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A prickly poser

I WRITE this with considerable anguish. In June, we will come together in Stockholm, marking 50 years of global environmental consciousness. The meet is to celebrate interdependence and the need for a global compact for planet Earth. But more than ever, such events have virtually become a dialogue among the deaf. The world, it seems, lives on two different planets. There is deep division, polarisation and a lack of understanding of each other’s concerns. Let me tell you what has left me so troubled and has, once again, told me just how much we must learn to listen to each other. As you know, parts of India have been going through an intense, burning heatwave. It has been a living hell in my city Delhi, as temperatures have touched 47°C. Even as I say this, I know that people like me, who live in relative thermal comfort, are not so badly hit. It is the millions who work out in the sun—from farmers to construction workers to all those who cannot afford electricity to even power a fan—are the worst sufferers. They are bearing the brunt of the inferno that has hit work, made people ill, taken lives and burnt and shriveled up part of the wheat crop. Scientists point out that this time the temperature rise was way too early in the year—in March as against May—making the heat impact more devastating. They connect it to the abnormal behaviour of Pacific Ocean currents, La Nina, which have been unusually prolonged, leading to the heatwaves. There is also evidence about changes in the Western Disturbance—the winds from the Mediterranean—which are, in turn, influenced by the changes in the Arctic jet stream. The Western Disturbance would bring rain to the Indian subcontinent during this early summer period, reducing the heat’s impact. But this year, the Western Disturbance has been weak. It is still not clear if this is a long-term trend, but what is absolutely clear is that there are clear and attributable links between the heatwave and global climate change. So, things are bad, very bad. It is also certain that we in India must learn to do things differently, knowing that this heat will only get worse. “The State of the Global Climate 2021” report by the World Meteorological Organization, released in May 2022, grimly tells us that the four key indicators of climate change—greenhouse gas (GHG) concentration, sea level rise, ocean heat and ocean acidification—reached record levels in 2021. What, then, are the options? One, provide affordable electricity to all so that people can cope with these temperatures; two, build homes with better insulation and ventilation to improve thermal comfort; three, plant trees for shade; and four, increase storage of water for drinking and irrigation. These will also cool our cities’ microclimate. But there are enormous limitations. There is no way we can live or adapt to the rising temperatures that we are beginning to see. It is also clear that the poor in our world are the ones most impacted by this. But my anguish is not only because of the dire conditions I see in the world around me. As a climate change activist and environmentalist, it makes me realise that I have failed—we all have failed—to make things better. What rubs salt to the wound is when I get interview calls from western media wanting to find out more about the devastating heat conditions. The most predictable question, after the first few enquiries about life and death, is what is India doing to combat climate change. Then comes the query, why does India continue to use coal for its electricity. And then the final one—this one takes the cake—is to ask (or say) that power demand in this heat will go up, which will mean more burning of coal. What do I have to say about that? What can I say? How do I explain that India’s contribution to GHG emissions is insignificant by any parameter. How do I explain that the stock of emissions in the atmosphere, which is tipping us over and leading to this heatwave, is not of India’s making. How do I explain that we need to discuss reparations and not blame the poor, or even the relatively rich, in India. How do I explain that the global media powerhouses need to get real about the impacts of climate change on countries like India—my country. That we must and will do more to reduce g h g emissions in our own interests, but what we must discuss today is how the richest countries—their countries—are the cause of the problem, and that we must begin to discuss not just how they will reduce emissions at scale but also the need for paying for this loss and damage to the rest of the world. This is the inconvenient truth that is not heard. We can scream, but that part of the world is not listening. This has to change if we want a better world. If we want our world to survive.

Fertile stubble

RASHMI GUPTA has just finished plucking fresh tomatoes from the kitchen garden in her apartment's balcony. The Delhi-based teacher did not expect a yield of 10-15 tomatoes from a single pot she bought four months ago. The difference was that the pot was lined with stubble, soil and dung. Rashmi first heard of these "stubble pots" last year from her daughter Samaira, a student of Shaheed Sukhdev College of Business Studies in Delhi. Samaira encouraged her to buy a pot from the college's student initiative Project Pravaah. A part of social entrepreneurship organisation Enactus,Project Pravaah works on clean air solutions. In 2019, the student-members had developed an air purifier for urban settings."While working on this, we realised that we won't be able to address the indoor air pollution problem unless we control outdoor air pollution,” says Sayesha Gupta, a student of management studies at the college, who leads the project. The members, led by Sayesha and her classmate, Evanshika Sirohi, decided to shift focus to stubble burning, a major source of air pollution, particularly in north India. Stubble is also rich in nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, sulphur and potassium that are good for the plants and soil, says Sayesha. Conventional methods to extract the stubble and let it decompose in fields to release nutrients can take a long time to show results, and hence the student-members of Project Pravaah chose a different route. "We took advice from a startup and a non-profit based in Delhi, and decided to make pots lined with stubble,” says Sayesha. These pots are then filled with soil and used like normal clay pots to grow plants at home."But the idea is that nutrients from the stubble directly flow to the plants, eliminating the need for additives such as manure,” she explains. Developing the pots took six to eight months of research to determine the proportion of stubble, soil and manure that provides the right amount of organic carbon, nitrogen and phosphates to the plants. They then began selling the pots for R 120-150 on their own website and on e-commerce site Amazon in mid-2021."So far, they have sold 300-350 pots,” says Sayesha. "We source the stubble from 10 farmers in Punjab and Haryana, and have roped in artisans from Kumhar Gram,a potters village in West Delhi to make pots,” she adds. "Plants grown in these pots bloom earlier than in normal pots, and also last three to four months longer/'says Rashmi. Devil's ivy or money plant, aloevera and roses have proved to grow well in these pots. The students will continue to test the benefits of stubble pots over normal planters, and apply for a patent for its design. Apart from selling the pots, the students also conduct campaigns amongst farmers to sensitise them on the ill-effects of stubble burning. They have reached 300 farmers so far.


The Russia-Ukraine war has razed the global agriculture system that was once sold as the magic formula to provide food to all. It led to concentration of food production in a handful of countries, making others net importers, and has now fueled a historic rise in prices. It is time to re-invent sustainable food production RUSSIA’S UKRAINE invasion drags on. Most of the world has taken sides on who the aggressor and the victim is. But there is one front where the world seems united as a victim—the globalised agriculture system, which has been severely hit. The food market is intricately interconnected. “One of every five calories people eat mist of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in a big on the FAO website. The food market is also extremely fragile, with just six food baskets (see “The great grain divide’, p27) supplying the major chunk of the world’s staple food. It is also highly unequal in terms of production and supply—the poor countries are net importers and the high income countries net exporters, irrespective of their food production potential. Worse, the advanced economies spend just 17 per cent of their earning on food while S The Black Sea region, which includes Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, is one of the world’s six food baskets. Russia is the world’s largest wheat exporter while Ukraine is sixth on the list. Together, the two warring countries produce 12 per cent of all food calories traded globally; control 29 per cent of global wheat exports, 19 per cent of maize exports, and 78 per cent of sunflower oil exports. Russia is also the world’s top exporter of nitrogen fertilizers, the second leading supplier of potassium fertilizers and the third largest exporter of phosphorus fertilizers. Some 50 countries depend on Russia-Ukraine for their food supply, particularly for wheat, maize and sunflower oils. The majority of these are poor and import dependent countries in Asia and Africa. Of the 53 countries or territories that faced food crisis last year, 36 depended on Ukrainian and Russian exports for more th an 10 per cent of their total wheat imports, as per an analysis by Washington DC-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). In terms of food supply, in 2019 wheat and wheat products represented 408 kilocalories per capita per day in the countries facing food crisis. In east Africa, where wheat and wheat products account for a third of the average cereal consumption, 90 per cent of the wheat imports come from Russia and Ukraine, as per UN’s World Food Programme (WFP).


When the war broke out in February, Ukraine had standing winter crops and was preparing to sow the spring crops in April. Most of the farms stand abandoned today. Various estimates indicate that 20-30 per cent of areas under winter crops will remain unharvested, while sowing for the next crop lags. The Seed Association of Ukraine, in a statement on May 7, said, “This sowing campaign is, without a doubt, the most difficult one. Farmers face many challenges—from logistics and fuel supply to the physical safety of their workers...” Inputs for farming have been curtailed. Both in Russia and Ukraine, fuels have been diverted for military use. As per Ukraine’s Ministry of Agrarian Policy and Food, the country could plant 14 million hectares of spring wheat by the first week of May, which is 3 million hectares less than normal or a year before ”70% of top 10 crops will not be used to directly feed the hungry" BY 2030, we estimate that processing, export and industrial-use crops will likely account for 50 per cent of harvested calories worldwide. When we add the calories locked in crops used as animal feed, we calculate that by 2030, roughly 70 per cent of all harvested calories of these top 10 crops will go to uses other than directly feeding hungry people. By 2030, the world will be harvesting enough calories to feed its projected population, but it won't be using most of those crops for direct food consumption. In February, both the countries had 16 million tonnes of maize and 13.5 million tonnes of wheat packed for export by the end of the month. That stock never moved out. Before the war, nearly all of Ukraine’s agricultural exports—about 5 million tonnes a month—were through the Black Sea, but Russia has blocked all the harbours. On the other hand, international sanctions against Russia have made shipping impossible. For west Asia and Africa, importing from Ukraine and Russia is the best option because wheat is cheaper from these two countries and shipping through the Black Sea costs less. Even for the countries importing now, the special war time insurance rates have dramatically increased and added to the costs. Nicolas Denis, partner with McKinsey’s Chemicals and Agriculture Practices, in a podcast in April, estimated that “between 19 million and 34 million tonnes of export production could disappear this year”. He foresees that even in 2023 there would be 10 million tonnes to 43 million tonnes of global wheat shortage due to the restricted supply from Russia-Ukraine. “To translate, that represents caloric intake for 60 million to 150 million people”, he said. With this supply stream abruptly stopped, food and energy prices have leaped to historic levels. Wheat prices are forecast to increase by 40 per cent, reaching an alltime high this year. Such is the impact of inflation that WFP, currently running one of its most expansive food relief operations, has made a desperate appeal for funds. Food inflation has significantly increased its running costs and it is spending US $71 million (R544 crore) more per month now for the same operation level. “Commodity markets are experiencing one of the largest supply shocks in decades because of the war in Ukraine,” says Ayhan Kose, director of the World Bank’s Prospects Group, during the release of the “Commodity Markets Outlook April 2022” report on April 26. The report forecasts food price rise to continue till the end of 2024.


A preliminary assessment by the UN Task Team for the Global Crisis Response Group says the war has led to a “three-dimensional” crisis—rising food prices, rising energy prices (see ‘Energy games’ Down To Earth, 1-15 April 2022) and tightening finance. Some 1.7 billion people in 107 countries (41 in Africa, 38 in Asia and the Pacific and 28 in Latin America and the Caribbean) are exposed to at least one of the dimensions, says the assessment released on April 13. Some 69 economies with 1.2 billion of the world’s people are “severely or significantly” exposed to the three-dimensional crisis. Consequently, thousands of kilometres from the war zone, some 70 per cent of Africa’s economies are at risk of collapsing, putting millions on the verge of food scarcity. Egypt, for instance, depends on Ukraine and Russia for 60 per cent of its food imports. Its food inflation rose to 26 per cent in April. Angola—a country that does not produce wheat traditionally but consumes 0.65 million tonnes of it annually—meets 30 per cent of its demands from Russia- Ukraine. With the war curbing supply, wheat price at the consumer level has increased by 40 per cent in recent weeks, says the Association of Wheat Flour Producers of Angola. Lebanon, a country that has not registered growth in the last four years, sources up to 25 per cent of its average calorie consumption from wheat and sunflower oil imported from Russia-Ukraine. Up to 90 per cent of its wheat demand is met via imports from Russia and Ukraine. As its food inflation got out of control—it was 1,000 per cent last month—the government deployed over 90 inspectors to check if the retailers were hoarding. “Prices for food, which accounts for about 40 percent of consumer spending in the region, are rising rapidly. Around 85 percent of the region’s wheat supplies are imported. Higher fuel and fertilizer prices also affect domestic food production. Together, these factors will disproportionately hurt the poor, especially in urban areas, and will increase food insecurity,” write Abebe Aemro Selassie, director of the International Monetary Fund’s African Department, and Peter Kovacs, an economist in the Regional Studies Division of the department, in an April 28 blog post on the IMF website.


In the immediate future, the overall global availability of food grains will be further reduced. The rise in prices of energy and fertilisers is likely to reduce yield, as per IFPRI’s report. The fertiliser shortfall comes at the start of planting seasons in many countries, including India. The report says that “food-crisis countries”, such as Honduras, Cameroon, Guatemala, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Mozambique and Kenya, depend on Russian and Ukraine for 10-50 per cent of their fertiliser imports. As countries substitute the commodities that are in short supply with others, the prices of the substitutes will go up. For example, rice is being used to fill the gap in cereal imports, and its price has increased by 12 per cent globally since the beginning of the year. On May 5, the government of India suddenly stopped wheat purchase from Punjab, procuring only 56 per cent of its target of 44 million tonnes. When the wheat stock dwindled, the government replaced 5.5 million tonnes of wheat with rice for its pandemic relief programme, the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana. As countries start sourcing food, fuel and fertilisers from countries other than Russia and Ukraine, it will add to the overall costs, ultimately adding to the cost of the produce. This is also where the true character of a “globalised world” could come to fore, with countries already resorting to hoarding staple foods that till recently they exported for profits. Russia, for instance, has banned sales of fertiliser, sugar and grains. Indonesia, which produces more than half the world’s palm oil, has halted outgoing shipments. Turkey has stopped exports of butter, beef, lamb, goats, maize and vegetable oils. India joined this group when it banned wheat export on May 14. This was while negotiating export to at least 12 countries that depended on Russia-Ukraine for wheat. India has also had a break in its five-year bumper harvest of wheat, as a severe and long heatwave brought down the yield. India is traditionally not a wheat exporter, but in a surprise declaration it committed to export 10 million tonnes of wheat before the ban on wheat export. This offered a hope to the surging wheat prices that have gone up in the country by 60 per cent this year. This decision has not only crashed wheat prices in Indian wholesale markets but also drawn condemnation from the Group of Seven (G7). “If everyone starts to impose export restrictions or to close markets, that would worsen the crisis,” German food and agriculture minister Cem Oz-demir said in a statement on May 14.


Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the number of countries imposing export restrictions on food has risen from three to 17. Those restrictions include export bans implemented by 16 countries and export licensing requirements implemented by seven countries, as per IFPRI’s Export Restrictions Tracker. The Tracker indicates that about 43 per cent of vegetable oils in global markets is affected by export restriction. The export ban hits the food market severely as it is not just limited to a few commodities but also to their production and export held by a handful of countries. As per IFPRI, five agricultural products account for almost 90 per cent of imported calories. These are: wheat (31 per cent of total calories affected), palm oil (28.5 per cent), corn (12.2 per cent), sunflower oil (10.6 per cent) and soybean oil (5.6 per cent). All these are impacted by the current export ban. Export restrictions affect nearly 36 per cent of wheat exports; 55 per cent of palm oil; 17.2 per cent of corn, 78.2 per cent of sunflower oil exports; and 5.8 per cent of soybean oil. Curbs on export make availability of food grains difficult for deficit geographies. In an unprecedented joint appeal on April 13, the heads of the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, WFP, and World Trade Organization gave a call: “We also urge all countries to keep trade open and avoid restrictive measures such as export bans on food or fertilizer that further exacerbate the suffering of the most vulnerable people.” The World Bank has warned that each percentage point increase in food prices would push an additional 10 million people into extreme poverty. The Washingtonbased Center for Global Development estimates at least 40 million people around the world will be pushed into extreme poverty— defined as living on less than $1.90 a day— because of the price spike caused by the war. By the 100th day of the Russia-Ukraine war, the food crisis emerged as the top agenda in all the efforts to stop it. G7 foreign ministers meeting in Germany on May 14 made an “appeal” to Russia to lift naval blockade on Ukrainian food grains export


This is the third global food crisis (after the crises of 2007-08 and 2010-11) in the past 15 years, but the worst-ever in severity and spread. In all the crises, the world saw how agriculture and food production systems became concentrated on just a few commodities and in a few countries. This made production efficient and drew advantage of scale. But it also made food production vulnerable. It changed how and what we eat, adding to the food system’s vulnerability. First, our diet majorly comes from just four grains—rice, wheat, corn and soy. These grains account for 50 per cent of the average daily calories consumption, globally, with wheat and rice contributing a major chunk. Five countries—China, India, Russia, Brazil and the US—control 60 per cent of the global food production. Within these countries, production is further concentrated to a few regions. For example, India is a major wheat producer but more than four-fifths of it comes from five north Indian states. In the last five decades, there is a swift change in the way food is produced and distributed across the world. When agriculture trade becomes free, or globalised, inflation comes down. This thrives on outsourcing production and processing at mass to cheap labour areas in the world. But the character of consumption changes. In the world, four-fifths of total food consumption is still produced locally. But the share of internationally traded commodities in total food trade is constantly increasing: from 10 per cent in 1985 to 14 per cent in 2017. This coincides with the trend of mostly developing countries becoming increasingly import dependent. According to an estimate by FAO, the demand for imported food products in low- and middle-income countries is not only increasing, but will go up 2-3.5 times by 2050. In 2020 the demand for imported food commodities in lower-income countries made up 80 per cent of the annual rise in the world’s total food import bill. This is both a good and a bad development. Food is available to most vulnerable countries and people, but at the same time it is conditional to situations in countries that process it before it reaches the destination. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, director-general of the World Trade Organization, said in a recent event on the impending food crisis that the global trading system has helped drive global growth and provided countries with important goods even during the pandemic.

Untapped Renewable Potential: Lesser-known Challenges that Operators Face

The renewable energy market has seen immense growth in the last couple of years due to the rising concerns about climate change and the limit of 1.5 C on the global temperature rise set forth in the Paris Agreement. In light of this, several countries have announced Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to reduce climate change, and reducing dependence on fossil fuel-based energy has been at its heart. Though still today, fossil fuels remain the primary energy source, renewable energy will soon become a significant pad of the energy sector While climate change has been the driver for renewable energy thus far, the Russia - Ukraine war has added another reason. Russia is the third-largest exporter of oil worldwide, with most European economies dependent on it. So imagine what will happen if Russia halts the flow of gas and oil to neighboring and other countries? The potential impact of this crisis on the energy sector could act as an accelerator to boosting the expansion of renewable energies. It is imperative for all the countries to be self- reliant and what could be better than renewable energy harvested from natural sources.

India is driving toward a Sustainable Future

The Indian government has affirmed its resolve to achieve about 500 GW capacity by 2030. It aims to reduce the carbon emission by one billion tonnes and reduce the carbon intensity of its economy by less than 45% by the end of this decade to reach net-zero carbon emissions

Diversifying with a Renewable Energy Investment

Amidst all this, we must realize that the intensity of renewable energy resources, which depend on the environment, fluctuates daily, and the sources may also be vulnerable to future climate conditions. Changing temperatures, precipitation, sea level, and extreme events in the future will impact how much energy will be produced, delivered, and consumed. The constantly changing nature of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar radiation has led consumers and grid operators to be reluctant to invest in renewable energy technologies. What if it's not windy? Or what would happen when it's cloudy over solar panels? Unfortunately, questions like these exist in tandem to disrupt the development and acceptability of renewable energy sources. So, it is critical for solar and wind power production companies and grid operators to determine the long-term solar and wind energy potential at the location of solar or wind parks before designing and setting them up. Also, the hourly forecast of power generation is essential for operating the power plants efficiently.

Technological advances to Uncap the Renewable Energy Potential

Today, technological enhancements in the renewable energy sector make wind and solar power generation more reliable and economically competitive. Perovskite solar cells will give efficiency breakthroughs once commercialized; floating solar and the wind is another one to watch. The answer to how to generate energy if the sun isn't shining or the wind isn't blowing is to store energy produced when renewable generation capacity is high. The falling lithium battery prices makes it more affordable to build larger storage facilities. In parallel to advances in renewable energy hardware, there is a strong need for solutions that enable operators to identify the best locations to set up power plants and predict how much energy will be generated by the hour the following day. To resolve the operators' challenges, modelers at RMSI employed their knowledge of modeling weather parameters, such as solar radiation, wind, aerosols, rainfall, temperature, etc., to model the renewable energy generation potential at anyplace and time. RMSI has developed an approach that amalgamates numerical modeling and machine learning techniques to assess the location-specific renewable energy potential and generate hourly power generation forecasts. We provide technical and consulting services for location-specific hydro, solar, wind, power potential assessment, and power generation forecasts across the country at different spatiotemporal scales. Our power generation forecasts are 48 to 72 hours in advance at the sub-hourly interval. At RMSI, we do not solely base our location-specific assessments on historical data, climate, or weather but on a variety of future-based predictions, allowing us to anticipate how much potential power the plant can generate by 2050 or 2100.

Estimates of Solar Power Potential in Ayodhya City

A case in point is a recent solar power potential analysis that we did for Ayodhya city, where we estimated monthly rooftop solar energy potential based on the present-day climatology. RMSI has deployed GIS software and tools to calculate the usable and effective areas of the captured building rooftop signatures.

Solar Energy Resource Assessment for Ladakh Union Territory

A 10 GW Renewable Energy Project is under Implementation in Ladakh within 20,000 acres of land. RMSI has estimated hourly and monthly climatology of solar irradiation and solar energy over the Leh district. It includes the opacity of various types of clouds for solar radiation calculations. Our analysis suggests an increase in total solar irradiation during the winter months (November-January) in the 2050s, which might happen due to the decrease in the frequency and intensity of western disturbances over northern India and the Himalayan region. RMSI has strong 3D Geospatial modeling capabilities with a repository of more than 100years of historical weather data for India. In addition, our experts have already created a parametric incident solar radiation model. So estimating the solar/wind power potential at any location is a natural extension of these already existing Numerical Weather Prediction (NWP) forecast capabilities. For more than two decades, RMSI has been using numerical weather models for predicting weather parameters like rainfall, temperature, solar radiation, wind, and associated hazards like thunderstorms, dust storms, cyclones, etc. Our renewable energy forecasts are based on the application of these complex, high-resolution models. RMSI can successfully produce a robust power generation forecast at a sub-hourly scale at solar plant/wind farm sites and save penalties for power producers (as depicted in the illustrations). "Need emergency system to control trade volatility" Devesh Roy, senior research fellow, International Food Policy Research Institute WHEN YOU open up trade, you open up to volatility. But you do not want to throw the baby out with the bath water. There should be an emergency response system to control volatility. You need to diversify within trade. For example, in edible oil we depend on palm oil import, concentrated in Indonesia and Malaysia. When sunflower oil trade got disturbed, as 70-80 per cent of sunflower was coming from UkraineRussia, oil producers' response was to reap the benefits of high prices. So, there should be diversification across commodities and markets.

A perpetually growing chasm

AN INDIAN bringing in a monthly wage of Rs. 25,000 is among the top 10 per cent of earners in the country. This is what the recently released “State of Inequality in India” report by the Institute for Competitiveness finds, using government data. The report, as if to dissuade a deep dive into the data, adds a cautionary note: “If an amount like this comes in the top 10 percentile, then the bottom-most condition cannot be imagined.” This study, commissioned by the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister, shows the wide chasm between the top and bottom earners. This gap is getting wider: while the income of the top 1 per cent of earners grew by 15 per cent in 2017-18 and 2019-20, that of the bottom 10 per cent earners fell by 1 per cent. This is a “failure of the trickle-down approach to economic growth,” says the report. So, if wealth is not trickling down, what happens to those at the bottom of the pyramid? Will they ever reach the peak, or even the top 10 per cent bracket (with the Rs. 25,000-a-month level)? The “World Inequality Report 2022”, released last year, says, “India stands out as a poor and very unequal country, with an affluent elite.” In a conversation with this writer last November, Lucas Chancel, senior economist at the World Inequality Lab in Paris and lead author of the report, said that over 50 per cent of India’s population is without any significant wealth (see ‘Some more unequal’, Down To Earth 16-31 December 2021). He put this reason at the core of the widening inequality in the country. Just like the wealth that a billionaire’s children inherit serves as their critical capital to pursue prosperity, the progress of the children of those without wealth is stifled in absence of inheritance. “People accumulate wealth across generations through inheritance. It has a snowball effect. This is why the rich section’s wealth grows faster. But it also creates a gap between people,” he said. During a reporting assignment in 1996, this writer met the now 57-year-old Sukru Ojha, a resident of Odisha's Koraput, one of India’s chronically poorest districts, and has kept in touch. Sukru belongs to the 50 per cent of Indians that do not own any assets. He did not inherit anything from his parents—arguably not even the constitutional right to life. As a child he left his village in the face of starvation. Somehow, in the district headquarters, he was able to earn a few day’s worth daily wage. He has been surviving on this work since then. These days, he earns Rs. 2,000 in a good month and has no disposable income. An inflation-adjusted analysis shows his earnings over the last 25 years areas effectively zero. For the last two years, amid the pandemic, he survived on meals of rice and pickle. In a conversation last year, he said the pandemic and lockdowns were pushing him further into the poverty abyss. He could not even express his anguish. Now, he has been hit with food inflation. In a chat on May 19 this year he said, “I cannot even buy the 1 kg of rice that I love to eat each day.” When asked “How do you see your future earnings? Can you aspire to earn Rs. 25,000 a month?” he replied, “I can never imagine that amount. I do not have any base for further income. My capital of labour is diminishing as I age.” The rate of food inflation has more than doubled in the last one year. A recent World Bank estimate shows that one percentage rise in food prices will push 10 million people into extreme poverty. These are the people at the bottom of the income pyramid. The fact that their number is growing under severely unfavourable conditions means they will never be able to bridge the income gap.