Sunday Reflections (23/05/21)

In doing what I am doing, what am I really doing?

Hey Friends,

Greetings from Hyderabad!

I write Sunday Reflections in pursuit of one question - In doing what I am doing, what am I really doing?

One of the underrated joys of blogging is a strange context attractor phenomenon that borders on the occult. Without naming it, let me attempt to give you a whiff of it through a random sequence of events.

Couple of weeks earlier, when I published my subscriber-only commentary on why collaboration is fiendishly difficult in this “Installation” phase of agritech technological revolution, I stumbled upon Linux Foundation’s Agstack announcement that ticked the right boxes in my head and got me excited.

It’s a fascinating idea, on paper for now. What would it take for this initiative to hit the escape velocity is a seductive question worth pursuing.  

Earlier this week, when I published, “What happens when India runs out of groundwater?” for subscribers, by the time I pressed “Publish”, the Government of India announced a ruling to increase fertilizer subsidy by 140%, in response to the hike in international prices of phosphoric acid, ammonia, and other items.

Sure, these context attractors are coincidental events, and part of the deal when you immerse consciously in the stream. It’s only when you probe the subterranean layers beneath these strange context attractors, you get a glimmer of real insights.

Why is collaboration difficult in agriculture? Why do well-meaning research bodies which create agricultural system models to foster collaboration end up creating silos of models due to the sheer diversity of systems and scales in the interdisciplinary field of agriculture?

Why do governments give subsidies? The real clues emerge when you decouple subsidy from agriculture. Subsidies, historically speaking, have been a strategic tool deployed by governments and businesses to stave off competition and weaken the competitor.

Take the case of China.

It spends close to $1.4 Trillion in the semiconductor industry and $185.9 Billion in agriculture for a singular reason: It is subsidizing these industries to play its aggressive front foot in the US-China trade war.

As I explored in my Producer Support Estimate essay, China spends almost four times as much as the United States in subsidizing agriculture to reduce its dependence on US’s soybeans and also limit US growers to export their produce to China.

At a fundamental level, subsidy works on a strange phenomenon: It aggressively extracts capital from industries with poor economics and compensates that by investing in industries with better economics.

(Credits go to the wondrous Byrne Hobart for making me see this clearly)

If you wear the myopic glasses of an economist who thinks nature is an externality, the implications are grave: Agriculture systems at large work by extracting ecological capital that doesn’t make textbook economic sense (unless you account for ecosystem services) and compensates for the same by investing in industries that have a better textbook economic sense (but poor ecological sense)

How do we redesign such agricultural systems that have been designed for systemic ecological collapse? What would it take to redesign ecosystem services to mitigate the systemic collapse that awaits us?

Like I wrote earlier, I can only wear my oldest hat when I created my first Gmail id (way back when Gmail was cool): incorrigible optimist

We’ll explore this further. Enjoy your Sunday!

Cheers

Venky