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BW Businessworld

Just Some Cheering Ideas

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According to M. Veerappa Moily, India has performed poorly in comparison with other major players in the world league, and that is due to lack of vision. This book and its companion volume (which I have not seen) seek to remedy that.

This book is chiefly about agriculture. After examining land statistics, Moily concludes that 40.42 million hectares can be better used. He proposes that 32 million ha of it should be afforested, 6.1 million ha should be put to non-agricultural (presumably urban) uses, and 2.2 million hectares to grassland. The additional forest land should be used to grow biofuels, especially a South American tree called simarouba that yields oil, fruit, manure, fuel and timber. He assumes that all land is suitable for simarouba, and neglects to estimate possible yield.

Following a committee on interlinking of rivers chaired by Suresh Prabhu, Moily proposes that 136.5 million hectares should be put under foodgrains with drip or sprinkler irrigation by 2020. That will yield 710 million tonnes of foodgrains in 2050 of which 450 million tonnes can be eaten by the 1.64 billion people and the rest exported. Then he lists possible improvements such as organic farming, integrated pest management, credit, roads, railways and markets.

The land Moily identifies may not all be fit for simarouba; and other land may be. And there may be other magical trees or crops. Interlinking of rivers was once seriously considered. It would have extended irrigation only along the east coast, and at considerable energy cost, because water flows only down on its own. More efficient use of water in situ is cheaper and has much unexhausted potential. Moily's ideas are cheering, but their foundations in agricultural knowledge are insufficiently strong.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 16-11-2009)