Environment, energy, infrastructure issues might impact Indian agriculture’s long -term prospects

India continues with its short-term strategies. It resorts to import of wheat for the second year. And at such high prices.
The Prime Minister, after a long interval, is  undertaking a tour of six states to over-see the agriculture developments. Fine! If only the PM knows what to look for in Indian agriculture!
There is so much in store for agriculture sector. Both long -term as well as short-term issues.
The long seem to be full of challenges. The International climate change issues. The energy issues, the infrastructure issues that are all likely to directly affect Indian agriculture sector’s future prospects. One wonders whether the PM is fully aware of these grave issues of the future.
Let us hopes the message reaches the government at the top.
First, the government is yet to come to grips with the  strategy to accelerate growth in the agriculture sector. There is not yet any concrete policy as such in sight.
But then there are only short-sighted policies in sight!
This is July and you see what the government has done in the last two months. Just among ago, the government cancelled a wheat tender for importing 1 million tonnes of wheat. The wheat prices quoted in Chicago, the nerve centre of wheat trade prices, was high and so the government cancelled the tender. Within a month, the very same tender was revived and a quote was asked and the decision to import now has cost the government a cool 12 per cent jump that is an extra 22 million dollars. Last year also the same blunder was committed.
The government has an elaborate system at work. Procurement, stocking and distribution and to maintain the required minimum stocks, also resort to import so that the stocks are adequate to meet the PDS and also any other contigencies. Fine.

But then bureaucrats as they are ,are proving the wisdom of the sages! Friedrich von Hayek, the wisest man and economist who won the first Economic Nobel Prize said years ago that the wisdom of the bureaucrats is only a pretence to knowledge. Hayek believed in free market economics and as such he was always suspicious of the bureaucrat-run economics. May be, he never imagined that a bureaucrat would also run a government, a democratic government at that!

So, what have we now is a system where the ministers are otherwise pre-occupied or incompetent and the result is that we don’t have a growing agri sector and in fact Mr.Sharad Pawar would go down in history as the one who presided over a department that saw the largest farmers suicides in his time!
And one wonders whether he has any idea of the long-term trends for agriculture and such larger issues of developments at the global scale. The biofuel demand is likely to push up prices of the food articles, sugarcane, maize and oilseed rape as these crops would be the ones that would be in great demand for biofuels and says UN in its annual assessment of the farming scene that the prices of these major agri crops might double up in the next 10 years! Biofuels are supposed to reduce the emission of  carbon in the atmosphere and already more than  a third of the US maize crop is being diverted to  ethanol for fuel, a 48 per cent of rise over 2005.Brazil and China grew crops nearly on 20 million hectares and this area could double in 10  years and this would all go into biofuels.
The point is that the switch to growing fuel crops means taking the land that would grow food crops! So, it is predicted that the prices of commodities such as sugar, maize and palm oils would double in the near future.

This is good news for farmers worldwide. Indian farmers too benefit from this predicted new demand for fuel crops. Then, what about India’s food needs in the next decade?
Any thoughts from the government? Not any such thoughts indeed!
Who should be doing the thinking for the agriculture sector? Not anyone in sight!
The high prices for big farmers and the big agricultural economies of the West and countries like  Brazil and China, what about the specific demands of India?

India could see so many uncertainties like flood, drought and extreme weather conditions. Already this year, as last, we see the wheat prices going over the  roof and quoted high. This trend to force India to buy at high prices would only strengthen, given the Doha round failures and also the more unfriendly acts of the member countries of the WTO. India could face the heat, if we don’t ponder deeply and also devise policies and act promptly.

There are a host of other related issues.
One major infrastructure issue is irrigation potential. The other is power, electricity generation.

An Indian citizen is heading the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and has warned the grim situation emerging. Sea levels could rise, carbon emission could go beyond control.

As for energy, India is putting too much hope on its US nuclear deal. As Mr.Vajpayee, the former Prime Minister has emphasised recently, India must debate this important issue in Parliament. The way the government is pursuing this deal looks very tricking one knows who stands to benefit, India or the USA?

By all accounts, not only the deal as it is pursued by the government, looks so useful for the country’s energy needs, apart from the strategic advantages for India. The entire scientists stand opposed to the deal and also at another level, the very goal of pursuing nuclear power as the solution to our energy needs looks a bit theoretical. Not a proven goal. A recent research group(the Oxford Research Group)as quoted by the Guardian newspaper, shows that global electricity demand is expected to rise by 50 per cent in the next  25 years, only 25 new nuclear reactors are currently being built. With 76 more planned and a further 162 proposed, “many of which are unlikely to be built”. This compares with 429 reactors  in operation today, many of which are already old and need replacement. For the nuclear reactors to contribute to reduction in global emissions in the next two generations, the industry must construct nearly 3,000 new reactors, “or about one a week for 60 years”.
And then, the dangers of proliferation?
Simply an unfeasible and unviable and even risky route to generate power and save the planet, says the report.
Much more relevant here is the fact that Europe is considering linking the electricity networks of all European countries and connecting them to  north Africa and Iceland with high-voltage, direct-current cables. This, says the report, would open up  a much greater variety of renewable power sources. Hydroelectricity in Scandinavia and Alps, geothermal energy in Iceland and vast solar thermal farms in Sahara!
Yes, this is not a fanciful idea but has more reality than the nuclear option, it seems.
In reality, an expert, Mark Barrett, of University College, London, says that a preliminary  study shows that varied sources of energy, wind and tidal power, we might be able to produce as much as 95 per cent of our energy from renewable sources. Another study shows that 80 percent of Europe’s electricity could be produced from renewable power. One more expertise, this time from, the Centre for  Alternative Technology takes this  even further. By 2027 we could produce 100 per cent of our electricity without the use of fossil fuels or nuclear power.(George Monbiot, Guardian).
One silver lining in the energy scenario in India is the latest developments in hydro power projects. In Himachal  Pradesh alone  as many as 23 hydel projects in three districts have total power generating capacity of 3,307 Mw and involve an investment of Rs.13,228 crores, as many as 90 firms bidding for these projects. So too the flurry of activity in other renewable sources like wind power generation etc.
The point is that we in India should not sit complacent and let others do the thinking for us! We must demonstrate that we have a vision  and a determination to turn the stagnating agri sector into one of vibrant productive engine!

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