June & July 2020 by Suma
Sustainability is one of the most frequently used buzzwords today. Everyone, from heads of state to ecommerce players, seem to want to hop onto the sustainability bandwagon. As it often happens, when the word gets thrown around more frequently, the meaning gets diluted.
What do I mean by sustainability?
How sustainable a business is, quite literally translates to how long it can continue in the current form when you factor in all costs. “All” being the key word. Ideally it should encompass ecological, financial and social costs. In fact, over a long enough horizon they are all interlinked. This is becoming evident today.
The things we assumed to be zero-cost inputs are becoming increasingly scarce, thus, completely compromising the business model and challenging its viability. Once these are factored in, it becomes increasingly clear that sustainability is not a tradeoff or a compromise. In fact, it makes a lot of business sense as it not only has a positive impact on the world, but also on the topline. Here’s how.
How long will the party last?
In October last year, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) cut off power supply for 8,00,000 Californian homes to avoid causing wildfires by overheated transmission lines. Two weeks later it did it again for 1,79,000 homes. Between 2017 and 2019, these overheated lines sparked 17 major wildlife incidents. As their stock price slid into a 52 week low, they went on to announce that they would need ten years until they upgraded their power infrastructure.
Why did they have to wait this long? Because ten years ago, wildfires were not that big a risk.
Keeping shareholders happy meant not investing potential dividend-dollars, into a supposedly unnecessary upgrade. You see, ten years ago, upgrading this infrastructure was regarded as dividend dollars being used up for tree hugging initiatives. When you adopt the perspective of immediate shareholder value, money is rarely invested into long term thinking or in other words sustainable thinking. Dividends are front loaded and investment into business sustainability are put on the back burner until absolutely necessary. When it does become absolutely necessary, money has already been distributed or spent and most firms resort to raising debt. This is so unnecessary! This is not a one off case. This is happening across the world, every day to a varying extent. The situation is so prevalent now, that quite a few institutional investors are urging firms to take a look at long term risks to their businesses and even investing a few years of bottomline towards avoiding it. It makes a lot of sense to avoid a sudden death.
Since 2011, PG&E has given close to 8$ as dividend per share. In april 2019, they announced a $28B plan to invest into their power and gas infrastructure. In the meanwhile, by oct 2019, over 90% of its market capital was eroded due to falling stock price pushing it to the brink of bankruptcy.
Cost of Commons – Nothing is free forever.
In 1833, William LLoyd wrote a pamphlet where he coined the term “commons”. He was referring to an english village grazing their cattle. When there is enough abundance, and the cattle numbers are small, the grassland, or the common, seems to be infinite. So every villager can now assume that the grassland ecosystem will rejuvenate on its own with no extra effort or cost. As a result, every villager is intrinsically ‘incentivised’ to add another cow to his herd simply because he gets the incremental benefit of the cow without really bearing the incremental cost of the grassland. If every villager continues to do this, at some point, the grassland starts degrading or in other words, the cost of the grassland stops being zero. It takes effort to maintain it and as a result, the villagers now need to account for the effort/cost of ‘cultivating’ the grassland – the cost of the commons. However, the rest of the village, which was used to buying the milk, may not be willing to pay for this added cost that seems to have emerged all of a sudden. Thus completely disrupting the viability of cattle rearing.
This is one of the most important aspects of being sustainable – include the cost of the commons. Never assume they are free. This, not only is a better way of pricing something, but also helps us to look at our value addition in a holistic sense. The implications of not doing so are catastrophic and are visible all over the world. The same extends to farming. Excessive use of synthetic fertilisers has rendered farm yields to consistently drop with the US reporting an average farm yield of -9% in 2016. Suddenly one of mankind’s most basic industries has been rendered unviable and steeply dependent on state subsidies. This analogy has repeated itself over and over again across the spectrum. Take fishing, for example, and the depleting offshore fish pools across europe. In fact, now most of the fish in a European plate is caught in Africa, filletted and canned in China and then shipped all the way to Europe. It is cheaper to do that now than to revive the fish populations artificially via breeding locally. Imagine that!!
Today, 20 Indian cities are on the brink of day zero (day when there’s no drinkable groundwater left) and might see it anytime in the coming year. This includes Bangalore, the silicon valley of India. 5 decades of exploitative unsustainable development that assumed that water is always available underground has led to this. Now the Karnataka govt has spent close to 7Billion USD on major and minor irrigation projects since 2016 alone.
William Lloyd’s grassland was never free, we just assumed it was.
When the going gets tough, the sustainable get going
An interesting offshoot of the increasing cost of commons is that companies that had factored this in have actually performed better over the last two decades. In a report on sustainable investing published by Deutsche bank in 2012, some remarkable observations were made that underlined the importance of being sustainable. The report elaborated how companies that ranked high in Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) metrics outperformed the market. Infact, they even observed that a value weighted portfolio of 1$ invested in high ESG companies in 1993, would have been 22$ by 2010 compared to 15$ of low ESG companies.
I was extremely surprised by the clarity of the findings in that study. As investment philosophies have evolved over time, more and more institutional players are now giving a lot of weightage to companies that place importance on ESG – factors that were traditionally considered non-financial, qualitative in nature and not readily quantifiable in monetary terms including changing policy and regulatory environments.
What’s even more interesting is that quite a few studies have observed that high ESG firms have a significantly lower cost of capital in terms of debt. In other words, the market recognizes them as being lower risk and rewards them accordingly. This may be a conscious reward or just based on the resulting outperformance, but what matters most is that this alone should make sustainability a high priority to any CFO in the world.
Goodness has a value
If a firm is following principles of ESG, then it makes a terrific story. The interesting thing is that it’s not just the markets that recognize this, but consumers too. There are innumerable examples of brands that have weaved their story around the environmental and ethical values behind their products. Take Patagonia for example. In 2013, in the run up to Christmas, when Europe and the US were at their consumerist best, the adventure gear company famously did the “don’t buy this jacket” campaign where they asked people to not buy their gear unless they really needed it. This was the first time a firm was asking folks to think hard if they really need their products. Although it sounded very counter-intuitive at the time, it established the values behind the brand and more importantly a strong community of super loyal customers who really appreciated the anti-consumerism sentiment they portrayed. This cohort of loyalists swear by this brand and this in turn created a lot of value centred around the “goodness” of it.
The concept of conscience buys is becoming increasingly prominent as consumers around the world are getting more educated about sustainability issues that are staring us all in the face. Being sustainable is not just a differentiator anymore but an entire identity by itself. Goodness has a value and most consumers don’t mind paying it.
The difficulty of being good
Having said that goodness has a value, I have to admit, it is not always easy to quantify it. Simply because we honestly do not know the complex systems that go into making an ecosystem in its entirety. Even amongst the factors we understand, we are quite far from actually arriving at a monetary value. For eg, shade grown coffee using fig and other evergreen trees in the western ghats is definitely a lot more sustainable than using silver oak as the shade layer. The figs hold the soil together, prevent erosion thus preventing landslides etc. But can we assign a value to a possible landslide? Maybe not accurately. But today, reasonable assumptions can be made and sensible approximations arrived at. Using this, one can include the cost of the commons in one’s business model itself.
Several frameworks exist today, to value the natural capital as an estimate. inVEST from Stanford university is one of the more popular ones. Infact, this has been used by the Government of India to assign a monetary value to the tiger reserves in the country. However, even these frameworks are estimates at best. It is almost impossible to assign a single value to being good and that’s what makes it difficult. Infact a recent study revealed that from among a 1000 companies that were sampled, 90% wanted to be more sustainable, 60% of them had a strategy for it, and only 25% were able to incorporate it into their business model to a reasonable extent. In my opinion, It is this difficulty that makes it interesting as well. It gives companies a chance to get really innovative both in terms of developing new technologies as well as new methodologies of measuring their impact. This is a great opportunity to create a differentiator for your products and be a pioneer.
I just work better when I am happy
Recruiting and retention of employees is a major focus area in any business. Recent research indicates that sustainable business practices are a major factor for the younger workforce when it comes to deciding their place of work. Beyond the paycheque and the work challenges, everyone likes to believe that they are making the world a better place. A recent global survey by HP showed that 40% of the workforce felt that sustainable practices are mandatory and about 46% admitted that they would look to change jobs if their current workforce moved towards unsustainable practices. For India in particular, the former number was at 73%.
Employee retention is not just an issue for the HR department. Operating units feel the pain in terms of product quality, productivity and customer service. With most big companies, it costs 6 to 9 months of pay to train a new employee. HR costs are only the tip of the iceberg. Bigger problems arise when the new guy is assigned to a team. Until the assignment happens, someone in the existing team would be shouldering those responsibilities. When the new hire comes in, someone has to train him, thus reducing his own productivity. Especially in sales, the effect is very direct on the topline. Nevermind the strain of a new dynamic coming into a closely knit team. These are very qualitative concerns that may not boil down to an exact monetary value, but will definitely have a huge impact on the firm’s topline. If it can be avoided, and being sustainable takes you a fair distance on that front, do we need another reason to adopt sustainability as a core principle?
Swimming downstream is never exhausting
At the end of the day, being sustainable largely implies aligning the firm along the natural order of things. In other words, the firm is choosing to swim along the current. It often boils down to reducing wastages, getting more efficient, eliminating redundancies and avoiding unnecessary vanity pitfalls. In the long term, we need to understand that being sustainable goes way beyond adding a touch of green to our usual practices but rather to think of the system as a finite whole and to understand our impact. In the process, we also acknowledge that this impact will have an effect on the viability of the business itself over a long enough horizon. As studies have repeatedly shown, it is not a question of whether a firm wants to adopt sustainable practices or not, but rather the understanding that, by definition, it’s in the best interest of the firm and all its stakeholders to do so.
Hey there my little ones…How are you doing?
Today’s post is a little different. I want to tell you about something special you can learn from trees.
Some days you feel things are going really bad. You feel like it’s the “worst day ever!!”
You bumped your knee, your friends didn’t turn up at school, your favourite toy broke or a kid was very mean to you.
On those days, I want you to picture a tree. A big strong beautiful tree. The roots of the tree go deep into the soil. The trunk is strong and stands straight and tall. The branches go high and wide, with many beautiful leaves growing.
The tree is surrounded by other big and small trees of the forest. Many birds, insects and animals live around the tree and love it very much.
When a storm comes, the branches of this tree sway in the wind, but the tree does not break, it does not fall. The big tree and the trees around, support each other and hold on. Soon, the storm passes, the sun shines, the birds chirp and the day is wonderful again.
Now, when you feel the day is just not going your way, imagine that you are this tree. You are surrounded by wonderful family and friends. A bad day is like a storm. It might feel like nothing is going your way, but the storm passes. You must stand tall, stay strong. Soon everything will be better and your day will be wonderful again..so smile 🙂
Here’s a soothing meditation practice can you can try each day. Remember the tree 🙂
For a few millennia before the 1600s, the term ‘Black Gold’ referred to the humble pepper. Coal claimed that title with the advent of the internal combustion engine but until then, it was pepper that really determined the fate of the seas and the land. Too hard to believe? Read on.
Pepper is a native of the western ghats in Southern India, what is now mostly Kerala and South-West Karnataka. The ancient trade routes carried spices on land across the spice route – across the himalayas through arabia to the west and to the east mostly to SouthEast Asia and China. This long and arduous journey meant that it was a super premium commodity. This continued until a sea route was discovered by the trading merchants of Kerala from Malabar coast to North Africa, into the Red Sea Canal to be dropped off at Alexandria. From there it would be carried over land and distributed through the rest of europe. This direct access to Europe changed the game in many ways. The roman city states like Genoa grew obscenely rich and controlled most of this spice trade from India. In fact, Pliny – the Roman natural historian in his landmark piece titled “Naturalis Historia” complains – “There is no year in which India does not drain the Roman Empire of 50 million sesterces”, With the city states growing increasingly powerful, in particular Genoa, the spaniards and the portugese who otherwise had strong maritime capabilities decided to figure out alternatives and thus began the famous expedition of July 1497, of Vasco Da Gama to find the route past the Cape of Good Hope to the malabar coast. Imagine That! – how the humble pepper influenced world politics.
But why pepper? That’s something we wondered as well because we understand the need to brave the unknown seas in search of gold but why pepper? Turns out the answer to this literally lies in the term ‘black gold’. Pepper was so rare and so controlled in its distribution that it was considered legal tender which made it the equivalent of Gold!
From ancient Egypt till the fall of the Roman Empire, pepper captured the imagination of the world. It was the most traded spice with India pretty much monopolising the production. However, for the most part, it was the food of the rich – the kings and emperors – pretty much like gold! During this time, it was also legal tender as we mentioned earlier. This literally means that one could walk in a market, buy goods by paying in pepper corns. One could even put their pepper assets as a collateral for loans with the European banking system including the Medicis. This tradition continues to this day in some parts of the world including the US and Australia where a ‘peppercorn payment’ is a legal tender for token amounts.
With the Portuguese creating an alternative route to India, which basically cut out the middle men, they were able to get hold of this much sought after commodity at a much lower cost compared to their earlier arrangements with the roman city states. Until then, the supply of pepper was controlled artificially by these city states, in a manner that is similar to the OPEC policy on oil production. The portuguese unfortunately disrupted this system. This unwanted intrusion on what was a Roman monopoly, led to a lot of banker induced wars between the maritime states of Spain, Portugal and the merchant city states. Medicis again!
The effect of the portuguese entry to the indian trading ports, had another effect as well. It opened up a new market. Portugal was not the only one in Europe with a strong maritime presence. Seeing the enormous wealth being accumulated by Portugal, the English and the Dutch entered the fray as well.
By 1600s, taking advantage of the spanish occupation of Portugal, the new entrants had completely taken over the portugese trade routes to India. It is not entirely untrue to say that it was perhaps the Black Gold, that brought the English to Indian Shores.
With competing european powers, who could never reach an understanding of controlled pricing, the quantity of pepper being sent to European shores grew exponentially with every passing year and this led to a drop in the price. What was once the food of the rich, began to be more common place with every passing decade. In addition, with the Portuguese unable to compete with the others for access to the Malabar port, they competed in a different form. They brought in another spice that gave a similar sharpness to the food – the red chilli. Within our country, this red chilli could be grown anywhere and din’t have to be restricted to the western ghats alone. So most of the common folks in the country gradually adopted this new spice to add that sharpness to their food that few had tasted before. The availability of a newly introduced, easy to grow spice led to the gradual but undeniable decline of the premium that pepper had.
The adoption of the red chilli in the cuisine in our country led to an explosion of variants and new dishes around this time. The galouti kebab, the dum biryani are some examples of the same.
400 years since the first red chilli was brought to the Indian shores, we cannot imagine our lives without it but for at least 3 millennia before that, spicy hot indian food could only be served in royal banquets and the halls of rich merchants and none of it could be done without the humble black pepper.
It is quite surprising that the use of pepper has come so much into fashion, seeing that in other substances which we use, it is sometimes their sweetness, and sometimes their appearance that has attracted our notice; whereas, pepper has nothing in it that can plead as a recommendation to either fruit or berry, it’s only desirable quality being a certain pungency; and yet it is for this that we import it all the way from India! Who was the first to make trial of it as an article of food? and who, I wonder, was the man that was not content to prepare himself by hunger only for the satisfying of a greedy appetite?
Today when we harvest pepper in our collective in coorg, we recognise and acknowledge the influence this little berry has had on our lives. We cannot help but share a feeling of history and legacy when we harvest this pepper in the old ways – from the forest, uncultivated. The next time you order some wild pepper with us, take a moment to acknowledge the enormous influence this little one has had on the world. Believe me it adds a sense of wonder to the experience.
Hey little ones!! How have you been?
I am sure you have been acing the lockdown! Your little creative minds must have come up with a thousand little games and stories by now. Do share with us in the comments section when you can. You can even get in touch with us over facebook.
While playing around, did you have a story, where you were a hero, rescuing people and animals in trouble? Did you have to jump over lava, difficult bridges and swing from imaginary wines? Yes? So you know how fantastic it is, to have a superhero?
The forests do so much for us, bet you haven’t noticed!
*picture credit journals, indiatimes
Fruits, chocolates and much more
Almost 50% of fruits we eat come from trees and forests. Almost all the delicious chocolate you eat, comes from the amazon forest. Even many spices that you would see in your kitchen, come from forests and trees. In fact, many of these spices grow in India. Forests of Western Ghat are famous for Cinnamon, pepper and cardamom.
All the water you need
Have you thought about this – the largest collection of water in the world is in oceans. But can you drink any of it? Have you tasted it? It is all so salty!
So where does our drinking water come from? Do we filter sea water to drink? Noooo…we get drinking water from under the ground and rivers and lakes. So where do lakes and rivers get the water from?
That’s right – rain and melted snow from mountains!
More than a third of world’s largest cities like New York and Mumbai get water from lakes and rivers.
When it rains, water falls over the trees, through leaves and grass and into soil in forests. The water gets cleaned and absorbed all through monsoons. The rest of the year, the soil slowly releases this water. That’s how rivers flow, lakes stay filled up.
Do you see what would happen if there were no forests??
The air you breathe
Have you thought about this – every single breath you take, is because of the trees around you and in forests. Trees are like the lungs in your body. They suck up all the carbon dioxide from the air and use it up in photosynthesis. In return, they give out oxygen that literally keeps you going.
If all the forests were cut, all this carbon dioxide would be in the air! This would make the air unbreathable and the earth would turn really really warm. Ice mountains would melt and there would be terrible floods all over the earth. More importantly, you would have no oxygen to breath!
Forests soak up about 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide each year. But when trees are cut down, they release this carbon dioxide back into the air. Making the weather too warm.
Picture this – when you make a closed blanket tent and play, after sometime, you feel warm and the air inside the tent is just not comforting. So you want to get out and take in some fresh cool air. Well, without trees, the earth would permanently feel like the inside of the closed tent.
So every once in a while, when you take a breath, thank the forest for the gift of oxygen.
The Earth’s Air conditioner
If you have ever visited a rocky mountain, you would have noticed how hot rocks get when the sun shines on them directly. On the other hand, if you have visited a forest, you would notice how cool the air is around.
Given a choice, what would you prefer – hot rocky mountains or cool fresh forest air?
Not just you, animals love and need the forests too. There are many different kinds of animals living in the forests of the earth. The amazon forest is home to 10 million species of animals, plants and insects.
So you see, just like you, forests rescue wild animals. Hide them under the trees, bushes, give them water and safe home to live in. Forests keep us humans alive.
Lately, some people have been chopping down forests. Either to build roads, build cities or to take out wood for furniture, paper and what not. These are people like you and me, but they just don’t understand how important forests are for us.
Here’s what you can do –
You, my little beforestors can be the planet superheroes
A number of people who have interacted with us via different platforms have communicated a sense of disconnect with the natural world. This is a craving of a very deep nature, something that’s a lot more fundamental than wanting to go to that favourite restaurant on a weekend. Typically, the most common way that people choose to address this is by buying a small farm on the outskirts with the dream of making it a sanctuary that fills that gap.
Weekends, however, are not enough to make a farm work. Moreover, it’s a little expensive for a small farm to afford a caretaker, a water source, and the repeated maintenance issues that keep coming up. Some folks have made it work, usually by focussing on the farm more than anything else, but for most, life and work takes over and the farm goes into a limbo. The first few years of enthusiasm gives way to neglect and a pressure to sell the farm and ‘realise’ its valuation. End of the day, for most, the need to connect with nature is not fulfilled. We have seen this happen umpteen times, to us, to friends, colleagues and the like. Collectives are a way to address this problem and here is why.
Initially, collectives were just a way for us to be able to afford a larger piece of a farm. This was important to make sustainable farming stand a chance. Moreover simple maths suggested that the risk was split between many individuals and hence lesser chance of the economics being a burden over time. As we started working on our first collective, what became clear is the exponential benefits that started to pile up and we soon began to appreciate what a powerful idea this was.
One of the big reasons for a single farm owner to abandon the farm is the hole it blows in the pocket. A caretaker, a water source, fencing, irrigation, accommodation for the staff, transportation of small amounts of produce, it easily adds up to a few lakhs a year for a 3-5 acre farm. At that scale, there’s really no hope of breaking even whatsoever. With a larger farm, of say 100 acres, you are good with 3 to 4 sources of water, a single caretaker and you begin to see how economies of scale begin to take shape. More importantly, each 5 acre piece is not competing for resources, for eg, come monsoon, all 5 acre pieces are not focussed on growing rice. You grow a bit of rice and many other things on your 100 acres instead. This collective planning allows you to diversify the farm, and most importantly, have buffers of undisturbed forest systems that replenish the soil while the rest of the farm is at work. A sense of continuity and holistic outlook begins to emerge over the farm at that scale as you now have the land bandwidth to really experiment. Having said this, to really take advantage of the collective system, the landscape has to behave as if it is a single farm and not a collection of small farms. For eg, when you are deciding on where to create veggie beds or where to put the houses, we are not looking at it as setting of the veggie bed on every farm of the individual stakeholders but looking at it at a landscape level. So if it happens that only 3 of the individual pieces have veggie beds, so be it. The entire collective virtually owns those beds and not just the 3 specific stakeholders. This approach really helps us achieve the full benefits of a collective system.
Plenty of water management features like swales, check dams, lakes, bunds, etc are possible at that scale whereas the best you can do on a 5 acre piece is really a small pond and a well. Scales allow you to plan better. For eg, you might choose to grow paddy and other grains on only those parts of the farm that allow for irrigation from the lake. While in the rest of the farm, you might choose to really focus on perennials. The thought process itself is vastly different. We get the scale, but why collective? Simply because, it’s expensive to build all these features as a single farmer. For eg, at our collectives, the earthworks alone would cost around 2-4L per acre. On a 100 acre scale, this is easily 2-4 crores being spent on just earth works. Would a single farmer ever have this kind of an infrastructure budget? When you split this between say 50 members of a collective, we are really talking about 4 lakhs per member. This is suddenly a far more affordable number when you think of long term infrastructure.
As we have seen in our earlier articles “why take soil seriously” about how soil and forest systems are game changers when it comes to sustainable farming. Riparian zones are key to ensuring great soil. These are zones that lie along natural drainage systems on the land – the streams, the ponds, the nullahs etc. Water is life and hence life tends to thrive in an around these water bodies even in seasons when they seem to have none of it. This is our repository of thriving ecosystems. A large scale allows us to dedicate the riparian zones as undisturbed ecosystems, where life can thrive and incubate the soil regeneration process. On a small farm, even if it is sitting next to a nullah, giving up a 20m distance from the nullah as a riparian zone would mean half the farm being left undisturbed. A lone farmer may not be able to do that.
We are frequently amazed at the suggestions that come from the member community on all aspects of the farm – product ideas, cultivation ideas, marketing ideas, etc. Honestly, quite a few of the initiatives we have taken are things we did not even conceptualise, like the idea of a restaurant at coorg that serves only once a week, dishes that are made completely from foraged produce, or making limited edition wines from grapes and other fruits that grow wild in the collective. With these many minds, genuinely interested in seeing the farm sustain itself, it is easy to see how more doors open up. Now, this was not something we had imagined when we started but now are fairly convinced that this is the biggest value add of a collective, something that cannot be replaced.
Some folks who call us, extremely enthusiastic about the collective concept, express disappointment that they dont get their own individual piece with a house in it. However we look at it in a different view. You are getting a 100 acre farm and all its benefits at a fraction of the price. What’s more you have beforest helping you in the process!
How are you doing little beforestors! We have a little fun quiz for you today! Did you know there are different kinds of forests in the world? Let’s see if you can make out a few!
I also have a fun pictures for you to colour when you find the time! You can print these out or just draw them out in your journals
A coniferous forest
an apple tree
a pine tree
a banana tree
a coconut palm tree
a deciduous tree
a papaya tree
a redwood tree
a pine cone
Until next time..:)
Leaves..the crown that makes trees look so beautiful.
Leaves are ‘food – factories’ of the trees. They use 3 ingredients – Sunshine, water and carbon dioxide and cook up plant food. There is a special name for this cooking process – photosynthesis. I bet you clever kids must already know this 🙂
If I ask you, what makes the leaves green – I am quite sure you kids would tell me it’s because of the chlorophyll.
But, here’s what I really want to ask – If chlorophyll makes leaves green and all leaves have it, then, why are young leaves light green and older leave dark shade of green? And how do leaves of the same tree start off pink and end up green?
The answer to ‘what makes the color of a leaf?’ is one word – pigments
Pigments are particles that give colour to leaves, fruits and even your skin.
Leaves normally have 4 kinds of pigments –
Each leaf,depending on where the tree grows and what season it is, will have different colors. Here, take a look
Chlorophyll is the pigment that you would have heard of most. That’s because all the food that the tree needs is prepared with the help of chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is present inside the food factory in a leaf. The factory is called chloroplast. It’s the chlorophyll that soaks in sunshine and helps turn it into energy for the tree.
Have you thought about this – whenever you family cooks you a meal of green veggies, you are eating chlorophyll too! Green veggies – chlorophyll to be exact, are filled with Vitamins and minerals. Spinach, methi, moringa, mustard leaves, Basil all have chlorophyll!
In seasons when sun is shining bright, Chlorophyll is high at work, soaking up as much sun as it can. Chloroplasts are fast at work too,cooking up as much food as they can.
This is why during Spring and Summer, when there is a lot of sunlight, plants make a lot of chlorophyll. As the seasons change, some parts of the world get less sunshine. This is when Chloroplasts go into holiday mode, like your school starts shutting down for vacations. As chlorophyll goes away, other pigments start to show their colours, making leaves turn yellow, orange or red, which were all green earlier.
In India, we mostly see tropical weather year round. So the sun is shining bright almost all year. But if you can, plan a visit to high mountains of North Eastern India or Northern India in the months of September, October or February and March. The colors of leaves would leave you awestruck.
Was that as fascinating for you as it was for me?
Now, hereahere a few activities that you could try –
You could use your journal to draw or write about these leaves. Don’t forget to send me pictures!
Until next time!
All life depends on the rivers. They are our single largest source of fresh water here in India and no wonder we worship them. However the fate of the rivers is quite appalling when we really look into it. The number of dams that have been constructed on each major river system is astounding. Take the Godavari for example – 350 major and minor dams constructed in a basin that spans 1450km. Thats a dam every 5 km!! How is this sustainable? What happens to all the life when a river changes from flowing water to a standing reservoir? Can we look at the river and think beyond just water? Can we look at it as a functioning system with many many parts – one of which is the flowing water?
On a recent trip to warangal, I remember being surprised at the number of lakes that i came across. Along the road i was on, there was a lake in almost every village i passed. I remember thinking about the old design of the Kakatiyas – the chain of lakes flowing into a river. The idea of distributed storage was pretty powerful. The needs of a place would differ every 10-15 km. One village might need water for the rice fields, while another might need a lot lesser for their orchards. Another village closer to the city might need water for commercial reasons – say a factory or a rice mill. The beauty of this design was that a village could choose what to do with the water it was receiving without having to negotiate water utilisation with another village. It was up to the village, to administer, maintain and distribute the tank and its resources amongst themselves as they saw fit. It is not something unique to the erstwhile Kakatiya kingdom, although the design is named after them. Even Bangalore has a series of linked tanks that were once water sources for the city. What has changed now? How did something that had worked for a thousand years before become obsolete and irrelevant?
I don’t think there is a simplistic single answer for that but what really happened with the British starting major irrigation projects is that it began to sound easier and most importantly placed the power of the decision in a central body. This appealed to the powers that be and slowly over the years the focus of water supply shifted to major projects. The most recent one on the Godavari – the Kaleshwaram Project has been in the news. It is an engineering marvel expected to irrigate an astounding 18L acres across 13 districts in the Telangana state, built at a cost of Rs.80,000 crores. Indeed it is the largest lift irrigation project in the world and surely a feather in the state government’s cap. A first look deeper into the project and its evolution over the past years presents a different picture though. Not because it is not as great it is made to sound but it definitely forces me to think if this was the only way to cater to the drought hit areas of Telangana?
The story started ages ago in 1975, with the Godavari Water Disputes Tribunal awarding what was then Andhra Pradesh, a share of 160TMC of the water from the Godavari Basin. For this originally a barrage was proposed at Tummidihatti village to divert this share for A.P. Ideally, its great if all the intended water supply can be gravity fed. It is the easiest way of distributing water. So the location was chosen and a Full Reservoir Level (FRL) of 152m was arrived at for the required 160TMC. Since this was significantly upstream, a 152m tall dam at Tummidihatti meant thousands of acres of submerged land on Maharashtra to irrigate A.P. This was the fly in the ointment. To avoid this submergence, a lower height of 148m was proposed. However at that height, the divertable water available was only 44TMC as opposed to the 160 TMC awarded! Remember that this water availability study happened in 2015 (almost 40 years after the award). The state of Telangana had just been created. Naturally the euphoria ran high and there was a need for the ruling government, the first government of the state, to prove its mettle that it could deliver the water that was ‘due’ to the state, a right that was long denied and almost single handedly led to the creation of a separate state. So an ingenious plan was devised to move the barrage/dam almost 150km downstream to Kaleshwaram on the main stream of the Godavari river system. The problem was not the move, but the districts that would be upstream to this dam. Hence was conceived the largest LIFT IRRIGATION project in the world!
Through a series of Seven Link Systems and Three dams, the plan is to not only irrigate, 18L acres of unirrigated land, but also pump water back up into existing tributaries of the Godavari to stabilise upstream reservoirs with water from downstream!!! Beat that. So on one hand, the water is pumped up in the reverse direction along tunnels to fill up water tanks and distribution reservoirs in several districts (remember that this is the exact reversal of the Kakatiya system) and on the other hand, through another link, pump water back up and drop it into two tributaries of the Godavari – the Haldi and the Manjeera. Essentially, this translates to taking lots of water lifting it all the way back into the upstream tributaries so that the tributaries now have increased flow thus irrigating the upstream districts as well. Crudely put, this is equivalent to reversing the flow of a portion of the river using a giant pump. No wonder it costed Rs.80K crores.
Let me pull back to our original question. Is there another way? Why not revert or fall back to the good old Kakatiya mechanism? Well, for one, that would not have worked straight away. Remember in our other posts, we have discussed how the carbon content across the deccan plateau has degraded from 3% to 0.3%. This means, soil in general is just not capable of holding water anymore. So these tanks and lakes are not depressions on a giant sponge that holds water and oozes it out into the lakes and streams but more like a bowl of steel that fills up when it rains and just evaporates or floods over and the water eventually just runs off. So can we not then revive the quality of the soil? The defence that the project irrigates drought prone districts in the state ignores the fact that most districts become drought prone from a rice perspective. They are just not able to grow three seasons of rice. The 30 year average precipitations have been roughly the same in India. There is no mandal in Telangana with less than 600 mm of annual rainfall. So can we then improve the soil quality, so that the soil stores water and the lakes fill up and then we use the water in the lake? When the lake overflows, it flows into the stream which drains into the river. What would it cost? Well in our collective in Hyderabad we are working on landscapes that see a little over 600mm of rain and we can safely say that in about 5 years, the soil carbon content can be raised following some natural principles by a few percentage points. So in a decade, we can revive the magic number of 3%. In four decades (the time it took for the tribunal award to translate to water availability), these 18L acres would have been dense forests. It costs us roughly around 2.5-3L per acre in our collectives to do this. Even if we ignore the economies of scale, when you extend that as a few thousand distributed village level projects of state-mandated eco system rejuvenation, we are looking at around 45k crores to rejuvenate the said 18L acres – saplings, checkdams, lake maintenance, swales etc etc included. That is almost half the cost and whats more? We would have kickstarted a permanent loop of restoration. So the system gets better and better and better with each year.
The idea here is to not belittle this giant feat of engineering or to play a left liberal critic of everything the government does but to show that simple distributed measures done at scale, and governments have the power to do them at scale, can be as powerful as these marvellous dams. Infact, for a long time it seemed that the state government of Telangana was following this as well with the harita haram project, a sapling planting drive that fizzled out. So this is not new, in fact it can even go hand in hand with the big dams and take the heat off the major irrigation projects by a distributed capture of water.
Long long ago, the Qutub Shahi kings set up the city of hyderabad on the banks of a stream (then a perennial river), the Musi. In 1920, the city had grown to an extent where the water had to be dammed and thus was born Gandipet Lake – the Osman Sagar and Himayat Sagar. They fed the city for a very long time. Soon, the city outgrew these reservoirs and we looked further away to a bigger river, a tributary of the Godavari, the Manjeera. By 1998, most of the city was being fed from a new dam on this river. By 2005, the city had outgrown the Manjeera and we looked further away towards bigger rivers – the Krishna and the Godavari. A decade later, we are lifting water from downstream Godavari as the supplies upstream are not enough. I wonder what we are planning to do once we outgrow the Godavari? Would we venture further north into the central highlands or would we atleast then look back towards another marvellous feat of engineering – the chain of lakes.!!
The thinking cap is on.