Drought Hits India

According to BBC, half of India's districts have been affected by a drought resulting from a nearly 30% reduction in monsoon rain this season.  This may result in a 10% decline in rice production, though the government says it will not need to import food.  Just some quick, preliminary notes below.

This story bears on debates about industrialisation.  Industrialisation as a process of change is not an unmitigated good, despite how it is most frequently portrayed by everyone from neoliberals to Marxists.  Those who have been forced to live through primitive accumulation (i.e. land and other theft by companies or the state so that they have the startup capital for accumulation), displacement, violence, murder, and other horrors that have accompanied efforts towards industrialisation in India probably have more mixed feelings than economists and policymakers who are generally fairly comfortable.
However, all that is to preface that the monsoon illustrates one of the structural reasons why an agriculture-based economy is more vulnerable, and consequently the people in it are as well.  Setting aside even the issues of higher consumption standards that come with being in an industrialised economy, if the economy depends on whether or not it rains or rains too much, rather than with greater human control of inputs (i.e. capital, labor, technology) and change (technology research and deployment, economic policymaking, etc.), it becomes difficult to sustain.  This is one of the basic critiques made of Gandhi's economics, which, generally speaking, abhorred large scale industry.
Relying on an agricultural economy has ramifications for the relative geopolitical position of the people in the state as well.  For example, in 1966 or so, India had a very bad harvest and had to get food aid.  This was tied in with demands for liberalisation from the United States, and Indira Gandhi's government devalued the rupee (see Cycles of Indian Economic Liberalisation... above if you have access to JSTOR).  There was sufficient political resistance that point to force her to withdraw, but it shows you what something like food can do in an economy predominantly based on agriculture and a society where nearly everyone is at the brink of personal financial collapse (77% are vulnerable according to an article last year by Arjun Sengupta in EPW last year) by the standards of OECD countries. 
By: on 20 Aug 2009


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There's an article in today's

There's an article in today's NYT (Sept. 04, 2009) about this. Any comments? On the article itself, the problem it tries to address, the problem itself and also the comments on the article?

Hi Anonymous, I'm assuming

Hi Anonymous,

I'm assuming it's this article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/05/world/asia/05drought.html?scp=2&sq=dro...

The existence of the article is good, in that it raises attention to the narrow issue.  The broader narrative it uses is wellworn and aside from pointing out the class divide in India is inadequate (e.g.power breakfast in Delhi for CEOs, farmers in Andrha struggling at the margins).  In its language, it assumes a social unity to India that as it itself points out doesn't hold - despite pointing out the stark differences, it talks about 'India's economy', points out the beneficial steps the government has done but does not present a critique of the model of growth/industrialisation that is being pursued except perhaps very very very implicitly (to the point where I have trouble believe it is there).  The description is useful - but it would have been a minimal requirement of good journalism on this to point out the broader issues of an inequtiable development strategy and the unresponsiveness of the Indian elite to the vast majority of the population in a proactive manner (excepting mainly the NREGA, which is also not mentioned) - it writes about Andhra Pradesh, but the one personal narrative is from someone who is surviving - there is like a decade of evidence of farmer suicides, many of which were in Andhra - could have been mentioned, as well as the connection beteen that and debt. 

The idea that there are simply technical and coordination problems to be resolved, rather than a deep political imbalance (some might say rot) is unaccceptable and that an effective strategy for bringing those 80% of the population into an industrialised landscape without severedly violating their rights or even lives is problematic.  Relatedly, I think by assuming an overall 'India' - it misses the opportuntiy to really highlight an important trend - which is regional disparities within India.  There is a reason why how many hotels there are in Delhi for the 2010 commonwealth games receives a disproportionate share of attention compared to the four fifths of the population that is at the margins or near them and what one would assume the relative importance of the issues are for industrial policy, an understnainding of the place, etc.. And even my description in adequate because it reinfoces the 'haves' 'have nots' analysis which is very important to articulate right now, but is a very simplistic way of understanding (e.g. looking at mobility, what should be called the middle classes but is not ('the intermediate classes' who are between the 77% and the rich, or may include parts of the 77%).

It is also totally unselfreflective on an institutional level - it doesn't talk about how commentaries in the west like Thomas Friedman's (a NY Times columnist still) have played a role in developing these sorts of problems.  But that is more than I would expect - and may be impractical to accept - self-critique is not usually on the radar of organisations like the Times except when it comes to direct violations of journalistic ethnics like Jayson Blair's.

That's from a short glance and it may be overly critical from the vantage point of what you can expect from past work from the NYT compared to what this article is- I start out with a low standard for NYT articles on Indian social and economic reality and this is perhaps a tiny tiny improvement in their approach or it is a reflection of underlying political and social trends that have led them to write on this in some, but not enough, detail or understanding of the overall political, social, and economic realities of India.

The comments are quite interesting and help, to some extent, fill out the discussion left out in the article.  For example, pointing out water consumption and soda companies is an issue I had left out, but which fits in quite well with what I am talking about.  The only objections I have are to people in the United States complaining about population control - a legitimate issue, but only the context of a broadbased, democratic mechanism of achieving it and while including the inequalities of confining people to particular countries by citizenship laws and borders, by the importance of addressing gender relations to address this, and the idea that sustained labor productivity increases and diversification of the economy (which is happening to some extent i think) would provide a market-based mechanism for reducing population.  Simialrly, emissions are an important issue, but the idea of commentators to the New York Times (who are probably largely American) placing the responsibility for climate change emissions reductiopns on industrialising countries doesn't pass my smell test.  At best, it's one sided - at worst - well, it's callous and hypocrtical from a place that consumes more energy than any place else.  Also ironic, given that they were spending energy to type comments on an article - surely something that we could sacrifice, along with cars, compared to, say, allowing increases in technology and labor productivity to occur in the Global South.

Dr. A,   NASA satellites have

Dr. A,

NASA satellites have revealed that groundwater levels in parts of Northwest India have been declining significantly over the past decade.  They suspect that it is related to the farming techniques that were introduced during the Green Revolution in Punjab:


Since this region produces most of India's wheat, the consequences could be disastrous for the entire country.

Possible solutions include better irrigation techniques and switching to crops that use less water (such as maize and sorghum).

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