, a substance produced during the fermentation process. Many beauty experts regard pitera as an anti-aging elixir, as it promotes cell regeneration.The fermented rice water can also be used as a face cleanser and is capable of tightening the skin, shrinking the pores and reduce fine lines.So, next time you clean or boil rice, think twice before throwing away the leftover water

Yao women from Huangluo village in China flaunt their long healthy hair.

Tumble dryer fire risks and four other product recalls this week
By Barry_Cooper  |  Posted: March 27, 2016
Some tumble dryers have been causing fires
This week has seen another wave of product recalls, most notably 800,000 vehicles made by Volkswagen and Porsche, with safety worries over the brakes.There has also been more concerns raised by well-known branded tumble dryers, with many posing a potential fire risk, while Argos has called back one of its popular tablet devices.
Here is a round-up of this week's major recalls:
Brand: Hotpoint, Indesit, Creda, Swan and Proline Tumble Dryers
Product: Any tumble dryer manufactured by the brands above after April 2004 and before September 2015.Why: In some cases, excess fluff is getting stuck in the heating element which could cause a fire risk.What to do: Register your product via one of these websites,http://safety.hotpoint.eu or call 0800 151 0905. If you are a Creda or Proline customer then you should visit You can locate the serial number which can be found either on the door or in the recess in the door.
Brand: Volkswagen and Porsche
Why: There is a safety problem to do with the brakes on models built between 2011 and 2016.
What to do: The firm will contact those owners with affected cars and customers will be able to take their car back to a dealer to have the problem resolved.
Brand: Alba tablets sold at Argos
Product: Alba 7 Inch 8GB tablet sold from July 2015 to March 2016 (Cat Number 447/8975)
Alba 8 Inch 8GB tablet sold from Oct 2015 to March 2016 (Cat Number 439/0967)
Alba 10 Inch 16GB tablets sold from Oct 2015 to March 2016 (Cat Number 297/7533)
Why: There has been a safety issue identified with the three pin plug that goes into the mains. There is a chance that the plug could detach and therefore pose a risk of electric shock.What to do: Stop using the plug and visit to claim a free replacement. Customers with any concerns should call 0345 6402 020.
Brand: Plumb Center
Product: Center brand 2KW Fan Heater – sold at Wolseley Plumb Center. Product code 105161.
Why: There is a risk that the plug, fuse or both could overheat and therefore present a fire risk. The product has been sold since January 2014.What to do: Customers with appliances affected should visit
Store: Netto
Product: Rice Market Rice. Basmati Rice 1KG and Parboiled Rice 1KG with all dates on the packaging.
Why: The recall has been issued due to a suspected pest contamination in the packaging factory in Germany.
What to do: Don't consume the product and return to the store for a full refund