Previous letter to Greta now with references.
Dear Readers and Visitors,
Thanks for reading and commenting on my letter to Ms. Greta Thunberg. Your response on this website, twitter, and LinkedIn has been overwhelming. Many readers asked for reference to the data I have marshalled in the letter. I am posting the letter with references. I have also made a correction to an inelegantly framed sentence on food wastage which instead of saying “two-thirds of food is wasted in….” should have read “two-third of food wastage occurs in….”. I hope readers will do additional research and engage in an informed debate through this website.
Strong endorsements, some questions, some additional arguments, and a few disagreements have been expressed. I am sifting through and collating those comments to provide a consolidated response instead of shooting from the hip to each individual comment. I was pleasantly surprised that exceptionally few readers have used intemperate or abusive language. It only shows civility is not dead in our social interactions. I would only say “Shouting kills words, Abuse kills discussion.” I shall post my response in a couple of days.
Please subscribe to the mailing list if you would like to be informed of future discussions.
Former Chief Operating Officer
United Nations Sustainable Energy for All
I had admired your courage, commitment, and capturing the global imagination on climate justice when you stood up at the 2018 UNCCC. As Chief Operating Officer of United Nations Sustainable Energy for All until 2015, I was deeply involved with global advocacy and building consensus for Sustainable Development Goal-7 and Paris Climate Agreement. When I heard you in 2018 and 2019 my heart warmed up since we had been advocating that the youth would drive the change for a better future, and you emerged as a torch bearer of that trust. However, I am writing to you with some disappointment that you have started using your well-earned bully pulpit to wade into political issues, such as farmers protest in India, which may not be as simple and as straightforward as you may have been led to believe.
I would like to apprise you of four key issues that you should carefully consider for an informed opinion on the subject.
1. Emissions from crop residue burning. Farmers demanded, and regrettably the Government of India agreed, to withdraw penalties for burning crop residue. Indian farmers, mostly around Delhi in the states of Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh, burn about 100 million tons (Mt) a year of crop residue which generates 140 Mt of CO2, 12 Mt of other noxious gases and 1.2 Mt of particulate matter choking a population of about 50 million in the area[i] [ii]. Crop residue burning also destroys the nitrogen and carbon potential of the soil, kills the microflora and fauna beneficial to the soil, removes the large portion of the organic matter, and unavoidably leads to increased use of chemical fertilizers. Smog in Delhi forces young children to skip school and stay indoors, 2.2 million children suffer irreversible lung damage[iii]. Your embassy in Delhi can inform you how they gasp for air during that period. Do you support farmers demand to let them continue to burn crop residue and add to emissions?
2. Food wastage. Every year in India, about 67 million tons of food is wasted, which has been estimated to be around of US$14 billion and could feed more than 100 million people. Up to 40 per cent of the food produced in India is wasted and about 21 million tons of wheat (2.5 Mt GHG)[iv]– equivalent to gross annual production of Australia- is wasted annually[v] [vi] [vii]. FAO estimates show that two-third of the food wastage occurs in post-harvest transportation, storage, processing and distribution before it reaches the consumer [viii]. If food wastage was a country, it would be the third largest emitter after US and China. Embedded carbon in the wasted food in India is about 60 Mt of CO2 equivalent. India desperately needs to modernize its agriculture, strengthen market linkages, and invest in the whole supply chain. This cannot, and should not, be done by the governments and should be left to competitive, efficient and well-regulated private sector. Do you support India to continue with the current archaic systems and waste food that could feed more than a100 million hungry every year?
3. Water Crisis. A severe water crisis is looming large in India. About 85% of irrigated agriculture in India depends on groundwater. India extracts about 230 km3 of groundwater every year of which 90% is used for irrigation[ix]. World Bank estimates show that by 2030, 65% of Indian groundwater would be considered over-exploited i.e. extracting more than is recharged by nature. Fifty years ago, farmers in Punjab and Haryana valiantly rose to the challenge of food insecurity and started growing rice in a semi-arid agro-climatic zone to feed the country. It has come at a very heavy environmental cost of severe depletion of groundwater, deteriorating water quality, excessive use of chemical fertilizers and cancer-causing pesticides. India is now food surplus and needs to create incentives to make agriculture less resource intensive and demand driven?[x] Agitating farmers want the government to lock into the current system of growing resource intensive and chemical ridden agriculture. Do you support that?
4. Corruption-controlled agriculture markets. You may not be aware but the current system forces farmers to sell their produce through government-established market yards where they have to pay a brokerage of about 2 to 3% and market tax of about 5 to 6%. Market Committees collect this tax supposedly for “rural development”, are controlled by politicians, and their accounts are not audited for years. The revenue is often swindled by corrupt politicians controlling these Committees. The new laws give a choice to the farmers to either continue to sell in the existing market yards or sell to anyone anywhere in the country and that too without paying any tax.
There are other strong vested interests benefitting from the status-quo. Government procures large quantities of wheat and rice for public distribution system and pays a pre-announced minimum support price (MSP). Out of about 210 Mt of wheat and rice produced in the country, Government procures about 85 Mt for sale to the poor at one-tenth of the procurement price[xi]. About 52% of this procurement is made from only three states Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh- the hub of agitating farmers. More than 90% of the farmers in rest of India do not benefit from this system. Normally, market price is lower than the MSP. This is what creates a great opportunity for the broker-mafia. Brokers and politicians purchase wheat and rice from farmers in other states at a lower price (about 60% of MSP)[xii] and pay them in cash, bring it to government procurement stations in Punjab, Haryana and UP, sell it the higher price (MSP) and get paid by check. This is counted as their agriculture income which is tax-exempt. So, these brokers, often politicians or campaign financiers, not only earn the huge arbitrage but also convert the cash (generally crime money) to legitimate tax-free income. New laws would bring in transparency and make it difficult to legitimize crime money. No wonder farmer agitation is so well funded. I feel the innocent farmers may not even know the source of this questionable “philanthropic” funding. I wonder if you would support a system of legitimizing crime and corruption money in the hands of corrupt politicians and their cronies.
Farmers in Punjab, Haryana, and part of Uttar Pradesh have a legitimate apprehension which needs to be addressed through dialogue and not intransigence of either party. India has adequate institutions of Parliament, Courts, Media, and public opinion to allow peaceful protests and open dialogue to solve its myriad problems of poverty and development. I am sure, eventually a satisfactory solution would be found not only for the agitating farmers of a few states but also for the remaining 90% farmers of India who would stand to gain from the new laws.
You are doing a great service to the cause of climate change, an existential threat to humanity that needs to be addressed urgently. We need global consensus for implementation of Paris Agreement and Sustainable Development Goals. Walking into the thicket of local political issues, often mired in a battle with corrupt and vested political interests, would undermine your ability to keep the moral high ground to exhort World Leaders into action for a sustainable future. I would urge you not to expend your political and moral capital on controversial local political issues.
I am sending a copy of this letter to the United Nations Secretary General H.E. António Guterres for his information.
I look forward to your continued advocacy of a sustainable future.
With warm regards
6th of February 2021
[i] Emission of Air Pollutants from Crop Residue Burning in India Niveta Jain* , Arti Bhatia, Himanshu Pathak Centre for Environment Science and Climate Resilient Agriculture, Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi110012, India https://aaqr.org/articles/aaqr-13-01-oa-0031.pdf
[ii] Crop Residue Burning in India: Policy Challenges and Potential Solutions S. Bhuvaneshwari,1,* Hiroshan Hettiarachchi,2 and Jay N. Meegoda3 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6427124/
[iii] Delhi’s air pollution and its impact on Children’s health May 2017. https://yaleglobalhealthreview.com/2017/05/14/delhis-air-pollution-and-its-effects-on-childrens-health/
[iv] Greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural food production to supply Indian diets: Implications for climate change mitigation Sylvia H. Vetter,a,⁎ Tek B. Sapkota,b Jon Hillier,a Clare M. Stirling,c Jennie I. Macdiarmid,d Lukasz Aleksandrowicz,e,f Rosemary Green,e,f Edward J.M. Joy,e,f Alan D. Dangour,e,f and Pete Smitha https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5268357/#:~:text=Agriculture%20is%20a%20major%20source,gas%20(GHG)%20emissions%20globally.&text=Livestock%20and%20rice%20production%20were,2eq%20kg%E2%88%921%20milk.
[v] How much food is wasted in India. Prity Barman 26 Dec 2020; Krishi Jagran. https://krishijagran.com/agriculture-world/how-much-food-is-wasted-in-india/
[vi] Food Wastage In India, And What You Can Do About It by CSR JOURNAL, October 31, 2018 According to the United Nations Development Programme, up to 40% of the food produced in India is wasted. About 21 million tonnes of wheat are wasted in India and 50% of all food across the world meets the same fate and never reaches the needy. In fact, according to the agriculture ministry, INR 50,000 crores worth of food produced is wasted every year in the country. https://thecsrjournal.in/food-wastage-in-india-a-serious-concern/
[vii] India grows more food while more go hungry. Rahul Srivastava, India Today December 2020. https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/india-grows-more-food-wastes-more-while-more-go-hungry-1752107-2020-12-22
[viii] Food Wastage Footprint and Climate Change, FAO; http://www.fao.org/3/a-bb144e.pdf
[ix] India’s Depleting Groundwater: When Science Meets Policy. Namrata Chindarkar, et al https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/app5.269
[xi] Agriculture Statistics at a Glance 2017-18 http://agricoop.gov.in/sites/default/files/agristatglance2018.pdf and https://fci.gov.in/procurements.php?view=87
[xii] It’s Time for a 10-year-plan to say How Much Wheat and Rice Will Be Procured From Each State
Siraj Hossain (former Secretary, Agriculture, GOI) and Jugal Mohapatra (former Sec Rural Development and Chief Sec, Orissa) https://thewire.in/agriculture/punjab-protests-rice-wheat-procurement-ten-year-plan-foood-security