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The purest food on Earth?

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Ghee had fallen out of favour as saturated fats were considered unhealthy. But now, Indians are finding their way back to this ingredient that’s so integral to their cuisine.

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– Aysha Imtiaz
(BBC.com)

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Backlash builds against Sri Lanka’s $3 Billion clean energy push 

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Utility scale wind, solar and battery projects draw CEB’s ire as they march to take away their vested interests.

The government has ignited a green energy investment spree that’s expected to reach as high as $ 3 billion over the next 3 years. The road to bringing this money in the economy, though, is increasingly hitting speed bumps from the likes of the so called ‘mafia’ CEB officials. 

Country’s ambitious vision aims to make the nation’s electric grid greener with 70% of the electricity demand to be met through renewable energy by 2030. 

Companies have already announced plans for committing $25 billion investment up to 2030 in the renewable energy sector in the Country, according to the Board of Investment. 

With potential Private investments over the next 3-4 years through FDI could include $3 billion in utility scale wind, solar and battery storage projects – Sun Power leading with $1.5 billion, followed by Adani Green with $900 million, by Orbital energy with $200 million, by WindForce PLC with $150 million and balance by a consortium of private developers. However, the opposition to projects has mounted for myriad reasons. 

Increasingly, the few so called ‘mafia’ CEB officials, who have strangled the Country’s power sector by delaying the approval process, seems to be more concerned that the rapidly expanding utility scale size of wind, solar and battery projects will irreparably alter their powers and thus their vested interests in earning a share out of the pie. 

Despite this backlash, many projects will eventually get built, say developers and analysts, but they could take longer and cost more than expected. 

At the government level, there is ample support for speeding up the implementation of the projects, but its only CEB who is pushing back on their own self-motivated agenda, not know at large.

– Harendra Kuruppu

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Personal agenda of CEB officials delaying renewable energy projects

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The central government & their policies are responsible for most of the hardships we face today. But when it comes to implementing investments and projects in the renewable energy sector, surprisingly the central government has good policies and intent but have failed to implement them due to bureaucracy, corruption and personal agenda of few CEB officials.

The present problem is having too much capacity in the wrong types of power plants and too little in the right types. It’s an open secret that few of the CEB officials are not fond of utility scale renewable energy. They like non-renewable sources of energy but hate utility scale wind, solar and battery storage projects.

Despite renewable energy being clean and cheap, the utility scale RE projects have not been implemented in Sri Lanka on a large scale. Sri Lanka still has plenty of room for Solar and Wind. We only have around 12% of RE in the grid (excluding hydro). We are far from the critical limit that could possibly considerably impact the grid from the fluctuating nature of renewable sources.

CEB wants to convince people that the unreliable nature of RE is the reason why they oppose it. But the real reason is, they can’t maintain their infamous mafia power and pursue their personal agenda when there is an abundance of RE power in the system. The proposal of RE investors won’t get accepted even though the offered rate was lower.

While purchasing non-renewable energy power at a rate of over Rs.45 per unit, the CEB is blocking over 1,500 MW of new utility scale solar, wind and battery storage projects. Had these projects been approved by CEB and put to built in this year, they would be ready to supply electricity at the Rs.24 to 30 per kWh tariff within one and a half years’ time period, with lower than prevailing solar and wind energy tariffs and also far less than the cost of non-renewable electricity.

Few CEB Engineers suddenly come to realize that if the trend of implementing such utility scale re-projects continues in the country, this is going to be a threat to their business and their vested interests. 

So, they have resorted to delaying tactics in the approval process of utility scale RE projects not favorable to them, effectively blocking large scale investments and investors who have plans to invest in the country.

On analysis, with the delay in these 1500 MW RE projects, the country will lose annually ~3200 GWh of clean and cheap energy resulting in the country’s economy spending additional Rs. 20 billion per year on account of the higher cost of non- renewable electricity.

It’s hard to fathom the unbelievable level of bureaucracy, corruption & personal agenda of CEB.

– Harendra Kuruppu

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Why you may not get Kashmir’s famed apples easily

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A series of challenges has thrown Kashmir's once flourishing apple trade into crisis

On a chilly and foggy winter day, hundreds of apple farmers in Pulwama district of Indian-administered Kashmir stored their harvest in a temporary tin shelter installed at the fruit market, anticipating the arrival of traders who would purchase their produce.

The farmers were anxious as the quality of apples this year had not been the best and would affect the price they’d get.

Kashmir is known in India for its variety of apples. But a series of challenges – from the onslaught of fungal scab, the impact of climate change, and a range of economic hurdles – has thrown the flourishing industry into a state of crisis.

Apples are classified into A, B and C categories based on their size, colour and quality. A is the premium category while B and C are those infected with scab (venturia inaequalis) - B being less infected than C.

“Around 40% of the apple production [this year] has been C-grade,” says Ghulam Nabi Mir, an orchardist from Pulwama. 

The horticulture department of Jammu and Kashmir says apple, walnut and almond farming provide direct and indirect employment to about 2.3 million people in the region. 

Exports from the Himalayan region’s orchards amount to over two million tonnes annually, generating approximately 120bn rupees ($1.44 bn, £1.14bn) in revenue – which is almost twice as much as the region’s tourism sector, Ejaz Ayoub, an independent Srinagar-based economist, told the BBC.

But unusual weather patterns are beginning to take a toll.

“Unseasonal rainfall in April-May led to scab affecting the crop,” says Abdula Gaffar Qazi, 50. ”Even when some farmers sprayed pesticides, the rain washed it away.”  

Extreme weather patterns impact the size, quality and quantity of the crop, says Dr Tariq Rasool Rather, a senior scientist at Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences. 

Depending on whether scab affects the crop during the summer or spring season, apple quality can decline to a B or C grade.

Ghulam Mohammad Bhat, 58, a farmer from the Chadoora area of Kashmir’s Budgam district, says he has never witnessed such unusual weather patterns in the region before. 

“Hailstorm in May damaged my crop,” he says, adding that a prolonged dry spell in August and September caused water scarcity, leading to diminished colour in the apples.

Mr Bhat’s apple orchard is spread over five acres but more than half of the trees are infected with scab. 

Data from Jammu and Kashmir’s meteorology department shows the frequency of severe weather occurrences in the ecologically sensitive Kashmir Valley has increased over the past seven years.

Over 550 people have been killed in extreme weather events in Jammu and Kashmir between 2010 and 2022, it says.

On 18 July 2021, Kashmir witnessed the hottest July in eight years with a record temperature of 35C (95F). Earlier that year in January, the valley had also recorded the coldest night in 30 years.

According to Faizan Arif Keng, an independent weather forecaster in Kashmir, the region witnessed dry weather with temperatures approximately 12C above normal from March to mid-April this year, resulting in early flowering of apple crops. But the weather then changed abruptly and temperatures remained below normal until June. 

“This ‘false spring’ damaged the crop,” he says. 

Extreme weather makes crop transportation also a major challenge for farmers. 

Harvest starts in autumn season. But the valley remains cut off from the rest of the world in winters because of the landslides on the treacherous Srinagar-Jammu national highway, the only road that connects the region to the other states of the country. 

It’s common to see hundreds of trucks carrying apples stranded for days if landslides block the highway. 

Vijay Taira, vice-president of the Kashmir Apple Merchants Association in the Azadpur fruit market in Delhi, says there’s been an influx of Iranian apples in India’s fruit markets.

This, growers say, affects the Kashmiri apple’s market share and its price

“Only two weeks ago, a box of Kashmiri apples would sell at 1,000-1,300 rupees in India’s fruit markets,” says Ahmad Bashir, president of the Kashmir Valley Fruit Growers Cum Dealer Union (KVFG). ”Now, it is being sold at 800 rupees a box, which does not even cover the cost of production.”

The Indian government’s decision to waive off a 20% tariff on apples imported from the United States has also left farmers in distress over drop in prices, he says.

In November, KVFG wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, seeking his intervention in resolving the crisis.

The region’s horticulture department says these issues can only be resolved at the federal level.

“We have raised these concerns with the government,” says Manzoor Ahmad Mir, deputy director of the department. “Only they can take a call [on it].” 

Kashmiri apple farmers also worry the government is not cracking down on dealers selling spurious or sub-standard pesticides. 

“If the pesticides were of reliable quality, the scab in our orchards would be less,” Mr Bhat says.

Shafiqa Khalid, also a deputy director at the region’s horticulture department, says strong action has been taken against accused dealers and criminal cases have been filed against them.

Problems arise when farmers don’t heed advisories regarding pesticide spray schedule, she says.

When apple farmers don’t make good income, the “consumption which drives the domestic economy” is directly impacted, Mr Ayoub, the economist, explains. 

“The money flows in the market and reaches many people associated with different kinds of trade,” he says. “So, if the money stops, people from all walks of life will be impacted.”

(BBC)

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