Is India on Track to Beat the Perfect Storm?

The marginal farmer who depends solely on rain irrigation needs
water, agricultural and energy innovations the most. Three farmer
families help each other to plough their small farms and seed them
as monsoon arrives in Warangal district in Andhra Pradesh. Credit:
Manipadma Jena / IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NEW DELHI, Aug 12 2019 (IPS)

“The Perfect Storm” was a dire prediction that by 2030 food
shortages, scarce water and insufficient energy resources together
with climate change would threaten to unleash public unrest,
cross-border conflicts and mass migration from worst-affected
regions.

It is a term coined a decade back in 2009 by Sir John
Beddington, the United Kingdom’s then Chief Scientific Adviser.
But in 2019 the prediction seems to be a real
possibility—particularly for developing countries.

The current drive for a food- and nutrition-secure world, as
well as the vision of feeding an estimated global population of 10
billion in 2050, is held hostage today by the unsustainable nexus
between agriculture, water and energy. This is all further
exacerbated by the climate emergency upon us.

“We have, over the years, tended to overuse both water and
energy in agricultural operations, practices that are now at odds
with the challenges due to the emerging changes in hydrology and
the increasing global concentration of greenhouse gases,” says
Ajay Mathur, Director General of The Energy and Resources Institute,
India.

“Those of us who work on water issues in (the global) South
understand that there have been decades of mismanagement of our
land, water, energy and ecosystems due to poor policies, whose
effects are now being compounded due to climate change,” adds
Aditi Mukherji, Principal Researcher at the International Water Management
Institute
.

India’s alarming water shortages are now real as are the
prolonged droughts in its central region and on-going apocalyptic
flooding in several states. Each disaster leaves its own damaging
impact on food production back to back.

Problems in each of the farm, water, and energy sectors are
being addressed in India through policies, schemes and innovations
but there is a need for greater focus on their interconnectedness
to solve real world water, energy and food issues, according to
Mukherji who is the coordinating lead author of the water chapter
of the 6th Assessment Report team of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change
.

“Policies for reducing water distress in agriculture, for
example, have to focus on all fronts –ensuring that food
procurement policies are revised to incentivise low water consuming
crops, that agricultural energy policies are tweaked to provide
smarter incentives for lower groundwater extraction, and that water
policies encourage decentralised solutions like water harvesting
and water efficient agriculture,” she says.

And again “solutions for groundwater overexploitation problems
are often found in the regions’ energy policies, including in the
ever-increasing potential of renewable energy,” Mukherji
says.

In India and other middle and low income economies, women are
stewards of family food security. Increasingly, off- grid solar
power is helping them provide better. A tribal woman feeds a 2
horsepower miller run by rooftop solar at Male Mahadeshwara Hills
in Southern Karnataka. Courtesy: SELCO India

Clean energy to the rescue of food
producers 

Ravi Naik’s tiny two-acre farm is in Shattigerahalli village
in the Western Ghats of India’s southern Karnataka State. If any
of his relatives come to visit, they trek through two kilometres of
dense forests. Come monsoon, they’d find a formidable hill stream
in fierce flow, barring their way. Grid electricity has not
reached this remoteness, and the 56-year-old small farmer had no
choice but to grow the Areca nut which requires less water but also
fetches low prices at market.

Naik wanted to grow the remunerative banana but there was no way
he could afford the extra irrigation with his kerosene-fed pump
which already cost him over seven dollars a month.

But one day he encountered a solar technician from SELCO India, a local solar energy
enterprise in Karnataka, who was installing an inverter. Naik
narrated his woe. SELCO scouted and found a perennial pond close
enough for a small ½ horsepower solar-powered pump to sufficiently
draw irrigation for Naik’s banana plants.

Not only did Naik’s income double, thus easing his pump loan
payments, the nutritious fruit always grows in abundance and has
become his three-year-old grandson’s favourite snack. 

His farm is self sufficient and “clean” now. He no longer
dreads the fossil fuel price swings on the black market, where he
previously was forced to purchase fuel from.

To break the nexus Mathur suggests, “the promotion of energy
efficient solar pumps, together with the purchase of excess
electricity by the grid (from mini-grids), provides an opportunity
to install micro-irrigation facilities, to mitigate climate
emissions and provides a revenue stream for farmers to invest
further in technology …energy efficiency is the first-step in
ensuring that solar-based electrification is cost effective”.
Mathur was recently appointed to the new International Energy
Agency’s Commission for Urgent Action on Energy Efficiency.

While science and innovation have much to offer for water,
energy and food security, these must be backed by institutional
policies and political leadership to identify pathways to overcome
a plethora of inter-connected challenges, according to
Mukherji.

A 10 mega watt solar power plant set atop irrigation canals in
Vodadara, Gujarat provides clean energy to thousands of farmers in
the western Indian state. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Dire consequences already on us 

The World Resources
Institute
‘s Aqueduct Water Risk
Atlas
released last week clearly indicates that India’s
policies are not geared for current challenges it is already
facing. The Atlas ranks India 13 among 17 countries that are facing
“extremely high” water stress, almost close to Day Zero
conditions. The research warns that potentially dire consequences
can be triggered more often in India even during short dry shocks
when demand outstrips supply, owing to its population which is
three times that of the remaining 16 countries on the stressed
list.

“South Asia is one of the world’s most highly populated
regions with high levels of poverty and malnutrition alongside its
rapid economic development. It is also a global hotspot due to huge
demands for food, water and energy in a context of severe climate
change impacts,” says Jim Woodhill of Australia’s Department of
Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).

“From experience we know that food (and water) insecurity can
be a trigger to societal unrest and even revolution. In such a
populous region (as South Asia) it is critical that socially just
and environmentally sustainable solutions are found to the
challenge that the water, food, energy and climate nexus
presents,” says Woodhill, who is the Food Systems Advisor for
South Asia Sustainable Development Investment Portfolio at
DFAT. 

Woodhill’s stand on South Asia was backed by United Nations
findings in 2014. The U.N. had warned the Indian sub-continent may
face the brunt of the water crisis where India would be at the
centre of this conflict due to its unique geographical position in
South Asia. It indicated shared river basins in the region may pit
India against Pakistan, China and Bangladesh over the issue of
water sharing by 2050. Indus River, Ganges and Brahmaputra basins
are crucial for India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and China.

Already river water sharing between several Indian States is
seeing prolonged disputes both legal and political.

“Systems of weak governance are at the heart of the problem. A
focus on generating and distributing wealth is no longer enough –
we must add the dimension of how to respond to climate change.
Science, new forms of decision making, and citizen engagement must
go hand in hand,” says Woodhill adding, “Experience worldwide
is showing how competition for land and water resources is
intensifying, driven by increased demand from agriculture, the
energy sector and industry. In South Asia the potential scale of
the human tragedy of not moving fast enough down a path of
sustainability and climate resilience, is immense.” 

Australia’s Crawford Fund annual
conference
in Canberra over Aug. 12-13 examines the available
evidence as to whether the “storm” is still on track to happen.
Or whether scientific, engineering and agricultural innovation the
world over, and progress in the farmer’s field in India and in
other vulnerable countries, have indeed lessened or delayed the
impact of the unsustainable nexus between agriculture, water,
energy and climate change.

The post Is
India on Track to Beat the Perfect Storm?
appeared first on
Inter Press Service.

Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
Is India on Track to Beat the Perfect Storm?