This piece is a perspective of a University Science Professor as he welcomes his Freshman class in the year 2092!
He talks about the past as things were in India and how plastics helped shape the destiny of our society over the previous 100yrs.
"India today stands at 5 billion people and counting. Advances in medical sciences have made the lifespans of our people longer and healthier. There is ample food, water, and work for our population.
But this wasn't always so, it has been a hard fought battle and it was won due to a mix of astute statemanship of our policy makers, innovative developments by the scientists and a giant leap of faith from our farmers.
At the beginning of the century the country was fraught with food shortages, water scarcities and loss of arable land due to climate and Industrialization. This had led to heavy pressure on Mother Earth to produce more from less. The country saw indiscriminate use of pesticides, fertilizers and other agro chemicals that led to poisoning of the soil. A few decades later the medical fraternity blew the lid of the true cost of this poisoning when diseases like Cancer and bio accumulative dysfunctions became commonplace in the country. The food that we grew was laden with toxins!
It was a paradoxical situation wherein millions were hungry on one hand yet Agriculture was not profitable. Society faced social unrest due to water shortages and cities were unable to cope with the burgeoning migration of rural population. For a country who's 65% population depended on farm incomes, this was a perilous time.
Like in many other situations the answer lay in the much maligned but humble "Plastic".
Plasticulture as the use of plastics in agriculture was called during those days, was considered as a recreational or an exotic practice limited to growing flowers and some vegetables.
A sustained effort from the policy makers,agri scientists and engineers led to a rapid proliferation of Plasticulture in the country.The immediate and visible benefits of this were:
Looking back we can see, how Plasticulture transformed our society and the country for the better
1) As agriculture became profitable, there was a reverse exodus of people from the cities to the farmlands. Migrant labour started moving back to their villages to restart their agri practices. A slew of financial incentives from the local government and technical support from agri engineers helped them reunite with their families and lead a life of dignity with comfortable incomes.
The cities emptied out and are comfortable and healthy living spaces as we see them today.
The industry faced an acute shortage of labor and it forced them to automate and innovate. With cheap and abundant labor no longer the norm, inefficiencies from the manufacturing sector were wiped out. Gradually, the Indian manufacturing sector grew to a global powerhouse that it is today.
2) Rural incomes rose manifold resulting in massive infrastructure and consumption upgrade in these regions. The economic narrative in the business newschannels rapidly shifted from FDI and outsourcing farms to a slew of local companies that were spawned as a result of this economic upheaval.
3) Over a few decades, the medical fraternity reported a sharp decline in prevalence of Cancer and other bio accumulative disorders. Other medical advances coupled with healthier living spaces and fresh nutritious food was helping our people live longer and healthier.
4) The proliferation of Plasticulture also altered how the society sourced, stored and transported food. "Source Local" that was a fad in the beginning of the century became a norm in the society as people demanded fresh produce without preservatives. Cities started vertical farms to grow their own vegetables and fruits. Food items like fruits that were a luxury of the masses were now a part of their daily diet. As the transport and storage cycle of perishable food decreased, there was a sharp decline in the food wastage.
5) One of the most significant changes that Plasticulture brought to the Indian farming sector was to remove the farmer's dependence on Monsoons. As we enter the 22nd century this may sound absurd to you, but till covered cultivation transformed the agro scector, the yearly Monsoon was a life or death event for many Indian farmers.
Plastics were a integral part of the movement that helped the subsidy driven Farm sector which was dependent on vagaries of nature in becoming a self sustaining profession and a key driver of the mid century economic boom.
The changing dynamics of "Food" had a cascading effect on many associated industries like packaging, food processing and chemicals.
Packaging: As food became abundant and farming became localized and common place, the societial trends moved to consuming fresh & local food. The packaging industry moved to develop packaging that enhanced the shelf life of the food products and processed foods without the use of preservatives.
Another challenge that the packaging industry over came was that of having a recyclable package as we see today. In earlier days, the packaging structure was a 5 to 7 layer composite structure of various polymers that could not be recycled.
A large part of the success of Plasticulture was due to the role played by the film processors of the time. They responded to the changing conditions and deployed their resources to make mulch, greenhouse, soil stabilization films. These products were the bedrock on which the eventual Plasticulture revolution was built.
If we trace the lineage of many of the Agrifilm giants of today, we can trace their roots back as packaging film manufacturers.
Abundant food and a growing civil discipline against wasting any resources presented a golden opportunity to the food processing Industry.
This industry got access to abundant food products and in partnership with the packaging engineers was able to store and transport their processed food items to various parts of India. This gradually fine tuned expertized eventually opened up the export market for them. With declining demographics all across the world, India's upswing in the Agriculture made it the natural source of food products to various economies across the globe.
With the decline in use of pesticide and other agro chemicals, the companies involved in these products saw a temporary decline in their fortunes. This forced them to go back to the drawing boards and eventually develop additives for the Agrifilms that enhanced the performance of these films to give higher productivity and lower resource consumption.
It was the ingenuity of these chemists that made the humble plastic film into a mega performance product that it is today. Their thermal management products kept the day and night time temperature variance to a minimum, allowing for a faster plant growth. The chemists were able develop additive packages for the films that allowed for pest control through radiation management instead of pesticides.
To maximize the time cycles for plant growth, the engineers in the lighting industry carefully studies the photosynthesis process. They developed lighting solutions that allowed the plants to carry out photosynthesis at night time.
This led to an immediate increase in the farm outputs and bought a lot of indoor urban areas under cultivation. Eventually, the packaging industry was able to develop films that could be placed on any light source and it would act as a photosynthesis catalyst at night times.
The Clarion Call
Now, back to 2017...it's time for each one of us to retrospect our role in this journey of making the above agro fantasy, a reality! My step is the ALOK Technology Incubation Centre which is working on agro technologies. And yours?