Published: Saturday 15 January 2005

Towards sustainable employment

The cover story on the employment situation, Jobs, jobs, jobs (Down To Earth, Vol 13, No 13, November 30, 2004) has rightly pointed out how mere gross domestic product (gdp) growth does not guarantee job growth.

We have seen jobless growth in the last few years and Kerala is a classic example that has attained human development status comparable with developed countries while its gdp growth is less than many other Indian states.

For increased productivity and remunerative income for the farmer, modernising the farm sector may be necessary, but may create unemployment. For sustainable absorption of excess labour from the farm sector, projects like the work-guarantee scheme may not be workable.

A long-term solution could be to create a cluster of employment units of horticulture, sericulture, food processing and fishing. This would put local resources to best use and with some marketing, could even establish export prospects.

In certain villages in Kerala, where coir manufacturing or cashew processing is thriving, no one is unemployed. Why can't every village be like that?

A Jacob Sahayam
Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala...

Crossed wires on farm power

The cover story on tractors, Farm power divide (Down To Earth, Vol 13, No 11, October 31), draws on various articles written by me from time to time and also from my book Managing from Zero to Blue Chip, in substantive fashion.

I can only say that the authors have pulled my thoughts out of context and drawn never-intended conclusions. At places, they are even contrary to the views that I have held all through. They are incorrect technically. Such views are amateur and reflect a poor knowledge of manufacturing costs, economics and ground realities. The views are primitive and arguments are concocted to support pre-conceived answers.

Subsequent paragraphs touch upon aspects like power tillers. Copying the Japanese example, the Union ministry of agriculture had come to this very firm conclusion and we even bought one in cmeri in the late sixties for trial. Three to four power tiller units came up in response but all of them came to grief.

The reasons for this is that power tillers are not suitable for dry land and Indian mechanisation for the first three decades was concentrated in dry areas. By that time, power tillers had become so complex that local manufacturing costs would not have been different from that of indigenously made 4-wheels. Then, walking behind tillers in dust/slush was not psychologically acceptable to our farmers. Japan itself was shifting to 4-wheels.

Regarding bullocks and harness, improved harness, sickles and other implements were the fads of some agricultural engineers in the Union ministry of agriculture. The improvement in lab tests was 10 to 15 per cent. It is well known that there are no takers for such marginal improvements (and in lab tests). All these improvements died in the lab. I was clear and even emphasised this during the Quinquennial Review of ciae, Bhopal.

Incidentally, the population of bullocks that we have requires nearly ten per cent of our arable land to grow the fodder to sustain them. Half the time during the year they have to be fed when bullocks remain idle. How long can we afford that luxury?

Regarding China and belt-driven tractors, I don't think the Chinese example is factually correct. Belt life on traction duty, in dry land tillage farming, is extremely poor (this was particularly true of belts of those days) and belts are expensive to replace.

I could go on and on, on the other issues raised. I have written all this since I knew Anil (even though I did not agree with his views). Sensation and criticism are easy. What is difficult is to look at ground reality in the context of techno-economic and social feasibility and then figure out routes to deliver positive results. You might like to ponder over these suggestions from a greyhead.

Chandra Mohan
vc and md (Retd)
Punjab Tractors Limited
Chandigarh, Punjab

Doubts over biodiesel

Jatrophafever (Down To Earth, Vol 13, No. 13, November 30, 2004), has raised the issue of jatropha plantation by the Chhattisgarh government. There is no authentic information available on the seed yield of these species. In the us, biodiesels are mainly derived from soya and sunflower seed. As India is deficient in edible oils, non-edible oils are used for biodiesel. It is still at a research stage here so economic viability of biodiesels has also not been determined.

The major application of biodiesel may be in transport. Automobile companies like Ford, bmw and Volvo have accepted biodiesel as fuel with 10 to 20 per cent blends rather than in pure form, as biodiesel is a strong solvent and may damage rubber parts and engine gaskets.

In India, the Indian Oil Corporation has evaluated 60-litre biodiesel and found that it meets the astm biodiesel specification. Field trials and emission-testing of biodiesels is being conducted. Some studies shows that there are no advantages of biodiesel over mineral diesel and that overall costs make it unviable.

They also point out that the crop may be sensitive to weather conditions. Failure of a crop in any given year could lead to a fuel crisis. Cost of producing biodiesel will be viable only if conventional petroleum reaches above us $50 per barrel.

The energy required to produce, fertilise and harvest the crops should also be considered. Intense efforts are required to make fallow land cultivable and there are environmental fallouts for the entire process, which should be clearly understood and recorded. Studies suggest that n 2 o emissions from crop cultivation produce a higher level of co 2 , increase the ground- level ozone and cause stratospheric ozone depletion: but more exploration is required in this regard; research has to go deeper to come up with control measures.

Health concerns regarding greater use of pesticides and insecticides in the growth of such crops are also cited against biodiesel. Their production has been seen as contributing to the increase of respiratory conditions such as hay fever and asthma.

Sanjeev Jain
Jagdalpur, Madhya Pradesh...

Pic of the Postbag

Removing the bitterness from Indian sugar
The practice of raising agro-industrial crops in many regions, irrespective of whether the climate is suitable or not, can create problems like those faced by the sugar industry at present. Different crops need different weather. The rational cropping strategy would be to go in for specialised, regionalised and economical production of specific crops. In practice though, crops are raised in all places and seasons.

Agro-industrial crops like sugarcane, sunflower, soybean, palm oil and rubber have to factor in climate aspects. In peninsular India, sugarcane productivity shows obvious variations due to this. In Tamil Nadu (tn), squalls are common in November and December, but in Andhra Pradesh (ap), the period of squalls sets in and withdraws a month earlier. Thus, in coastal and near-coastal areas in tn and ap, the sugarcane must be planted earlier to ensure the crop is not tall when turbulent winds blow and the crop must be harvested before squalls next year. This reduces the potential crop period by two months. Wet weather during cane elongation also improves tonnage. In tn, the active cane growth period is almost rain-free, so the tonnage is depressed. But sugarcane in Karnataka (free of cyclonic weather) benefits from rains. However, temperature conditions in Maharashtra are more congenial than in Karnataka for the accumulation of sugar in the canes and recovery of the same in mills. This is why Maharashtra rates the highest in sugarcane productivity. But the drier climate of the north Indian plains has a yield potential one-third of that possible in peninsular India.

The sugarcane culture in India thus embraces a wide variety of climatic and crop development regimes during the field crop-life and needs climatic cognisance in its agronomic and water management. Irrigation systems in current cane-growing areas have not been designed to provide canal water to a water-demanding crop like sugarcane in seasons of water scarcity. When states begin to review water-sharing arrangements of river systems, sugarcane requirements of water during summer could be a roadblock.

The sugar crisis (sugar mills across Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra are closing down) is due to the non-cognisance of three aspects: the unit area yield of sugarcane, the pricing factor and the area coverage. Restricting sugarcane cultivation to climatically appropriate areas in peninsular India would be a rational and appropriate solution.

S Venkataraman
Pune, Maharashtra...

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