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E-IPER Dissertation Defense: Sudatta Ray "Impact of Rural Electrification on Food Security in India"

Wednesday, Jul 21, 2021 12:30 PM
Zoom Webinar
Faculty/Staff, Students, Alumni/Friends
Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment & Resources

Zoom Webinar

"Rural Electrification Expansion and its Role in Shaping Agriculture and Food Security in India"

Land and freshwater are two finite resources essential for food production that are threatened by climate change. These threats are in addition to the current growing competition for both from biofuel feedstock, food production and hydropower generation. We need to urgently optimize our consumption of land and freshwater to ensure future food security that is both sustainable and equitable.

Groundwater accounts for the vast majority of the freshwater accessible for irrigation. It is being intensively extracted and aquifers are under threat from severe depletion, salinization and pollution across different parts of the world. India is the largest consumer of groundwater, annually consuming in excess of the US and China combined. Cheap electricity and government backed purchase guarantees for cereal production have created misaligned incentives to extract groundwater in excess of its annual rate of replenishment. However, across the country there still remain large parts that are unirrigated despite healthy groundwater levels. Similar cases exist for vast parts across the African tropics. 

Rapid expansion of electricity infrastructure in the past decade has the potential to enable groundwater pumping for irrigation. However, we lack a framework to analyze the incentives that promote groundwater adoption while ensuring its judicious use and maximizing its nutritional impacts. In my dissertation I explore different electrification strategies which enable (or in some cases restrict) groundwater pumping for irrigation. I isolate the factors that influence the observed pattern of groundwater irrigation in India and find that electricity access and supply are among the most important factors determining where and how much groundwater is consumed. In chapter two I trace the evolution of Indian rural electrification to understand why electricity serves agriculture by enabling groundwater irrigation only in some parts of India not others. Finally, I create a framework to measure the trade-offs between groundwater consumption, pumping energy emissions and, private and public costs of groundwater irrigation expansion.

Across the three chapters I find unintended policy consequences leading to regional and social inequities in groundwater irrigation access. I also find that the scope to address these inequities exists while ensuring the maintenance of current and future balance between groundwater recharge and pumping. More broadly, my results suggest that the current approach of measuring rural electrification using household connections may be inadvertently restricting income-enhancing uses of electricity such as groundwater pumping.

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