India Shining needs Sustainable Rural Development

 Anil K. Rajvanshi
 Director, Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute,

PHALTAN-415523, Maharashtra, INDIA


Indiaís economy is growing presently at the rate of 10% per annum. This means that we will double up all the inputs in 7 years. Thus by 2011 we will double the consumption of petroleum products, electricity, food and other commodities to keep this growth rate. Last year we imported about Rs. 85,000 crores worth of petroleum products and India will also require about 140,000 MW of installed electricity capacity by 2010 at an estimated outlay of Rs. 5.5 trillion (Rs. 5.5 X 1012). Thus financial outlay needed for the energy sector alone is staggering and to maintain "India shining" it is necessary that we produce as much as possible, energy and liquid fuels internally. There are about 60% of rural households, which do not have electricity, and without the basic amenities in rural India the progress of the country will be hampered. A sustainable energy development program can create an all round development. One of the possible ways to do it is the increased use of land based renewable energy resource like biomass. This will help the rural development and create tremendous wealth in these areas. With rural India shining, India will automatically shine!

There are three ways in which energy production from land based renewables can be effected:

  1. Production of electricity from biomass and agricultural residues.
  1. Liquid fuel production from biomass which can be grown in arid regions and on wastelands and saline soils. Besides producing liquid fuels this will also help in land reclamation.
  2. Creation of synergy between corporate sector, national government labs and institutions and NGOs so that energy technologies can be developed and disseminated in rural areas.

A study done by Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) in Maharashtra showed that existing agricultural residues can produce all the electricity demands for a Taluka. The study done for Phaltan taluka in Western Maharashtra showed that these residues could produce about 10-15 MW of power from biomass based power plants. Besides it was also shown that with a capital input of Rs. 300 crore in power production technologies, each Taluka could produces wealth of Rs. 200-250 crores/year besides giving employment to 30,000 people year round. With about 3340 talukas in India, there is a possibility of creating about Rs. 7,00,000 crores/year of wealth and employment for about 100 million people/year. The implications of this strategy for the rural development are staggering and can create a quantum jump in the quality of life for rural population. With availability of assured electricity supply the growth in rural industrialization can be exponential. With the new Electricity Act of 2003 and Prime Ministerís Rural Electricity Supply Technology (REST) Mission this strategy can become a reality and it is quite possible that in coming years the whole face of rural India can change. Availability of assured electricity for lighting will make rural India shine!

India is following the world trend of increasing reliance on liquid fuels. Last year 75% of all liquid fuels consumed was imported. By 2010 this figure might jump to 85-90%. Increasing reliance on imported fuel will compromise our security and thus there is a need to develop an indigenous liquid fuel production policy based on renewables. The liquid fuel policy should therefore be centered on the production of ethanol and biodiesels. Presently ethanol production in the country is mostly molasses based. However with expanded use of ethanol both for transportation and as cooking and lighting fuel, there is a need for its production to have a broader biomass base. Thus the use of alternative feedstock like sweet sorghum, sugarbeet, cassava, etc. can help in its increased production. Besides these crops require less water than sugarcane and some of them can be grown on saline soils. Thus a national technology mission on alternative crops for alcohol production should be setup by the Government of India (GOI). It is estimated that ethanol production itself can bring in about Rs. 40,000-50,000 crores wealth to rural India.

Similarly the technology mission for new crops for producing biodiesel also needs to be set up. Some of the crops like Jatropha and tree borne non-edible oilseeds like Neem and Karanja can be grown on waste and degraded lands. This will also help the country in land reclamation. With very little processing required for biodiesel, the farmers can get substantial remunerations by growing them.

However for the technology missions to succeed, it is necessary that very intensive R & D is carried out in agriculture, materials and renewable energy technologies. Government of India should substantially increase the level of R & D funding in renewable energy and agricultural crops for liquid fuel production. Research done at NARI has shown that the emerging areas of nanotechnology and biotechnology can play a vital role in creating novel renewable energy technologies. Thus new materials for storing biogas in small cylinders, increasing the efficiency of photovoltaic solar cells, producing new thermoelectric materials which can efficiently convert heat directly into electricity are being researched and developed via nanotechnology all over the world. Similarly biotechnology can be used for increasing the efficiency of crops for liquid fuel and biomass production. It can also help develop organisms, which can increase the efficiency of ethanol fermentation and biogas production from their respective biomass.

For the fruits of extensive R & D to reach the rural areas it is necessary that a strong synergy is developed between Corporate sector, National government R&D establishments and Non governmental organizations (NGOs). Both the corporate sector and national labs can work together to research, produce and commercialize renewable energy technologies, which can be disseminated through NGOs in rural areas. Finally the development of rural India should be Taluka based for it provides the critical mass for rural development.

A human interest history of renewable energy work done at NARI is here.


May 2004