The Indian external affairs minister set new standards in foreign affairs on Wednesday when she threatened a global e-commerce giant with a visa ban through Twitter.
Sushma Swaraj tweeted that the government would not grant visas to Amazon employees and would also rescind those granted earlier, unless the company withdrew “all products insulting our national flag immediately”.
Swaraj’s precipitous threat was a response to a tweet addressed to her which said: “Amazon Canada must be censured and warned not to sell India flag doormats. Please take action.”
Ms Swaraj’s response to a tweet from a faceless social media user is perplexing because the Indian flag is constantly defiled within the boundaries of the republic and garners not so much as a tweet from anyone in power.
For instance, the flag regularly finds its way into garbage bins after national holidays such as Republic Day and Independence Day.
It has been used as a weapon to strike a citizen during a protest.
It has even been draped over the casket of a man charged with murder – that of Mohammad Akhlaq, who was lynched by a mob on September 28, 2015, in Uttar Pradesh’s Dadri because of suspicion that he had eaten beef.
And absolutely no one in the government or on social media seems to feel insulted by the fact that in India’s capital and major cities, scores of children only ever get to wave the national flag when selling replicas of it to people at traffic junctions. The only protection these children receive from the precious tricolour are the few rupees they make from a successful sale through a car window.
In other countries, where children do not have to beg on the streets to feed themselves, doormats that look like their national flags evoke no comment. Amazon and other online retailers sell doormats in the flag colours of these countries. In the bulk of them, bad reviews only relate to the poor quality of the product. There are no Internet armies exhorting amazon.ca, for example, to cease selling a doormat designed to look like the Canadian flag or amazon.fr for selling one in the French tri-colour because it is an insult to their nation. And certainly, no country government has publicly threatened a company with action for selling products that “insult” its national symbols.
In countries that are able to deliver basic services to their citizens and that ensure children are not cast out on to streets, forced to beg or retail the national flag in the midst of traffic to earn a living, a flag in the form of a doormat is just another item of home décor. It does not attract comment from anyone, never mind from a cabinet minister.
India’s young flag sellers, condemned to earning a few rupees from other people’s patriotism, would have been luckier had they been born in a country where they were guaranteed food, shelter and an education but where no one cares if they wipe their feet on a mat that looks like the country’s national flag.
How sustainable farming practices can secure India's food for the future
India is home to 15% of the world’s undernourished population.
Food security is a pressing problem in India and in the world. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), it is estimated that over 190 million people go hungry every day in the country.
Evidence for India’s food challenge can be found in the fact that the yield per hectare of rice, one of India’s principal crops, is 2177 kgs per hectare, lagging behind countries such as China and Brazil that have yield rates of 4263 kgs/hectare and 3265 kgs/hectare respectively. The cereal yield per hectare in the country is also 2,981 kgs per hectare, lagging far behind countries such as China, Japan and the US.
The slow growth of agricultural production in India can be attributed to an inefficient rural transport system, lack of awareness about the treatment of crops, limited access to modern farming technology and the shrinking agricultural land due to urbanization. Add to that, an irregular monsoon and the fact that 63% of agricultural land is dependent on rainfall further increase the difficulties we face.
Despite these odds, there is huge potential for India to increase its agricultural productivity to meet the food requirements of its growing population.
The good news is that experience in India and other countries shows that the adoption of sustainable farming practices can increase both productivity and reduce ecological harm.
Sustainable agriculture techniques enable higher resource efficiency – they help produce greater agricultural output while using lesser land, water and energy, ensuring profitability for the farmer. These essentially include methods that, among other things, protect and enhance the crops and the soil, improve water absorption and use efficient seed treatments. While Indian farmers have traditionally followed these principles, new technology now makes them more effective.
For example, for soil enhancement, certified biodegradable mulch films are now available. A mulch film is a layer of protective material applied to soil to conserve moisture and fertility. Most mulch films used in agriculture today are made of polyethylene (PE), which has the unwanted overhead of disposal. It is a labour intensive and time-consuming process to remove the PE mulch film after usage. If not done, it affects soil quality and hence, crop yield. An independently certified biodegradable mulch film, on the other hand, is directly absorbed by the microorganisms in the soil. It conserves the soil properties, eliminates soil contamination, and saves the labor cost that comes with PE mulch films.
The other perpetual challenge for India’s farms is the availability of water. Many food crops like rice and sugarcane have a high-water requirement. In a country like India, where majority of the agricultural land is rain-fed, low rainfall years can wreak havoc for crops and cause a slew of other problems - a surge in crop prices and a reduction in access to essential food items. Again, Indian farmers have long experience in water conservation that can now be enhanced through technology.
Seeds can now be treated with enhancements that help them improve their root systems. This leads to more efficient water absorption.
In addition to soil and water management, the third big factor, better seed treatment, can also significantly improve crop health and boost productivity. These solutions include application of fungicides and insecticides that protect the seed from unwanted fungi and parasites that can damage crops or hinder growth, and increase productivity.
While sustainable agriculture through soil, water and seed management can increase crop yields, an efficient warehousing and distribution system is also necessary to ensure that the output reaches the consumers. According to a study by CIPHET, Indian government’s harvest-research body, up to 67 million tons of food get wasted every year — a quantity equivalent to that consumed by the entire state of Bihar in a year. Perishables, such as fruits and vegetables, end up rotting in store houses or during transportation due to pests, erratic weather and the lack of modern storage facilities. In fact, simply bringing down food wastage and increasing the efficiency in distribution alone can significantly help improve food security. Innovations such as special tarpaulins, that keep perishables cool during transit, and more efficient insulation solutions can reduce rotting and reduce energy usage in cold storage.
Thus, all three aspects — production, storage, and distribution — need to be optimized if India is to feed its ever-growing population.
One company working to drive increased sustainability down the entire agriculture value chain is BASF. For example, the company offers cutting edge seed treatments that protect crops from disease and provide plant health benefits such as enhanced vitality and better tolerance for stress and cold. In addition, BASF has developed a biodegradable mulch film from its ecovio® bioplastic that is certified compostable – meaning farmers can reap the benefits of better soil without risk of contamination or increased labor costs. These and more of the company’s innovations are helping farmers in India achieve higher and more sustainable yields.
Of course, products are only one part of the solution. The company also recognizes the importance of training farmers in sustainable farming practices and in the safe use of its products. To this end, BASF engaged in a widespread farmer outreach program called Samruddhi from 2007 to 2014. Their ‘Suraksha Hamesha’ (safety always) program reached over 23,000 farmers and 4,000 spray men across India in 2016 alone. In addition to training, the company also offers a ‘Sanrakshan® Kit’ to farmers that includes personal protection tools and equipment. All these efforts serve to spread awareness about the sustainable and responsible use of crop protection products – ensuring that farmers stay safe while producing good quality food.
Interested in learning more about BASF’s work in sustainable agriculture? See here.
This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.