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Sunday, May 10, 2020 14:45 [IST]

Last Update: Sunday, May 10, 2020 09:04 [IST]


India’s Eastern Himalayas are unique in today’s global economy. 70% of the region still depends on agriculture as its primary source of income and industrialization is not as pervasive feature of the region’s economy as it is in the rest of India, or globally. While this has meant slower economic growth compared to the rest of the country, the region is uniquely poised to seize the unique opportunity to build a green economy with minimal disruption during the transition period.
The post-COVID recovery offers the perfect opportunity to catalyze this transformation across the North East. The greatest scope for growth lies in our rural areas, but this must not be achieved through a conversion and assimilation of the rural to the urban. The global tendency towards increasing urbanization as economies ascend the income ladder has been overwhelmingly responsible for the environmental degradation we see today – urban areas are estimated to be responsible for 70% of the world’s carbon emissions, consume 60% of the world’s energy and produce over 2 billion tonnes of waste annually of which a third is dumped openly or burned.
The NaturenomicsTM perspective on economy offers opportunities for growth in the region, by building on ecological value creation businesses such as mindful tourism and agroforestry, enhancing environment, economy and social well-being for all communities.  The question for this transformation is how – how do we build it and how do we achieve it.
Historically, though natural capital has been critical in economic growth, its value flows through the economy remain invisible and unmeasured. Economists derive value through efficient asset utilization – land, labour, capital and natural resources – to produce commodities that generate market value. Ecological value, on the other hand, is measured through complex intersecting factors such as the complexity of the ecosystem, its connections with other ecosystems, the scarcity of the ecosystem, its vulnerability, and its contribution to biodiversity. Its value is based on the ability to sustain through the complex inter-relationships in the ecosystem.
Friction occurs at this intersection of nature and economics, but it does not have to. The choice between economic growth and sustaining natural resources need not be a zero-sum game.  Economic development can be achieved while sustaining and restoring our natural resources. This is the spirit within which we conceptualized Naturenomics™ - the interdependence of ecology and economy.
NaturenomicsTM is a paradigm shift, a blue sky approach for transforming consumption-centred economic growth into regeneratively centering natural capital and natural assets. This economy focuses on securing 6 key parameters – land, energy, waste, water, air and carbon (LEWWAC). In practical terms, this means deriving our food and water needs through effective land and water resource management and not by exploiting these resources, by satisfying our energy needs through hydrogen and solar based fuels rather than carbon based fuels, and satisfying our ever increasing appetite for materials by increasing reuse and recycling and not by increasing extraction.
This paradigm shift must be supported by a framework for valuing nature assets of an economy, and to develop a scorecard of performance based on nature based indicators. This can then be mapped with the economic indicators to get a true picture of value creation or depletion.We need to develop a 'green accounting methodology' (GAM) and a Nature Quotient (NQ) - a list of nature parameters to measure ecological value and performance. By rendering visible natural capital flows, this paves the way for creating natural asset use and regeneration plans to achieve sustainability.
India’s Eastern Himalayas’ rural regions are ripe with ecologically-centred growth opportunities. The region is natural capital rich – a hectare of forest land in Assam is worth approximately INR 713,272. Building Rural Futures by driving natural capital-based livelihoods will build strong local economies, centering agroforestry and mindful tourism, as well as supporting businesses up the value chain.
Rural Futures is an action framework for restoring and enhancing natural assets, by building new livelihoods and value chains around forestry and agroecology at a grassroots level. With incomes pegged to the restoration and regeneration of natural assets, communities are further economically incentivized to continue managing these assets, as well as creating new assets for further growth. This self-reinforcing cycle for natural capital creation propels local economies into a new growth phase centered. This natural capital creation can be further enhanced through:
?    Agriculture - creating the next green revolution by optimising the economic value add of land through agroecology, and developing agro-based intellectual capital
?    Fisheries - centre of excellence for freshwater inland fish, fish farming
?    Forestry–sustainable agroforestry, natural capital estimation
?    Water management - creating a water driven revolution through indigenous knowledge-based water management systems
?    Clean energy–renewables and off-grid options, harvest and reduce wastage of the abundant resources in the region for energy
?    Tourism - creating destination for discerning travellers through a 3-pronged nature, culture and religion approach
Each of these industries will support enhanced new value chains, creating a multiplier effect in the regional economy. Some of these industries would include biopesticides, bio-fertilizers, organic & agroforestry certification and sustainable bamboo packaging. Investment in nature capital is critical to restore, sustain and expand the ecosystem.
In addition, to support these verticals, investments would need to be made in creating the infrastructure of the future – sustainable, low-carbon connectivity, renewable grids, end to end waste management and recycling systems – and enhancing universal basic assets, such as education and healthcare, for communities.
Natural capital is the backbone of our economy. In the interest of saving and integrating the rural into the post-COVID stimulus response for the same growth opportunities, the focus must be on enhancing their social, economic and environmental levers. This must not exploit or seek to convert the rural into the urban, but build on existing aspirations, capacities and the rich natural capital potential of its spaces. Rural Futures will enhance this transition, by strengthening the bottom of the pyramid and facilitating its rise. This is an opportunity to transform not only the economy, but to turn the North East into a powerhouse for a green, NaturenomicsTM future.
RanjitBarthakur is the President & Founder of the Balipara Foundation, and one of the leading minds behind the proprietary concept, NaturenomicsTM for the interdependency of nature and economy.
Research support by Joanna Dawson

Sikkim at a Glance

  • Area: 7096 Sq Kms
  • Capital: Gangtok
  • Altitude: 5,840 ft
  • Population: 6.10 Lakhs
  • Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 to over 28,509 ft above sea level
  • Climate:
  • Summer: Min- 13°C - Max 21°C
  • Winter: Min- 0.48°C - Max 13°C
  • Rainfall: 325 cms per annum
  • Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi