Head Line: Tiger in the snow
- Mains Paper I: changes in critical geographical features (including water-bodies and ice-caps) and in flora and fauna and the effects of such changes.
- Now, a study by researchers of the Wildlife Institute of India has found these majestic creatures in the snow-capped regions of the Eastern Himalaya.
The Royal Bengal Tiger in the Eastern Himalaya:
- The Royal Bengal Tiger is known to live in a wide variety of habitats in the Subcontinent.
- Its roar can be heard in moist evergreen forests, dry and coniferous forests, mangroves, subtropical and temperate upland forests and alluvial grasslands.
- Now, a study by researchers of the Wildlife Institute of India has found these majestic creatures in the snow-capped regions of the Eastern Himalaya.
- The study that began about three years ago has recorded 11 tigers in Arunachal Pradesh’s Dibang Valley.
- The Namdapha National Park in the state is known to be the country’s only reserve to have four big cat species — the tiger, leopard and the severely endangered clouded and snow leopards.
- But the park is in the lower reaches of the Himalaya.
- Their presence at 3,246m and 3,630m in the Dibang Valley is the evidence of tiger at the highest altitude in the Indian part of the Eastern Himalayas — the animals have been found at an altitude of more than 4,000m in Bhutan.
Man-animal relations in Dibang valley:
- A large part of the Dibang Valley is home to the Mishmi tribes.
- The presence of the big cats in an area which is not even a tiger reserve is, in large measure, a tribute to the ways the Mishmi people have found to co-exist with the animals.
- The cosmology of this tribal group hold tigers to be in special relationship with humans.
- Killing the animal is deemed fratricidal.
Threats to Dibang valley tigers and way forward:
- The Dibang Valley tiger is reportedly genetically isolated from the other variety of the species in Arunachal Pradesh.
- Inbreeding could jeopardise the prospects of an already fragile population.
- The story of the newly-discovered tigers is also complicated by the fact that the rivers in the Valley are slated to be harnessed for hydropower projects.
- The good news is that conservation authorities are alert to some of the challenges, at least.
- Talks are underway to understand the genetic difference of the Dibang tigers with that of other varieties of the species in Arunachal.
Head Line: Explained: Why number of hungry is rising
2) Mains Paper II: Issues relating to poverty and hunger.
- Important International institutions, agencies and fora-their structure, mandate.
- A decade-long phenomenon of the number of undernourished people in the world falling between 2003 and 2014, both in absolute terms (from 961.5 million to 783.7 million) and relative to total population (from 15.1% to 10.7%), has reversed during the last three years.
- According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, the world’s population suffering from hunger — the food they consume isn’t sufficient to provide the minimum dietary energy requirement for leading a normal, active and healthy life — rose to 784.4 million in 2015, 804.2 million in 2016 and 820.8 million in 2017, from the 2014 low of 783.7 million.
- In relative terms, too, the share of the undernourished in the world population has gone up from 10.7% to 10.9% since 2014.
Why it is surprising:
- What is interesting, though, is that the reversal of a prolonged declining trend in world hunger has come despite a collapse in international agri-commodity prices after 2014.
- The FAO’s own Food Price Index (base year: 2002-2004=100) plunged from an average of 201.8 in 2014 to 164, 161.5 and 174.6 for the following three years.
- It had previously soared from 97.7 in 2003 to as high as 229.9 in 2011 and remained at 200-plus levels till 2014.
- And ironically, throughout that period of rising food prices, global hunger numbers kept dipping (see global chart).
Trends in India:
The apparent lack of connection between undernourishment and food prices may, to an extent, be seen even in India.
- Annual food inflation (average three-year ending) based on the consumer price index (CPI) for industrial workers ranged from 1.6% to 3.4% during 2001 to 2005, a period when the country’s estimated undernourished population increased from 191.2 million to 256.5 million.
- Subsequently, food inflation surged to double digits by 2009-10 — which coincided with the worldwide commodity boom — but the number of hungry in India actually dropped to 214.4 million at the end of the decade.
- While food inflation remained at double-digit levels until 2014, it did not, however, lead to any rise in the number of undernourished.
- The latter figure has dipped in the last three years for India — unlike the global trend – although not as sharply as the slide in food inflation to below 4% by 2017 (see India chart).
Conflict & climate:
Kostas G Stamoulis, Assistant Director-General at FAO in Rome, attributes the return of global undernourishment to the levels of 2010 to three factors.
1) The displacement of civilian population and food insecurity resulting from conflicts.
- Roughly 500 million out of the world’s 821 million undernourished people live in conflict-ridden regions such as West Asia, North and northern sub-Saharan Africa, Central America and Eastern Europe.
- Violent conflicts, both state-based and between organised armed groups, have increased dramatically, especially after 2010.
2) Climate Change:
- Climate variations (in temperature and rainfall) and extremes (leading to droughts, heat waves, floods, storms, etc).
- The 2015-16 El Niño — the abnormal warming of the equatorial eastern Pacific Ocean waters, known to adversely impact monsoon rainfall in countries such as India — was one of the strongest events of the past 100 years.
- It also contributed to 2016 being the warmest and 2015 the second warmest year based on recorded global average temperatures.
- The six warmest years for the planet have all occurred since 2010.
3) Economic slowdown:
- This has to do with general economic slowdown and commodity prices (whether agri, oil or metals) themselves falling.
- These result in lower fiscal revenues and foreign exchange earnings for commodity exporting countries, whose governments, then, have less money to spend on welfare programmes.
- That — and the fact of poor households also often being producers and now realising lower prices or wages — is a plausible reason for hunger making a comeback even in peaceful settings amidst over-supply of agri-commodities.
What is paradox?
- The effects of conflicts and climate-related disasters, if any, would be mainly on agricultural production and supply, in turn, driving up commodity prices.
- Instead, the world has been awash with wheat, corn, rice, soyabean, palm oil, sugar, cotton, milk and almost every other agri-commodity.
- The story of the last four years, both globally and in India, has been one of glut and depressed price realisation for farmers.
- That question — raising doubts over meeting the target of ending the prevalence of undernourishment by 2030, under the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals — also engaged the attention of policymakers, economists, nutrition experts and others, who attended a three-day FAO-IFPRI ‘Accelerating the End of Hunger and Malnutrition’ global conference, at Bangkok last week.
- We need to figure out really why world hunger is rising now or not falling at the same rate as before in countries such as India.
Head Line: Why Qatar has left OPEC, and how the decision will impact oil prices, India
3) Mains Paper II: Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.
Why in news:
- Qatar announced Monday it was walking away from OPEC, a cartel of 15 countries that produce about 45% of the world’s oil and contain over 80% of its “proven” reserves.
- Qatar — among the world’s smallest countries by area and the richest in terms of per capita gross national income ($128,000 or Rs 90 lakh, according to World Bank figures).
Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC):
- OPEC is a cartel of 15 countries that produce about 45% of the world’s oil and contain over 80% of its “proven” reserves.
- OPEC was founded in 1960 by Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, and Venezuela. Qatar joined in 1961. Saudi Arabia dominates the cartel, having pumped 11 million barrels per day in October.
- OPEC has a very big influence on global oil prices, which play a crucial role in determining the economic health of many countries, including India.
Why has Qatar left OPEC?
- Qatar wanted to focus on its gas industry rather than on oil, in which it was in any case a small player.
- Qatar’s riches are due to its natural gas reserves, and it is the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG).
What is Saudi’s problem with Qatar?
- Qatar has long showed an independent mind in foreign policy that does not always align with the priorities of its regional Arab neighbours.
- This includes having a close economic and diplomatic relationship with Shia Iran, Sunni Saudi’s great regional rival.
- In June, 2017, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Bahrain cut ties with Qatar, directed Qatari citizens to leave within 14 days, and forbade their citizens from going to or staying in Qatar.
- Egypt too severed diplomatic contact with Doha, and all of them shut their airspace to Qatari aircraft, and told foreign airlines to seek permission if flying to and from Qatar.
- Saudi sealed Qatar’s only land border, and closed its ports to Qatari-flagged ships.
What pulled Saudi to do so?
- Riyadh claimed Qatar had refused to end ties with “terrorists”, after Doha declined to fulfill 13 demands that were presented to it.
- Those demands included: cutting diplomatic relations with Tehran and military ties with Turkey, shutting down the TV station Al Jazeera, and aligning with other Arab countries “militarily, politically, socially and economically”.
- Qatar refused all these saying the demands amounted to “surrendering our sovereignty”.
- Doha has backed the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, but it is also part of the US-led war on the Islamic State, and has assisted the rebels fighting Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria.
Will Qatar leaving OPEC impact global oil prices?
- Qatar is a tiny player that pumped 609,000 barrels a day in October, only 2% of OPEC’s total output of 32.9 million barrels per day.
- However, over the last many decades, it has played a role mediating internal rivalries in OPEC and striking production-cut deals with producers like Russia.
- This is where its absence may hurt OPEC a bit.
And will India be impacted by the departure in any way?
- Qatar has limited influence on OPEC’s pricing decisions.
- From India’s perspective, its position as the world’s top LNG exporter (annual production of 77 million tonnes per year) and an influential player in the global LNG market is more pertinent.
- Qatar is one of India’s oldest LNG suppliers, with Petronet LNG among the companies that have contracted to buy LNG from Qatar.
- But LNG pricing is not in OPEC’s domain, so Qatar’s decision is unlikely to impact these trends.
Head Line: A new deal for the farmer
4) Mains Paper III: Issues related to direct and indirect farm subsidies and minimum support prices.
- A report prepared by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, released in March 2018, based on a survey of 5,000 farm households across 18 states, revealed that 76 per cent farmers would prefer to do some other work than farming.
- Large-scale farmers suicides and unprecedented agrarian unrest.
- A new deal for the rural sector in general and farmers, in particular, is the crying need of the hour.
Farm distress and farmer suicides:
- The neglect of Indian agriculture by the successive governments has been the cause of untold suffering of the Indian farmer
- According to Census 2011, 54.6 per cent of India’s workforce was engaged in agriculture
- However, the sector contributes less than 17 per cent of the GDP
- The policies of successive governments have failed to correct this imbalance
- This has led to large-scale farmers suicides and spawned unprecedented agrarian unrest in many parts of the country
Urgent interventions required:
1) Farmers must receive expert advice by trained officials at their doorstep at the beginning of every crop season.
- These recommendations should be related to issues like which crops to sow, technology, market prices, soil fertility, irrigation.
- Agricultural extension services are almost non-existent today.
2) Trade bans on agricultural exports must be removed.
- Such restrictive policies keep domestic prices low, harming farmers’ interests.
- Farmers should have free access to global markets, as it will help augment incomes.
- Restrictions, if any, should be imposed only in emergencies.
- As for domestic trade, all restrictions on inter-district and inter-state movement should be removed.
3) Every farmer family must have a Kisan Credit Card (KCC)
- According to the NABARD, the cumulative number of KCCs issued since inception till March 31, 2015, is 14.64 crore of which operative/live KCCs are 7.41-crore.
- Counter-posing this against the 13.83 crore operational land holdings (Agricultural Census 2010-11) shows that a large number of farmers are yet to be covered under the KCC scheme.
4) Rainwater harvesting should be incorporated in irrigation projects, owing to its magnificent untapped potential.
- According to the Standing Committee on Rural Development, only 10 per cent of the projects taken up under the watershed development component of the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY) have been completed so far.
- The establishment of micro, small and medium irrigation projects like tube wells and check dams, instead of big irrigation projects should be encouraged and financed entirely by the Centre.
5) A “paani panchayat” should be established for every scheme, which will act as a specialised registered body responsible for the execution of irrigation projects
- The panchayat will be responsible for the maintenance of water channels and collecting user charges from the beneficiaries.
- This will help in the augmentation of self-financing water management mechanism.
- It could also act as cross-panchayat body wherever applicable, for example, in cases where more than one beneficiary panchayat exists under a particular irrigation project.
6) Fertiliser subsidies should be provided to the farmers via direct benefit transfer.
- A separate dedicated electricity line should be extended to all farmers by state governments in order to reduce their input costs and to ensure the regular supply of electricity to farms.
- There should be a separate category of entrepreneurs under the Mudra Yojana who will set up processing and storage plants for agricultural units.
7) Minimum basic pay to farmers
- Every small and marginal farmer and every agricultural labourer above the age of 60 should receive a monthly pension of Rs 5,000.
- All small and marginal farmer households, including tenant and sub-tenant farmers, should receive a basic income of Rs 6,000 per acre per crop season. This will work out to Rs 12,000 per household per annum.
- Farmers holding land in excess of 5 acres of irrigated land, who produce disposable surplus and take advantage of the minimum support price may not be included in the scheme. For unirrigated holdings, the limit could be 10 acres.
- The total financial burden of this scheme, likely to be Rs 1.84 lakh crore, could be distributed in the ratio of 70:30 between the Centre and the states.
- The financial burden on the Centre will thus be Rs 1.29 lakh crore, less than 1 per cent of the country’s GDP.
- The total expenditure budget of the Government of India in 2018-19 is Rs 24.42 lakh crore.
- It is therefore not difficult to find this money within the resources available to it with better expenditure management.
- However, even if this adds to the fiscal deficit it will be a worthwhile step because it will make the farmers happy and increase their productivity.
- All political parties should adopt this as a commitment in their manifestos in the coming Lok Sabha election.
- We have neglected the Indian farmer for 70 years; it is now time to make up.