SOURCE : NOT THE HINDU
QUESTION : How is agriculture responsible for degradation of land, air and water? What measures can be taken to reduce it?
Agriculture Pollution and Subsidies
WHY IN NEWS?
Much of the policy attention has focused on how to change the disposal of paddy stubble, but our current system of subsidies is a big reason that there is stubble on these fields in the first place.
AGRICULTURE’S CONTRIBUTION TO AIR POLLUTION :
- Agriculture’s contribution to air pollution runs deeper than what happens between crop seasons.
- The Indo-Gangetic plain is also one of the world’s largest and rapidly-growing ammonia hotspots.
- Atmospheric ammonia, which comes from fertiliser use, animal husbandry, and other agricultural practices, combines with emissions from power plants, transportation and other fossil-fuel burning to form fine particles.
POLLUTION’S IMPACT ON AGRICULTURE:
- It is important to note that agriculture is a victim of pollution as well as its perpetrator.
- Particulate matter and ground-level ozone formed from industrial, power plant, and transportation emissions among other ingredients cause double-digit losses in crop yields.
- Ozone damages plant cells, handicapping photosynthesis, while particulate matter dims the sunlight that reaches crops.
- Agriculture scientist Tony Fischer’s 2019 estimates of the two pollutants’ combined effect suggest that as much as 30 per cent of India’s wheat yield is missing (Sage Journals, Outlook on Agriculture).
- Earlier, B Sinha et al (2015), in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics Discussions, found that high ozone levels in parts of Haryana and Punjab could diminish rice yields by a quarter and cotton by half.
ROLE OF SUBSIDIES :
- The current system of subsidies is a big reason that there is stubble on these fields in the first place.
- Free power — and consequently, “free” water, pumped from the ground — is a big part of what makes growing rice in these areas attractive.
- Open-ended procurement of paddy, despite the bulging stocks of grains with the Food Corporation of India, adds to the incentives.
- Subsidies account for almost 15 per cent of the value of rice being produced in Punjab-Haryana belt.
- Fertiliser, particularly urea in granular form, is highly subsidised.
- It is one of the cheapest forms of nitrogen-based fertiliser, easy to store and easy to transport, but it is also one of the first to “volatilise,” or release ammonia into the air.
- This loss of nitrogen then leads to a cycle of more and more fertiliser being applied to get the intended benefits for crops.
WAY FORWARD :
- We need to shift the nature of support to farmers from input subsidies to investment subsidies.
- This could involve the conversion of paddy areas in this belt to orchards with drip irrigation, vegetables, corn, cotton, pulses and oilseeds.
- All of the above consume much less water, much less power and fertilisers and don’t create stubble to burn.
- A diversification package of, say, ₹ 10,000 crore spread over the next five years, equally contributed by the Centre and states, may be the best way to move forward in reducing agriculture-related pollution.
- The approach to diversification has to be demand-led, with a holistic framework of the value chain, from farm to fork and not just focused on production.
- On the fertiliser front, it would be better to give farmers input subsidy in cash on per hectare basis, and free up the prices of fertilisers completely.
If taken altogether these measures could double farmers’ incomes, promote efficiency in resource use, and reduce air pollution. The need of the hour is to create mass awareness about the consequences of this increasing pollution.
QUESTION : Discuss the difficulties while preparing a vaccine and major challenges in its distribution at ground level .
IN VACCINE LAST LAP, THE KEY STEPS FOR INDIA
WHY IN NEWS ?
Nearly unparalleled efforts in science over the past few months have yielded at least two COVID-19 vaccines (from major pharma companies, Pfizer and Moderna) with promise (above 90% efficacy), in a historically short span of time.
DIFFICULTIES TO DEVELOP A VACCINE :
Historically, we have faced difficulties in the development of coronavirus vaccines.
- No Reference Vaccines: Although there were some attempts at development of vaccines against Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), there are no licensed vaccines for any coronavirus yet.
- Danger of Re-infection: Previous coronavirus vaccines were found to be immunogenic (generate antibodies as in phase II) but did not effectively prevent acquisition of disease (phase III) fuelling a concern that re-infection may be possible
- Inadequate Long term experience: There are also safety concerns due to immunological consequences of the vaccine as these vaccines use newer techniques with which we do not have long term or large population experience.
- Need of post-licensure surveillance system: About the safety of vaccines, there are always possibilities of rare (one in million) or delayed (by months or years) serious adverse events which will come to light only after mass vaccination has started; this requires a good post-licensure surveillance system to be in place.
Given various candidate COVID-19 vaccines, what should the government strategy be while choosing a vaccine and for vaccination?
- Ranking by risk category: The first rule would be to not to put all your eggs in one basket. We already know that government has planned for vaccine supply from different sources
- The second rule would be to prioritise: WHO has issued guidelines for prioritisation for vaccine recipients. For this, we need to rank population sub-groups by risk category and by programmatic ease of vaccination. Vaccination should start with where these two criteria intersect — health-care workers followed by policemen
- The third rule is use multiple channels to immunise the population. Other important considerations would be of equity and cost.
Vaccinating the general population
- Vaccinating the frontline workers like healthcare workers (& policemen) by utilizing the cold storage requirements at their own facility, including in private sector or district hospitals
- The problem arises in vaccinating general population especially the high-risk groups (the elderly and those with co-morbidity)
- It might be easier to vaccinate the institutionalised elderly as compared to community-dwelling ones.
Ensuring Equity in Vaccine Distribution
- The greatest challenge would be to immunise the poorest and the most vulnerable (slums/migrants/refugees/people with disabilities).
- Solution: Because of access issues, this must be by an outreach or camp approach (booths along with web-enabled appointments facilitated by civil society)
- Leveraging Institutional Experience: India has learnt major lessons through social mobilisation efforts during the Pulse Polio campaigns, Aadhaar card enrolment and elections, which will serve as good models
- Strategic Usage: It is expected that the pandemic would start receding once we protect about 60% of the population (in terms of coverage x effectiveness). However, we should ensure that this coverage is well-spread out, else focal outbreaks will keep occurring in areas with poor vaccine coverage.
Issue of Market forces
- One major challenge would be that many people would be willing to pay for the vaccine and ask for expedited access.
- Obviously, till we cover a bulk of phase 1 beneficiaries, the government should not concern itself with other groups.
- However, government can and should allow the vaccine to be available in the private sector at a market-driven price for such people.
- It will be ethical as well as cost-saving for the government, if it does not divert vaccines from the government-driven programme.
IMPORTANCE OF VACCINE DEVELOPMENT FOR INDIA :
India is the largest vaccine producing country in the world and if India is able to produce an indigenous vaccine, it will help in matching the demand in time, which otherwise would not have been possible for one more year.
India is the one of the most affected country due to COVID, it would have to wait for long time, if it was not being developed indigenously. Once the trials are done, Bharat Biotech will be targeting a manufacturing capacity of 300 million doses.
Approximately 70 per cent of vaccines for low- and middle-income countries are manufactured in India and delivered through partnerships with UNICEF and Gavi. Vaccine development in India ensures availability of affordable vaccines.
Many countries have already published their prioritisation policy, therefore it is critical that the government has a fair, transparent and published policy in this regard even if it results in heartburn in some quarters.