Down To Earth(February 14-28)
Down to Earth (Feb 14- 2022)
Note: Please note that some inputs have been given by our team in order to make the topic more relevant to UPSC.
Karewas: they are plateau-like landforms formed by the deposition of alluvial soils and sediments like sandstone and mudstone.
1. NATURAL OPTION
Topics covered from the syllabus:
Mulching: It refers to the practice of covering the field with crop residue. It has multiple benefits like:
Context: A study has established that organic and natural farming has multidimensional benefits as compared to chemical-based farming
What is organic and Natural Farming
- Chemical Free: Organic farming refers to the type of agriculture in which the use of chemicals like pesticides, fertilizers, growth regulators, food additives, genetically modified organisms and other such inputs are used in a minimum quantity or are entirely shunned.
- Use of Alternatives Systems: In place of chemical based inputs, organic farming utilizes methods like crop rotation, use of green manures and compost, biological pest control and mechanical cultivation.
- Bio-inputs: Under organic farming, there is a focus on the use of organic and bio-inputs like farmyard manure, vermicompost, poultry manure, green manure, liquid bio-fertilizers, Jeevamrutha, Beejamritha, Ghanajeevamritha, Panchagavya and fish-protein hydrolysate.
- Additional Practices: Organic farming system can be complemented with practices like crop rotation (planting different crops sequentially), mulching (see inset), intercropping (planting different crops simultaneously in a field) and seed soaking with liquid manure, to increase the yields in a field.
- State of Organic Farming in India: As per the reports, in India, hardly 2.7% or 3.8 million hectares (ha) of the net sown area is under organic and natural farming.
Benefits of Organic Farming
- Crop Yield: As per the report titled ‘Evidence (2004-20) on Holistic Benefits of Organic and Natural Farming in India’, published by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a Delhi-based NGO, organic farming is more productive as compared to chemical-based farming. Out of the total studies, organic farming led to an increase in the crop yield 41% of the times it was used, while integrated approach (a mix of organic and inorganic approaches) led to an increase 33% of the times.
- Cost of Cultivation: The CSE study takes into account 89 scientific studies conducted in the last decade and also, Government of India’s All India Network Project on Organic Farming (AI-NPOF), which has been going on in 16 states since 2004. It says that the cost of cultivation is higher in organic farming as compared to the chemical-based farming
- Reduction in the Costs: However, this increase in the cost of farming is attributed to market-based inputs like bio-fertilizers. If, on the other hand, the inputs are produced by the farmers on the farm itself, the costs would be decreased substantially.
- Income and Livelihood: From the studies, it is well established that net returns are higher in the organic approach than the inorganic or mixed approaches. Organic approaches not only lead to minimized cost of cultivation (if inputs are produced on-field), they also fetch premium price for the produce. This is true for sale of crops even without obtaining certification of being organic.
- Soil Health: Organic farming leads to better soil health as it does not deplete the macro-nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) and micro-nutrients (iron, managanese, zinc and copper), organic carbon as well as rhizosphere microbiome in the soil, unlike the conventional chemical-based practices.
- Environment: Organic farming leads to lesser carbon emissions, in addition to promoting carbon sequestration. It also promotes soil respiration, growth of beneficial organisms like earthworms, soil enzymes and microbial biomass increase.
- Climate-resilience: Organic farming leads to an increase in overall resilience of the crops against climatic disasters like droughts and frost.
- Water-use efficiency: Use of organic methods of farming leads to more efficient use of soil moisture, leading to an increase in the levels of water table, prevents over-extraction of groundwater and promotes aquifer recharge.
- Food Quality: As per the study, organic farming has a pronounced effect on the quality of food in parameters like total carotenoids, total soluble solids, vitamin C, total sugars, lycopene and cancer-fighting antioxidants. It also promotes the growth of nutrient content and improves the physical attributes of vegetables like tomato, cabbage and cowpea, fetching better prices in the market.
- Policy on Organic Farming 2005: The policy was launched in 2005 under the aegis of Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare. It seeks to promote organic farming and conserve bio-resources, resulting in strengthening of rural economy, promotion of value addition, sustaining soil fertility and accelerate growth of agri-businesses in the country.
- Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana: It is a sub-component of Soil Health Management under National Mission of Sustainable Agriculture. It primarily aims at developing healthy agriculture models through a mix of traditional wisdom and modern scientific advancements. It also seeks to promote soil fertility buildup, resource conservation and climate change mitigation
- Mass movement: Recently, PM Modi has made an appeal to the farmers of the nation, to make organic farming a mass movement in the country. At the same time, he also highlighted the ill effects of chemical-based farming.
Challenging to Organic Farming
- Conviction among Policy Makers: As of now, policy makers fear for the food security of the nation and are non-committal on any major changes in the agriculture sector. Despite its proven benefits, organic farming is yet to take off due to the need for higher production to feed the increasing population in the country.
- Lack of Consensus among the Scientific community: Though agreeing to its health and environmental benefits, scientific community is divided on the impact of organic agriculture on crop yields. Again, the scientific community is more focused on the questions surrounding technological challenges like genetically modified crops.
- Resistance by the Chemical inputs-based industry: Again, the chemical-based farming has a strong backing in the form of multi-million dollar agro-chemical industry, which has fought tooth and nail to sustain the application of chemicals in agriculture. It is tough to find their deep pockets and information blitzkrieg unleashed by such companies on innocent farmers.
- Time Lag: It is critical to understand that switching to organic farming will take some time to produce the desired results and expectations of instant benefits are futile. For e.g. crops like wheat, rice, maize may take a few years to produce comparable results, while in the potato crop, better results can be obtained within a year.
- Influencing Policymakers: There is a need to understand that the benefits of technology are not limited to increasing production, but also transcends to increase in the quality of final product and its effect on the environment. Therefore, the decision-makers need to formulate appropriate policy in the direction, keeping the holistic benefits in mind.
- Support during Transition: During the transition period from chemical-based farming to organic farming, farmers may need support in the form of financial and other resources. It is imperative to ensure that they are adequately supported not only in terms of funds, but also creation of a vibrant market, encouraging farmers to invest in organic and natural farming in the hope of better remuneration.
- Farmer-friendly Processes: Not all farmers have the resources or even literacy to understand the complex processes involved in getting certification for their organic crops. Therefore, it is critical to ensure that such farmers do not lose out on the benefits offered by organic crops, out of ignorance and lack of knowledge.
- Roadmap for Implementation: Organic farming needs a definite roadmap for its implementation in the country in the wake of its holistic benefits. At the same time, the farmers also need handholding in terms of technical support and extension services (like creation of value chains) to support the process of transition as well as sustaining the growth of organically grown crops.
- Organic farming has multiple benefits like livelihood to farmers, resource conservation, biodiversity, disease resilience, soil health, enhanced nutrition and mitigation of climate crisis. Therefore, the need of the hour is to make the farmers aware of its benefits and support them by providing all financial and technical help during the transition period
- What are the challenges associated with the promotion of organic farming in India? Discuss the government initiatives in the direction of the promotion of organic farming.
- Sikkim is the first ‘Organic State’ in India. What are the ecological and economical benefits of Organic State? (GS3-2018)
- How far is the Integrated Farming System (IFS) helpful in sustaining agricultural production? (GS3-2019)
2. CHARGED UP
Topics covered from the syllabus:
Context: Indian companies are investing in new technologies related to chemical compositions of batteries for the upgradation of storage technologies. At the same time, various types of batteries based on sodium, metals like Aluminium, as well as vanadium are being explored as more efficient ways of storing energy.
Current state of Battery Technology
- Factors determining the usefulness of battery technology: There are four major factors which may disrupt the storage market:
- Energy Density: It refers to the amount of charge per unit area.
- Cost: The cheaper, the better.
- Safety: It includes the health impacts, flammability and explosiveness of the battery technology.
- Sustainability: It includes the availability of raw materials and capability to produce the battery in a sustainable manner.
Types of Battery Technology
- As of now, four types of batteries are prevalent around the world:
- Lead Acid Batteries: Lead Acid batteries have had a long history of usage in the world. They are economical in nature and are easily available in the market due to strong supply chains, which are in place.
- Problems with Lead Acid Batteries: Lead acid batteries have slowly become obsolete due to various reasons including
- Health issues: If improperly discarded, the lead acid batteries have the capability to harm living beings due to toxic nature of lead. Inhalation or ingestion of lead fumes in large quantities may result in anemia, brain damage to the extent of causing death.
- Impact on Environment: Lead is also considered a harmful pollutant and can cause air, soil and water pollution on improper disposal.
- Low Energy Density: Lead acid batteries are bulky in nature as they produce lesser energy per unit area (almost 50-80 Watt-hour per kg), thereby, requiring a bigger system for the production of same amount of energy, as compared to other battery systems.
- Lithium-ion Batteries (including variants): Lithium ion batteries are considered a cleaner source of energy than the lead acid batteries. In fact, a leading research firm states that lithium-ion batteries account for almost 85.6% of deployed energy storage systems in the year 2015, for which the data is available.
- Suitable for Electric Vehicles: At the same time, they have a higher energy density (equivalent to 100-265 Watt-hour per kg) with a capability to produce more energy per unit area. Therefore, they can be installed in the electric vehicles which have a requirement of compact and lighter batteries to better assist mobility.
- Issues with Lithium-ion battery: It is expensive to produce Lithium, thereby imposing prohibitive costs on the manufacturing of Lithium-ion batteries. Also, the reserves of Lithium are localized in countries like China, Chile, Australia and Argentina.
- Chinese Dominance: As per a report by Bloomberg-NEF, China controls 80% of global Lithium refining and 77% of global cell capacity. This has led to an over-dependence of the companies on China in the field of storage systems.
- Nickel-metal hydride: These are rechargeable batteries using nickel oxide hydroxide. They have a lesser energy density than Lithium ion batteries.
- Vanadium ion Batteries: Vanadium based batteries have a limitation of not being useful for mobility systems. But it is a preferred choice in case of stationary storage, due to its safety, scalability and longer life span of 15-20 years, as compared to four-five years of Lithium-based batteries. It is also available in plenty as it is naturally found in almost 65 different minerals.
- Various Technologies like Vanadium redox, metal-air, metal-ion and liquid metal batteries are currently in different stages of exploration. At the same time, there are other technologies in pipeline which have seen large investments
- Sodium-ion Batteries: They work on the principle of flow of electrons from cathode (positively charged cathode constituted by sodium-containing layered materials) to anode (negatively charged, constituting hard carbon) in the external circuit. They have seen huge investments from Indian companies like Reliance and CSIR-CECRI as well as Chinese companies like Contemporary Amperex Technologies.
- Advantages of Sodium-ion Batteries: Unlike Lithium, which is a mere 0.01% of Earth’s crust, Sodium is abundant in nature, comprising almost 2.9% of the Earth’s crust. It is found in Seawater in the form of salts as well as extractable from soda ash. US, Turkey and Botswana have abundant reserves of soda ash
- Cost: At the same time, Sodium-ion based batteries are cheaper as the cost of extracting sodium is 20% lower than extraction of Lithium. Similarly, Sodium is considered safer than Lithium, with research focused on making it safer for on-the-ground usage.
- Challenges with Sodium-ion Batteries: A major challenge associated with Sodium-ion batteries is their low energy density (140-160 Watt hour per kg). This makes it unsuitable for electric vehicles, until the energy density is improved by investments in Research and Development.
- Aluminium-air Batteries: India is interested in this type of batteries as they have Aluminium as the major raw material, which is abundantly found in the form of its ore Bauxite (5th largest reserves in the world) in India. Aluminium-air batteries also have an advantage of a higher energy density than Lithium. However, they suffer from the limitation of not being rechargeable, therefore, requiring constant change.
- Multi-ion Batteries: They have an energy density of 170 Watt hour per kg and are cheaper than Lithium-ion batteries. They also have the added advantage of faster recharge as they require hardly 15 minutes for a full charge. They use negative ions like hexafluorophosphate or tetrachloroaluminate, along with positive ions like sodium, potassium and magnesium.
- Liquid Metal Battery Technology: This technology has been patented by a US-based startup, Ambri, in which Reliance has invested. It has a liquid calcium-alloy anode, a cathode comprising solid antimony particles and an electrolyte of molten salt. It produces energy on heating to a temperature of 500 degrees Celsius.
- Investments: Energy storage systems are going to be in a huge requirement given the underlying shift towards cleaner energy and electric mobility. Therefore, it is critical to stay ahead of the curve by investing in the Research and Development of the sector. In fact, in 2021, the Government of India came up with a Production linked Incentive scheme, promoting manufacture, export and storage of lithium-ion cells, with an outlay of Rs 18,100 Crore.
- Shift of Focus on Stationary Energy Systems: At the same time, focus needs to shift from electric vehicle storage systems to stationary storage systems as they do not necessarily suffer from space constraints like the electric mobility systems. Such systems may focus their research on being cost-effective, scalable and safer as they are allowed to compromise on the energy intensity.
- Storing Renewable Energy: Stationery energy systems can harness the power of the country’s installed energy capacity in renewable energy, which is already undergoing huge expansion. Solar power and wind power have a limitation of not being available round the clock and throughout the year. They will get a huge boost if they can be stored and used at the time of requirement.
- Application based Research: Many technologies which are undergoing research seem promising. However, it is important to keep in mind that they are effective only when they are able to prove their effectiveness in real-life situations. They also need to be compatible with the grid and must respond well to signal changes such as charge or discharge.
- Recycling: Due to its generally hazardous nature, a comprehensive ecosystem, aimed at maximum recycling of battery systems is the need of the hour in the country. Also, since the storage systems require use of Lithium and other rare-earth elements, it would be highly cost-effective to put these systems to reuse. In fact, a study points out that one-third of India’s future needs can be met by recycling Lithium-based gadgets.
- Solar and wind energy hold immense potential in a tropical country like India. However, there is a need to ensure that any attempt to harness renewable energy is not at the cost of loss of biodiversity in the country. Innovation is required to balance the need for harnessing the renewable energy, while still maintaining the natural areas in pristine condition.
- The need for energy storage systems would continue to grow in the coming years. In such a situation, it is critical to be an early mover and seize the opportunity, which is going to dominate the upcoming future. The government needs to move fast to provide funding and promote research in the new technologies to help in the progress of energy efficiency in the country.
- Discuss the current and future trends in the evolution of battery storage systems in the world. Also, discuss what steps need to be taken to be proactive in gaining an advantage in the industry
- To what factors can the recent dramatic fall in equipment costs and tariff of solar energy be attributed? What implications does the trend have for the thermal power producers and the related industry? (GS3-2015)
- Give an account of the current status and the targets to be achieved pertaining to renewable energy sources in the country. Discuss in brief the importance of National Programme on Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs). (GS3-2016)