Renewable Energy: Revolutionizing Farmers’ Incomes
India is an agriculture-based country, where the agriculture sector provides livelihood to two-thirds of the total working population and contributes to 15% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). India’s favourable agro-climatic conditions make it as one of the top producers of cereals, pulses, fruits, vegetables, milk, meat and fish and hence it also occupies the 7th position as net exporter, across the globe. Since the adoption of Green Revolution in the 1960s, there has been a 45% increase in per person food production in the country.
Present Scenario of Agriculture in India
Agriculture sector in India has seen tremendous growth in the last 75 years owing to various initiatives to improve food security and raise agricultural output. However, the rise in agriculture output is not directly related to the rise in farm households’ income. As per National Sample Survey Office, one-fifth of rural households primarily engaged in agriculture have income less than the poverty lines. To boost the income of cultivators, the Government of India has released a strategy in 2018 - Doubling Farmers’ Income. The strategy aims to double the farmers income by 2022 with an annual growth rate of 10.4%.
For certain crops, agriculture is an extremely water-intensive activity. Out of the total electricity consumed in the country, 20% of the electricity is used for agriculture practices, mostly in irrigation. This account of electricity consumed in agriculture can go up to 50% of total consumption in some of the states. As the climatic conditions are turning out to be erratic, irrigation’s dependence on monsoon has decreased and the dependence on groundwater has increased. As a result, irrigation now consumes 90% of country’s groundwater. For this, the farmers have taken 12 million electricity connections and 9 million diesel pumps sets to pump up groundwater for irrigation use. To support workforce engaged in farming activities, reforms like subsidised electricity brings down the power tariff but also leads to piling up of losses for Distribution Companies (DISCOMs) in the long run. The low-tariff power supply is practised at night to reduce the grid load during the day, inadvertently leading to energy and water wastage throughout the night from unsupervised running of pumps.
Renewable Energy Unshackling the Nexus
Renewable energy is a winning combination for all the parties - for the distressed farmers it provides alternative income sources and uninterrupted power supply and for DISCOMs it can avoid increase in outstanding debts, thus overall ensuring sustainable agriculture practices. Solar energy here plays a significant role in addressing the critical issues. Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) has launched PM KUSUM (Kisan Urja Suraksha Evam Utthaan Mahaabhiyan) scheme to support farmers with financial assistance of INR 34422 crores through:
- Setting-up of 10 GW of decentralized ground mounted grid-connected renewable power plants upto 2 Mega Watt (MW) capacity
- Installation of 1.75 Million (Mn) stand-alone solar agriculture pumps and
- Solarisation of 1 Mn grid-connected agriculture pumps
These reforms strengthen the solar revolution that our country is witnessing to achieve the target of 450 GW of renewable energy by 2030. The ground mounted renewable power plants will offer stable source of income for a period of 25 years, even from the uncultivable under-utilized land. The installation of ground mounted power plants creates the spin-off effect. The generated electricity will be utilized to fulfil the power requirements in the area and reduce the transmission losses. These solar agri-feeders will reduce the agricultural subsidy and infrastructural costs, enhancing access to affordable energy for industrial uses.
While solar pumps are a reliable source of power for irrigation to farmers with negligible cost to run in the long term, they also cut down the cost of diesel and curb the pollution caused from burning fuels. The decreasing cost of solar modules make solar pumps a viable option of farmers and holds great potential to save 4 billion litres of diesel annually and 5% of total greenhouse gas emissions. The solarisation of agriculture pumps offers an additional advantage to the farmers. Through grid-connected pumps, farmers can sell surplus power back to the grid, creating secondary source of income and helping DISCOMs meet their Renewable Purchase Obligation (RPO) targets.
Another boon for farmers is the raw material required in biofuels production - Biomass. National Policy on Biofuels, 2018 and Biomass based cogeneration plants utilise sugarcane and its by-products, surplus rice, maize, damaged food grains and non-edible seeds to produce biodiesel and ethanol. This further creates an opportunity for farmers to boost their income from un-utilised organic waste. Subsequently, this will also stanch the emissions to an extent, as burning of agricultural residue will reduce and petrol and diesel will be blended with biofuels.
Renewable energy is paving a sustainable and economical path for cultivators with a new income revolution to carry out agricultural activities with increased financial security. States like Gujarat and Punjab are already implementing the better agronomic practices towards the breakthrough initiative of augmenting the farmers’ income. The transition of cultivator from ‘Annadata’ to ‘Urjadata’ will not only support and empower their households but also accentuate India’s energy availability, accessibility and affordability and socio-economic and health benefits for the communities.