The 0.05 kilowatt farming human and other strange equations from India
One of the Planning Commission of India’s working groups of agriculture concerns ‘crop husbandry, agricultural inputs, demand and supply projections and agricultural statistics for the Twelfth Five Year Plan (2012-17)’ which is a lot to expect out of a single committee, howsoever eminent the members and however luminous their output.
Perhaps that is why their observations especially where the use of (and supply of) energy for farming are so, shall we say, unconventional. The equation is that one (cultivating, farm labouring, roti-eating) human’s output is 0.05 kW, a draught animal (cow or bullock) is worth 0.38 kW, a power tiller delivers 5.6 kW and a tractor rules our districts with a lordly 26.1 kW. [You can get the extraordinary numbers here, in this excel file.]
In a short chapter on energy use in Indian farms, the committee has said: “While developed world mechanised its agriculture to create surplus labour for the industrial sector, in India it has been directed to help farmers and farm worker do their job speedily”. Curious. When I last looked in the districts, there were Escorts, Mahindra, TAFE, Sonalika, Swaraj, HMT, Indofarm and Force tractors. Foreign farm equipment manufacturers like John Deere and Kubota are already here, ready to assist the “farm worker do their job speedily”? Not likely, ready instead to follow the diktat of the central government to replace human labour, send human farm labour on its way to the towns and cities to become obedient consumers.
But the committee has more to say: “With high quality job, [the farm worker will] acquire additional capacity to achieve timeliness in field operations without much hardship and drudgery.” That is indeed a considerateness I hardly expected to see in this day and age of austere governments and spartan budgets. Hardship and drudgery are constant companions of the cultivator in India – the smaller the cultivator, the more bosom these buddies.
And there is more: “It also helps in achieving precision in metering and placement of inputs for better crop stand, better response to inputs and increased productivity. Farm mechanization imparts dignity to farm work.” Leaves you speechless? It did me. (An electric motor is 3.7 kW and a diesel engine is 5.6 kW, for the complete table, the source of all this encouraging kilowattage is given as ‘Singh et al (2011), Agril. Enng. Today, Vol. 35(2)’.)
The committee has however taken a nostalgic look at the years when India resounded to the “jai jawan, jai kisan” slogan. Its report has reminisced: “Bullocks and other draft animals continue to have relevance in India for socio-economic reasons particularly to marginal and small farmers”. But right away comes the transnational multinational structurally adjusted hard-boiled World Bank-IMF-Prime Minister’s Office-Planned Decommissioning of India approach.
And there is this: “However, animate power per unit energy supply is costlier than electro-mechanical sources. Animals need to be fed and maintained even when not in use and are vulnerable to morbidity and mortality due to disease and pest, paucity of feeds and fodders, harshness of climate etc. With mechanisation, farm power availability has increased, yet a lot of efforts and investments are needed particularly in Eastern and North Eastern states, hill and mountain areas and tribal areas.”
And there we have it, bold and ugly – humans are not fit to cultivate. The age of the tractor has hit rural Bharat with as much force as BMW, Mercedes Benz and Audi have hit the semi-paved streets of Malltown India. Animals are troublesome beasts, humans are worth only 0.05 kw each and tractors are glorious. John Deere, are you here?