Monday, March 02, 2020

2nd March,2020 Daily Global Regional Local Rice E-Newsletter

Paddy Scam in Chhattisgarh: Harvest of Tears

The Chhattisgarh government seems to have given inflated figures of paddy procurement and squeezed farmers at each step of the procurement process, leaving them agitated. By Neeraj Mishra
 March 1, 2020, 12:44 pm

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The farmers of Chhattisgarh seem to have been taken for a ride. Politicians and bureaucrats are dishing out figures that don’t match as far as paddy procurement is concerned. The Congress government of Bhupesh Baghel promised that it would procure 85 lakh tonnes of paddy during this kharif season at Rs 2,500 per quintal. This is five lakh tonnes more than the last procurement by the BJP government of Raman Singh in 2018-19.
Officials now say that they have already procured 72 lakh tonnes and paid out Rs 11,700 crore at the rates between Rs 1,815 per quintal and Rs 1,835 (depending on the quality). This effectively means 7.2 crore quintals at an average of Rs 1,825. Does it match up? (One tonne is 10 quintals, so this comes to 7.2 crore quintals. Procurement is done in quintals and compilation in tonnes.)
At the end of the season when the procurement is complete on February 20, the government should have procured 8.5 crore quintals or 85 lakh tonnes of paddy and paid out nearly Rs 17,000 crore at the present rate. It has actually promised to pay at the rate of Rs 2,500 per quintal amounting to nearly Rs 22,000 crore. It has so far shied away from paying it completely.
The centre has refused to increase its intake of rice from 24 lakh tonnes. This is equivalent to 48 lakh tonnes of paddy (two kg of paddy yields one kg of rice). Back of the envelope calculations mean that of the total paddy procurement and post custom milling for which the government pays 150 per quintal to rice millers, the bill will stand at something like Rs 30,000 crore. Of this, the central government will pick up the tab for approximately Rs 9,000 crore only. The state will still be saddled with a payout of more than Rs 20,000 crore, money it does not have.
So what did the Chhattisgarh government do? It tried to limit its liability by procuring less and showing more. It started by squeezing the farmers at each step of the procurement process. First, it started a survey of all land under cultivation by farmers. This perhaps was necessary to weed out fake farmers, many of whom had sprung up in the past 15 years of BJP rule.
It has yet to put out figures of how much actual land is under paddy cultivation and how much is lying fallow. The only figure officially given out is that 19.6 lakh farmers have registered to sell their produce to the state which offers the best minimum support price. The state now claims that 13.5 lakh farmers have sold their produce and they have already procured 72 lakh tonnes.
So if another six lakh farmers were to approach the mandi, there will be a deluge of paddy. But in reality, each farmer is being squeezed to show much less area under cultivation than he had last year.
The next step the state took was announcing that it would procure 15 quintals per acre from each farmer. Then it delayed the procurement date from November 15 to December 1. When the farmers started coming in, it announced that only eight quintals would be taken and the rest later. Registration receipts being issued to farmers were stopped.
This led to restlessness among farmers at the gates of the mandi in each procurement centre. At Kawardha, they gheraoed the local tehsildar and kept him prisoner for hours. At Bijapur, they sat indefinitely on the road. In Durg, which is the chief minister’s home district, the farmers took out a huge rally against such deliberate mismanagement. The government relented and perhaps juggled its books to find some money for the procurement. The date of procurement was extended till February 15 and extended further to February 20 because of unseasonal rains.
If this wasn’t enough, farmers were harassed in the name of “fake produce”. This is the produce that millers or some farmers bring in from neighbouring states and show on a bona fide kisan book. The local machinery then issues a receipt to the farmer but now they are being harassed in the name of fake produce.
To add to farmers’ woes, unseasonal rains in January and the first week of February not only hit stocks but disturbed the procurement process. Several thousand tonnes of procured paddy at various centres have been destroyed. Then local body elections intervened. The process has just been completed and as the ruling party Congress has done reasonably well in it, it does not reflect the simmering anger farmers feel.
The farmers here as everywhere else in the country are a miserable lot. But perhaps more here because they wait endlessly for their elected representatives to give them what has been promised. So far, the equilibrium has not been disturbed because free rice or rice at Rs one per kg has been made available to all BPL families. The Baghel government has decided to extend the facility at Rs 10 per kg to APL families too. Thus, free rice quantities required for the year are estimated to be 32 lakh tonnes.
Now look at the figures again. The entire paddy crop in the state should be around 1.2 crore tonnes. Of this, the government seeks to procure 85 lakh tonnes. There are 19 lakh registered farmers, of which nearly six lakh don’t sell to the state.
The bill stands at around Rs 30,000 crore. The entire state annual budget is around Rs 90,000 crore. The receipts from excise, mining, transport, etc are only about Rs 35,000 crore. The state’s share in the GST and royalties will be about Rs 20,000 crore. It has been clamouring for an increase in coal and ore mining royalties but to no avail. If central assistance does not come in paddy procurement, where will the state get the money to pay the farmers? The centre, at any rate, is not likely to endorse the Rs 2,500 per quintal rate that has been assured by Baghel. It did not allow the Raman Singh government to pay Rs 300 extra over the MSP, which ultimately was paid as bonus. Baghel also aims to give Rs 650 as bonus but that is another issue as most states have been demanding that paddy MSP should be Rs 2,500.
Can this bonus distribution go on year after year for the next five years? Raman Singh managed it once in five years and that too at the rate of Rs 300. No one has the answers but the state publicity machinery continues to claim that farmers in the state have become so rich that their buying capacity has gone up by 17 percent as compared to the rest of the country. The farmers know that they have been fooled.
Drive Plant Mimicry
Hand weeding of fields spurred an interloper to evolve a rice-like appearance, researchers conclude.
Description: Genomics Reveals How Humans Can Inadvertently Drive Plant MimicryShawna Williams
Mar 1, 2020
Nikolai Vavilov’s story has stuck with Longjiang Fan ever since he learned about the Soviet plant biologist during his undergraduate studies in China in the 1980s. Vavilov’s scientific ideas were both important and novel, explains Fan, now a crop scientist at Zhejiang University. Vavilov refused to renounce those ideas even when he faced a death sentence in the 1940s because his research on genetics and inheritance ran counter to the Lamarckian ideas favored under Joseph Stalin. He died of starvation in prison in 1943.
One of Vavilov’s enduring contributions to science is a concept known as Vavilovian mimicry. Based on his observations of domesticated oats and rye, as well as of their wild relatives, Vavilov proposed that the crops’ ancestors were weeds that, over generations, came to resemble domesticated wheat because wheat-like characteristics helped them avoid being weeded out by farmers. It was only after this transformation, Vavilov conjectured, that people began to purposely cultivate and eat these interlopers. 
It’s just such a fasci­nating phenomenon, this evolution 
of these weedy species that are exploiting crop environments.
 —Kenneth Olsen, Washington University in St. Louis
Such human-driven evolution of weeds to resemble crop plants has never been conclusively demonstrated, Fan tells The Scientist. But recently, with genome sequencing becoming ever faster and cheaper, Fan thought the time had come to see whether genetic analysis of apparent weedy mimics would support Vavilov’s idea. 
Fan chose to focus initially on a weed that seems to have evolved its crop-mimicking characteristics in China: barnyard grass (Echinochloa crus-galli), a variety of which takes on a rice-like appearance early in its lifecycle. This mimicry had been documented in the early 1980s by University of Toronto plant evolutionary biologist Spencer Barrett, who proposed that hand weeding of rice fields had exerted selective pressure on the variety, driving it to grow upright like rice rather than spread out along the ground like its close relatives.
Fan’s team collected 328 specimens of barnyard grass from paddy fields throughout the Yangtze River basin—the epicenter of rice cultivation in China for centuries—and grew their seeds in a field and in a greenhouse to determine whether their seedlings had the rice-mimicking phenotype. The researchers also sequenced each plant’s genome and used the data to construct a phylo-genetic tree of barnyard grass varieties. The mimic and non-mimic varieties diverged from each other about 1,000 years ago, the research team concluded, and the mimic’s genome showed evidence of selection in 87 genes thought to control plant architecture. The timeline, the researchers note in their paper, coincides with intensified rice cultivation in the Yangtze basin during China’s Song dynasty.
The results are consistent with the idea that humans, through hand weeding, provided the selective pressure that drove the evolution of the rice-imitating variety. It’s remarkable that Vavilov’s decades-old predictions align so well with the data, says Manyuan Long, a University of Chicago evolutionary biologist who was not involved in the research but wrote a review of the paper for the site Fan’s study, he says, is “really wonderful work.” Like Fan, Long remembers learning about Vavilov as an undergraduate in China in the 1980s. “Vavilov is my hero in science,” he says, although he notes that he hadn’t been aware of the idea of Vavilovian mimicry until he read Fan’s paper.
BLENDING IN: A variety of barnyard grass takes on a rice-like appearance early in its lifecycle (right), growing upright instead of staying low to the ground like its close relatives (left).
Fan’s collaborator on the study, Washington University in St. Louis plant biologist Kenneth Olsen, says it was exciting to revisit Barrett’s work with the benefit of modern sequencing technology. “It’s really satisfying in a way to see these results at the genetic level and the genomic level,” he says. The results line up nicely with the known history of rice agriculture, he adds, but the study couldn’t confirm that the genes found to have been under selective pressure really do control the rice-like phenotype in barnyard grass. His group is now working on follow-up experiments to more conclusively determine the relationship between the mimics’ genes and phenotypes.
Olsen also studies a variety of rice known as weedy rice, an offshoot of domesticated rice that’s re-adopted some characteristics of wild plants that farmers find undesirable. Like other weeds, he explains, weedy rice plants are “aggressive competitors in crop fields. But at the same time, they aren’t actually wild species; they’re really specifically adapted to these agricultural environments that we’ve created.” Such a system, he explains, can lend insight into whether the genes that control certain traits differ between truly wild rice and domesticated rice with a rebellious streak. “It’s just such a fascinating phenomenon, this evolution of . . . these weedy species that are exploiting crop environments,” he says. 
As Olsen takes a closer look at barnyard grass genetics, Fan is planning to apply the approach from their recent study to other species. His mind still on Vavilov, Fan wants to use genomic sequencing on rye and oat to see whether their phylogenies show evidence that they were selected based on mimicry of wheat. 
Indeed, the barnyard grass study “adds an impetus to going after and looking at some of these other cases that had been well documented phenotypically, but not at the genomic level,” says Elizabeth Kellogg, a plant geneticist at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis who collaborates with Olsen but was not involved in the new work. “That is, we don’t know what specific genes were selected, and I think there [are] clearly now opportunities to go after those specific genes.”
Shawna Williams is a senior editor at The Scientist. Email her at or follow her on Twitter @coloradan.

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Basmati rice, soya decline by up to 10%
Iran has been the largest importer of basmati rice from India in recent years. New Delhi: Prices of basmati rice, cotton and soyabean have dropped by up to 10 per cent in the last one month as the coronavirus outbreak curtailed overseas shipments leading to a build-up of stock. Since early February, cotton and yarn prices in the wholesale market have fallen by 7 per cent, while basmati is cheaper by 10 per cent and soybean by 5 per cent, according to traders. Basmati rice and soyabean meal exporters said sales were down at a time when shipments were ex- pected to  ..

Opposed illegal mining, 60-yr-old killed in attack

Kashmir Kaur, daughter-in-law of Tarsem Singh, was injured in the attack by armed men.
Tribune News Service
Amritsar, March 1 Description: Opposed illegal mining, 60-yr-old killed in attack
A 60-year-old man was killed in an attack by armed men here on Saturday. The deceased has been identified as Tarsem Singh, a resident of Ajnala. His daughter-in-law Kashmir Kaur was injured in the incident.
Tarsem Singh
According to information, Tarsem had opposed illegal sand mining near his land.
According to family members of the deceased, when Tarsem was returning home from Dera Beas, he was attacked by nine persons, including Dalbir Singh, his sons Lakha Singh and Sukha Singh. When Kashmir came to his rescue, the suspects also attacked her. The suspects were armed with sharp weapons.Thereafter, they fled from the spot. After the incident, the victims were taken to hospital where doctors declared Tarsem dead.
Kamalmeet Singh, SHO, Ajnala police station, said the body has been taken into custody. He said the land of the suspects was situated near the land of the victims. According to information, Tarsem used to believe that the suspects were involved in illegal sand mining, which was damaging their land. He had even asked Dalbir and others to do away with illegal mining.
Intoxicants, mobile seized from prisoners
A mobile phone and some prohibited material were seized from three prisoners during a search operation inside the jail on Saturday.
During an inspection of barrack no. 6, an intoxicating substance, which is suspected to be heroin, was seized from Rahul Bhatti, alias Laddo, of 88 Feet Road area. He told the jail authorities he bought the same from Gurbir Singh, alias Manu, of Brahmpura village in Tarn Taran. Gurbir is also lodged in the same barrack.
While checking, the authorities seized 48 intoxicant tablets and 10 silver papers from Gurbir.
A case under Sections 21, 22, 27, 61 and 85 of the NDPS Act and Section 42 of the Prisons Act has been registered against both of the inmates.
Investigating officer Jatinder Singh said the inmates would be brought on production warrant to ascertain the source of the contraband.
In a separate incident, a mobile phone was seized from Nishan Singh of Batala Road area here during a surprise checking in room no. 5 of barrack no. 4. A case under Sections 42 and 52-A of the Prisons Act has been registered against him.
Man held for sexually harassing girl
A man has been arrested on the charge of sexually harassing an eight-year-old girl. The suspect has been identified as Balraj Singh, alias Kohli.
A case under Sections 354, 354-A and 506 of the IPC and Sections 8 and 12 of the POCSO Act was registered against him. He was produced before the duty magistrate who sent him to judicial remand.
The victim’s mother told the police that her daughter used to remain silent for the past couple of days. Worried over it, she asked her the reason for this. The victim told her that she, along with her friends, had gone to a grocery shop run by Balraj for buying toffees on Thursday.
She said Balraj called her daughter inside the shop and sexually harassed her. She said he also threatened to kill her daughter. Thereafter, the victim’s mother approached the police.

Ludhiana lawyer is international bar body member
Posted: Mar 02, 2020 06:50 AM (IST)

Description: Ludhiana lawyer is international bar body memberLudhiana-based senior advocate Jasbir Singh Bindra has been admitted as member of the prestigious International Bar Association having its headquarters in London for the year 2020-21. The International Bar Association is an association of elite members of legal fraternity. "It is a rare honour for lawyers in India," says Bindra, who has been in legal practice for 52 years. TNS
Fatehgarh Sahib
Storage woes worry rice mill owners
Rice millers of the state have been facing financial losses. The custom-milled rice is not being delivered to the FCI, as the latter is facing acute space problem. Addressing mediapersons here on Sunday, Nakesh Jindal, press secretary, Punjab Rice Miller's Association, said the association had urged the CM and the Food Minister to take up the case with the Union Minister of Food and Public Distribution. TNS
Head constable suspended for taking bribe
Muktsar: After the video of a head constable, who was posted at a bus stand police post here, allegedly taking bribe of Rs 1,000 from a man went viral on social media, the SSP on Sunday suspended the accused. The accused has been identified as Kulwant Singh. The head constable had allegedly taken the money in a rash driving case. TNS

FG warns rice millers, dealers against outrageous price

By m Murtala Adewale, Kano and Joke Falaju, Abuja
02 March 2020   |   3:55 am

[FILES] Minister of Agriculture, Sabo Nanono. Photo: TWITTER/FMARDNG
The Minister of Agriculture, Alhaji Mohammad Sabo Nanono, has warned rice millers and dealers against selling a 50kg bag of Nigeria’s rice more than N15,000.
He explained that there is no justification for selling a bag of rice above N15,000 when the paddies are sourced cheaply from farmers and the cost of production is minimal.
“I see no reason why a 50kg bag of rice should be sold for N17,000. The same paddy rice is sold at N8,500 and maximum processing expense is N2,000, making a total of N10,500, it is unpatriotic to sell a bag more than N14,000 or N15,000.
“This is a major challenge and we have resolved to meet with rice dealers and millers and retail marketers to tell ourselves the truth because we cannot continue like this as a nation. We need rice not to be sold more than N14,500.
However, Nanono did not factor another cost such as transportation fare, haulage, loading and offloading, cost of independent power supply and multiple taxations from various government agencies, one of the processors explained.
The minister also disclosed that the appeal from neighboring countries to re-open the borders is not being positively considered.
Alhaji Nanono, who spoke at the weekend while inspecting a rice processing facility of Popular Farms and Mills Limited in Kano, insisted that the government would not accept the activities of some middlemen and unpatriotic millers to circumvent progress recorded in rice production.
Nanono, who said price control on rice might not be a good solution, explained that the outcome of the meeting would likely crash the price.
He warned that the trend of selling 50kg of rice at N17,500 was capable of forcing the country back to the dark days of smuggling and thwarting the achievement of food security in the country.
He commended firm for investing over the US $70 million to boost production of agricultural businesses, especially rice and sesame in Nigeria.
“We will not accept this because of two implications. If we continue like this, we are encouraging the return of smuggling and destroying the achievement recorded so far. There will be a political pressure on government. We would not consider price control and I will be the last person to go into that. We would consider moral persuasion first because we don’t see any reason why people should remain unpatriotic,” he said.

BOC eyes P25-B rice tariff take in 2020

THE Bureau of Customs (BOC) is eyeing a 20-percent increase in its total rice tariff collection to reach at least P25 billion this year amid the downside risks posed by the coronavirus outbreak.
Data from the BOC obtained by the BusinessMirror showed the grand total 2019 rice tariff collection before and after implementation of the rice trade liberalization law (RTL) reached P21.6 billion from traders who imported a record-high 3.13 million metric tons (MMT) of rice, making the Philippines the world’s top rice importer, exceeding China’s 2.4 MMT.
BOC Assistant Commissioner and spokesman Vincent Philip C. Maronilla said in an interview that a higher rice tariff collection this year is achievable as the bureau tightens its watch on the valuation of rice imports this year while the government is implementing RTL.
However, Maronilla said their rice tariff collection this year would still depend on the rice import volume considering that there was a 61.8 percent year-on-year decline in the volume as of February 14, a development that may have been partly caused by the outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
“As long as the volume increases, I think our collection will increase. If the volume remains constant, it will increase because you have to remember, if you take into consideration that will come in from January up to March, there’s going to be a significant difference from last year’s tariff rate and volume so our tariff collection will increase,” he said in a phone interview with the BusinessMirror.
As of February 14, the BOC collected P1.71 billion in tariffs from traders who imported 209,320 metric tons of rice. The volume is lower than the 759,810 MT brought into the country during the same period in 2019.
“But of course, this is tentative because we’ll see where the figure is after all of these things, in terms of the slowdown in the trade volume, how will this all play in terms of projection in rice imports to the country,” he added.
Data from BOC also showed rice tariff collection before RTL settled at P9.28 billion from 1.1 million metric tons of rice imports. On the other hand, rice tariff collection after RTL amounted to P12.32 billion from 2.03 MMT of rice.
The RTL, which took effect on March 5, 2019, liberalized the country’s rice trade by removing quantitative restrictions on rice imports and replacing it with tariffs. It also transformed the National Food Authority into a buffer-stocking agency.
Tariffs collected from rice imports of private traders since the enactment of RTL will benefit palay growers as such revenues are earmarked for the annual P10-billion Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund. The excess of P10 billion collected for RCEF will also be used to finance other programs to boost the yields of farmers and improve their global competitiveness.
Leading the country’s sources of rice imports last year is Vietnam with 510,032 MT of rice before RTL and 1.76 MMT of rice after RTL, according to BOC.
On rice imports coming from Vietnam, the BOC collected P1.93 billion before RTL and P10.75 billion after RTL.
Prior to RTL, the second- and third- biggest country sources of rice imports in 2019 were Thailand (291,345 MT of rice) and Pakistan (172,729 MT of rice).
After RTL, Myanmar (146,027 MT) and Thailand (118, 545 MT) followed Vietnam as top sources of rice imports.
Aside from tightening its watch on the valuation of rice imports, the bureau, Maronilla said, will implement automation programs, and more streamlined processes this year in a bid to have a more conducive trading environment.
“It has been our experience that once there is consistency and if there is a very good trading environment in terms of policies, streamlined processes, people tend to invest more in bringing in goods and going into these kinds of businesses like trading and importing raw materials for manufacturing,” he said.
The United States Department of Agriculture expects the Philippines to remain as the top rice importer in the world this year as the country’s purchases are projected to reach 2.5 MMT despite the waning appetite of traders for the staple.
For 2020, BOC targets to collect P731 billion, 10.6 percent higher than its goal of P661 billion in 2019.
Citing lower import volume and delay in the implementation of the fuel-marking program, BOC missed its 2019 collection goal, and only achieved P630.47 billion or 95.4 percent of the target in 2019.
Farm mechanisation: Incentive scheme stuck on fund crisis
 FE REPORT | Published:  March 02, 2020 10:51:02

Description: - FE file photo- FE file photo
The government's programme to provide incentive to farmers for purchasing farm machinery has become stagnant due to lack of fund, said officials at the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA).
To boost farm production and address the issue of scarcity of farm labourers, the government has put thrust on mechanisation. The government gives incentive to farmers for purchasing farm machinery, aiming to attain the targeted growth in the agriculture sector.
But the fund crisis has forced the authorities to stop providing incentive on farm machinery since June last, said an official.
"The MoA sought Tk 4.0 billion from the Ministry of Finance (MoF) in this regard, but the MoF has recently allocated only Tk 1.0 billion," he said.
He also said frustration has gripped the officials concerned amid fund crisis, as they are in the doldrums with such a low amount against high demand.
Agriculture Minister Dr Abdur Razzaque, however, said his ministry sought Tk 4.0 billion after taking into account field-level demand and that there is nothing to worry about incentive.
"I hope the MoF will provide our expected amount to help continue the country's farm mechanisation process smoothly."
He also said the MoA has almost completed compiling data on demand for farm equipment, which can be published soon.
"We are focusing on farm mechanisation process to attain food autarky, and to make our production almost double within 2030."
He opined that farm mechanisation can also minimise the demand for labourers, whose scarcity has emerged as a problem in recent days.
"Besides tractor and power-tiller, farmers are now also interested to use other machinery such as combined harvester, ripper and rice transplanter etc," he added.
Alimul Ahsan Chowdhury, President of Bangladesh Agricultural Machinery Manufacturers Association, told the FE that their sales declined by 70 per cent following the halt in providing incentive.
He said about 21,000 farm machinery manufacturers and sellers in the country are trying to facilitate the farm mechanisation process. But higher prices of some equipment are discouraging farmers from buying those.
"For the last few months, we have been hearing from agriculture officials that fund for incentive will be released soon."
"Farmers are now highly interested to buy machinery, if they get incentive facility, amounting to 30-70 per cent of equipment prices," he noted.
Prof Dr Md Monjurul Alam of Bangladesh Agricultural University (BAU) said in terms of crop harvesting mechanisation, use of mini combine harvesters, which cut, thresh and bag grains simultaneously, has emerged as a game-changing solution to farmers through saving cost, time and human labour.
The government should take up measures to raise incentive, as sale of modern equipment such as combined harvesters and transplanters remains sluggish and much below expectation.
Besides, local agriculture sector has almost stopped growing amid lack of proper incentive and awareness campaign.
Agri officials should also work to raise awareness among farmers about usefulness of harvesters, transplanters and reapers etc, he added.
Md Enamul Haque, head of business development of Metal Pvt Ltd, said at present the country's farmers are using about 50,000 tractors and 700,000 power tillers, and these have mechanised 90 per cent of ploughing.
"But use of ripper, combined harvester or rice planter is very low, which is also necessary to make total farming process mechanised."
He further said there is a demand for 100,000 units of combined harvester in the country, but local farmers have only 1,000 units. Demand for rice planter is 200,000 units, whereas farmers have only 950 units.
China-made global combine harvester brands, marketed by Metal Pvt Ltd, costs Tk 2.0 million each, which may be available to farmers at a cost of Tk 1.0 million, if 50 per cent subsidy is given.
A rice transplanter (walking type) can be bought for Tk 350,000 and a reaper for Tk 150,000 with subsidy, he added.

OCP, IRC raise farmers’ capacity in Adamawa community
2nd March 2020 in Business
OCP Group, a global leader in phosphate production and plant nutrition, in collaboration with the International Rescue Committee (IRC), has intervened in critical areas of the agricultural value chains in Muchalla, a community in Mubi North Local Government Area of Adamawa State affected by conflict, by boosting the fortune of 500 smallholder farmers and 119 agro dealers.
Operating through a first-of-its-kind two-year pilot project, titled ‘Improving Livelihoods and Agricultural Development for Smallholder Farmers in Nigeria’, which was launched last year, the duo intervened in three key areas: market and value chain analysis, strengthening the capacity of agro dealers, and improving farming practices in rice and maize production.

According to the year-one report, the key milestones of the project include community engagement meetings, baseline surveys, establishment of Farmer Field Schools (FFS), demonstration plots, Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs), agribusiness training for smallholder farmers and distribution of farming inputs.

In the first year, 500 farmers in the community, made up of 450 women and 50 men, benefitted from the programme, which targets women and youth. In-kind support from OCP contributed to a 44% decrease in the number of NPK fertilizer bags purchased by beneficiaries, significantly reducing the burden on farmers.

In the course of the year, a total of 2,500 kilograms of rice seeds (Faro-44), 2,500 kilograms of maize seeds (Summaz 27), 1000 hoes and other farming equipment such as gloves, shovels, water containers and rakes were distributed to the beneficiaries.
In addition, project participants benefitted from upskilling programmes in seed germination testing, land preparation, ridging seed dressing and agro ecosystem analysis.
Soil testing, which helps to diagnose and optimize soil health, is also a key component of the intervention. Implemented by OCP Africa, OCP School Labs provide free soil testing to farmers in remote areas across Africa, and make recommendations for fertilizer application that take into account specific soil and crop needs.
Under the rice value chain scheme, two improved parboiling machines were supplied to pilot test modern methods against the traditional method typically used by the beneficiaries. The report demonstrated that the new machinery has enabled the beneficiaries, majority of whom are women, to determine when the boiling process is complete with the aid of a thermometer.
The 119 agro dealers that participated in the first half of the scheme were trained in business strategy, living/operating costs, making/spending money, and product marketing. The project partners also gave calculators, recordkeeping books and other tools to facilitate their businesses.
The project has also revealed how cooperatives and soft loans could help to unlock the capacity of agriculture to create wealth. The team organised the beneficiaries into 21 VSLA groups to encourage a saving culture among them and facilitate access to loans.
A total of N12.3 million loan was accessed by members with 94 per cent spent on farm inputs and agrochemicals.

Odisha Government Organises Krushi Odisha To Empower Its Farmers

1st March, 2020
‘Krushi Odisha’, the annual flagship five-day exhibition cum agriculture fair was organised by the Department of Agriculture and Farmers’ Empowerment, Government of Odisha in collaboration with FICCI. The fair was held from 20-24th January 2020 at Janata Maidan, Bhubaneswar. The mega program envisages leading farmers to profitability. Krushi Odisha takes into consideration various aspects of agriculture including farm income, implements, modern technology in farming, financial assistance to farmers and capacity building. The second day of Krushi Odisha is being celebrated as Cooperation and Banking Day.
The highlight of the Cooperation and Banking Day was that it was celebrated in the evening in presence of Dr Arun Kumar Sahoo, Hon’ble Minister for Agriculture and Farmers’ Empowerment, Fisheries and Animal Resources Development and Higher Education, Government of Odisha. A user guide, as well as a website on e-licensing for farmers, was launched by the Government of Odisha on the occasion.
The Hon’ble Minister said that Krushi Odisha is an opportune platform for development and awareness of farmers in the state and that the Naveen Patnaik-led government is working tirelessly towards enhancing the farmers’ income. The e-licensing website launched today will immensely help our farmer brothers. Dr. Arun Kumar Sahoo also visited the exhibition and stalls.
“A user guide, as well as a website on e-licensing for farmers, was launched by the Government of Odisha on the occasion.”
The Chief Guest of the occasion, Sri Ranendra Pratap Swain, Hon’ble Minister for Food Supplies and Consumer Welfare Co-operation, invoked the Father of Nation Mahatma Gandhi while addressing the gathering. He said that Gandhiji always talked about empowering the farmers. He then went on to say that discussion on farmer suicide mitigation and decreasing dependence on imports for potato and onions should be made at forums like Krushi Odisha. He extended full support of his department towards farmer welfare. He also pointed out that while farmers over the country are facing losses, farmers in Odisha are seeing an upward trend in their income and lifestyle, thanks to the farmer-friendly policies of the state government.
The day consisted of two seminars and two pathshaalas running simultaneously from 10-1 pm and then 2-5 pm respectively. The first seminar of the day was on ‘Climate Smart Technology’ and ‘Water Resources Management for Improved Productivity in Agriculture’. The session was moderated by Mr Tapan Padhy, Director of Water and Forestry Programme, RCDC.
J.K. Rath, Chairman, FICCI MSME Committee, Odisha, introduced the panel, which included Tapan Padhy, Director of Water and Forestry Programme, RCDC, Mr Anjan Mandal, Chief of Sales and Marketing, SkyMet Weather, Dr Sangita Ladha, VP-Marketing and Business Development, Jain Irrigation and Pushpendra Johari, Sr VP, RMSI Noida.
Tapan Padhy discussed how climate change has outsmarted all of us and suggested ways and means of carrying out sustainable agriculture in the time of climate change.  Similarly, Anjan Mandal focused on forecasting technologies for agriculture supply chain management. He elaborated on the app developed by SkyMet Weather, SkyMitra, which helps in giving local farmers advance weather forecast in seven languages including English, Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi, Telugu, Odia and Punjabi. He also informed that SkyMet has put up than 7,000 Automated Weather Stations (AWS) across the country, with over 100 AWS located in Odisha in Bhadrak, Balasore and Ganjam districts.
Dr Sangita Ladha is an M. Tech from IIT Kharagpur. She delved on the issues of greenhouse technology and precision farming. She displayed a video where her team planted a grapevine across 600 hectares of desert in Israel by using drip irrigation methods. The first paathshala of the day was on ‘Farm Mechanisation and Micro Irrigation for Minimising Production Cost’. The paathshala enlightened the audience on important facts like how Odisha uses power tillers more than any other state in the country. The paathshala lay stress on the fact that in order to increase production, we have to increase usage of farm machine tools from the existing 40 percent to a more advanced 90 percent, like the USA.
The second seminar of the day was on the topic: Sustainable Solutions for Agriculture in India with Special Focus on Odisha. Dr M Muthukumar, Director of Agriculture and Food Production, Govt. of Odisha was present on the occasion. He said that industrialisation and urbanisation have led to loss of farmland. He also pointed that Odisha has achieved doubling of farm income, but as we see, farm income has lessened while non-farm income has increased.
Session moderator Dr. Himanshu Pathak, Director, National Rice Research Institute (NRRI) welcomed everyone, from scientists to students and farmers, to the event. He said:
“In India, we have been cultivating paddy for the last 7,000 years. It has become a part not only of our food but also our culture. Rice is not just a business, it’s our heritage. No social or community program is complete without rice and it forms a big part of society in Odisha, India and in fact the whole of Asia.”
Dr. Arvind Kumar, Director, IRRI, International Rice Research Institute, South Asia Regional Centre (ISARC), stressed on the need for transforming a food-deficit Asia to a food secure one. He also said, “I don’t think there is a trade-off between sustainable agriculture and farmer’s profitability.”
Likewise, the second paathshala of the day focused on ‘Risk in Agriculture – Management and Mitigation’. The paathshala educated farmers on mitigation of problems faced by them right from sowing seeds, to harvesting their crops, and the insurance policy of the government of Odisha. The day was concluded by a cultural program that was thoroughly enjoyed by the audience.
Featured image provided by the author. 
Scientists gather to study risk from microplastic pollution
·       By GILLIAN FLACCUS Associated Press

This 2013 photo from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows piece of microplastic foam debris found along the coast of Alaska, on a person's finger. Scientists are finding "microplastics" - incredibly tiny bits of broken-down plastic smaller than a fraction of a grain of rice - everywhere in the environment, from ocean water to inside the guts of fish and even mixed in with the poop of sea otters and giant killer whales. Dozens of scientists from around the U.S. West will attend a gathering this week in Bremerton, Wash., to better focus the research on the environmental threat. (NOAA via AP)

In this summer 2018 photo, volunteers with the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance look for marine debris in Washington state's Puget Sound during an annual clean-up day. The nonprofit organization has conducted two rounds of extensive water sampling for microplastic pollution in and around the Puget Sound using "citizen scientist" volunteers. (Puget Soundkeeper Alliance via AP)

Microplastic debris that has washed up at Depoe Bay, Ore. Dozens of scientists from around the U.S. West gathred last week in Bremerton, Wash., to better focus the research on the environmental threat.
Top of Form
Bottom of Form
PORTLAND, Ore. — Tiny bits of broken-down plastic smaller than a fraction of a grain of rice are turning up everywhere in oceans, from the water to the guts of fish and the poop of sea otters and giant killer whales.
Yet little is known about the effects of these “microplastics” on sea creatures or humans.
“It’s such a huge endeavor to know how bad it is,” said Shawn Larson, curator of conservation research at the Seattle Aquarium. “We’re just starting to get a finger on the pulse.”
Last week, a group of five dozen microplastics researchers from major universities, government agencies, tribes, aquariums, environmental groups and even water sanitation districts across the U.S. West gathered in Bremerton, Wash., to tackle the issue. The goal is to create a mathematical risk assessment for microplastic pollution in the region similar to predictions used to game out responses to major natural disasters such as earthquakes.
The largest of these plastic bits are 5 millimeters long, roughly the size of a kernel of corn, and many are much smaller and invisible to the naked eye.
They enter the environment in many ways. Some slough off of car tires and wash into streams — and eventually the ocean — during rainstorms. Others detach from fleeces and spandex clothing in washing machines and are mixed in with the soiled water that drains from the machine. Some come from abandoned fishing gear, and still more are the result of the eventual breakdown of the millions of straws, cups, water bottles, plastic bags and other single-use plastics thrown out each day.
Research into their potential impact on everything from tiny single-celled organisms to larger mammals like sea otters is just getting underway.
“This is an alarm bell that’s going to ring loud and strong,” said Stacey Harper, an associate professor at Oregon State University who helped organize the conference. “We’re first going to prioritize who it is that we’re concerned about protecting: what organisms, what endangered species, what regions. And that will help us hone in ... and determine the data we need to do a risk assessment.”
A study published last year by Portland State University found an average of 11 microplastic pieces per oyster and nine per razor clam in the samples taken from the Oregon coast. Nearly all were from microfibers from fleece or other synthetic clothing or from abandoned fishing gear, said Elise Granek, study co-author.
Scientists at the San Francisco Estuary Institute found significant amounts of microplastic washing into the San Francisco Bay from storm runoff over a three-year sampling period that ended last year. Researchers believe the black, rubbery bits no bigger than a grain of sand are likely from car tires, said Rebecca Sutton, senior scientist at the institute. They will present their findings at the conference.
Those studying the phenomenon are worried about the health of creatures living in the ocean — but also, possibly, the health of humans.
Some of the concern stems from an unusual twist unique to plastic pollution. Because plastic is made from fossil fuels and contains hydrocarbons, it attracts and absorbs other pollutants in the water, such as PCBs and pesticides, said Andrew Mason, the Pacific Northwest regional coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s marine debris program.
“There’s a lot of research that still needs to be done, but these plastics have the ability to mine harmful chemicals that are in the environment. They can accumulate them,” said Mason. “Everything, as it goes up toward the top, it just gets more and more and the umbrella gets wider. And who sits at the top of the food chain? We do. That’s why these researchers are coming together, because this is a growing problem, and we need to understand those effects.”
Researchers say bans on plastic bags, Styrofoam carry-out containers and single-use items like straws and plastic utensils will help when it comes to the tiniest plastic pollution. Some jurisdictions have also recently begun taking a closer look at the smaller plastic bits that have the scientific community so concerned.
California lawmakers in 2018 passed legislation that will ultimately require the state to adopt a method for testing for microplastics in drinking water and to perform that testing for four years, with the results reported to the public. The first key deadline for the law — simply defining what qualifies as a microplastic — is July 1.
And federal lawmakers, including Sen. Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, last week introduced bipartisan legislation to establish a pilot research program at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to study how to curb the “crisis” of microplastic pollution.
Larson, the conservationist at the Seattle Aquarium, said a year of studies at her institution found 200 to 300 microfibers in each 100-liter sample of seawater the aquarium sucks in from the Puget Sound for its exhibits. Larson said those results are alarming.
“It’s being able to take that information and turn it into policy and say, ‘Hey, 50 years ago we put everything in paper bags and wax and glass bottles. Why can’t we do that again?’” she said.

Ominously rising foodflation needs medium to long-term strategy to improve agricultural productivity

/ Monday, 2 March 2020 01:40

The long-term solution to foodflation is to improve productivity and yield levels in main agricultural crops in the country – Pic by Shehan Gunasekara

Foodflation raising its ugly head
As at end-January 2020, both price indices that record Sri Lanka’s consumer price levels have shown a sudden upsurge mainly due to increases in food items, a situation known as ‘foodflation’. The Colombo Consumers’ Price Index or CCPI that covers only the consumers in the Colombo District accelerated 6.2% by end-February compared to the price levels that had prevailed a year ago. While non-food items had recorded an increase of only 2.9%, the food items had increased by 14.7%, up from 6.3% two months ago. 
Following the same trend, Sri Lanka’s National Consumers’ Price Index or NCPI that covers the whole island too recorded an increase of 7.6% by end-January, compared to 1.2% a year ago. Of this, the non-food items rose only by 3%, while food items steeped by 13.7%, up from again 8.6% a month ago. According to NCPI, the main culprits have been vegetables, coconuts, red onions and fresh fish which had recorded a sharp increase compared to their levels in December 2019. 
In Colombo District, in addition to these four culprits, the prices of three popular varieties of rice too had recorded sharp increases compared to the prices that had prevailed a year ago. Against this foodflation, the consolation for consumers had been the slower rise in the non-food items that had been included in the indices. That component in NCPI constitutes 56% of a consumer’s budget. 

 This time, it isn’t a seasonal issue
Food prices are seasonal and therefore with the expected entry of the Maha crop to the market in about two months’ time, they could be expected to reverse. However, in this year, in addition to the seasonal factors, they have been adversely affected by the prolonged drought and warm weather conditions in most of the food producing areas in the country. This is also shown by the reversal, by the end of the year, of the downward trend in the producer prices which had been the salient feature till mid-2019. 
According to the Producer Price Index or PPI compiled by the Department of Census and Statistics, the prices faced by the agricultural producers continued to fall till August 2019. Accordingly, the index value for this sub-category which stood at 160 in December 2018 fell to 138 by August 2019. But since, then, it took a sharp upward trend ending at 162 by December. This is a 17% increase in the agricultural producer prices in the last four months of the year. 
Though we do not have the later data on producer prices, the increasing trend portends that agricultural prices will continue to be high for a few months more, despite the entry of the Maha crop to the market. This is bad news for the government and sweet-music for the opposition, since Sri Lanka’s voters are mostly driven by emotions surrounding the stomach and not by rational views that rule the head.

Suggestion to eliminate the middleman 
The reaction of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, fondly called Gota, to this unwarranted increase in food prices happens to be based on his firm belief that prices are high because of monopolistic manipulation of prices by a few wholesalers. Addressing the officials of the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and those from the Trade Ministry, he is reported to have directed them to intervene in the market and put an end to the ongoing price increases (available at: 
He has drawn their attention to the structural issues in the vegetable market in the form of vegetables being transported to specially established wholesale markets – known as special economic centres such as Dambulla – from producing areas and then being re-transported to those areas for use by consumers. In this two-way transit, according to Gota, a large quantity of vegetables gets destroyed causing vegetable prices to remain high even when the supply conditions may have improved significantly. 
He has also suggested that lands belonging to the state, especially those assigned to plantation companies, should be used to cultivate vegetables thereby increasing their supply to the market. But this cannot be fulfilled before the elections and therefore, it can be considered as a medium to long-term remedy to the problem.  

It is generally believed that a few large-scale paddy millers operate in the market as an oligopoly and control both the quantity and the price of rice to the detriment of paddy farmers as well as rice consumers. This ‘anti-middlemen sentiment’ is being cultivated among even the students studying in the commerce stream. I have observed that one of the most popular items performed by commerce students on stage in their Commerce Day Events is a short drama depicting the curse of the middlemen in the market. This is despite the fact that they themselves train to be middlemen, since commerce means buying and selling, the job of the middlemen
The charge against so-called oligopolistic paddy-millers
The general perception of many is that the middlemen are exploiting both the producers and consumers. As a result, they claim that producers are getting a price lower than what they should get. At the other end, consumers are paying a price higher than what they should generally pay. Hence, the suggestion is either to eliminate the middlemen or handover the middlemen’s functions to a governmental authority. This charge is specifically levelled against the middlemen who are operating in the paddy/rice markets in the country. 
It is generally believed that a few large-scale paddy millers operate in the market as an oligopoly and control both the quantity and the price of rice to the detriment of paddy farmers as well as rice consumers. This ‘anti-middlemen sentiment’ is being cultivated among even the students studying in the commerce stream. I have observed that one of the most popular items performed by commerce students on stage in their Commerce Day Events is a short drama depicting the curse of the middlemen in the market. This is despite the fact that they themselves train to be middlemen, since commerce means buying and selling, the job of the middlemen. 

The exploitation theory not supported by evidence
This popular claim is not borne out in empirical evidence. Two economics dons attached to the University of Colombo – S.M.P. Senanayake and S.P. Premaratne – have worked backward from the retail price of rice in two markets in the Western Province in 2012 – one in Kirulapana and the other in Gampaha – to the price received by paddy farmers to identify the margins earned by each participant in the rice/paddy value chain in Sri Lanka. This they had done in a paper submitted to Australia-South Asia Research Centre in 2016.
In both cases, out of the price paid by consumers, paddy farmers have collected between 80 and 82% of the final price. The balance has been earned by wholesalers, retailers, millers, transport agents and collectors in the supply chain. The cost of processing by the miller has been about 7%, while his margin has been only 3% of the final price paid by consumers. 
In the case of vegetables, the comparison of the farmgate price with the market price paid by consumers reveals that there is a price-gap of about 40%. However, this high price gap is due to the high transport costs, on the one hand, and the high waste of vegetables, estimated to be around 40%, in transit, on the other. An improvement in post-harvest handling systems through improved technology will certainly reduce this high waste costs, thereby narrowing the price gap significantly. It would benefit both the producer and the consumer. 

Foodflation causes an increase in the cost of living of people. In the case of the present increases in food prices, the increase in the expenditure by a consumer on food items from end-August 2019 to end-January 2020 has been Rs. 2,010, according to NCPI. It records an increase of 11% on the food budget of a consumer over the budget as at end-August 2019. This is a significant increase and intolerable by an average consumer in the country

Foodflation increases the cost of living
Foodflation causes an increase in the cost of living of people. In the case of the present increases in food prices, the increase in the expenditure by a consumer on food items from end-August 2019 to end-January 2020 has been Rs. 2,010, according to NCPI. It records an increase of 11% on the food budget of a consumer over the budget as at end-August 2019. This is a significant increase and intolerable by an average consumer in the country. To relieve the consumers of the high cost of living two measures can be taken by the government. Immediately, it can increase the market supply by permitting imports to come into the country. 
However, since there is a time lag of about one month for any imported food item to reach the market, the relief to consumers will be delivered not earlier than early April. But, by that time, the Maha crop will come to the market and if the market is inundated by both the locally produced food items and imported ones, the prices would fall worsening the conditions of the local farmers. Hence, the decision to import food items should have been taken some time in November last year and, therefore, it is too late to resort to that strategy now. 
The other strategy is a medium to long term strategy to increase the productivity and the output in food items so that the market would be kept supplied by a bigger quantity of food items in line with the increase in the population. The improvement in the productivity in food items is essential to keep the costs of production in check and prevent them from percolating to the markets through an increase in the supply prices. 

A technical report covering all the subsectors in the agriculture sector
A technical report released in May 2018 and authored by Verite Research for the National Planning Department and the European Union on Sri Lanka’s agriculture sector has listed out the measures to be taken in the medium to long-run to improve both the productivity and the output. It is a comprehensive report covering all the subsectors in Sri Lanka’s agriculture: paddy, field crops, vegetables, fruits, tea, rubber and coconut, sugar, floriculture, inland fisheries, livestock and agroforestry. 
The previous government did not consider it necessary to implement these strategies despite it being commissioned by it. As a result, Sri Lanka has already lost nearly two years without a comprehensive agricultural implementation strategy. In this background, the present government run by Gota cannot ignore it since the problem has hit the country head-on today. The longer the country would postpone the implementation of these measures, the worse would be the destiny of its agriculture sector. 

Rice paradox: produce more and become bankrupt
Rice is a part of Sri Lankans’ DNA and therefore, early measures are needed to address the existing issues faced by the sector in the style of a ‘rice paradox’. With low productivity, the paradox faced by Sri Lanka’s paddy farmers is that when the harvest is bountiful, they become bankrupt due to prices falling below the production costs. Hence, it is to the benefit of farmers if the country’s rice output is low. 
However, this does not sit well with consumers who are great rice eaters compared to their counterparts in other major rice eating countries. On average, a Sri Lankan eats about 110 kg of rice a year, compared to a world average of just 54 kg. Hence, it is necessary to resolve the paradox in the rice sector if it is to sustain. 

Diversify the use of rice
The permanent solution lies in improving the yields of rice farmers, on the one hand, and creating a demand for rice as an industrial input, on the other. The former will help farmers to beat the rising costs of production. The latter will facilitate Sri Lanka to absorb a glut in the market, use it to produce industrial goods and export such goods since it cannot export its short grain rice as a food item. If there is no surplus of rice for industrial use, such surplus can still be generated if Sri Lankans learn to eat less rice and more meats and fats. 
Even a reduction in average per head consumption by, say 20 kg, will generate a sufficient surplus of about 42 million kg of rice for this purpose. These are long term strategies based on proper awareness, changes in relative prices of rice as against meat and inventions made through the development of science and technology base of the country. The science part is the handiwork of a new subject area called ‘biotechnology’ which has now been added to the curricula of some state universities and private higher learning institutions.

Rice: the water guzzler  
The problem with rice compared to maize or corn is that it is a ‘water guzzler’. In farming, paddy fields are flooded by water and about a half of that is lost through seepage and percolation. It is the balance half which is used by the rice plant for its own purposes, known as evaporation and transpiration. 
The researchers at the Manila based International Rice Research Institute or IRRI have computed, after verifying a vast amount of data collected from field surveys conducted throughout the globe, the amount of water used by rice plant to produce 1 kg of rice. Total flooding of the paddy fields from sowing to harvesting will use about 2500 litres of water to produce 1 kg of rice. About a half of this is lost through seepage and percolation; accordingly, the real use of water by the rice plant to produce 1 kg of rice is about 1432 litres (available at: 
Imagine the price of rice if water is costed at one rupee per litre. Fortunately for consumers, water is supplied to rice farmers almost free of charge either through rains or government sponsored irrigation schemes. But, shortage of water due to droughts will affect both the production and productivity of rice farmers. This is a serious problem in many rice producing nations like China, India and Sri Lanka. 

Developing drought resistant paddies
Scientists in IRRI and in leading universities are now engaged in developing water-efficient paddy cultivation methods. IRRI has come up with an ‘alternative wetting and drying’ method. In this method, a field is flooded for a few days and after that water is used up, kept it dry for a few more days before it is flooded again. This method is to save about 30% of water normally used in paddy farming without affecting the rice yield. 
Another method suggested is sprinkling water to the field producing ‘aerobic rice’ just like watering a leafy vegetable field. This would save water up to 50%, but there would be a reduction in the output by about 30% (available at: 
Hence, it is useful in cultivating paddy in relatively water-scarce regions. But scientists in the University of Western Australia or UWA have attempted at developing a new rice variety which is drought resistant so that it could alleviate the drought-stress experienced by paddy plants (available at: This is the best method of cultivating rice in arid places like Hambantota or Mannar districts in Sri Lanka.

The solution lies in improving farmer productivity
The long-term solution to foodflation is to improve productivity and yield levels in main agricultural crops in the country. For this, Gota needs a medium to long-term strategy. The current approach outlined by him has been to win the elections by pacifying both the consumers and farmers. While keeping it as the immediate objective, Gota should assemble all the stakeholders in the agriculture sector of the country to a common platform and get them to implement a comprehensive agriculture reform strategy targeting medium to long-term.

(The writer, a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, can be reached at

Research underpins rice industry future


NSW Department of Primary Industries Southern Irrigated Cropping leader David Troldahl inspects selected lines in the Yanco Agricultural Insitute rice breeding facility.
Exclusive access to behind the scenes research and the NSW Department of Primary Industries rice breeding team will be features of the 2020 Rice Industry Field Day at the Yanco Agricultural Institute next Thursday March 5. 

DPI Southern Cropping director Deb Slinger said the one day event, Research now for tomorrow’s rice, is a collaboration between the department, Ricegrowers Association of Australia, SunRice, AgriFutures Australia and Rice Extension. 

NFA to buy same level of palay this year

Agriculture Secretary William Dar wants National Food Authority’s (NFA) palay procurement for this year to be at the same level as last year’s, which was valued at ₱14 billion.
Dar said that NFA, an attached agency to the Department of Agriculture (DA), will continue to have a critical role in addressing the low palay prices, which was one of the negative impacts of Rice Tariffication Law or Republic Act (RA) 11203.
“We are again strengthening the measures. Last year, ₱14 billion worth of palay was bought by NFA. We expect the same amount for this year,” Dar said.
Through a roll-over scheme, NFA purchased as much as 760,000 metric tons (MT) of rice last year, some of which was sold and distributed simultaneously so that the state-run grains agency won’t face an oversupply. This is also despite the fact that the agency only had a budget of ₱7 billion.
Last year, NFA was stripped off of its regulatory functions as part of the implementation of RA 11203. Its role was reduced to buffer stocking for calamities and national emergencies.
But because palay prices extremely went down and the overflowing supply of imported rice failed to significantly bring down the retail cost of rice in the local market, NFA still continued to buy palay at ₱19 per kilogram (/kg) as well as sell rice at ₱27/kg in select poor areas in the country.
At that time, the agency’s daily average procurement rate was recorded at 125,754 bags per day. NFA also relaxed its requirements so more farmers will be able to sell to the agency.
At present, individual farmers can sell a maximum of 200 bags on their first walk-in transaction with the NFA. They only need to fill up a Farmer’s Information Sheet (FIS) for records purposes.
Due to the high volume of palay deliveries in NFA warehouses and buying stations, the food agency was also prompted to lease private warehouses for extra storage. This was the case in Abra, Ilocos Sur, La Union, Eastern and Western Pangasinan as of November last year.
Dar said that streamlining of NFA’s operations as part of RA 11203 will finish within this year. It was in May last year, two months after the implementation of RA 11203, when the restructuring at NFA began. As much as 839 NFA employees were supposed to be retrenched.
On international rice trading, NFA has stopped processing of documents for rice importation and issuance of rice import permits for private importers as well as the conduct of bidding for government importation.
On the domestic front, the NFA also ceased licensing and registration of grains businessmen, monitoring and inspection of rice businesses and facilities, and enforcement of grains trading rules and regulations, among others.

Is your food actually gluten-free?

CITIES Updated: Mar 02, 2020 00:19 IST
Description: Snehal Fernandes

For those allergic or intolerant to gluten, not all food products and grains that claim to be free of gluten are devoid of the proteins.
In a first-of-its-kind pilot study, researchers at Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) affiliated National Institute of Nutrition (NIN), Hyderabad, have found oats and flour processed from naturally gluten-free grains with gluten levels up to 90 times and 20 times the permissible limit set by the law indicating contamination in products that are sourced from local retailers and millers.
Gluten is a conglomeration of proteins found in wheat – a staple food for a large portion of the Indian population – rye and barley. Allergy to gluten expresses itself in two forms – celiac disease (CD), which is a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disorder in which the lining of the small intestine’s inner wall is damaged owing to incomplete digestion of food made of any of the three cereals, and non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
NIN researchers collected samples of ready-to-eat food products, multigrain flour as wheat replacer, pulses and dals, millets, quinoa, buckwheat, oats and soy-based products available in online grocery shops, super markets and local markets. Individual grain flour ¬– rice, ragi, sorghum, gram – was sourced directly from mills. Samples were tested using the internationally prescribed ELISA kits for detecting gluten levels.
Of the 160 samples, nearly 36.7% products from the grains and 9.8% labelled as ‘gluten-free’ were found to contain gluten above the acceptable level of 20mg/kg. The 2011 rules of the Food Safety and Standard Authority of India (FSSAI) has stipulated that a product can be labelled as either gluten-free if the content is up to 20mg/kg only after the product is analysed for contamination by standard internationally accepted method.
Nearly 85% of oats products – permitted as part of a gluten-free diet by many countries – showed gluten levels with a concentration range between 23.78mg/kg and 1830.8mg/kg, while buckwheat, quinoa, pulses, millets and soy products showed no such cross-contamination.
“Although the sampled grains are inherently gluten-free, their products might become cross-contaminated at post harvesting or processing facilities,” S Devindra, co-author and assistant director, NIN. “These products therefore cannot be stated as gluten-free until confirmed by test procedures. Otherwise, it might be misleading and potentially harmful to celiac patients, who are on a strict dietary plan.”
Globally, 0.67% or one in 130 people suffer from CD. A pan-India by the Delhi-based All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) – it also the main centre of research in CD– found prevalence of the disease in 0.67% (4 to 6 million) with a high incidence in north India. “The (NIN) data is relevant because gluten-free diet is the only way of treating celiac patients and those who are intolerant or sensitive to gluten, and therefore cross-contamination of food products is a cause for concern. Even 5mg gluten, which is a chapati bite, can lead to persistence of the disease,” said Dr Govind Makharia, professor, department of gastroenterology and human nutrition, AIIMS, who has undertaken extensive research on the disease among Indians, and not involved in the study. “Cross-contamination can take place anywhere from the farm to the factory.” While studies over the past 15 years have shown the presence of gluten above the permissible limits in both labelled and naturally gluten-free food products available in US, Europe and Turkey, there is no India-specific data on gluten contamination.
Findings of the present assessment, published in this month’s issue of Food Additives and Contaminants: Part A, found gluten content in 35.9% unbranded flour samples from local markets and local mills in the range of 20–400mg/kg thereby breaching both FSSAI and the internationally laid out Codex safety levels.
Only 5 of the 51 samples from products labelled as gluten-free showed contamination above 20 mg/kg although levels were well within 100 mg/kg owing to well-adapted processing procedures and maintenance of individual mills for separate flours. Of all the regular grains, the highest amount of gluten – up to 400mg/kg – was present in sorghum samples, followed by rice (279mg/kg), gram (135.4mg/kg) and ragi (122.3mg/kg).
Researchers said while common flour mill and collecting bags for rice and wheat in many milling shops is likely to be responsible for cross-contamination in rice flour samples, the presence of gluten in ragi and sorghum can be attributed to the use of a common utility area and handling procedures.
“Common flour mills, collecting bags, or flour processing area for both gluten and naturally gluten-free cereal flours might be one of the major factors responsible for the high rate of gluten contamination in local flour mill samples,” said Devindra.
To address the issue of cross-contamination in gluten-free products, FSSAI in June last year reiterated that food with only 20mg/kg or less gluten content can be labelled as gluten-free, and released a guidance note on testing and labelling for food manufacturers and consumers. “Gluten intolerance is a new area of concern because its focus in India has been of recent origin owing to greater awareness today, and therefore the food system has to respond to it,” said Pawan Agarwal, secretary, consumer affairs department at the Centre.
The former FSSAI chief executive officer under whose tenure the guidance note was issued, Agarwal added, “Our department will have a meeting with FSSAI officials and other departments to see what can be done.”
“Firstly, it will help raise awareness and let consumers know that a product may be compromised. Secondly, it will help us advocate and push for better vigilance by government regulatory bodies,” said Dr Shweta Khandelwal, head of nutrition research, Public Health Foundation of India, who was not involved in the study. “Lastly, it will also warn businesses to be more stringent in quality checks.”
Scientists Discover Earth’s Oldest Green Plant Fossil in China
March 01, 2020

Description: A green seaweed fossil from China dating back 1 billion years is seen using a microscope in this photograph released by Virgina Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia U.S. February 24, 2020. (Virginia Tech/Handout via Reuters)
A green seaweed fossil from China dating back 1 billion years is seen using a microscope in this photograph released by Virgina Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia U.S. February 24, 2020. (Virginia Tech/Handout via Reuters)
by VOA
Scientists have discovered what may be the oldest fossils of a green plant ever found.
The fossils were found in rocks from northern China. The plant is thought to be a piece of seaweed that grew on Earth’s seafloor about 1 billion years ago. That would make this seaweed an ancestor of all green plants alive today.
Researchers in the United States reported on the discovery in the publication Nature Ecology & Evolution. The researchers are with the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia.
Description: In the background of this digital recreation, ancient microscopic green seaweed is seen living in the ocean 1 billion years ago. In the foreground is the same seaweed in the process of being fossilized far later. (Photo Credit: by Dinghua Yang)
In the background of this digital recreation, ancient microscopic green seaweed is seen living in the ocean 1 billion years ago. In the foreground is the same seaweed in the process of being fossilized far later. (Photo Credit: by Dinghua Yang)
The seaweed is a form of green algae called Proterocladus antiquus. It was very small, about the size of a single piece of rice. Researchers say the plant was connected to the seafloor with a root-like structure. At the time, the plant was one of the largest life forms in the sea, which contained mostly bacteria and other microorganisms.
The researchers say Proterocladus was able to perform photosynthesis, taking energy from the sun to produce life-supporting carbon and oxygen. They believe the plant also provided food and shelter for many different kinds of sea life.
Shuhai Xiao serves as a Professor of Geobiology at Virginia Tech. He said the fossils were found in rock taken from an area of dry land - formerly ocean - near the city of Dalian in China’s Liaoning Province. Qing Tang, another Virginia Tech researcher, discovered the micro-fossils in the rock using an electronic microscope in a laboratory.
Xiao said the fossils represent the oldest green seaweed ever found. The next oldest fossil of green seaweed was found in rock thought to be about 800 million years old.
Description: In this January 30, 2020 photo, Virginia Tech geobiology professor Shuhai Xiao, right, poses for a picture with his postdoctorate colleague Qing Tang inside Virginia Tech's Derring Hall. (Virginia Tech)
In this January 30, 2020 photo, Virginia Tech geobiology professor Shuhai Xiao, right, poses for a picture with his postdoctorate colleague Qing Tang inside Virginia Tech's Derring Hall. (Virginia Tech)
The scientists say the seaweed once lived in an ocean that was not very deep. Once the plants died, they became “cooked” under thick sediment, which created fossils in the shape of the seaweed. Many millions of years later, the dirt was lifted out of the ocean and became the dry land where the examples were collected.
“These new fossils suggest that green seaweeds were important players in the ocean long before their land-plant descendants moved and took control of dry land,” Xiao said.
He added that Earth’s biosphere depends heavily on plants for food and oxygen. But the first land plants, believed to be ancestors of green seaweeds, did not appear until about 450 million years ago.
The Virginia Tech researchers believe that land plants – including trees, grasses food crops and others – all developed from green seaweeds that lived in the ocean. Then, over millions of years, the seaweed plants moved out of the water and adapted to life on land.
Description: In this April 9, 2016 photo, young sea lettuce grows on a rock in Mountain Point, Alaska. (Taylor Balkom/Ketchikan Daily News via AP)
In this April 9, 2016 photo, young sea lettuce grows on a rock in Mountain Point, Alaska. (Taylor Balkom/Ketchikan Daily News via AP)
The history of how green plants developed is a subject of debate. “Some scientists think that green plants started in rivers and lakes, and then conquered the ocean and land later,” Xiao said.
Proterocladus is believed to be closely related to a modern seaweed, widely eaten by humans today. It is called sea lettuce.
I’m Bryan Lynn.
Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from Reuters, Virginia Tech and Nature Ecology & Evolution. George Grow was the editor.
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Border closure: Customs seize guns, 57 vehicles, bags of rice other items worth N135m

Description: Customs

The Joint Border Drill in the North Central Zone with headquarters at the Nigerian Customs Service, Kwara Command, Ilorin in its fight against smuggling has confiscated contraband items and goods worth over N135m.
The smuggled items included five long-single barrel guns, 57 vehicles of various brands, 1,355 bags of foreign rice, twenty bags of dried yam flour of 1000 kg, 1,728 jerry cans of PMS and engine oil, 155 drums of petroleum products and lubricant oil.
Other sized items included Bajaj motorcycles allegedly used in smuggling of rice, 12 bales of secondhand clothing and textile materials, 68 jerry cans of groundnut oil of 25 litres, 322 cartons of foreign cosmetics and 9 cartons of tin tomatoes from different locations.
The Kwara coordinator of the Joint Border Operations Drill (JBOP), Comptroller Mohammed Uba Garba revealed this to newsmen at the press briefing on the activities of the sector on Wednesday held at its premises. According to him, the border closure policy of the federal government has increased the revenue generation for the country with the closure of illegal routes which has forced smugglers to bring in goods through approved routes and pay appropriate duties.
He stated that part of the reasons the government banned importation of rice through the land borders was to encourage local farming, secure national borders and boosts the foreign exchange of the country.
He said the land border closure has further reduced drastically the daily consumption of petroleum products in Nigeria adding that with the arrangement, synergy between security agencies has increased through exchange of ideas.
“It has reduced smuggling, enhances productivity of locally made goods and helps in tackling security challenges like banditry, kidnapping, smuggling, cattle rustling and illegal migrants. It has also increased revenue generation, reduction of daily consumption of petroleum product due to blockage of illegal exportation based on statistics obtained.
“We will continue to dialogue, engage, sensitize and educate the public for the reasons behind border closure which is aimed at social and economic stability of our dear nation”, he noted.
According to him, contraband goods are still being found in the country because some smugglers import rice using gas cylinders and caskets noting that most smugglers use unapproved routes to bring in their contraband goods into the country.
“People often ask where were customs operatives when contraband goods entered the country without being stopped.
“We have seen a situation where rice is smuggled using gas cylinders or a situation where spare tyres are used, the tyre is perforated and rice is loaded inside and when you open the booth you see what is supposed to be a tyre.
“If you do not have tip-off, you are not likely to know that inside that spare tyre are 10 or 15 mudus (measures) of foreign rice.
“Also smugglers now use caskets to either smuggle rice or petrol. They sometimes load petrol in jerry cans and put it inside a casket, wrapped in such a way that you think they are carrying a dead body.
“A situation like this, if you don’t have intelligence, you wouldn’t know. For instance, without tip-off, it is unlikely as a human being to accost a vehicle carrying a casket with a supposed dead body and request for such to be opened.
“If people with all these tricks succeed and escape, their smuggled items are what you find in shops, markets and houses.”
He added that smugglers’ actions were meant to sabotage the economy and the security of the country and assured that the operation was determined and committed to checking that.
In November 2019, the federal government suspended fuel distribution to communities close to the country’s land borders to stem the smuggling of refined petrol to other countries.
The NNPC had said fuel stations in these communities are being used for smuggling as Nigeria’s subsidised petrol is cheaper than those of neighbouring West African countries.
At present, the country’s land borders are closed to check the smuggling of food items and arms.

How rice varieties tend to get overlooked in the diversity of biryani across India

The Ambur biryani replaces basmati with seeraga samba, a small-grained flavourful variety.

Last Updated: Mar 01, 2020, 04.24 PM IST
Description: BiryaniThe biryani itself can be seen as a shorter version of the pulao — cutting out the stock making.
Every Thursday, the grateful and the hopeful congregate at Feroz Shah Kotla, Delhi’s 14th-century Tughlaq-era fortress better known for the cricket stadium nearby.

While the hopeful make their pleas to the djinns thought to reside in the ruins, the grateful, whose wishes have come true, distribute biryani in thanksgiving.

As the spicy, thick sela rice dish gets polished off, it is a moment that represents all the contradictions of being in India, where the sacred and mundane, rich and poor, love and hate all coexist. In many ways, the biryani brings together all these contradictions of being Indian — even as it continues to battle with stereotypes of being an outsider, “originally” Iranian.

In Iran, the beryan is quite another dish. The famous Esfahani beryan is lamb or sheep meat, broiled and minced, and placed on sangak bread. Persian food blogs now in fact exhort customers to use sourdough instead. The only connection of the beryan — which is just like a sandwich — with the Indian biryani is that both are layered.

Description: Arcot biryaniArcot biryani
Arcot biryani

The beryan makes an appearance in Nuskha e Shahjahani, a manuscript of recipes dating back to Mughal emperor Shahjahan’s 17th century kitchen. But here in India, the beryan is a rice dish, albeit layered. Whether this innovation of meat layered with rice, instead of bread, came about in Iran or India is impossible to tell. It seems to me Indian.

However, a dish that has been around for 400 years or more in many different regional avatars throughout the subcontinent is decidedly Indian. That’s settled.

Description: Thalassery BiryaniThalassery Biryani
Thalassery Biryani

Regional Variations
Is the Mappila biryani better than Ambur? Is Lucknowi better than Calcutta or Hyderabadi? These are endless debates. In a country as diverse as India, where the basis of cuisines is diversity in spicing, these personal preferences are just that —personal.

However, what does tend to get overlooked is the importance of rice in biryani’s diversity and its democratisation. The aroma of Lucknow’s best biryani came not just from saffron or restrained kewra but basmati, exclusively cultivated for Lucknow aristocracy. Basmati is a much abused term today, with impostor long-grained varieties flooding the market.

Coarser sela (referring to a cheaper way of processing by boiling to remove husk) rice was used by poorer people; it lacked aroma of dry-milled basmati but was easier to cook than basmati that required precision with water or would dissolve into soggy mess, belying the courtly ideal of each grain separate. Sela rice, however, is now the common choice for biryani.

Many regional variations are offshoots of “courtly” biryanis, though commercial biryani innovations tend to add on spice and shorten the cooking processes.
Description: Esfahani beryanEsfahani beryan
Esfahani beryan

The Ambur biryani, which is a variation of the courtly Arcot style (a cook of the nawab opened the first biryani shop in Ambur in Tamil Nadu, the story goes, which became popular with truck drivers), replaces basmati with seeraga samba, a small grained flavourful variety, the common man’s food.
Description: Tawa biryaniTawa biryani
Tawa biryani

Kaima is biryani rice of Kerala. The spicy Thalassery biryani is an adaptation of the Arcot biryani, according to Abida Rasheed, expert in Mappila food whom I met many years ago and who makes a distinction between the hot Thalassery and more subtle dum biryani of Mappilas. Though the Calcutta biryani was cooked with sela rice, experiments by chefs with more flavourful local varieties are leading to new creations. More biryanis may evolve. More the merrier.

(The writer looks at food and culinary traditions)
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of