March 29, 2022
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we look at a report which suggests that relocating farmlands will help in combating climate change and debate whether this is feasible. We also look at Goa’s interest in setting up floating solar power plants, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
Should farmlands be relocated to combat climate change?
Croplands, farms, and honestly, any man-made large plain field should be seen as a problem – we’re looking at you, golf courses. But we aren’t talking about Tiger Woods’ claim to fame today. It’s all about those green pastures, agriculture and farms.
As it turns out, the way modern humans practice agriculture is actually terrible for the environment, both in terms of carbon footprints and depleting biodiversity. And this is without taking into account the massive amounts of water that needs to be pumped into economically viable crops.
Thus, after a couple of studies and loads of back and forth, scientists have come up with a simple solution – just move the farms. Relocating the farms to parts of the world that are more naturally conducive for these projects could actually significantly reverse the climate catastrophe. The problem: socio-economic impact of a gargantuan change like this.
India and agriculture have a very tight bond. In total, it covers around 17% of our GDP and employs close to 60% of our population. For 58% of Indians, agriculture is their primary source of livelihood. And this isn’t just about wheat and rice; India is currently the world’s second-largest producer of several agriculture-based textile raw materials, root and tuber crops, pulses, sugarcane, dry fruits, etc.
Clearly, our farms matter to us, but at what cost? According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), agriculture is one of the major sources of greenhouse gas emissions. The most prominent gases are methane and nitrous oxide. Apart from the environmental chemistry lesson, agriculture also forces changes in land use. Uses that naturally the land was not made for.
Loads of forest land have been subject to deforestation to make space for the organised and profitable growth of crops and livestock. This change in the land’s usage also puts extra pressure on the soil available in that area. In India, for example, 30% of our land has been degraded. This means that around 97 million hectares of land have little to no productivity at all.
India, as a largely agrarian country, cannot afford to lose any more land. But, at the same time, we also have our climate to take care of. This is where R M Beyer’s recent study comes in. Published in the journal Nature Communications Earth & Environment on 10 March, the study says that simply shifting farmlands to more naturally agreeable areas of the country would save us a lot of grief.
Given the data provided in the study, this does seem like an enticing proposition. But one cannot just ignore the impact it would have on real people. Additionally, pulling off such a tall task in India, even with the right incentives, can get a little too complicated. Some believe that the hang-ups might actually not even be worth the try.
VIEW: Quick and easy climate action
The study suggests that, over the scarcity of land and other resources, we simply aren’t using the ones we already have. You see, over the last 3 centuries, 40% of the Earth’s ice-free surface has been altered to meet the needs of humans. This includes settlement needs and agricultural ones for sustenance. The population increase and significant rise in consumption have also forced a lot of lands to be used for agriculture. More agricultural land also calls for more irrigation, mostly unnatural forms of irrigation. India alone is one of the largest extractors of groundwater for irrigation purposes.
According to R M Beyer and his team, most of these problems could be solved by sorting land use according to geographical lines. As Beyer explained, “In many places, cropland has replaced natural habitat that contained a lot of carbon and biodiversity – and crops don’t even grow very well there… If we let these places regenerate, and moved production to better-suited areas, we would see environmental benefits very quickly.” This forms the basis of the mathematical model the study proposes. The goal isn’t simply to help the environment, but to also maintain the production levels of crops.
The study provides a side-by-side comparison of the idealised optimal agricultural land distribution and the actual distribution today. One look shows you exactly how much land India can reclaim if the model is implemented. The authors of the study say that this redistribution will fully end water loss by 100%, reduce the loss of biodiversity by 87%, and cut carbon loss by 71%. Given how much ecologically diverse land and forests have been cleared in India for agriculture, focusing on farms in water abundant areas can help bring back our carbon sinks.
Ideally, an international shift of agricultural land will give us the best outcome of such a project. But let’s be real, by the time we figure out the ins and outs of the pure unadulterated negotiations required to pull that off, the pigs will start to fly. So, the authors of the study go on to say that “even if we only relocated a fraction of the world’s cropland, focusing on the places that are least efficient for growing crops, the environmental benefits would be tremendous.”
COUNTERVIEW: The harrowing cost of relocation
It isn’t difficult to see the problems with such a proposal. Though this is the most comprehensive argument for the mass-farm-relocation, it isn’t the first time such a proposal has been made. Even in the study, the authors do keep in mind the long and arduous process of implementing such monumental changes. Despite the overarching logistical hiccups, a lot of the issues aren’t even about that. What we would have to deal with are intrinsic ethical issues. And given India’s current trajectory with the collection and compensation of land, things don’t seem so uplifting.
According to economic and environmental anthropologist Andrew Lehne Ofstehage, “The authors’ acknowledgement of the importance of financial compensation and consent is important, but we must question how both compensation and consent would be enacted.” In the study, the authors provide ‘set-aside’ schemes as an example. This is where the government will pay farmers to give up parts of their land for the environment. While this seems like a simple enough solution, the sheer scale of this transaction is sure to adversely affect a large portion of the population.
Ofstehage goes on to say that in countries that have private farmland holdings, the handover can be pretty painless. But in countries where the land is owned, or sometimes leased, by a group of users, the concept of consent becomes a lot more muddled. In the case of leases, the consent of the users isn’t even paid attention to. They simply lose out on social security. And, for several smaller communities, relocation isn’t necessarily a fun thing. For minority groups, especially tribal ones, relocation alludes to the disconnection from one’s ancestry, community and general way of life.
Finally, we come to the logistics. Ofstehage even talks about the real finances that will go into sustaining such a model. Cultural tastes and food habits stem from the availability of local produce. It has developed over centuries, and suddenly changing this is going to hurt. Even though transporting goods and produce isn’t really an issue anymore, it does add to production costs. Overall, the price of previously-common foodstuffs will spike exponentially. If we apply this logic to larger things, the general cost of sustaining this system will skyrocket, giving rich countries another edge over the rest of the world.
What’s your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) Relocating farmlands to combat climate change is a good idea.
b) Relocating farmlands to combat climate change is a bad idea.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and India’s diminishing global role
For the Left:
Nehru was liberal, no doubt — but only with those he was comfortable with
🏴 STATE OF THE STATES
Non-conforming industrial areas (Delhi) – The Delhi government will redevelop 25 notified non-conforming industrial areas over the next five years. These areas will be made clean and sustainable. It will help create more than six lakh job opportunities. Finance minister Manish Sisodia said it will be a part of the Delhi government’s overall Rozgar plan in the 2022-23 budget. The government will work with developers for basic services like drinking water supply, sewage treatment, and industrial waste disposal.
Why it matters: Delhi has more than 25,000 industries located in 28 approved industrial areas. The Delhi Pollution Control Committee, in a report to the Union Jal shakti ministry, said the government should first focus on improving the facilities in these 28 areas. In 2020, the Delhi government announced a similar makeover for 29 industrial areas with the help of private agencies.
Financial emergency? (Andhra Pradesh) – The Telugu Desam Party wants the Centre to invoke Article 360 and declare a financial emergency for the state. The demand stems from the alleged mismanagement by the ruling YS Jagan Mohan Reddy regime. The party wants the Centre to order a CBI investigation into the alleged misappropriation of ₹48,000 crores worth of public money. Leader of Opposition in the Legislative Council Yanamala Ramakrishnudu said the current government has pushed the state into a financial crisis.
Why it matters: In its latest report for the state, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) said the government violated treasury codes and transacted a gross amount of more than ₹48,000 crores through ‘Special Bills’. It also pointed out several lapses by the state in managing its finances. it flagged the off-budget borrowings of ₹38,000 crores which weren’t disclosed in the State Budget. It also found more than 54,000 adjustment transactions not processed through the treasuries.
Unnatural elephant deaths (Odisha) – More than 1,300 elephants have died in the state due to various reasons since 2000-01. In 2020-21, 77 elephants died. This financial year alone, 42 deaths were reported till October. More than 200 deaths were due to electrocution and 136 due to poaching. For 176 elephants, officials still don’t know the cause of death. The chief wildlife warden’s office said the government has notified the Mayurbhanja, Sambalpur, and Mahanadi elephant conservation projects to check on the deaths of elephants.
Why it matters: Odisha has more than 1,900 elephants per the last census conducted in 2017. In 2012, that number was 1,930, which increased to 1,954 in 2015. To ensure their smooth movement, the government has selected 14 corridors where they have dug ponds and developed meadows. Anti-poaching and anti-smuggling personnel have been deployed in strategic places.
Floating solar power plants (Goa) – The state government has invited expression of interest (EOI) to develop grid-connected floating solar power plants. So far, 12 companies have expressed interest. The power plants will be set up at the Selaulim, Amthanem, Anjunem, and Chapoli dams. The bidders will have to submit a report of their financial and technical capabilities and a feasibility report for the projects. So far, the government has received a no-objection certificate from the water resources department while waiting for one from the electricity department.
Why it matters: In October, the state decided to set up the floating solar power project. The goals are water conservation, solar power generation, and creating rural employment. The department of new and renewable energy (DNRE) will assist at all four sites. The state government has been advocating for solar power among people as well in a bid to address the fluctuating power supply.
Fresh NRC (Assam) – Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa called for a new National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the state. He also said the work done in the past five years on this should be reviewed. The state government said it would approach the Supreme Court to direct the Centre to provide Aadhaar cards for 27 lakh people whose biometrics had been collected during the initial phases of the NRC.
Why it matters: First published in 1951 for Assam, the process to update the NRC under the apex court’s supervision began in 2013. It stipulated March 24, 1971, as the cut-off for detecting foreigners. The updated list published in 2019 excluded more than 19.06 lakh people out of more than 3 crore applicants. The BJP-led government in the state criticised the updated NRC draft as the names of many alleged illegal migrants were included.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
$300 million – Gold jeweller Joyalukkas plans to raise $300 million from its IPO. It plans to capitalise on the growing demand for gold in India, the world’s second-biggest consumer.