August 27, 2008

News You Might Have Missed * Vol. 7, No. 34

Important but overlooked news from around the world.


QUOTED:

“In the old days we practiced subsistence agriculture and we felt a sense of control. Now everything is more complicated and lots of people are desperately in debt.”

— A community activist in India’s Punjab state, on the dark side of the Green Revolution (see “Top Stories,” below).

CONTENTS:

*Top Stories*
India’s recipe for school success? Just add eggs
Dark side of the Green Revolution
San Francisco’s ‘black exodus’ gathers steam


TOP STORIES

* India’s Recipe for school success? Just add eggs

In India, there apparently is such a thing as a free lunch.

The World Press Review reports that the government has mandated the world’s largest lunch program to keep 140 million public school students in the classroom.

An estimated 2.1 million Indian children die before age 5 each year, and malnutrition is also blamed as one of the causes of India’s high dropout rate.

Yet since the hot-lunch program debuted, the dropout rate for students 14 or younger has decreased from 32 million in 2001 to 7.6 million today, while overall enrollment figures and nutrition levels have increased.

A government official said the program helped lower the elementary school dropout rate from 12 percent to two percent between 2002 and 2007.

“One of the main reasons for this was the introduction of the scheme to give three eggs a week to the students,” Poongothai Aladi Aruna, the social welfare minister for India’s Tamil Nadu state, was quoted as saying by the Review.

One barrier to the program is its cost: Cash-strapped local governments have been slow to implement the hot-lunch mandate, and matching funds from the federal government aren’t always adequate.

However, a cost-saving measure to replace the hot lunch with packaged meals is strongly opposed by academics and other government officials, who feared the move would benefit corporations more than children.

Renuka Chowdhury, the government minister who proposed the switch, said her concern was a lack of infrastructure to deliver locally prepared hot meals.

“Where is the infrastructure? Where is the clean water for cooking? Where are the storerooms? What is to be done with leftover cooked food?” the Review quoted her as saying.

–T.J. Johnston/Newsdesk.org

Source:

“India Offers Students Free Midday Meals as Incentive to Stay in School”
World Press Review, Aug. 6, 2008
http://worldpress.org/Asia/3218.cfm

* Dark Side of the Green Revolution

It was the chemically supplemented Green Revolution of the 1960s that helped India end its cycles of famine.

Yet a series of new reports reveal a dark side to dependence of pesticides, fertilizers and irrigation, including disease, environmental decline and social decay, the latter often driven by bad government planning.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that health problems previously unheard of are proliferating in the northwestern Punjab state — ground zero for the Green Revolution in India, and known as the nation’s breadbasket.

Local medical clinics and health officials speak of a surge in cancer, muscular disorders in teens, early menstruation in young girls, lower sperm counts and more frequent stillbirths.

According to the BBC, new questions have also emerged about the Green Revolution’s long-term ability to support ever-growing human populations.

These include fears that agriculture is hitting the limits of what a plant can produce, no matter how hybridized and chemically supplemented.

A lack of quality farmland also limits productivity — and there’s an additional, human cost at the grassroots: Debt, and despair.

Some farmers who can’t afford to keep up with the cost of intensive farming take their own lives.

“In the old days we practiced subsistence agriculture and we felt a sense of control,” a Punjab community activist told the BBC. “Now everything is more complicated and lots of people are desperately in debt.”

Punjab uses 18 percent of the entire country’s fertilizers, with just 1.5 percent of India’s farmland.

The New York Times reports that bad planning has led to depleted water tables, lower yields, inadequate research and financial support programs for farmers, and dependence on foreign food imports.

Some advocates see a solution in organic farming, which is more biologically diverse and eschews chemical infusions.

Proponents face many obstacles, however, chief among them the Indian government, which remains committed to Green Revolution methods as the best way to feed more than 1.1 billion people.

The Chronicle also notes that less than 5 percent of Punjab farmers currently use organic methods.

–Lauren Riggs & Newsdesk.org staff

Sources:

“Some Indians fear Green Revolution is a killer”
San Francisco Chronicle, July 28, 2008

“In Fertile India, Growth Outstrips Agriculture”
New York Times, June 22, 2008

“The limits of a Green Revolution?”
BBC News, March 29,2007

* San Francisco’s ‘Black Exodus’ Gathers Steam

A new study has found that African Americans are abandoning San Francisco in droves, faster than any other U.S. city.

The black population has decreased from 13.4 percent in 1970 to 10.9 percent in 1990 and comprises 6.5 percent of San Francisco’s population in 2005 — the latest year figures were available.

The task force also projects the numbers to fall still further, to 4.6 percent by 2050.

Speakers at a hearing in the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood said that the findings are just the latest in a series of reports dating back to the 1970s, and validated their fears about an “black exodus” that could almost eliminate the city’s African American population.

Critics blamed the problem on a dearth of economic opportunity and African-American culture, combined with skyrocketing housing prices driven by gentrification.

Some community members say the situation will worsen after Lennar Corp., a major development company, builds 1,600 housing units in a former Navy shipyard in Hunters Point.

Residents fear they will be pushed out by redevelopment, and then priced out of the area altogether once the new housing is in place.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, these concerns have a historical precedent, when the city’s Redevelopment Agency “intentionally” displaced entire African American neighborhoods following redevelopment of the city’s Fillmore district in the 1960s and ’70s.

City politicians and bureaucrats say that they can prevent history from repeating itself with a new push for public housing, violence-prevention programs in impoverished neighborhoods, and “certificates of preference” that would allow residents displaced by redevelopment to move back once the new housing units are built, reports the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

–T.J. Johnston/Newsdesk.org

Sources:

“Black population deserting S.F., study says”
San Francisco Chronicle, Aug. 10, 2008

“Black exodus emergency”
San Francisco Bay Guardian, Aug. 13, 2008


Editor: Josh Wilson

Interns: T.J. Johnston, Lauren Riggs

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