Tracking Hunger
#1
http://www.hindustantimes.com/special-ne...unger.aspx

Emerging India either does not know or ignores the statistics: Half its children are malnourished, a record worse than the world’s symbol for deprivation, sub-Saharan Africa. In 2009, India was ranked 66th of 88 countries in the Global Hunger Index drawn up by the International Food Policy Research Institute. In 2010, India's rank slipped to 67 of 85 countries. India is home to a quarter of the world’s hungry – about 230 million people – according to a World Food Programme report released on March 2009. More than 455 million Indians survive on US$ 1.25 (Rs 56 approximately) a day or less, compared with 420 million in 1981. The government vows to bring in a new law giving its citizens a right to food, but its efforts are disjointed and often characterised by corruption and a lack of empathy. The Hindustan Times' "Tracking Hunger" series is a nationwide effort to track, investigate and report the struggle to rid the nation of hunger and malnutrition.
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#2
Instead of figuring out how to improve the situation, the government even refuses to admit the failure of governance in the storage and distribution of food in a country where one out of three hungry persons on the planet live. Sad
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#3
These are two potentially contentious issues related to the broader discourse on food security and equitable distribution. They are dilemmas about which I am eager to hear opinions from within the free-thought community.

1. How best can we perform a scientific evaluation of the claim that organic farming is indispensable to sustainable food production?

The most vociferous advocates for organic farming are almost always former scientists who choose to the environmentalist hat, the most notable example being Dr. Vandana Shiva who makes a characteristically impassioned plea for organic farming in this recent Outlook article here. Dr. Shiva is a longtime collaborator of Dr. Fritjof Capra, another physicist-turned-environmentalist and author of the Tao of Physics, whose worldview can safely be described as 'proto-accommodationist' and 'proto-woo' before these terms gained currency. While credit is due to them for taking a stand for environmental protection and farmers' rights and against corporate aggression, their arguments revolving around themes like Ecoliteracy seem to teem with appeals to nature and seem otherwise poorly substantiated by data. This is a scientific debate that is crucial to the future of the species, and one that is not receiving as much coverage as, say, the 'debate' about the origin of our species. Perhaps we should devote some time to this here.

2. Is endemic hunger and malnutrition a 'pre-competitive issue' in the fight against which freethinkers can have pragmatic collaborations with organizations that may have faith-based affiliations?

In business parlance, a 'pre-competitive issue' is one in which rival companies may collaborate to face a change that threatens their profession itself (eg. Two mining companies who are otherwise rivals, collaborating to proceed legally against a government revocation of mining permits). Likewise, is the endemic malnutrition in India an issue that warrants freethinkers to throw in their lot with efforts made by faith-based organizations? To be more specific, should a freethinking donor refuse to contribute to, say, a school-meal-providing programme because some volunteers therein have faith-based affiliations?

Ideally, we would hope that there emerges from within Indian freethinking ranks someone with the wherewithal to build our own version of the 'anti-Templeton foundation' as pulled off by Richard Dawkins here. But what about those of us who believe that we cannot afford to delay any effort to relieve hunger until then, just out of ideological puritanism? One trigger for recent debates is the public-private-partnership initiative called Akshaya Patra which is registered as a secular charitable trust and feeds schoolchildren irrespective of their antecedents, but raises reservations among freethinkers because the volunteer workforce involves ISKCON volunteers.

One way out is to take a case-specific approach, which admittedly is fraught with risks of accommodationism, a risk we may take if hunger is indeed a pre-competitive issue. This approach seems consistent with the principle of 'separating people from ideas' and can be summarized as follows: "As Brutus said in Shakespeare's Caesar "As he was valiant, I honour him: but, as he was ambitious, I slew him. " Likewise we may say: 'They provide the workforce for a secular charitable trust like Akshaya Patra, so we laud them. They sell inexpensive snacks, so we purchase them. They promote Vedic Creationism, so we lambast them. They have faced abuse charges, so we keep them in the dock!'. "
The other approach is of course, to have a white-list and a black-list of charities of sorts and donate only to charities which are complete devoid of faith affiliations, irrespective of whether pre-competitive causes suffer or not.
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#4
I missed this interesting thread. I am working on the program for a conference on "food safety in developing countries" and often we face this question - what comes first - food safety or food security?

If food security is our priority, perhaps we will not look at the issue of pesticides and continue to kill the pests with an eye on increased production.
If food safety is our priority, we will not use pesticides at the risk of losing some or the entire crop ( some regions of India have serious pest issues that cannot be easily managed). One should be willing to pay more for organically produced food until most of us start using organic food ( that should push the cost down). Well, by the time we do this, every village in India will be overpopulated with a Bharati -Walmart or a Reliance store in every corner. We will all be reading the sustainability programs of Walmart and feeling happy that they are able to provide us pure organic food.
Now, let us go back 30 years and see how many villages had local farmers market. We had three in my village and now - none that is good enough to get any farmer to produce. My family was then happy to pay whatever was the daily rate for the locally grown vegetables ( and they knew where it iwas coming from and what pesticides are used there). Then we lost these markets and got "margin free markets' that got us 'vegetable like' products from some other part of India, but they were chepaer than the local products. This was the start of commercialisation. To make things worse, we are not willing to pay extra to encourage local farmers ( endless bargaining) and so they stop cultivating crops for local markets and opt to cultivate something else that someone else in some other part of the world wants - like rubber, vanilla or so on.

When can I say that I can grow some vegetables in my farm organically and sell it in my village and get enough money to keep growing the vegetables every season with some profit from it? - Well, that will be the time when we can say we found a sustainable solution for food security and safety.
Or else, be ready to pay for organic Chinese cabbage in USD,...
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#5
(05-Nov-2010, 11:14 PM)arvindiyer Wrote: The most vociferous advocates for organic farming are almost always former scientists who choose to the environmentalist hat, the most notable example being Dr. Vandana Shiva who makes a characteristically impassioned plea for organic farming in this recent Outlook article here. Dr. Shiva is a longtime collaborator of Dr. Fritjof Capra, another physicist-turned-environmentalist and author of the Tao of Physics, whose worldview can safely be described as 'proto-accommodationist' and 'proto-woo' before these terms gained currency.

Fritjtof Capra's ideas regarding the metaphysical implications of quantum physics, and the Tao of Physics, are shit.

I know who Vandana Shiva is. I actually liked her in the documentary 'The Corporation', although, in retrospect, her inclusion in the documentary unfairly casts some doubt on its legitimacy!

Quote:2. Is endemic hunger and malnutrition a 'pre-competitive issue' in the fight against which freethinkers can have pragmatic collaborations with organizations that may have faith-based affiliations?

Perhaps. And if yes, it is also an issue that freethinkers can contribute towards from a purely reason-based point of view, rejecting all superstitious fact-claims. These two approaches are not necessarily incompatible, politically speaking.

Quote:"To be more specific, should a freethinking donor refuse to contribute to, say, a school-meal-providing programme because some volunteers therein have faith-based affiliations?"

Much of our work has been in widening the possibilities between the throwing in our lot with faith-based organizations and refusing to contribute to social programs run by true believers.

These two options by themselves signify a false dichotomy, and the middle ground is where things get done. A multi-pronged, pluralistic strategy might be best from a pragmatic/realistic point of view. This sort of measured pragmatism is, of course, very unpopular, especially since our current media framework works to present issues as black/white dichotomies, playing to our basal instincts.

Quote:Ideally, we would hope that there emerges from within Indian freethinking ranks someone with the wherewithal to build our own version of the 'anti-Templeton foundation' as pulled off by Richard Dawkins here.

I share your aversion to the Templeton foundation's deceptive agenda.

In truth, any honest investigation of nature can only lead to naturalistic conclusions, and the Templeton Foundation has, despite itself, ushered in a new wave of religious thinkers intent on naturalizing religion. And this is the shallow end of the pool. I point you to people like Meera Nanda. But I was no dang accommodationist to begin with (I'm a pluralist). I completely agree with you that there is a need for funding for research grants offered to those scientists who forward the agenda of Freethought and Naturalism.
"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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#6
(04-Dec-2010, 04:42 PM)Ajita Kamal Wrote: Fritjtof Capra's ideas regarding the metaphysical implications of quantum physics, and the Tao of Physics, are shit.
Lol I needed to hear that ! Its an opinion I have held for many years.


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#7
(04-Dec-2010, 07:05 PM)Sajit Wrote:
(04-Dec-2010, 04:42 PM)Ajita Kamal Wrote: Fritjtof Capra's ideas regarding the metaphysical implications of quantum physics, and the Tao of Physics, are shit.
Lol I needed to hear that ! Its an opinion I have held for many years.
Devil2
@Arvind:
Continuing from my previous comment addressing some of what you said, yes, I think a separation of goals is sometimes desired to overcome ideological conflicts. We may have to work with those with whom we don't agree about science or religion, because we may share common goals when it comes to social, economic or political issues. That doesn't mean we should stop being critical of pseudoscience or superstition. So, I prefer your first choice.

Quote:"While credit is due to them for taking a stand for environmental protection and farmers' rights and against corporate aggression, their arguments revolving around themes like Ecoliteracy seem to teem with appeals to nature and seem otherwise poorly substantiated by data."

I think that much of their ideas is fluff, along with the garbage that Daniel Quinn and John Zerzan have been passing off as insightful and prophetic lessons for a harmonious future. Zerzan is interesting because unlike Quinn he's educated on political issues and can meaningfully put them in a philosophical framework, but they're both in the same category when it comes to ignoring the fact that the way out of the problems caused by the industrial revolution is to use our heads and make our technology better and non-polluting by instituting sensible science policies.

They forget that the only thing that can save the planet today is the city. Today agricultural land worldwide is equivalent in size to more than the area of the entire continent of South America! This is a vast area comprised of mono-culture biodiversity dead-zones. Thousands of acres of forests and natural habitat are cleared every day to make room for more agricultural land. Modern agriculture, food processing and transportation is responsible for one third of all fossil fuel usage in the US, and these numbers will soon be seen in the third world as well. Farm run-offs of nitrous fertilizers and pesticides are one of the greatest pollutants of the rivers and subsequently oceans of the world. Vandana Shiva and others like her are arguing themselves into a fantasy world where the world's population keeps growing, becoming wealthy and industrialized at a rapid rate, while continuing to live spread out in traditional farm-based communities.

The agriculture models of the future all involve vertical farms within cities. By 2050 governments will (should!) come together and farm land will become unavailable. The idea that we can micromanage the environment is simply nonsense. The first thing that Daniel Quinn says at his talks is that we humans are part of the system, and we must always think of ourselves as part of a larger system. What this ignores is that we also create our own system (which, duh, is part of the natural universe as is everything we know), by virtue of the fact that we are the most mentally and culturally advanced fucking creature on this planet. There is no undoing 10000 years of agriculture, and a couple of thousand years of scribbling on parchment. Check out Dickson Despommier's work if you want to hear a true visionary on the subject of the future of agriculture.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XIdP00u2KRA
I am aware of many of the usual criticisms, and most of these arise because the futuristic models for urban production of food are often misunderstood and oversimplified by critics. Often they do not take into account factors such as water shortages in the future (hydroponic farming is 80% more efficient in water usage), bad transportation, refrigeration and storage infrastructure (which is a huge problem in India, and urban farms eliminates the problem of transporting fresh agricultural produce to the people), efficiency (vertical farms will be more than 10 times more productive per acre than traditional farms), increasing environmental concerns (high initial costs, but good returns over time), increasingly poor quality of soil requiring expensive soil treatment and fertilizers which pollute the water, increasing fossil fues costs and demand for clean alternatives (such as those used in the models for (vertical farms), possible future economic models that account for widespread automation, artificial intelligence and a post-resource based economy.
Here's a video that takes New York City as a model for where cities are moving in the future, and why it is a good thing.
http://www.pbs.org/e2/episodes/101_the_g...ailer.html
"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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#8
Ajita Thanks for the superb TEDX video link. Fascinating concept. Dickson talks about the pacific ocean garbage patch. It is alarming no doubt. Here is another link I found.

http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/transla...bage-patch

With all due respect to the great man, the picture he uses in his presentation of the man in the canoe is from a Manila waterway. Thats not off the coast of California as he states.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/scienc...78017.html

We humans have screwed up the planet big time and we must find solutions.

Bobby, vertical farming is one the solutions for the UAE which imports most of their food perhaps? They have money to get started.


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#9
Thank you Ajita and others for your insights. Here is a quick followup:

1.
Quote:A multi-pronged, pluralistic strategy might be best from a pragmatic/realistic point of view. This sort of measured pragmatism is, of course, very unpopular, especially since our current media framework works to present issues as black/white dichotomies, playing to our basal instincts.

Quote:We may have to work with those with whom we don't agree about science or religion, because we may share common goals when it comes to social, economic or political issues.

For a wider discussion on avoiding the pitfall of pigeon-holed identities, I have compiled a list of recent articles dealing with identity and pluralism in a new thread here.

2. As for charitable causes, there is no dearth of secular charities and I have begun a list here, which we can all add to.

3.
Quote:In truth, any honest investigation of nature can only lead to naturalistic conclusions, and the Templeton Foundation has, despite itself, ushered in a new wave of religious thinkers intent on naturalizing religion.

Yes. During a campus event sponsored by the Templeton Foundation in my University, in what some of us may see as a delicious irony, an 'eliminative materialist' neuroscientist delivered a series of talks on what makes us human. The talks are archived here (Please scroll down to the Becoming Human lecture series and follow instructions to view.)

3.
Quote:We humans have screwed up the planet big time and we must find solutions.

Quote:The agriculture models of the future all involve vertical farms within cities.

The first time I heard of 'Zero till mulch farming' was in this TED talk, which also provides a list of many other promising sustainability solutions.
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#10
(05-Dec-2010, 07:33 PM)Sajit Wrote: With all due respect to the great man, the picture he uses in his presentation of the man in the canoe is from a Manila waterway. Thats not off the coast of California as he states.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/scienc...78017.html

This is a screw-up on Despommier's part, but I did a bit more research into it. Firstly, the guy looks Black rather than Philippine if you see this enlarged picture, and if you google Jay Directo, the photographer whom the Independent credits for the image, the human subjects in all his other images are of Philippine men and women. So there is just a small chance that it was the Independent and not Despommier who got it wrong. Secondly, the great North Pacific garbage patch, as it is known, is thought to be part of a large system of North Pacific oceanic currents that tends to bring the garbage together, increasing in size at certain times of the year. This type of rotating oceanic current is called a gyre. There are actually 5 of these worldwide, and each has a large garbage patch in its middle. The North Pacific one is the largest, and at certain time of the year it extends from the coast of California to the Philippines. See here. So even if Despommier is wrong about the location of the man in the canoe, the garbage filled waterway that the man in the canoe is paddling through could very well be part of the great North Pacific garbage patch that Despommier was talking about.


Quote:Bobby, vertical farming is one the solutions for the UAE which imports most of their food perhaps? They have money to get started.

The Middle East is already leading the world in this regard. Qatar has shown the most interest in this technology, and there are plans in the works to build vertical farms there.
"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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#11

Ajita I did some more research and found this...Sad

http://seawayblog.blogspot.com/2009/03/m...-dump.html

So the image of the guy in canoe seems to be from Manila's internal water ways as Independent newspaper said. And it looks like the Philippines have a massive problem.

My goodness, I think we are lucky by random chance to not have to live in such places....

Good to know that Qatar is looking into vertical farms. They have plenty of sun light for green houses in those parts of the world.

Israel was always a leader in agriculture technology like drip irrigation if I recall correctly.
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#12
(05-Dec-2010, 05:12 PM)Ajita Kamal Wrote: The agriculture models of the future all involve vertical farms within cities. By 2050 governments will (should!) come together and farm land will become unavailable.

While we await the large-scale adoption of the currently futuristic-seeming urban vertical farms, technology can yet save the day in the more old-school farms as well. Tensiometers and laser-leveling are cases in point, and especially relevant to India, as described in this Scientific American article.

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