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08 December Current Affairs

State of Maharashtra’s Agribusiness and Rural Transformation (SMART) Project

In News:

Maharashtra Government has launched World Bank assisted State of Maharashtra’s Agribusiness and Rural Transformation (SMART) Project to transform rural Maharashtra.

Details

Aim: to revamp agricultural value chains, with special focus on marginal farmers across 1,000 villages.

State of Maharashtra’s Agribusiness and Rural Transformation (SMART) Project:

The objective of project is to create and support value chains in post-harvest segments of agriculture, facilitate agribusiness investment, stimulate SMEs within the value chain.

Focus: It will also support resilient agriculture production systems, expand access to new and organised markets for producers and enhance private sector participation in the agribusiness.

Coverage:

It will cover almost one-fourth of Maharashtra. Its focus is on villages which are reeling under worst agriculture crisis compounded by lack of infrastructure and assured value chains to channelize farm produce.

Significance:

The project is giant step towards transformation of rural economy and empowerment of farmers and also sustainable agriculture through public-private partnership (PPP) model.

It seeks to ensure higher production of crops and create robust market mechanism to enable farmers to reap higher remunerations for the yield. It unites agriculture-oriented corporates and farmers by providing them common platform.

Source: The Hindu

UN’s Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

In News:

Former Indian diplomat, Preeti Saran has been elected unopposed to an Asia Pacific seat on the United Nation’s Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR).

Details:

The UN’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) elected Saran to the 18-member committee ‘CESCR’ for a four-year term beginning on January 1, 2019.

 About Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR):

The CESCR was set up in 1985 by the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations.

It was constituted with an aim to monitor on its behalf the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESR), which has been ratified by 169 countries.

The countries that are parties to the covenant are required to submit reports to the CESCR every five years on how they protect the economic, social and cultural rights.

The committee examines each report and addresses its concerns and recommendations to the State party in the form of concluding observations.

The Members of the CESCR serve in their personal capacities as experts and do not represent their countries even though they may be nominated by their own nation.

The CECSR meets in Geneva and holds two sessions per year, consisting of a three-week plenary and a one-week pre-sessional working group.

Source: The Hindu

Swaminathan calls GM crops a failure

In News:

Leading agriculture scientist M.S. Swaminathan, in a research paper, has described Bt cotton as a ‘failure’.

Details:

The findings were published in paper ‘Modern Technologies for Sustainable Food and Nutrition Security’. It is a review of crop development in India and transgenic crops — particularly Bt cotton, the stalled Bt brinjal as well as DMH-11, a transgenic mustard hybrid.

Key observations made:

The paper notes that GE (genetically engineered) Bt cotton has failed in India. It has failed as a sustainable agriculture technology and has, therefore, also failed to provide livelihood security for cotton farmers who are mainly resource-poor, small and marginal farmers.

Besides, the precautionary principle (PP) has been done away with and no science-based and rigorous biosafety protocols and evaluation of GM crops are in place.

The paper also raises questions on the genetic engineering technology itself on the grounds that it raises the cost of sowing. Also, the insertion of foreign genes (in the plant) could lead to “molecular and cellular events not precisely understood.”

Way ahead- Prof. Swaminathan’s suggestions:

The government should only use genetic engineering as a last resort. Genetic engineering technology is supplementary and must be need based. Only in very rare circumstance (less than 1%) may there arise a need for the use of this technology.

What is a GM crop?

A GM or transgenic crop is a plant that has a novel combination of genetic material obtained through the use of modern biotechnology.

For example, a GM crop can contain a gene(s) that has been artificially inserted instead of the plant acquiring it through pollination. The resulting plant is said to be “genetically modified” although in reality all crops have been “genetically modified” from their original wild state by domestication, selection, and controlled breeding over long periods of time.

Do we need GM crops?

  • Higher crop yields.
  • Reduced farm costs.
  • Increased farm profit.
  • Improvement in health and the environment.

No and why?

Lack of clarity: It is clear that the technology of genetic engineering is an evolving one and there is much, especially on its impact on human health and environment that is yet to be understood properly. The scientific community itself seems uncertain about this.

While there are many in this community who feel that the benefits outweigh the risks, others point to the irreversibility of this technology and uncontrollability of the Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) once introduced in the ecosystem. Hence, they advocate a precautionary approach towards any open release of GMOs.

Threat to domestic crops: One of the concerns raised strongly by those opposing GM crops in India is that many important crops like rice, brinjal, and mustard, among others, originated here, and introducing genetically modified versions of these crops could be a major threat to the vast number of domestic and wild varieties of these crops.

In fact, globally, there is a clear view that GM crops must not be introduced in centres of origin and diversity. India also has mega biodiversity hotspots like the Eastern Himalayas and the Western Ghats which are rich in biodiversity yet ecologically very sensitive. Hence it will only be prudent for us to be careful before we jump on to the bandwagon of any technology.

There is also a potential for pests to evolve resistance to the toxins produced by GM crops and the risk of these toxins affecting nontarget organisms. There is also the danger of unintentionally introducing allergens and other anti-nutrition factors in foods.

Source: The Hindu

Method to simulate, predict solar activity over ten years developed

In News:

A team of researchers from IISER Kolkata have developed a way of predicting the intensity of activity in the next solar cycle (approximately from 2020 to 2031) using data spread over the last 100 years.

Background:

Astronomers have observed sunspots on the surface of the sun for nearly 400 years. It is known that sunspots follow a cyclic pattern of growing in number and disappearing in approximately 11 years, known as the sunspot cycle or the sun’s activity cycle. We are currently in the 24th sunspot cycle since the observation began in 1755.

Findings:

The researchers found that the sun’s activity would not dip during the next cycle, but it would be similar to the current cycle, perhaps even stronger. They expect the cycle to peak around 2024.

How was it found?

The researchers simulated the behaviour of the sun using magnetic field evolution models and observational data. They simulated solar activity, and using inputs from observed data from one cycle, predicted the behaviour of the sun over the next cycle, about ten years in advance.

What are Sunspots?

Sunspots are temporary phenomena on the Sun’s photosphere that appear as spots darker than the surrounding areas. They are regions of reduced surface temperature caused by concentrations of magnetic field flux that inhibit convection. Sunspots usually appear in pairs of opposite magnetic polarity.

Why study sunspots?

For the understanding of the long-term variations of the sun and its impact on our climate which is one of the science objectives of Aditya mission. The forecast will be also useful for scientific operational planning of the Aditya mission.

To know the effects on space weather. This refers to the effect of radiation, particle flux and magnetic flux in the region around the sun. During extreme events, space weather can affect electronics-driven satellite controls, communications systems, air traffic over polar routes and even power grids.

Sunspots are correlated with climate on earth. A lot of the research in this area focuses on predicting the way the next sunspot cycle will shape up – whether the sun will be extremely active and produce many sunspots or not.

 ‘Maunder-like minimum’:

There have been predictions that the next cycle (cycle 25) will show reduced sunspot activity. There have even been speculations that the sun may be heading towards a period of prolonged low activity – what solar physicists describe as a ‘Maunder-like minimum’.

The Maunder minimum refers to a period from 1645 to 1715 where observers reported minimal Sunspot activity — the number of sunspots reduced by a factor of nearly 1,000, over a period of 28 years.

During this and other such periods of low activity, some parts of Europe and North America experienced lower-than-average temperatures. While the connection between the Maunder minimum and the climate on earth is still debated, it gives another reason to watch the sunspots.

Source: The Hindu

Chang’e-4 mission

In News:

China has launched Chang’e-4, a first probe ever to explore the dark side of the Moon, marking another milestone in its ambitious space programme.

Background:

The Moon is tidally locked to Earth, rotating at the same rate that it orbits our planet, so the far side is never visible from Earth. The probe, the Chang’e-4, is expected to make the first-ever soft landing on the far side of the Moon. Previous spacecraft have seen the far side of the Moon, but none has landed on it.

The far side of the moon known as ‘South Pole-Aitken Basin’ still remains a mystery among space scientists and by sending a probe there, China will outdo the historical achievements of the US and USSR.

About the mission:

Chang’e 4 is the fourth mission in the country’s lunar mission series which is being named after the Chinese moon goddess.

The tasks of the Chang’e-4 probe include low-frequency radio astronomical observation, surveying the terrain and landforms, detecting the mineral composition, and measuring the neutron radiation and neutral atoms to study the environment on the far side of the moon.

Significance of the mission:

According to experts, landing on the far side of the moon is undoubtedly one of the most challenging missions ever launched by any of the world’s superpowers.

Difficulties:

Communication difficulties will be the main problem faced by the Chinese team as they try to land on the other side of the moon. China is expected to consider using options like radio telescopes to communicate in the absence of a transmitting medium.

Source: The Hindu

UN framework to combat international terrorism

In News:

The United Nations has launched a new framework titled ‘UN Global Counter-Terrorism Coordination Compact’ to combat international terrorism and coordinate efforts across the peace and security, humanitarian, human rights and sustainable development sectors.

About the ‘UN Global Counter-Terrorism Coordination Compact’:

The framework is an agreement between the UN chief, 36 organisational entities, the International Criminal Police Organisation (INTERPOL) and the World Customs Organisation to better serve the needs of member states when it comes to tackling the scourge of international terrorism.

The Coordination Committee of the United Nations will oversee the implementation of the framework and monitor its implementation. The committee will be chaired by UN Under-Secretary-General for counter-terrorism.

Why do we need the framework?

The policies that limit human rights only end up alienating the very communities they aim to protect, which normally have every interest in fighting extremism and as a result, such policies can effectively drive people into the hands of terrorists and undermine prevention efforts. The new framework has been introduced keeping in mind the need to ensure full respect for international human rights standards and rule of law in countering terrorism.

Need for international cooperation:

Despite recent successes against the ISIS and its affiliates, the threat posed by returning and relocating fighters, as well as from individuals inspired by them, remains high and has a global reach.

The 2018 Global Terrorism Index released by the Institute for Economic and Peace, indicates that despite a 27% fall in the number of deaths from acts of terrorism worldwide, the impact of terrorism remains widespread, with 67 countries experiencing deadly attacks, which is the second highest recorded number of countries in the past twenty years.

Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, drones and 3D (three-dimensional) printing are also being misused.

Source: The Hindu

Ministry of New and Renewable Energy conferred Skoch Award for National Significance

In News:

Ministry of New and Renewable Energy has been conferred the Skoch Award for National Significance.

Details:

The award has been conferred considering its purpose and critical role played in installing about 73 GW renewable energy capacity in the country.

With 21 per cent of total installed capacity, within the year renewable energy grossed one billion units of electricity in the country.

India’s ranking:

India ranks fourth in the world in wind energy capacity, and

India ranks fifth in solar & total energy capacity installed in the world.

India had played a critical role in setting up of international solar alliance.

Background:

Skoch Group:

It is a think tank dealing with socio-economic issues with a focus on inclusive growth since 1997.

It has instituted India’s highest independent civilian honours in the field of governance, finance, technology, economics and social sector.

Skoch Award 2018:

Central government

State government

Local body

Municipality

City/District administration

State Owned Enterprises/Undertakings

SKOCH Award celebrates excellence of governance delivery by domain departments. This includes having sufficient familiarity, capacity and knowledge about the functionality of their systems, processes and outcomes.

Source: PIB

International Year of Millets

In News:

Food and Agriculture organization (FAO) Council approves India’s proposal to observe an International Year of Millets in 2023.

Details:

Union Minister of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare has said that the 160th session of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Council, currently underway in Rome, approved India’s proposal to observe an International Year of Millets in 2023.

In addition, the FAO Council also approved India’s membership to the Executive Board of the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) for 2020 and 2021.

Minister’s statement:

This international endorsement comes in the backdrop of India celebrating 2018 as the National Year of Millets for promoting cultivation and consumption of these nutria-cereals.

This is further supported by increase in Minimum Support Prices (MSP) of millets.

Millets consists of Jowar, Bajra, Ragi and minor millets together termed as nutria-cereals.

Through the Department of Food and Public Distribution, State Governments are allowed to procure jowar, bajra, maize and ragi from framers at MSP.

About FAO –

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is specialized agency of the United Nations that leads international efforts to defeat hunger.

Headquarters: Rome, Italy

Founded: 16 October 1945

Goal of FAO: Their goal is to achieve food security for all and make sure that people have regular access to enough high-quality food to lead active, healthy lives.

FAO Council –

Origin: Established by the Conference at its Third Session (1947) to replace the original “Executive Committee of FAO” in accordance with a recommendation of the Preparatory Commission on World Food Proposals.

Purpose: The Council, within the limits of the powers, acts as the Conference’s executive organ between sessions.

It exercises functions dealing with the world food and agriculture situation and related matters, current and prospective activities of the Organization, including its Programme of Work and Budget, administrative matters and financial management of the Organization and constitutional matters.

Source: PIB

Clean Sea- 2018

In News:

It is a Regional Level Marine Oil Pollution Response Exercise conducted by Indian Coast Guard (ICG) recently at sea off Port Blair, Andaman & Nicobar (A&B) Islands.

Details:

The objective of exercise was to ascertain preparedness of IGC, resource agencies and other stakeholders in responding to major oil spill in line with provisions of National Oil Spill Disaster Contingency Plan (NOS-DCP).

Key facts:

Indian Coast Guard (ICG) under Ministry of Defence is responsible for marine environment protection in maritime zones of India and is coordinating authority for response to oil spills in Indian waters.

It has drawn up National Oil Spill Disaster Contingency Plan (NOS-DCP) and has established three pollution response centres at Mumbai, Chennai and Port Blair.

Seabed 2030

  • Seabed 2030 project was launched at the United Nations (UN) Ocean Conference in June 2017.
  • It is a collaborative project between the Nippon Foundation of Japan and the General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans (GEBCO).
  • It aims to bring together all available bathymetric data (depth and shape of the ocean floor) to create a map of the world ocean floor by 2030 and make it available to all.
  • The bathymetric data is fundamental for understanding ocean circulation, tides, tsunami forecasting, fishing resources, underwater geo-hazards, cable and pipeline routing, mineral extraction, oil and gas exploration.
  • The project is aligned with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 14 to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources.
  • It comprises a global center and 4 regional centers ( Arctic and North Pacific center, Atlantic and Indian Ocean center, South and West Pacific center and Southern Ocean center).

Global Hackathon on Artificial Intelligence

  • NITI Aayog in partnership with Singapore based Artificial Intelligence (AI) start up going to launch “AI 4 All Global Hackathon”.
  • Its objective is to promote awareness and develop solutions to address challenges in AI algorithms and not compromising data privacy.

50/50 milestone

  • International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has recently said that by the end of 2018, world will surpass the 50/50 milestone for internet use.
  • It means that for the first time, more than half of the global population will be using internet by the end of 2018.
  • This represents an important step towards a more inclusive global information society.
  • According to ITU, the world’s richest countries have been showing slow and steady growth in Internet use, from 51% in 2005 to 80% now.
  • The development is more dramatic in developing countries where 45% people are currently online, compared to just 7.7% in 2005.

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