The Indian government has provided a critical lifeline to farmers in marginal food-growing areas by leasing portions of their land to accelerate the country’s ambitious solar energy programme.
If it wasn’t for the rental income derived from participating in a gigantic 2GW solar park project in the Pavagada region, “I couldn’t have sent my girls to university,” a local farmer, Srinivas, told Bloomberg reporter Akshat Rathi.
In his new book, Climate Capitalism, Rathi writes about the impact that the scheme has had on farmers in the semi-arid Pavagada area since it was launched in 2016.
“Without it, [Srinivas] said, pointing to the construction site where rows of neatly laid solar panels stretched to the horizon, hundreds of farmers in debt with large agricultural loans would have been staring into the abyss.”
The region’s farmers are struggling to cope with droughts, which have become more frequent and more intense over the past two decades as climate change advances.
The lack of rainfall has pushed an increasing number of farmers to default on their debts as they battle to make ends meet.
They often turn to government-underwritten crop failure insurance. But with more claims being filed across the country, “opportunities like the solar park in Pavagada are a way for the government to decrease its liabilities without abandoning its responsibilities to support the country’s farmers,” Rathi writes.
“For hundreds of farmers, like Srinivas, the annual lease payments may not fully compensate for the lost farming income, but do provide a decent, steady source of income that eases a challenging life,” Rathi adds.
“What’s happening in India can be a model for countries in Africa, Central and South America and South East Asia, which combine to make up more than half of humanity.”
Since the state started leasing land from farmers for solar projects in 2016, India’s installed solar power capacity has increased sevenfold to 67GW, according to data collated by the International Renewable Energy Agency and Mercom India Research.