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Potatoes and Laptops

You must be wondering about the relation between potatoes and laptops. Are there laptops made of potato peels? Can laptops be made of recycled potatoes? Have scientists invented machines which transmute potatoes into laptops? Have potatoes gained computational capabilities? Or have we discovered intelligent laptop wielding potatoes in the outer reaches of space. These could be some of the sophisticated questions cropping up in your fertile imagination. The answer to all of them is a resounding NO!!! Not yet, at least.

What I had in mind was the ballooning food inflation in India. It has hit 15.5% today, pushed up by potato prices which soared this year, reaching up to Rs.30.00 during the Navaratri season. Prices of grains and pulses, fruits and vegetables have also seen an upward trend. One of the reasons for high food prices seems to be lack of rains. This was a drought year for the country and understandably it severely affected the crop yield.

However, the more compelling reason for high food inflation and for high potato prices in turn, is the continued lack of investment in agricultural sector and the conversion of agricultural land for residential and industrial purposes. Combined with an uncooperative weather, this has lead to skyrocketing food prices. The Gandhian vision of grassroots level development was lost as soon as India stepped into the industrial development. But I believe it is time we rediscovered his ideology. With a nation of more than 1.2 billion people and still growing, we cannot continue to neglect the farming sector which performs the most critical function of feeding the nation. All talk of India becoming a superpower will be rubbished if half of the nation goes hungry. Although substantial sums are allocated in the national budget for development of the farm sector, most of it is siphoned off by politicians and vested interests. Some of them have built monuments and statues to fulfill their megalomaniac ambitions, pulling the wool over the poor farmers. The policy and frame work for development of agricultural sector may already be in place, but as usual due to inadequate enforcement, they cannot bear fruit. There is an urgent need to focus our attention and invest time and resources to nurse this vital sector back to health.

Contrary to food prices, laptop prices have fallen steadily. A decent laptop is now available for as much as Rs.16000.00. These laptops until a year back used to sell for almost double this price. The prime reason for reduction in prices is the continuous improvement of technology which has multiplied the computing capabilities manifold while slashing the component prices each year. Such focus of energy and intense research is of course driven by market interests.

Perhaps private farming initiatives could achieve similar excellence in agricultural production if the necessary regulations to dissuade them from overexploitation of labour and resources are put in place. Maybe the solution is to form agricultural cooperatives. I am not sure of the correct route to follow.

But one thing is certain, if the inflationary trend continues, it would be difficult for many of us to make both ends meet. Most importantly, it would severely affect the nutrition of children and the poor, not to mention the seeds of anarchy it would sow in the society. For each of us it is a wake up call not to be taken lightly. This could presage the course of things to come unless we choose to be dead serious about it. After all, we cannot eat laptops, no matter how cheap they become.

Categories: Musings
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