‘India needs to rethink the village economy’


Pavan Sukhdev, Economist

Pavan Sukhdev, Economist
Pavan Sukhdev, Economist, Photo: Shailendra Pandey

WE NEED to put an economic value on the environment. Europe’s $1 trillion rescue package is making the news today but focus on this fact. We are losing $2-$4.5 trillion of natural capital every year through deforestation. A green economy is one that improves human well-being and reduces poverty but does so while also reducing the massive risk factors.

City people see the environment as a luxury because of their consumerist lifestyle — but they’re wrong. If you want to understand a green lifestyle, ask a villager why he resists ‘development’ projects. Unfortunately, we don’t listen to villagers. The number one focus for the Indian economy today should be to rethink the village economy, especially agriculture. We need a judicious mix of local, ecologically- friendly farming methods, and technologies adding to the incomes of the villagers. We cannot merely destroy farmers’ reliance on nature.

Let me give you the vision of the farm of tomorrow. It will still be a two-hectare farm, but it will produce 80 percent more food. (There is evidence to show it’s possible.) Companies peddle more and more agrochemicals to suit their own bottom line. They should remember that if they destroy the system today they’ll no longer have consumers tomorrow.

The number two focus for India ought to be clean energy. India, over the next 25 years, is going to probably need eight times the energy we use today. We need to urgently change our energy mix — our severe dependence on coal (more than 50 percent), our remarkably high dependence on hydel (25 percent). Hydel needs to continue through small dams, with more sustainable hydropower. We also need to push for renewable energy — wind, solar, some nuclear energy — and make sure coal is completely clean. Today, energy generation is neither efficient nor just.

In India, tribals unfortunately no longer have community rights. They have been given individual rights. If you destroy the community fabric of the tribal village and their traditional involvement with the forest as gatherers, you’re creating a vacuum that will create further unemployment and conflict. The right paradigm is to preserve what they have and add to it education and health.

Let’s respect the ecosystem and the village economy. That is the true sustainability of both corporations and villages.

As Told To Rohini Mohan