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Find locally relevant solutions to global environmental problems

By Animesh Banerjee

A recently published report of the Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) has identified the livestock sector as a major contributor to global warming, land and air pollution and loss of biodiversity with an implied hint that at fault is mostly the developmental efforts of the poor nations.

Livestock occupies 26 per cent of the ice-free terrestrial area of the planet for grazing and 33 per cent arable land is used for feed crop production. Besides, the livestock expansion has been a key factor for deforestation.

The report mentions that the livestock sector accounts for 18 per cent of green gas emission, primarily contributed by methane generated from enteric fermentation by ruminants. Moreover, it consumes 8 per cent of global human water requirement, which is already under stress. Amongst the identified 35 hot spots for biodiversity, 23 are reported to be affected by the livestock!

No doubt, the FAO report is a cause of concern, as are other reports on impending threats to world ecosystems published from time to time. For instance, the latest UN Climate report has predicted that consequence to adverse climatic changes, millions of life and resources of this planet, especially in Afro-Asian countries, will be affected by the mid of this century; worst of which is complete melting of Himalayan glaciers! Even the projected global consumption and demand of palm oil till 2020, is reported to be a serious threat to the rain forests of Malaysia and Indonesia!

If there is anything consistent in these rather regular reports, it is that the doomsday scenario prediction seems to be getting nearer every time a new report comes out!

There is another consistent thread to these reports, often an unsaid but underlying statement, that this doomsday is a direct fallout of the "unplanned" development, especially by the emerging and under developed economies!

There is no denying that remedial measures to deal with the worsening global environment are essential. All the more, it becomes imperative when the explosive growth in global population vis-à-vis its pressure on life-support systems is over-reaching sustainability. For instance, the UN Population Division has projected world population of about 10 billion by 2050; at the same period the total population of 'hungry' people is likely to increase from 1 billion to about 3 billion, until and unless requisite measures are taken to reduce it, in its right earnestness!

It is well known that a major chunk of pressure on development is driven by rich nations, the discrepancy is more so in agriculture and especially in livestock! According to a study titled 'Redefining Progress 2000', nature provides 5.5 acres of bio-productive space for each person which will reduce to 3 acres, by 2050. In contrast, an American uses, at present, 30 acres of bio-productive space to support his or her life style!

If one looks at the much maligned energy scenario, it could be observed that in contrast to 1.2 billion people in the developed world consuming energy at the rate of 7.4 kw per person or 8.9 tw (trillion watts) per annum, merely 1 kw per person or 4.1 tw per annum of energy is being consumed by 4.1 billion residents of the developing world! The wealthiest 20 per cent of world population is consuming 80 per cent of the goods and services produced from the earth's resources and therefore contributing that much more to worsening the environment!

The figures mentioned here are just to focus some of the glaring disparities that already exist in this world. Therefore, in seeking solutions and framing future policies to improve global environment, these disparities need to be reckoned with. Otherwise, it would continue to widen the gap between the developed and developing worlds, fueling more socio-economic and environmental problems!

As is the norm these days, the solution everyone says is in technology, specifically 'green' technologies! Green has become a colour of pride and the more greenie points you have, the better you are supposed to be doing! I am of the opinion that these issues deserve a little more thought than they are being presented nowadays.

Most solutions being offered today, technology or otherwise, are likely to retain the technological dependence on the developed world and thereby arguably continue the technology servitude for the emerging economies. They also typically tend to completely neglect the locally developed and relevant environment-friendly solutions!

The future of environment is recognition of these solutions and adaptation of them to local needs! Localization and indigenization while seemingly costlier is more than likely to lead to a sustainable development.

For instance, consider the empowerment that homegrown Grameen Bank, created by noble laureate Mohammed Yunus, which has made impoverished life style to millions of Bangladeshis, something that no global bank was able to do! Think of the contribution that a locally conceived cooperative movement – the so-called Anand Model – fathered by the revered Verghese Kurien has made to usher in White Revolution in India! Consider the impact a man like Narayan Murthy was able to have on the global technology delivery system through the indigenization efforts of Infosys!

The prospect therefore is in identifying and developing locally relevant technologies that can address real environmental issues on the ground. And not in colouring the entire palette by one and many times erroneous brush! This reminds me of a saying, "We may need to solve problems not by removing the cause but by designing the way forward even if the cause remains in place!"

(Animesh Banerjee is chairman, Milk Panel, Technology Vision 2020, of the Indian government and president, Indian Dairy Association. He can be contacted at [email protected])