Friday, November 07, 2014

Going Bananas

A recent article in the EPW, titled "GM Crops and Global Trade" points out that - "one company controls two-thirds of banana germ plasm of the world, four companies have 30% global market of seeds, and just six multinationals account for 77% of the pesticide market."

This got me curious.

How is it possible for one company to control two-thirds of banana germplasm? Does this mean that it has a hold over the myriad banana varieties dangling at a fruit-vendor's stall in Kerala?

If something seems out of place, it probably is.

According to the International Musa Germplasm Transit Center (ITC-Belgium), the center is "home to the world’s largest collection of banana (Musa) germplasm". ITC has over 1400 sample of edible and wild species of banana, cryo-preserved at -196C. Most importantly, it is not owned by any company and is therefore "freely available for international distribution upon request".

Perhaps the EPW article meant to convey that two-thirds of banana trade is controlled by one company. But even this is contrary to a recent FAO report which states -

FAO's review of the three largest banana traders (Chiquita, Dole and Del Monte), shows that the combined market share of the top three companies was at its highest the 1980's, when they controlled almost two-thirds (65.3 percent) of global banana exports, while in 2013, their market share was slightly over one-third (36.6 percent).

The global banana market is worth US$ 7 billion. Amazingly, nearly all the trading happens in only one variety of banana: Yellow-skin Cavendish.

Contrast this with the amazing variety of bananas available in South India. Even the humblest fruit-seller would have on display, at least five different types of the fruit on any given day. India's National Horticulture Board lists more than 11 varieties of banana including - Robusta, Rasthali, Poovan, Nendran, Red-Banana (Kappa Pazham), Virupakshi, Panchanadan, Monthan and Karpuravalli!

So, far from controlling two-thirds of banana germplasm, the MNCs have only focused one single variety. It is as though all the florists in the world were stocking only roses or as though all the eateries were serving just burgers.

This also one reason why the supermarkets will never overrun the local  kirana shops and chaya-kada's -- they just cannot offer ten different types of bananas!



* Singh, Sukhpal (2014): GM CROPS AND GLOBAL TRADE, EPW, 18 October 2014 --

* ITC Belgium -

* (Reuters, 27 OCt 2914) --

* FAO - The Changing Face of Global Banana Trade -

- FAO Full Report (2014) -


* National Horticulture Board (NH‌B), India - Banana Varieties -

Wiki -
- Enset - -- 'False Banana' grown in Ethiopia for its edible roots!

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

BHEL, Maruti-Suzuki and SAIL

For once, I was glad to read a bureaucrat's memoir. All the more so because I had seen the man in action between 2005-2008, and never knew that he had so much to write about!

V. Krishnamurthy was the Chairman of the National Manufacturing Competitiveness Council (NMCC) while CII were trying to get IITs and IIMs interested in Prof. Shoji Shiba's attempts to replicate the Visionary Leaders for Manufacturing (VLFM) program in India. I was with JICA, the Japanese funding agency that initially funded this program.

All I knew about VK, the towering, portly gentleman with a heavy voice, was that he was the driving force behind a JV that launched the automobile sector in India: Maruti-Suzuki.

Thanks to the memoir, now I know that there was a lot more to VK than the 'common-man's car'. He started his career at the Planning Commission, opted to get his hands dirty at BHEL-Tiruchirapalli and then - thanks to the patronage of the Gandhi family - went on to head the group, and make a mark for himself as the man who turns around Public Sector companies.

Indira Gandhi selected VK to turn her son's dream project into reality, and then Rajiv Gandhi got him to straighten out SAIL.

This is the sort of book that makes you wonder -- How many brilliant managers has India lost for the want of political patronage?



* Krishnamurthy V (2014): AT THE HELM, Harper Collins India, 2014

* Review - Business Line (25 May 14) - Krishnamurthy V (2014):

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Poster - Modern Times

Every time you see the Modern Times, you notice something new.

Who, for instance, designed this neat poster for the "funniest movie of them all"?

Friday, October 24, 2014

The New Banks

This Friday will see the emergence of a new bank backed by China - the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). The Americans are not exactly pleased.

Since the end of the second World War, global finance has been dominated by the Bretton Woods institutions - World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Both were created in 1944-45. Two decades later, in 1966, the Japanese economic miracle triggered the emergence of the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

The emergence of China as an economic powerhouse, and the reluctance of the WW2 champs to accommodate it, has resulted in the creation of two new banks this year - the BRICS Bank (now the New Development Bank), and now, AIIB.

The story so far can be summarized as follows:

State-owned development arms of the Chinese government are already dwarfing USA's presence. Earlier this week, the chairman of the US government’s Export-Import Bank said Chinese institutions had doled out an estimated $670bn in just two years, compared with ExIm’s outlay of $590bn in loans, guarantees and insurance over eight decades.

How long will it take for NDB and AIIB to upset the Bretton Woods apple-cart?


* (11 Nov'14) - Economist -

* (22Oct14) - NYT -

* (24Oct14): Reuters - ADB chief doesn't welcome Chinese-backed Chinese rival -

*  (2Sep14) - Straits Times- Asian investment bank: Realigning the status quo -
- According to ADB, countries in Asia need US$8 trillion (S$10 trillion) to cover their national infrastructure needs for the period 2010 to 2020. This works out to an average of US$800 billion a year. Currently, ADB lends only about 1.5 per cent of this amount annually.

* World Bank - FAQs --,,contentMDK:20147466~menuPK:344189~pagePK:98400~piPK:98424~theSitePK:95474,00.html
* NDB / BRICS Bank -

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Nobel for Triole's Economics

An excellent article explaining the work of this year's Nobel Prize winner in Economics - Jean Triole.

Cassidy, John (2014): WHY JEAN TRIOLE WON THE ECONOMICS NOBEL, The New Yorker, 13 October, 2014, URL -

After seeing the profs at Tsukuba-U in action, I loved this opening jab on the subject:

"....setting aside the merits or demerits of individual awards, the very existence of the prize has contributed to the pretense that economics can, with the application of enough mathematics, be converted from a messy social science into a hard science along the lines of physics and chemistry."



Business Standard Editorial (14 Oct'14) --
"PPP contracts [between a bureaucrat and a company] need to be carefully reviewed by independent authorities that can expose hidden rent backloading... PPPs can be expected to entail higher transaction costs." It is worth noting that this paper has been available since June 2007. This insight is something that Indian policymakers are only now accepting after considerable pain - though a clear independent authority is still not even on the anvil.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Kashmir before Haider

Yesterday, I saw the movie "Haider". I liked it.

For the first time Bollywood seems to have made an attempt to present a balanced picture of the endless cycle of violence in Kashmir. It is the story of a doctor who cares more about saving lives than about political affiliations; an army officer who reckons its better to blow up a home to kill a militant than to lose his men to sniper fire; an aspiring politician who snitches on his own brother so that he can marry his sister-in-law, and a son who goes through all this in a daze...

Yet, the image that is etched in my mind is that of a temple in ruins. It lends a dramatic backdrop to a mediocre song-and-dance sequence but as the cameras pan in and out of the broken stonework, questions come pouring out: Who built this massive shrine? When? Who brought it down? Why? What did the original structure look like?...

The Martanda Sun Temple stands on the Anantnag plateau, overlooking the Kashmir valley. The original temple is said to have come up around 370AD. A few centuries later, it was expanded by a king named Lalitaditya Muktapida (725-756AD). It stood for a thousand years before it was destroyed by Sikander But-shikan (idol-breaker).

During his reign (1389-1413AD)  -
"Hindu temples were felled to the ground and for one year a large establishment was maintained for the demolition of the grand Martand temple. But when the massive masonry resisted all efforts, fire was applied and the noble buildings cruelly defaced." 
Who would have thought that the same site would be used to portray yet another round of vicious violence...



* Review - First Post -

* Review - Mint -

* Lalitaditya on --

* The Connecting Link: Hamlet, Aligarh Muslim University and Wittenberg Univrsity --

Delhi Metro Kickbacks - Whudunit?

Another corruption scandal has come to light. Once again it is a foreign court that informs us that bribes were paid to Indian officials for a project in India.

This time, unfortunately, it is Delhi Metro that stands on the dock. According to UK's Serious Frauds Office, Alstom-France paid Rs 52 crore over six years to win transport contracts in India, Poland and Tunisia. Between the period 2001-2006, Alstom had won  a Rs 255-crore signalling contract for the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC).

Details of this scam have been trickling down slowly over the past couple of months. Yesterday, we finally got a  rebuttal from DMRC. The venerable Dr. Sreedharan stated unequivocally that the "Bribery story hold no water". His point was that in his time, DMRC had sufficient checks and balances in place. "If at all bribe has been paid" Dr. Sreedharan pointed out, "It must have been to individuals outside DMRC with a view to siphon back the amount to individuals of Alstom Network, UK".

So who got the moolah?

Outside DMRC, there were two other key players involved - a consulting firm called Pacific Consultants International (PCI) and JBIC (now JICA). It is interesting to note that around the same period (200-2006), PCI has been indulging in activities that did little to enhance company credibility.

Consider the following -

* Viet Nam, 2003: In 2008, Huynh Ngoc Si, former deputy director of the Ho Chi Minh City’s transport department and head of a major Japanese ODA-backed highway project, was convicted of taking bribes in 2003 by receiving $262,000 from executives of Pacific Consultants International, which was hired as the project consultant.
* India, 2004: PCI lost a case to the Joint Commisioner of Income Tax who held it liable deduct tax to the tune of Rs. 3,26,99,128 for various financial years involved. PCI had been claiming tax-exemption for its expat employees in India without any legal basis.
* Japan, 2008: PCI was fined JPY 70 million (approximately USD 680,000) by the Tokyo District Court, and three former PCI executives were given suspended sentences of imprisonment for 18 months, 20 months, and 2 years, respectively, for paying bribes to Vietnamese government officials in order to obtain consulting contracts for a highway project also funded by ODA and distributed by JICA.

India is now sending its officials to SFO-UK to collect details on the kickbacks.

For the sake of Delhi Metro, let us hope that DMRC officials come out squeaky clean!


* (ToI, ) -- Bribery Story Hold No Water --


* Soni, Anusha (BS-11Sep) - Bribe charges link Alstom to firms from Singapore, Hong Kong --
- Indo European Ventures Pte Ltd, Singapore and  Global King Technology Ltd, Hong Kong


Saturday, October 04, 2014

Cold Gradations of Decay

An interesting article on ageing: "Why I hope to Die at 75".