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World Congress on Agroforestry 2014 – New Delhi

24 Mar

The good folks at ICRAF invited Naandi Foundation to the World Agroforestry Congress held in Delhi between the 10th to 15th February 2014. The event opened on a chilly Monday morning with an inaugural address introduction from the Indian president Pranab Mukherjee. The President then felicitated adults and kids from across India with awards for their work on biodiversity. The engaging luncheon presented us with a buffet of ideas and cuisine. People from across the world introduced their work as everybody broke “naan” together. With everyone having introduced themselves the gathering split up into six workshops.

Murkerjee AFC

The second day saw the president of the Livelihoods Venture, Bernard Giraud, gave an introductory address in the morning and speak about improving nutrition through Agroforestry. He spoke about the livelihoods network camp hosted by Naandi in October 2011 at Araku. He also spoke of the Hariyali (Greenery) Project through which Danone and Mahindra ambitiously hopes to plant 6 million fruit and coffee saplings by 2016. We met with him briefly to discuss the best way forward for the Pollinator Programme. It was a pleasure to meet back some old friend like Behinda from Indonesia who was also present in Araku livelihoods network last year.

The event was divided into six workshops – all of them dealing with key livelihoods and social enterprise. Our workshop focused more on biodiversity. Time became a constraint as everybody was keen to share their work, there was nothing in it as everybody’s presentations and areas of work were fascinating. Coffee 2

  discussion

We really appreciate the platform the Congress provided to learn about projects across the world. While our tireless pursuit for sustainability carries on, it feel truly special to mingle with like-minded people and get recognition for our efforts. We look forward to participating in events of this nature (pun intended).

The goal of the conference was to show that the best way to develop in a sustainable way an area by linking research, practical aspect and government goal and how to link the farmers directly to the consumers without passing by the middle man. By doing this, it allow us to get better quality product as well as a better value for money for the consumers.

To conclude, the World Agroforesty Congress was a great opportunity to understand the different needs in the rural livelihoods space. We thank the organizers of the conference and ICRAF for their support.

More than just Honey: The challenges of Indian Agriculture

7 Mar

Flipping through the Indian Express a couple of days ago, I came across an article titled ‘More than just Honey‘, concerning honey bees in Punjab. The headline immediately reminded me of the movie ‘More than Honey.’ A little bit of history to understand the context of this article. The Punjab university was the first to introduce the Apis mellifera species to India in the 70’s. The article focused on the fact that honey bees provide a host of livelihoods options, apart from the obvious economic benefit from honey production. The article stressed that by breeding queens, harvesting royal jelly, recolting propolis it will bring an easy livelihoods to the farmers but could has as well a negative effect.

My concern is with India’s agriculture already heavily industrialized soon we will be in the same situation than the US where honey bees are being over stressed. By not working in symbiosis anymore with the bees, by adding already made bee wax sheet, by over selecting the best queens, and pumping the bees with antibiotics  we are ensuring that the breed is weakening and more vulnerable. If the government continues on, soon the Apis mellifera of India will disappear and will be affected by Colony Collapse Disorder. This aggressive industrialization of Apis mellifera will eventually force the beekeeper to revert back to the practice of working with Apis cerana. Asian bees are more adapted to this climate and require minimal management.

People seems to have forgotten that the main role of honey bees is the pollination of crops which link to food supply. Without them, the farmers will have an inferior yield, a lower market as well as less nutritional value as it has been proven that due to the presence of honey bees yields increase from 30 to 200%. We at ApiAnon see at as an integral function of our little friends, more so than the mass production of honey. We wish to create awareness on this situation and highlight the plight of our little friends.

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October 2013: Waiting for sunshine in the wake of Cyclone Phailin

20 Oct

October was not a good month for beekeeping. Cyclone Phailin at the beginning of the month was followed by incessant rains in the region. We find ourselves eagerly awaiting the return of ‘Surya’ or the Indian sun deity to our lovely valley. We are keen to see our bees return to their foraging ways. The weather is still too cold and grey for Apis Cerana, but  other bigger and more robust pollinators are able to negotiate the monsoon chill.

solitary bee on flower copy

carpenter bee on flower2Wasp flyingWe’ve stepped up our community mobilisation efforts and continue to focus on teaching our beneficiaries about beekeeping.  Working in remote tribal belts means that regular contact with individual beneficiaries become. We’ve added much-needed structure to our meetings and now each village has a regular meeting every 2 weeks. Every time we go to these villages for meetings, it is important to have the majority of our beneficiaries present. This is the reason we schedule 2 fixed meetings monthly. In Santhari village, our meetings are on the first and third Friday of each month.

meeting2 mweeting After the conclusion of the meeting, the beneficiaries wanted to show me the hut they had constructed to shelter the future hive. The group of about 10 colourful tribal women confidently led me to their shelter, a stark contrast to when I first visited this village and the women were to shy to talk to us. After only a brief few months of initiating the pollinator programme in the village, I could already see the difference in behaviour of the beneficiaries.We individually checked each shelter and advised them on how to better prepare the shelter.DSC_0172we

5 Facts about Monsanto in India

21 Aug

I recently visited Monsanto- India’s website and was quite shocked being greeted by this slogan: “Producing more, conserving more, improving lives. THAT’S SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE, AND THAT’S WHAT MONSANTO IS ALL ABOUT”. Don’t believe me? Check for yourselves.

If that’s not enough, Monsanto was awarded the World Food Prize (2013), often referred to as the “Nobel Prize” for Agriculture. Do you think, like me, that there’s something fishy about that? Below are a few of my findings about Monsanto in India I thought I’d share:

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BT cotton

  • Monsanto developed BT Brinjal illegally using 6 endemic varieties of Indian Brinjal. Biosafety test done raised serious health concerns.
  • In 2003, Monsanto got a patent granted in the European patent office for a variety of wheat that  had originally developed from Nap Hal, an Indian wheat variety. But was un-patented in India.
  • In the last 15 years, 270,000 farmers have committed suicide in India. Most of these suicides were in the cotton belt. Monsanto now controls 95% of the cotton seed supplies in the country through its GMO BT cotton, and the associated Intellectual property claims. Costs of cotton seed jumped 8000% with the introduction of BT cotton.
  • Monsanto has been conducting field trials in India with GM corn for commercial approval.  The biosafety assessments presented by Monsanto have been left incomplete. The most shocking is the fact that this assessment has been conducted by Monsanto laboratories itself.
  • After the US Monsanto Protection Act law was passed in March 2013, Monsanto is trying to impose a protection act in India, the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) bill.

    Coated seeds

What is the BRAI exactly? 

This Bill was introduced by the Ministry of Science and Technology in the Lok Sabha on 22 April 2013 as a promise to promote the safe use of modern biotechnology. This bill is a threat to our health,  the environment and agriculture. The introduction of GM seeds means that:

  • This bill promotes the use of GMO and GE in India without taking inconsideration of the health risk associated to this modern technology. Basically Monsanto thinks that more is better, doesn’t matter the quality.
  •  The bill reduces the role of the state government and gives them no power to ban or reject the introduction of GM seed on the market and citizen will not have access to information about the safety of GM food.
  • There is no socio-economic survey proving that GM will be a better solution to India agriculture. (introduction of the GM cotton is a good example of the negative effect of GM crops.

bee against monsanto

Working everyday with poor, tribal communities, I can’t imagine them buying all seeds every year, they have traditionally always kept seeds stored for the coming year. Few days ago, an Indian nationwide campaign has been launched against the BRAI Bill and GM crop to fight the invasion of Monsanto in Indian crops. You can join the fight and sign the petition.To be continued.

[Photo credit – abhisheksrivastava]

June Timeline: Celebration of the Pollinator week

14 Jun

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This month, from the 17 to 23rd, the world will celebrate pollinator week. To  mark the event, our post of the month will be focused on the different insect pollinators that we find in the region, actually more specifically the ones that I was able to photograph.

 

 

Of course, we are working with Apis Cerena, the Indian honey bee, I think everyone knows how our little friend looks by now.

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Apis cerana

I was able to capture a couple other honey bee species which are not domesticable.

Apis Dorsata, or Rock bees (as they’re popularly called) are usually double the size of their European counterpart. In India, Honey harvesting from A. Dorsata is a tradition. The honey hunters are renowned for their bravery and skill. A nest can contain 60 kilogram of honey! JACKPOT!

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Apis dorsata nest

Apis florea, on the other hand is 2 times smaller than their European brethren. Their nest is not bigger than 20 cm and a colony produce an average of 200 gram of honey yearly.  I found it quite strange to see the 2 distinctly different species side by side, but hey, this is India for you.

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Honey bees are the best known pollinators but there are others as well. Some of the most beautiful and graceful are butterflies. They are not as efficient as bees, because butterflies are perching feeders, they do not come as close to the flower therefor to the pollen. Still, they do their part in pollination and who doesn’t like watching them, they are so colorful and elegant!

Papilio polytes

Common Mormon- Papilio polytes

Euthalia aconthea

Simple Baron- Euthalia aconthea

There are also more discrete pollinators, that you may not even noticed or just mistake with a honey bee: the solitary bee. They are not social insect, which mean they have no queens and all female are fertile. Also they do not produce honey or wax. Around the world 90% of the bee species are solitary. Solitary bees are important pollinators and have advanced pollen collecting structures on their bodies with which to collect the pollen.

Bee hotel

Bee hotel

In Araku we want to create a bee sanctuary or should I say a pollinator sanctuary. Our main focus is Apis Cerana, but we do not for a moment forget to consider the various other pollinators. This month we have started creating bee-hotel for solitary bees to nest in. We used bamboo sticks of different size for the first one, but for the next one, we’ll try to vary the material to offer more habitat options to these guys. Can’t wait to go back there to see the first customers!

Obama and Monsanto wants to conquer the world food supply

22 May

Barack Obama has signed the bill “Monsanto Protected Act” into a law on Tuesday 26th March 2013. The act is said to be written in collusion with Monsanto Corporation, the world’s largest producer of genetically modified seeds and crops.

obama Since his election, Obama has always been a supporter of Monsanto. In 2009, Obama appointed Islam Siddiqui to lead the agricultural negotiations at the US trade Office. Guess what? Mr. Siddiqui, from 2001 to 2008,  was a registered lobbyist representing Biotechnology companies including Monsanto.  Other similar cases only echo the cause for concern.

With the support of the US government, Monsanto’s goal is to conquer the world food supply. It’s happening faster than you think!

The Monsanto Protected Act allows the corporation to grow, harvest and sell genetically modified crops without reviewing the potential health risk of these ones. It means that the future impact on the health of the consumer is not taken in consideration. It also allows big corporations to sell their GMO and GE seeds even when legal courts have stopped them to do so.

8566275712_b95c848dc6In addition, farmers buying GMO or GE seeds have no legal right to save seeds and are forced to buy new seeds for the next season.Monsanto supply systemic seeds as well as chemical pesticides. The use of these chemical is one of the major cause of the death of millions of bees.

The influence of Monsanto is not merely endemic to the United States. Monsanto produces the largest quantity of GMO seeds which has been promoted aboard, especially in developing countries. In 2010, Wikileaks exposed the pubic relationship strategy  the US government aggressively pursued through various conferences,events and travels to convince scientists, media houses,industries, farmers and politicians of the absence of ill-effects in GMO. Between 2005 and 2009, 28 such events have been organised by the USDA.   In 2013, the United States is expected to export $145 billion in agricultural products.

jeffAfter  “Monsanto Protected Act” passed secretly, the company became above the law. Leaving farmers with little in terms of protection.

“To avoid public scrutiny, the ‘Monsanto Protection Act’ was quietly and anonymously inserted into the continuing resolution passed this March to avert a government shutdown,”explained Jeff Merkley, Oregano Senator. Last week, Sen. Merkley announced that he will repeal the controversial law by offering a new amendment.

Watch this space for more.

Photo credit by Valeriy osipov

Photo credit by Noel Morata

Photo credit by Donkeyhotey

Earth Day: US commercial beekeepers call for the ban of neonicotinoids

21 Apr

Last week, UK Environmental Audit Committee called for  a moratorium by next January on neonicotinoids. Following their steps, commercial beekeepers from USA are running a campaign against these pesticides.

They demanded the Environmental Protection Agency ban Bayer’s neonicotinoid pesticide clothianidin which are strongly linked to the Colony Collapse Disorder of honeybees. In 2003, a report published by EPA, confirmed that these pesticides are toxic to bees, but the product snuck it’s way into the market awaiting “more conclusive” field tests from Bayer. In 2007, EPA accepted Bayer’s results which claim that the clothianidin is safe for honey bees. Meanwhile, recent research conducted by independent scientists clearly shows the link between the pesticide and harmful effects on honeybees immune system.

On the special occasion of  Earth Day 2013 tomorrow, a petition will be delivered to the EPA headquarters in Washington DC by a swarm of bee-activists.

If you want to be part of the solution, sign the petition on causes.com