Friday, June 20, 2008

Unnatural roots of the food crisis

Gonzalo Oviedo
Gonzalo Oviedo

As representatives of the world's governments gather to address shortages in major foodstuffs and rising prices, Gonzalo Oviedo counsels them to focus on ecosystems. The modern business-dominated agricultural industry, he argues, promotes the degradation of nature - and that, in turn, means less and worse food.

Rice sacks in Thai shop. Image: AFP/Getty
Four plant species - wheat, maize, rice and potato - provide over half of the plant-based calories in the human diet

Feeding the world requires healthy ecosystems and equitable governance.

The current model of market-driven food production is leaving people hungry.

It has turned food into a commodity subject to all the market failures that create inequities and negative impacts on the environment.

We have a global food crisis.

A myriad of events are convening the international community to reflect on the urgent situation.

Just in the past month, the UN Commission on Sustainable Development and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity focused considerable attention on agriculture and food security.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon created a special task force to respond to the crisis and soaring food prices.

And this week, in Rome, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is hosting a high-level summit on world food security, climate change and bioenergy.

But this crisis has been long coming. Unsustainable agricultural policies and technologies, inequitable trade rules, agricultural subsidies that distort the markets, and the systematic marginalisation of small producers lie at the heart of the problem.

In addition, there is chronic under-investment in agriculture in developing countries, and a real neglect of the basic premise that ecosystems have to be in good shape in order to provide good food.

Costs of production

The past 50 years have seen massive expansion of agriculture, with food production more than doubling in order to meet demand.

Red Irish lord. Image: AFP/Getty
Neglecting ecosystem concerns has provoked a fisheries crisis too

But it has left us with 60% of all ecosystem services degraded, accelerated species extinction, and huge loss in genetic diversity.

Currently, four plant species - wheat, maize, rice and potato - provide more than half of the plant-based calories in the human diet, while about a dozen animal species provide 90% of animal protein consumed globally.

We have already lost three-quarters of the genetic diversity of agricultural crops.

As the agricultural frontier has expanded, those farmers previously dependant on a more diverse source of livelihood have converted to cash crops.

As traditional varieties and breeds die out, so too do the traditional knowledge and practices of local farmers. Those same practices could now be critical in adapting to climate change.

The focus on agricultural commodities rather than on food production to meet the basic needs of people has undermined diversity and self-reliance, and left farmers vulnerable to volatile markets, political instability and environmental change.

Increased food production in some parts of the world has been at the expense of natural and semi-natural ecosystems that provide us greater long-term security.

In Britain, studies have shown that hay production is higher in meadows with a greater number of species.

Amazingly, there is very little attention being paid to what fundamentally underpins all of our food systems - biodiversity and the services provided by ecosystems

In Australia, crop yields are higher in regions where native biodiversity has been preserved.

In the seas, too, areas with a higher number of conserved species generate more fish for humans to catch and eat.

There are many other examples from land and sea to show that a healthy environment means more food and a greater capacity to survive natural disasters.

The current food crisis, meanwhile, will only be exacerbated by climate change, with southern Africa and South Asia expected to be particularly badly affected.

Market transformation

So what are the solutions to feeding a growing world population in the face of climate change?

We have been hearing about a Green Revolution for Africa, major irrigation and fertilisation programmes, genetically modified seed varieties, as well as banning the use of crops for biofuel production.

Amazingly, there is very little attention being paid to what fundamentally underpins all of our food systems - biodiversity and the services provided by ecosystems, such as soil, water and resilience to disasters.

We need to attack market failures and change the economic rules of current food production systems.

Hydroponic facility in Cuba. Image: AP
Developments such as hydroponics can reduce farming's use of resources

We must eliminate agricultural and fisheries subsidies that support elites in the North, and get rid of protectionist measures in OECD countries for agricultural products.

We have to allow for value-added trade for the benefit of the South, and expand fair trade and labelling processes that create incentives and add benefits to producers in the South.

We must change food production systems, moving from the existing model based on high inputs (such as fertilisers) accessible through markets, to systems based on locally available and more environmentally-friendly inputs.

We need to create alternative trade rules and circuits that reduce the payout to middlemen and big agribusinesses.

We must have greater investment, including by bilateral and multilateral development co-operation, to support food production systems that feed the poor and supply local markets.

The governance model related to natural resources has to change. We must expand small farmers' and landless peasants' access to productive assets in countries of the South - lands, water sources and fisheries.

There needs to be a shift away from the prevailing model of concentration of land in small groups of big landowners who are dropping food production for local markets and moving to big industrial production of commodities that produce no local benefits.

Gonzalo Oviedo is senior advisor on social policy with IUCN (formerly the World Conservation Union)

The Green Room is a series of opinion articles on environmental topics running weekly on the BBC News website

Indian baby 'back from the dead'

Hospital authorities in India have ordered an independent inquiry after a baby was declared dead, only to make an apparently miraculous return to life.

The baby girl - born in the city of Mumbai (Bombay) - was diagnosed as stillborn on Monday night.

But she astonished her distraught family by gurgling as they took her off to the cemetery the next day.

It is thought she revived after the effect of drugs - given to her mother during a complicated labour - wore off.

Hospital authorities say they are now investigating possible negligence by staff who attended the birth.

'Limp at birth'

"We have to fix responsibility," said Dr Suleiman Merchant, acting dean of Sion Hospital in Mumbai where the child was delivered.

Under such circumstances, it would appear that doctors had no reason to assume that the baby was dead
Dr Suleiman Merchant

"The doctors who were on duty are being questioned and the inquiry will last the entire day."

Correspondents say that it is not clear when or even if the results of the independent inquiry will be made public.

Dr Merchant said that the 30-year-old mother of the child - who was seven months pregnant - suffered life threatening convulsions and high blood pressure over the weekend, which required powerful medicines.

He said that that the doctors believed that the baby - who was limp at birth - had no heart beat and no pulse.

She was given a death certificate on Tuesday morning and two hours later her body was handed over to her parents.

But later, when the effect of medicines wore off, Dr Merchant said that the baby "showed attempts to breathe".

"Under such circumstances, it would appear that doctors had no reason to assume that the baby was dead," he said. "There is on the face of it a case of negligence to be answered."

As the grieving parents made their way to the cemetery, the baby reportedly started gurgling and was rushed back to the hospital.

She is reported still to be in a critical condition and is on a ventilator.

Medical experts say the most likely explanation for what happened is that drugs given to the mother suppressed the baby's heart beat - which would have grown stronger once the effects of the drugs wore off.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Jun 19, 10:14 AM EDT

Indian rescuers scramble to reach deluged villages

AP Photo
AP Photo/Biswaranjan Rout

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Monsoon Floods

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CALCUTTA, India (AP) -- Soldiers and rescue workers rushed to provide relief to hundreds of thousands of people stranded in eastern India by monsoon floods that have killed at least 38 people in the past week, officials said Thursday.

The floods destroyed bridges, washed out major highways and sent villagers fleeing for higher ground in the state of West Bengal, where the death toll rose to nine, state Finance Minister Asim Dasgupta said.

Five others have been missing for over three days, Dasgupta said.

Authorities were arranging to bring in helicopters to drop food to the state's hardest-hit districts, he said.

About 300 soldiers have been called in to help in the state, local official Kalyan Mitra said.

Officials said they feared West Bengal did not have enough rescue supplies.

"There is an acute shortage of speed boats and relief material," Mitra said. "The pace of rescue work has been slowed down."

Weather forecasters predicted more rain in coming days.

Floods in neighboring Orissa state killed two people and marooned more than 200,000 in about 300 villages, said Manmohan Samal, the state revenue minister.

In the past week, 19 deaths were reported from mudslides and house collapses in Arunachal Pradesh state, while eight fatalities were reported in the state of Assam.

Monsoon rains usually hit India from June to September. Farmers depend on them for their crops, which feed hundreds of millions of people in the country.

However, the monsoons also bring massive destruction across the country. Flooding, house collapses and other rain-related incidents kill thousands of people each year.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Beginner's Guide to Common Chants

Ever wonder what you're chanting during a yoga class? Nervous about chanting the wrong thing? The Yoga Journal Guide provides translations, historical information, and audio clips for common chants.

1. Aum
The Primal Shabda
More related to chanting:
Visit a Kirtan
The Roots of Chanting
Om, actually pronounced "Aum," is an affirmation of the Divine Presence that is the universe and is similar to the Hebrew "Amen." There are many ways of chanting Aum, but this is an approach that will initiate you as a Shabda Yogi, one who pursues the path of sound toward wholeness and higher states of consciousness.
Listen to Aum

2. Lokah Samastha
A Chant for Wholeness

Lokah samastha sukhino bhavanthu.
May this world be established with a sense of well-being and happiness.
Listen to Lokah Samastha

3. Gayatri
Being Illuminated by Sacred Sound

Om bhur bhuvas svaha
Thath savithur varaynyam
Bhargo dheyvasya dhimahih
Dhyoyonah pratchodhay-yath

We worship the word (shabda) that is present in the earth, the heavens, and that which is beyond. By meditating on this glorious power that gives us life, we ask that our minds and hearts be illuminated.
Listen to the Gayatri Mantra

4. Om Namah Shivaaya

Om Namah Shivaaya, Namah Shivaaya, Nama Shiva
I bow to Lord Shiva, the peaceful one who is the embodiment of all that is cause by the universe.
Listen to Om Namah Shivaaya

5. Bija Mantras
Seed Mantras

In the “seed” (bija) mantras each seed is conceived of as the sound-form of a particular Hindu deity, and each deity is in turn a particular aspect of the Absolute (Brahman). It’s said that just as a great tree resides in within the seed, so does a god or goddess reside in each bija. When we chant the bijas, we identify each syllable with the divine energy they represent.

Sound Pronunciation Awareness
Lam Curve the tip of your tongue up and back, and place it on the rear section of the upper palate to pronounce a sound like the word alum without the initial a. Base of the spine
Vam Place the upper set of teeth on the inner section of your lower lip and begin with a breathy consonant to imitate the sound of a fast car. Pronounce the mantra like "fvam." Genitals
Ram Place the tip of your tongue on the roof of the front section of the upper palate, roll the r as in Spanish, and pronounce the mantra like the first part of the word rumble. Abdomen
Yam Inhale audibly through your mouth, and pronounce the word hum (as in humming); allow the breath to extend beyond the resolution of the consonant. Solar Plexus and Heart Area
Ham Inhale noiselessly through your mouth, and pronounce the sound like the word yum (as in yummy); allow the sound along with your breath to fill your mouth and throat cavity. Throat
Om Inhale audibly through your nostrils, and direct the stream of air to the point between your eyebrows. Pronounce the sound along with your exhalation as a subtly audible whisper, allowing the sound and breath to resonate in the cranial area. Point between the eyebrows
Listen to "Ram" and "Ham" from the Bija Mantras Translations and audio clips courtesy of Russill Paul's The Yoga of Sound available for purchase through Shop YJ.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

All about domestic flights in India

From IndiaMike

With new airlines starting domestic flights in India, joining the skies, and increasing flight routes over the sub-continent, coupled with the trend of travellers opting to fly under tight schedules, it seems conducive to have a thread containing everything you need or want to know about domestic flights in India.

It would be great if members can keep this article updated by adding any India domestic flight specials, new India flight routes, and what not in the comments section. Also, post any FAQ here as well.

Airlines offering domestic flights in India

Air India and Indian Airlines

Air India - India domestic flights on IndiaMike.comAir India is India’s national carrier, and after merging with Indian Airlines, is the only government owned airline in India offering domestic flights in India. Air India was initially founded in 1932 as Tata Airlines. Air India’s primary hubs in India are Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai and Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi.

E-ticketing is available for all domestic India flight routes except those to/from Calicut, Lucknow and Goa Offers day fares and night fares (the latter being cheaper).

Air India offers youth discount of up to 25% off for those under 30 years of age, although you may have to call their offices if you want youth fares. They e-mail you a payment slip which needs to be filled in and faxed back plus with your passport id to verify your age.

Check-in baggage rules for domestic flights in India (per person): First Class - 40 kgs, Executive Class - 30 kgs, Economy Class 20 kgs.


Deccan - India domestic flights on IndiaMike.comDeccan, formerly known as Air Deccan, is India’s first low cost airline carrier. It was founded in August 2003, " with the vision to empower every Indian to fly by providing the lowest airfares and connectivity to unconnected towns and cities". Deccan is based in Bangalore, with another hub in Chennai.

Deccan does not differentiate in fares between NRI, tourists, and locals for Indian domestic flights. Check-in baggage rules for domestic India flights (per person): 15 kg (Rs 70/kg for excess check-in luggage)

JetLite (formerly Air Sahara)

JetLite - India domestic flights on

JetLite, formerly known as Air Sahara, is one of the older privately-owned airlines in India. It was founded in September, 1991, is has bases in Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, Begumpet Airport in Hyderabad, Chatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai, Chennai International Airport in Chennai, and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport in Kolkata.

JetLite covers domestic flights all over India, as well as travel between Delhi and Chicago through a code share with American Airlines. Check-in baggage for domestic flights in India (per person): 20 kg.


GoAir - India domestic flights on IndiaMike.comGoAir is another low-cost carrier, and is a relative new-comer for Indian domestic flights, having been established in June 2004. It is based in Mumbai.

GoAir does not differentiate in fares between NRI, tourists, and residents, and flies between Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Coimbatore ad Goa. GoAir offers 10,000 Free Tickets Per Month. Check-in baggage rules for domestic India flights: 15 kg (Rs 70/kg for excess check-in luggage)

Indigo Air

IndiGo - India domestic flights on IndiaMike.comIndigo Air began its flight operations for domestic Indian flights in August 2006, and currently links Agartala, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Bhubaneswar, Chennai, Goa, Guwahati, Hyderabad, Imphal, Jaipur, Kochi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Nagpur, New Delhi, Pune, Udaipur, and Vadodara. This low cost Indian flight carrier’s main hub is in Delhi.

Indigo Air does not differentiate between NRI, tourist, and local fares for domestic Indian flight tickets.

Jagson Airline

Jagson Airlines - India domestic flights on IndiaMike.comJagson Airline, established in November 1991, is India’s first private airline. It is based primarily in Delhi. Jagson Airlines currently operates Delhi-Kullu and Delhi-Shimla routes, as well as Shirdi-Mumbai and Shirdi-Pune flights. Jagson airlines has offices in Mumbai, Shirdi, Manali, Kullu, Shimla, with good connects for the Delhi-Rajasthan sector

Jagson airlines does offer internet booking facilities for domestic Indian flight tickets through their online booking site.

Jet Airways

Jet Airways - India domestic flights on

Jet Airways is based in Mumbai, and offers over 370 daily flights across 44 domestic destinations. Jet Airways also operates numerous international flights to destinations like the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Thailand, and Nepal. Jet Airways became the first Indian carrier to offer internet check-in facilities for its passengers.

Jet Airways offers youth discount (25%) for those under 29 years of age, and Senior Citizen discounts for those 65 years and older. To get the discount rates for domestic flights in India, the airline requires you to fax over credit card as well as pass port ID details.

Check-in baggage rules for domestic India flights (per person): Economy - 25 kg, Premiere - 35 kg.

Kingfisher Air

Kingfisher Air - India domestic flights on

Kingfisher Airlines Limited is based in Bangalore, and was established in May 2005. It operates over 200 domestic Indian flights a day across 37 destinations in India. Its primary hub is in Bangalore International Airport.

Although Kingfisher only operates flights in India, the airline has plans to expand into the international market by adding the Unted States as a possible destination. Check-in baggage rules for domestic India flights: Kingfisher Class - 20 kg, Kingfigher First - 35 kg.

Paramount Airlines

Paramount Airlines - India domestic flights on IndiaMike.comParamount Airlines’ primary focus is on the business traveler, and flies between Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka. Some of its Indian domestic flight destinations include Bangalore, Chennai, Kochi (Cochin), Hyderabad and Madurai.

It is based in Madurai India, with its primary hub located in Chennai International Airport. The airline started operating in October 2005. Click here for a schedule of Paramount Airways flights.

There is no differentiation in fares for domestic flights in India between NRI, tourists, and residents for Paramount Airlines. The airline also offers a booking facility through its Online Paramount Booking site.


Spicejet - India domestic flights on

SpiceJet was voted the best low-cost carrier in Central Asia by SkyTrax in 2007. It is based in New Delhi, with its main hub in Mumbai and an additional hub in Ahmedabad. SpiceJet also offers service to Bangalore, Chennai, Goa, Hyderabad, Kolkata, and Varanasi.

SpiceJet offers online booking services, and has no differentiation in fares between NRI, tourists, and locals. Check-in baggage rules for domestic flights in India: 20kg.

Indus Air (out of business)

Indus Air - India domestic flights on IndiaMike.comIndus Air no longer exists as a carrier, having gone out of business s few months after its launch. It was originally based in Ghaziabad, with its main hub in Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi. The airline started its domestic Indian flight operations in December 2006.

Indus Air was a regional carrier, and operated flights between Amritsar, Chandigarh, Delhi, and Mumbai.

NOTE: For all airlines operating domestic flights in India, there is apparently no hand luggage abroad planes originating from Jammu, Leh and Srinagar. Only checked in luggage.

Ticket Auctions for India domestic flights

Open to Indian residents only.

Unlimited air travel

If you are on a tight schedule, and you are thinking of doing most of your traveling by air, here are some schemes available to NRI/tourists to help with your domestic India flights ticket.

Jet airways

  • 7 days Visit India pass (Adult: USD 400) unlimited travel on domestic Indian flight sectors
  • 7 days Regional Visit India Fare (Adult: USD 320) unlimited travel to destinations within specified regions (click here)
  • 15/21 days Visit India pass (Adult: USD 630; 895 respectively) unlimited travel within the entire domestic Indian flight network

Indian Airlines

  • Discover India – 7 Days pass (Adult: USD 400) maximum 7 coupons for travel on domestic sectors
  • Discover India – 15 Days pass (Adult: USD 630)
  • Discover India – 21 Days pass (Adult: USD 895)
  • India Wonder Fare (7 days) – for those wanting to cover the major tourist attractions (Adult: USD 300 up to Sept 05; USD 320 from Oct 05) – unlimited travel within specified regions (click here)

Air Deccan

  • Super-Value Flier – 16 tickets (Rs 48, 000) on all Air Deccan sectors
  • Super-Value Flier – 14 tickets (Rs 24, 000) on ATR routes

Booking domestic air tickets outside of India

Here’s the website for the Overseas Jet Airways offices, and here’s the website for the Overseas Indian Airlines services.

Japanese way to fold Tee Shirts

Incredible Scooter ‘Lunch’ Stunt

Are you a good multi-tasker, when it comes to driving?

One Taiwan man shows his awesome multi-tasking skills as he pulls out a bowl of instant noodles and starts to eat lunch, while riding with no hands on a moving scooter.

taiwan-man-scooter-newspaper Incredible Scooter Lunch Stunt picture

He even pulls out a drink to quench his thirst, all while speeding down the street on his bike.

Of course, all the talent and multi-tasking skills in the world didn’t stop the police from writing a ticket a few minutes after the video was finished.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Tonglen is Tibetan for giving and taking' (or, sending and taking), and it refers to a meditation practice found in Tibetan Buddhism.

In the practice, one visualizes taking onto oneself the suffering of others, and giving one's own happiness and success to others. As such it is a training in altruism in its most extreme form. The function of the practice is to:

  • reduce selfish attachment
  • increase a sense of renunciation
  • create positive karma by giving and helping
  • develop loving-kindness and bodhicitta
  • it refers to all of the Six Perfections of giving, ethics, patience, joyous effort, concentration and wisdom, which are the practices of a Bodhisattva.

This practice is summarized in seven points, which are attributed to the great Indian Buddhist teacher Atisha Dipankara Shrijnana, born in 982 CE. They were first written down by Kadampa master Langri Thangpa (1054–1123). The practice became more widely known when Geshe Chekawa Yeshe Dorje (1101–1175) summarized the points in his Seven Points of Training the Mind. This list of mind training (lojong) proverbs or 'slogans' compiled by Chekawa is often referred to as the Atisha Slogans.

H.H. The Dalai Lama, who is said to practise Tonglen every day, has said of the technique: "Whether this meditation really helps others or not, it gives me peace of mind. Then I can be more effective, and the benefit is immense". [1]