Coca-Cola Encouraged to Close Plant in India

agriculture, drought, economy, groundwater, india, industrial, international

Research has just been released that suggests Coca-Cola (Coke) should close a bottling plant in water scarce Rajasthan, India. The Energy and Resources Institute of New Delhi issued the report on January 14, 2008. This report was completed in response to research last year showing high pesticide levels in Coca-cola drinks in India.

The assessment looked at 6 of the company’s 49 bottling plants in India, but highlighted conditions at the Kaladera plant in Rajasthan. The plant’s presence in this area would “continue to be one of the contributors to a worsening water situation and a source of stress to the communities around,” it said. The company should find alternative water supplies, relocate or shut down the plant, the report concluded.

The New York Times

Atul Singh, director of Coke’s India division, avows Coke will not be shutting down the plant anytime in the near future. Instead Coke declares they will review water conservation measures to be employed. Truth or good PR? I am more inclined to believe the latter given the history of this corporation in the international sector. Coke has a track record of egregious human rights and environmental violations in many countries.

The organization KillerCoke (known as such because of numerous assassinations of unionized employees in Columbia) hosts a campaign to encourage Coke to clean-up its act. The group proposes actions as simple as sending a letter to The Coca-Cola Company requesting an end to human rights and environmental abuses to cutting business contracts with the company. Several universities have already drafted resolutions calling for an end to Coke’s poor practices abroad including Rutgers School of Law, the University of Illinois, Hofstra University, and York University to name a few.

Drought Continues in Kashmir

agriculture, asia, drought, economy

The Kashmir region (India, China, and Pakistan) is hoping for additional precipitation in form of snow.  The region, while traditionally arid, has received little snow or rain over the past several months to replenish waterways. December 22nd commenced an annual season of 40-days known as “Chillai Kalan”, characterized with heavy snowfall and blustery temperatures. However, as of yet, this “Chillai Kalan” has not brought the significant snowfall for which citizens have been hoping. A shortage of rain threatens many farmers in the region, including those who cultivate the famed Kashir Saffron spice (exported on the global market).

Nearly five hundred springs have dried up, and the level in the river Jhelum has fallen to a dangerously low degree. The river through the middle of the city has shrunk so low that at several places children can bee seen playing cricket on the river bed.

Kashmir Observer

River Jhelum near Srinagar, during a time with ample flow.

Water Guzzlin’ Biofuels

agriculture, asia, india

Initially, biofuels (such as biodiesel and ethanol) were thought the holy-grail of the environmental and energy movement. After further review, several problems arise that may negate any positive environmental outcome of the use of biofuels.

Negative aspects of biofuel production include increased water shortages, food shortages, and energy shortages. Such issues are evaluated in this article written by Fred Pearce (author of When the Rivers Run Dry). Developing countries have the highest rate of biofuel production, and thus endure most negative environmental consequences. As stated in Down to Earth, environmental journal of India:

A paper “Biofuels: Implications for agricultural water use” by researchers from the International Water Management Institute in Sri Lanka, under the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, predicts China will face shortage of land while India is likely to have severe water crisis. The study was released on October 11, 2007.

Photo courtesy of rrelam on flickr.

Thailand, Agriculture, and Water Cap and Trade

agriculture, asia, water trade

The people of Thailand are gearing up for general elections for prime minister on December 23, 2007. This is an exciting occurrence, as political activities were outlawed in Thailand after a major coup d’etat on September 19, 2006.

While preparations for the elections occur, discussions abound regarding the future of the economy in Thailand. As stated on the Bangkok Post Daily, it cannot be ignored that the agricultural sector in Thailand currently supports a large part of the economy. Thailand exports a large percentage of their agricultural products to the global market. But, the author of this article states,

There may be a time when Thailand must keep its agricultural produce within the country for food security, especially to offset drought. If at some time in the future Thailand cannot feed its own people and must depend on food imports, it will have to fork over a hard-earned foreign exchange advantage to buy ever more expensive food, and there may be little money left for development. Therefore, said Nongnuch, Thailand should never abandon its determination to maintain food security, and always produce at least enough to feed its population.

Firstly, I must exclaim, I do not see how maintaining food supplies within one’s country would offset drought. But, this issue does bring up conversation concerning globalization, food supply, and water availability.

With increasing recognition of water shortages in agricultural sectors throughout the world, it has been suggested that a re-organization of food production could be a viable option to reduce stress on water supplies. For example, growing less water-intensive crops in arid locations, while growing water-intensive crops in areas with high precipitation. This kind of global re-organization of the food market would require extensive participation by political entities throughout the world to ensure trade of needed foods sources be conducted equitably.

However, current global trade is not conducted in a fair manner because large entities often have an unfair advantage over small entities, especially with the implementation of such trade polices like NAFTA and CAFTA, etc. That leads one to think that implementation of some manner of water cap and trade system could assist in a global reorganization of the agricultural sector.

In summary, if this new system of agriculture could be maintained, it has the possibility to provide sustainable agricultural commodities while lessening our dependence on water supplies. But, the likelihood of the imminent occurrence of this type of paradigm shift is nil to none.

Globalization is happening, we might as well use it for good.

-as succinctly stated by my close friend.

Water Crisis in India: Is There Water in the Well?

agriculture, audio, india

In this brief Earth and Sky radio short, the topic is India and the severe drop in groundwater tables. As researcher from Columbia Casey Brown states, the primary reason for the decrease in groundwater supplies is the widespread use of water for agricultural purposes. 90% of India’s water supplies to be exact.


Above Photo: Waiting for drinking water in India. Rupert Taylor-Price on flickr.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization maintains AQUASTAT, an extensive online database for global agriculture and water information. The FAO map below shows the extent of water withdrawn for agricultural uses (over 2/3 of global water supplies). The FAO map also provides detailed country specific information, see an overview of India’s agricultural economy here.

India has the second largest irrigated area in the world, but due to the rapid expansion of irrigation with its emphasis on new construction, irrigation performance and the sector’s increasing management needs have not received adequate attention. The development impact of irrigation has been well below its potential, and deficiencies in implementation have accumulated over time.

– Food and Agriculture Organization

The above-quote indicates, at that time, India’s agriculture was well below potential. However, groundwater pumping has become popular over the last two decades in India. With groundwater tables dropping as they are, this does not seem a dependable resource to sustain current agricultural activities.

Above Photo: FAO.

Central India’s Agricultural Nightmare

agriculture, india

Today, I read a review of a documentary produced by PBS on the agricultural crisis near the region of Vidarbha in Central India. This review, published on the blog Intercontinental Cry, evaluated the background of the agricultural crisis and the connected increase of suicides by farmers from the region. The film is called, India’s Dying Fields.

There are many underlying reasons farmers from Vidarbha are unable to produce viable crop-yields including extreme debts from loans, lack of governmental support, free-trade policies, and a shortage of water for irrigation.

Although, the lack of water is not the only issue for these farmers, cotton is a water-intensive crop usually grown in arid locations. With the advent of the Green Revolution, we as a society have had dwindling concern with actual inputs needed for food production. Additionally, the global economic system is set up in a manner to gain profit on these inputs, such as pesticides, herbicides, GM seeds, etc.

One possible solution could be a utilization of less water-intensive crops and employment of alternative or traditional cropping methods. Many farmers in Central America facing similar prospects have had great success using cooperative, organic, sustainable, diversified, and value-added techniques. These techniques usually have more viability in the global-market, require less financial input, utilize natural barriers to pests, and are less water-intensive. Could this be a possibility for Central India?

Watch the full documentary, India’s Dying Fields, here.

Egypt Plans for Expansive Agriculture in the Sahara Desert


This recent article from Reuters Canada details Egypt’s continued interest in expanding agriculture further into the Sahara Desert. Will Rasmussen, author of the article, calls it “greening of the sand.” There are many economic and societal reasons that Egypt is moving forward with widespread conversion of the desert ecosystem called “desert reclamation.

With only five percent of the country habitable, almost all of Egypt’s 74 million people live along the Nile River and the Mediterranean Sea. Already crowded living conditions — Cairo is one of the most densely populated cities on earth — will likely get worse as Egypt’s population is expected to double by 2050. So the government is keen to encourage people to move to the desert by pressing ahead with an estimated $70 billion plan to reclaim 3.4 million acres of desert over the next 10 years.

Concerns about Egypt’s desert reclamation plan for the Sahara Desert are many. Other Nile Basin countries such as Sudan and Ethiopia could become worried this expansion of agriculture will mean less equitable allocation of Nile River waters, according to Rasmussen.

Egypt’s project to reclaim deserts in the south, called “Toshka”, would expand Egypt’s farmland by about 40 percent by 2017, using about five billion cubic meters of water a year. That worries neighbors to the south who are already unhappy about Nile water sharing arrangements. Under a 1959 treaty between Egypt and Sudan, Egypt won rights to 55.5 billion cubic meters per year, more than half of the Nile’s total flow.

Environmentalists worry such transformations of the desert could erase fragile ecosystems supporting endemic plants and wildlife. And with the advent of increased climate fluctuations, it is questionable whether flow will be available to sustain Egypt’s plans for expanded agriculture into the future. Is agriculture a sustainable economy in a desert ecosystem? This is one of many questions that arise as countries with arid terrain utilize technology to divert, withdraw, and manipulate natural supplies of water such as aquifers and surface water sources.