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Heavily armed Russian mercenaries withdrew from the southern Russian city of Rostov overnight under a deal that defused an unprecedented challenge to the authority of President Vladimir Putin and halted their rapid advance on Moscow.

Lukashenko mediates

Fighters of the Wagner group returned to their bases in return for guarantees for their safety and the leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, will move to Belarus, as per the agreement mediated by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

The aborted mutiny raises questions about Mr. Putin’s grip on a country he has ruled with an iron hand for over two decades.

India and Egypt on Sunday signed an agreement on a strategic partnership as Prime Minister Narendra Modi held bilateral talks with President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in Cairo. The Government of Egypt bestowed the highest honour of the land — the Order of the Nile — on the visiting Indian leader and Mr. Modi described his first state visit to Egypt as “historic”.

“The four agreements that were signed during the visit (June 24-25) of the honourable Prime Minister — first, the most important, and a landmark development in the history of bilateral relationship was the signature on the strategic partnership between India and Egypt. It was signed by the Honourable Prime Minister Modi and the Honourable President El-Sisi of Egypt,” Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra announced.

He said green and renewable collaboration will be an important part of future partnership with Egypt because of the importance the two sides attach to clean energy.

 

China has been helping the Pakistan Army build its defence infrastructure, besides providing Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, setting up communication towers and laying underground cables along the Line of Control, officials said.

This, according to officials, is part of efforts to further shore up China’s position as an all-weather friend of Pakistan while ensuring the safety of growing Chinese enclaves in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) set up on the pretext of securing the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) road and hydel projects built in the occupied territory. The officials said that the recently developed SH-15, a 155 mm truck-mounted howitzer gun, has also been spotted at some places along the Line of Control (LoC) after it was displayed on Pakistan Day last year.

Known as a ‘shoot and scoot’ artillery weapon, Pakistan had signed a contract with Chinese firm North Industries Group Corporation Limited (Norinco) for the supply of 236 SH-15s and, according to London-based Janes Defence magazine, the first batch was delivered in January 2022.

Though no senior PLA officials were observed at forward posts, some intercepts suggested that Chinese troops and engineers were setting up infrastructure along the LoC, the officials said.

TechnoServe, a non-profit organisation that operates in 30 countries, began its association with coffee farmers in the Araku Valley in Andhra Pradesh about six years ago. Its intervention helped farmers create and manage farmer producer organisations (FPOs). Through eight such units, the organisation says, the farmers’ revenues have increased by over 500%.

Similarly, Digital Green, another non-profit that works among cashew farmers in the State, says a collective approach led to a 13% increase in cashew prices. Professional Assistance for Development Action (PRADAN), also a non-profit working to promote FPOs, says it helped women farmers cut out middlemen.

What connects these three with the FPOs is the global farm produce and retail giant, Walmart, which funds these projects through the Walmart Foundation, its philanthropy arm. The company has created a network that links farmers directly to the retail market.

This enhances its own capacity to enter India’s retail market if and when it is allowed to, tapping into a retail industry that Boston Consulting Group last year pegged to reach approximately $2 trillion by 2032.

At least 500 organisations with eight lakh farmers across nine States — Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Odisha, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh — are involved. Non-profits that implement the programme are working among small and marginal farmers cultivating coffee, cashew, mint, mango, vegetables, wheat and millet. But farmer lobbies still favour the mandi system, and cooperatives are sceptical of the global giant.

Julie Gehrki, vice-president, philanthropy, Walmart, said, “We believe that this isn’t about giving Walmart or Flipkart [a subsidiary of Walmart] a competitive edge. This is about helping farmers thrive and we believe FPOs are strong. It really creates a stronger system.”

However, farmers’ organisations are viewing these steps with suspicion. Pavel Kussa, coordinator of Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan), says that when Walmart is involved, it will be for profit maximisation. He also fears that FPOs controlled by Walmart will weaken cooperative societies which are administered by democratically elected office bearers.

In the background

Walmart is not new at promoting FPOs. In February 2020, the Centre launched the “Formation and Promotion of 10,000 Farmer Producer Organisations” scheme to push forward 10,000 new FPOs until 2027-28. The idea was to build the collective strength of small and marginal farmers — those with land holdings of less than 1.1 hectares.

Walmart itself has experimented with FPOs in Central America and Mexico in the past. “We really think about building FPOs as an important strategy to provide technical support to help farmers build infrastructure to connect to formal markets so that smallholder farmers can grow their incomes and improve livelihoods,” Ms. Gehrki says, adding that the company complements the Union government’s work. She claims Walmart initially made a $25-million commitment which it exceeded, to invest $39 million.

Mr. Kussa, however, says, “Walmart wants to enter the agriculture market in India. Their motive is profit and farmers will have to be careful. We don’t expect anything good for farmers from them. They may be trying to dig new channels so that they can sell their products and aggregate the market in India.” He added that the NGOs are working as the giant’s instrument.

The not-for-profits feel the interventions genuinely help. Puneet Gupta, country head of TechnoServe, says that with the help of Walmart, they have set up cupping labs in the FPOs among coffee farmers in Araku Valley so that they are able to determine the cup quality of each batch of coffee.

Improved yield

“Through these interventions, we have brought on board a bunch of large institutional buyers such as Blue Tokai and Starbucks. So, they come in and buy this coffee from these farmer producer companies, while the farmers benefit by getting improved yield and revenues,” Mr. Gupta claims, adding that the organisation works with 5% of the coffee farmers in Araku.

There is also knowledge-sharing with their experiences in other parts of the world, says Krishnan Pallassana, country director of Digital Green, which has reached out to online retailers such as Flipkart and Ninjakart. In the past two years of this experiment, Digital Green worked with 35 FPOs, primarily in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, with 85% of farmers cultivating chillies, cashew and turmeric.

Narendranath Damodaran, integrator at PRADAN, says most of what is produced is sold domestically. “Some of our produce find exposure in the Reliance store in Ranchi and in some other places,” he says, adding that not much is exported.

“There have been very rare exceptions when watermelons from Odisha went to Dubai and mangoes from West Bengal went to Singapore. We want local produce to be consumed locally as much as possible,” Mr. Damodaran adds.

Chandrayaan-3 lander, rover named after those in the previous mission; India’s third moon exploration mission slated for mid-July launch

India’s third moon exploration mission, slated for a mid-July launch, will share the names associated with the 2019 Chandrayaan-2 lunar adventure.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) plans to retain the names of the Chandrayaan-2 lander and rover for their Chandrayaan-3 equivalents as well, ISRO Chairman S. Somanath told The Hindu. This means, the Chandrayaan-3 lander will bear the name Vikram (after Vikram Sarabhai, the father of the Indian space programme) and the rover, Pragyan.

Much to its disappointment, the ISRO had lost the Chandrayaan-2 lander-rover configuration and the payloads aboard after Vikram crashed on the lunar surface while attempting a soft landing. Earlier this month, Mr. Somanath announced ISRO’s plans to launch the third moon mission in mid-July aboard the LVM3 (formerly GSLV Mk-III) rocket from Sriharikota. A propulsion module will carry the lander-rover configuration to a 100-km lunar orbit. Once the Vikram lander module makes it safely to the moon, it will deploy Pragyan, “which will carry out in-situ chemical analysis of the lunar surface during the course of its mobility”, the ISRO said.

Scientific experiments

The lander, rover and the propulsion module will have payloads for performing experiments designed to give scientists new insights into the characteristics of earth’s lone natural satellite. The lander will have four payloads — Radio Anatomy of Moon Bound Hypersensitive Ionosphere and Atmosphere (RAMBHA), Chandra’s Surface Thermo physical Experiment (ChaSTE), Instrument for Lunar Seismic Activity (ILSA) and the LASER Retroreflector Array (LRA).

The six-wheeled rover will have two payloads — the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) and the LASER Induced Breakdown Spectroscope (LIBS).

In addition to these, there will be one payload on the propulsion module, the Spectro-polarimetry of HAbitable Planet Earth (SHAPE).

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