Hamara Beej

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Banana fibre in Bihar: the remarkable story of an industry and an entrepreneur!

Patna: Bihar farmers plant banana in around 28,000 hectares of land every year. The banana plant is the largest herbaceous flowering plant. The plants are normally tall and fairly sturdy and are often mistaken for trees, but their main or upright stem is actually a pseudostem that grows 6 to 7.6 metres (20 to 24.9 ft) tall, growing from a corm.
Each pseudostem can produce a single bunch of bananas. After fruiting, the pseudostem dies, but offshoots may develop from the base of the plant. Many varieties of bananas are perennial.
banana fibre arrangedbanana fibre arranged
The relevant point here however is, the stem invariably goes waste. On the whole 22 districts in Bihar grow banana, some of them on a vast scale. Each acre of banana plantation may have up to 1300 tress. This may give you some idea of the banana waste output of entire Bihar. So what should be done?
According to standard data, not widely known in Bihar, a full 1 km of fibre may be extracted from 12-15 banana trees. A plantation thus with 1300 trees can give a producer 85 kms of fibre length. But what are the uses of the banana fibre? And this is where the producer may hit the jackpot.
banana fibre matsbanana fibre mats
Banana fibre is used in a variety of industries starting with high quality paper to weaving of saris in South India and Gujarat. The fibre also finds use in high quality security/currency paper, packing cloth, ship towing ropes, wet drilling cables etc.
India also occupies the largest area under Banana cultivation in the world covering approx. 11% of world area of Banana. Banana fiber can partially replace the consumption of Cotton and Jute fiber in India. It has excellent potential for export to Far-east Asian and South Asian countries like Singapore,Taiwan, Japan, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Malaysia.
Banana farmers and entrepreneurs in Bihar are thus sitting on a gold mine that they are not aware of. There is one person however who has taken the initiative in Bihar. Virendra Dayal who has a small scale unit in Bidupur, Vaishali took the trouble to get himself trained in the technique of fibre extraction before he put up his industry. He now says he has captive clients who pick up his produce and he doesn’t have to go chasing after them – a major advantage in the case of Bihar where farmers often find tough to seek markets.
Mr Dayal lays down a simple calculation to explain the profitability of the industry – one acre of land will give you 1200 stems approximately. Roughly 12 stems give you around 1 kilo of fibre. Companies willingly pay Rs 150-200 for a kilo of fibre. He started his industry with a machine he bought for the royal sum of Rs 80,000 and a large room as a factory. He is now planning to upgrade the machine with an investment of Rs 150,000. Does that give you an idea of the scale of investment?
banana basket bihardaysbanana basket bihardays
You can do the rest of the calculation yourself. Mr dayal does not forget to add that the banana stem juice may be processed into high value molasses as well.  So far we have thought of banana fibre from the entrepreneur’s viewpoint. Once you include the farmer and the local labour employed, you get a complete picture of the potential of this industry.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

New WikiLeaks Cables Show US Diplomats Promote Genetically Engineered Crops Worldwide

by: Mike Ludwig, Truthout | Report 
Dozens of United States diplomatic cables released in the latest WikiLeaks dump on Wednesday reveal new details of the US effort to push foreign governments to approve  genetically engineered (GE) crops and promote the worldwide interests of agribusiness giants like Monsanto and DuPont.
The cables further confirm previous Truthout reports on the diplomatic pressure the US has put on Spain and France, two countries with powerful anti-GE crop movements, to speed up their biotech approval process and quell anti-GE sentiment within the European Union (EU).
Several cables describe "biotechnology outreach programs" in countries across the globe, including African, Asian and South American countries where Western biotech agriculture had yet to gain a foothold. In some cables (such as this 2010 cable from Morocco) US diplomats ask the State Department for funds to send US biotech experts and trade industry representatives to target countries for discussions with high-profile politicians and agricultural officials.
Truthout recently reported on front groups supported by the US government, philanthropic foundations and companies like Monsanto that are working to introduce pro-biotechnology policy initiatives and GE crops in developing African countries, and several cables released this week confirm that American diplomats have promoted biotech agriculture to countries like Tunisia, South Africa and Mozambique.
Cables detail US efforts to influence the biotech policies of developed countries such as Egypt and Turkey, but France continues to stand out as a high-profile target.
In a 2007 cable, the US embassy in Paris reported on a meeting among US diplomats and representatives from Monsanto, DuPont and Dow-Agro-sciences. The companies were concerned about a movement of French farmers, who were vandalizing GE crop farms at the time, and suggested diplomatic angles for speeding up EU approvals of GE Crops.
In 2008 cable describing a "rancorous" debate within the French Parliament over proposed biotech legislation, Craig Stapleton, the former US ambassador to France under the Bush administration, included an update on MON-810, a Monsanto corn variety banned in France.
Stapleton wrote that French officials "expect retaliation via the World Trade Organization" for upholding the ban on MON-810 and stalling the French GE crop approval process. "There is nothing to be gained in France from delaying retaliation," Stapleton wrote.
Tough regulations and bans on GE crops can deal hefty blows to US exports. About 94 percent of soybeans, 72 percent of corn and 73 percent of the cotton grown in the US now use GE-tolerate herbicides like Monsanto's Roundup, according to the US Agriculture Department. 
A 2007 cable, for example, reports that the French ban on MON-810 could cost the US $30 million to $50 million in exports.
In a 2007 cable obtained by Truthout in January, Stapleton threatened "moving to retaliate" against France for banning MON-810. Several other European countries, including Germany, Austria, Hungary and Bulgaria, have also placed bans on MON-810 in recent years. MON-810 is engineered to excrete the Bt toxin, which kills some insect pests.