Chapter 6: Cap and Share in India by James Bruges

Should the funds from Cap and Share be distributed equally to individuals or are there better ways of using them? Indians are even more in need of financial help than those suffering from austerity programmes in the west, but I give reasons why it would be better to distribute to community organisations in India. I will start with some comments on climate and also cover related economic issues.

A changing climate could lead to suffering and death on an unimaginable scale, so let’s think of our use of fossil fuels as a disease, a cancerous tumour that must be removed from society if it is to survive.

The rising cost of these fuels is one of the reasons the economy has been destabilised, but which is more important, a stable economy or survival? Perhaps we can have both if we rely only on renewable energy and change the monetary system. For any policy-maker with an ounce of intelligence this should have been obvious for a hundred years, as is suggested by this statement: “The unexpected legacy of fossil fuels leads us to lose sight of the principle of a durable economy, which needs to be based exclusively on the regular influx of energy from the sun’s radiation.” It was said by Wilhelm Ostwalt who received the Nobel prize in Chemistry in 1909. His statement is a stark example of homo sapiens’ ability to ignore inconvenient truths.

Cap and Share was developed by Feasta (Foundation for the Economics of Sustainability), and is a radical and realistic policy for weaning us off fossil fuels within a defined period.

If applied globally, Cap and Share would require a United Nations agency to put a ceiling on the amount of coal, gas and oil that can be extracted from the ground each year, gradually reducing to zero. All companies that mine these fuels would need to buy emission allocations from the agency before selling their fuels. The agency would distribute the funds raised to a Trust in each country in proportion to its adult population. These national Trusts would only be recognised by the UN if their policies relate directly to issues of climate and poverty. A quarter of the funds generated would be retained to finance measures that benefit those that are not yet adult.

Income from the sale of allocations is likely to increase as demand for increasingly scarce fuels rises, though the income will not rise steadily until the fuels run out. When petrol, for example, is no longer the most common fuel for vehicles it will become increasingly uneconomical to maintain a network of petrol pumps, and increasingly difficult to sell cars that are made to run on petrol. So the income from petrol will rise until it reaches a plateau where people can’t afford it and alternative fuels take over, after which there will be a sudden collapse of income. The same pattern will develop for the heating of buildings using gas-fired boilers and for the use of energy-intensive fertiliser for agriculture.

So there will be a tipping point with a wholesale shift from fossil sources to renewable sources for energy. There are wildly different guesses for when the tipping point will be reached but it could be in 15 to 20 years. The funds raised by Cap and Share, therefore, would not be a steadily increasing stream, but would rise and then suddenly collapse.

Such a global agreement seems wishful thinking in the present state of global politics. I’m also becoming sceptical about the possibility of overarching policies to solve the world’s problems. The only time heads of state agreed on climate issues was at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. In the two decades since then lobby groups have managed to prevent their agenda being implemented. It seems that failure is due to ‘bigness’, in parallel with failure of the various ‘isms’ – communism and capitalism – that advocates have tried to impose at a global scale.

Cap and Share can be applied within a country unilaterally in the absence of a global agreement. At present two regional versions have been devised for developed countries. As formulated in Ireland, all adults would be given an equal number of emission coupons, reducing each year, for sale to companies that mine or import fossil fuels. Cap and Dividend is a similar proposal for the USA where emission allowances would be auctioned to fuel companies and the proceeds would be distributed to all citizens equally (a similar policy already exists in Alaska with the distribution of income from oil extraction to all citizens). Both these approaches are designed to achieve the surgery – removing the fossil-fuel tumour – that is Cap and Share’s primary objective.

India could also act unilaterally. It could set a cap on the use of fossil fuels and establish a Trust that would raise funds by auctioning allocations to producers and importers of these fuels within its borders: so far the same as for developed countries. It is the share that should be handled differently. Anandi Sharan is an economist who carried out a study of Cap and Share for India in 2008 to assess the level of funding that might be raised. Since then the concept has had exposure in the country. For the share, she considers that India already has an appropriate mechanism for helping the poor majority.

The Indian elite is euphoric about its economic growth, though spiralling inequality is likely to land them with catastrophic problems, as is happening with us. The country has a long alternative history of seeking a sustainable future for the majority of its population through panchayat raj, a policy that devolves decision-making to the lowest level of community organisation. These are two opposing forces in Indian politics. The first – ‘shining India’ – aims to create wealth for the nation through the western economic model and is, nationally, the dominant political force. The other, based on Gandhi’s ideas for local self-government, has a huge backing of activists, and is the dominant policy in some states. So should we be aiming at a ‘monetary’ Cap and Share as in developed countries, or should we work through policies that are already in use in India to help the poor? Sharan recommends the latter and I cannot help but agree. The Irish and US approaches are based on money and the individual. The panchayat raj approach is based on land and the community. Panchayat raj is particularly appropriate for rural areas that contain the majority of the country’s population, mostly getting a living from the land, and mostly poor.

Under panchayat raj, the funds from Cap and Share would go to village and city groups (gram sabhas and wards) based on their population numbers. These groups, themselves, would decide how to manage the funds. It is an embodiment of the statement made by Gandhi in 1925, “Freedom is to be attained by educating the people to a sense of their capacity to regulate and control authority.”

At this stage I had better mention my limited credentials for commenting. My childhood, up to the age of twelve, was spent in India. I have visited the subcontinent for the last fifteen years. My friends Stan and Mari Thekaekara have worked with adivasis (tribal people) for the whole of their adult lives. Mari also works with, and campaigns on behalf of, dalit latrine workers. Their AMS cooperative (also known as Just Change) is run by groups that produce essential commodities and enables its members to buy these commodities at the cost of production. This is just one example of the benefits of control by communities.

In 2002 I met Dr Cletus Babu, the founder of SCAD (Social Change and Development), a large NGO in Tamil Nadu that works with villages and small- scale farmers. In 2008 we discussed biochar: its role in tackling global warming and the benefit it might bring to the farmers with whom SCAD is in touch. He immediately saw its importance and asked if we could collaborate. With David Friese-Greene I am now involved with the Soil Fertility Project at SCAD, which uses biochar fertiliser to replace synthetic NPK, and increase the yield of crops on a permanent basis. Removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is not the motivating force for the farmers. I mention this project because it demonstrates how lasting benefit can be achieved by small-scale farmers in ways other than receiving a handout of cash.

Incidentally, I asked Cletus whether SCAD could handle the distribution of Cap and Share funds to individuals, and he rejected the idea. It would distort the communal self-help philosophy he had followed over twenty-five years and SCAD would have to set up and manage an unwieldy bureaucracy in which the dangers of corruption and favouritism would be a constant source of anxiety. Due to his reaction I would question the possibility of finding independent and reliable organisations that could handle the distribution of funds.

I have also taken part in climate seminars in Kerala. It was at one of these that I explained Cap and Share and was severely shot down on the method we propose for the ‘share’. They, unanimously, considered that the equal distribution of funds to individuals, over the 15-year duration of the policy, could be socially disastrous and provide little long-term benefit.

Reflecting on these experiences I assembled some thoughts on the subject, though these are little more than comments that any casual visitor to the subcontinent might make. I am particularly grateful to Anandi Sharan for discussing, correcting and providing further information.

Global climate negotiations are ongoing, but it seems unlikely that a binding UN protocol to limit emissions will be achieved anytime soon. However, a global Climate Commons Trust, set up by civil society, could promote the concept and seek support from countries that wish to take part (as mentioned earlier in this book). These countries could adopt separate initiatives – like the Irish approach for Europe, and Cap and Dividend in the US – and take measures to protect themselves from unfair competition.

Each country may have its own reasons for restricting its use of fossil fuels: it may have a principled awareness of the need for all large nations to play their part in tackling climate change, it may wish to wean itself off dependence on increasingly expensive imported fuels, it may wish to move its industries from technologies of the past to those of the future, it may be aware of the need to
protect itself from tariffs and sanctions, or it may respond to a combination of several incentives.

Countries will be reluctant to reduce their own use of fossil fuels if this means their products suffer a comparative disadvantage. They should therefore be allowed to levy an import tax on carbon-intensive products in order to bring prices of imported goods into line with domestic ones. This tax would only apply to products from countries that do not restrict their own use of fossil fuels. This, of course, requires changes to relevant regulations imposed by the World Trade Organisation. The attempt by the US to prevent China subsidising its renewable energy technology indicates how important it is for climate policies to take precedence over international free-trade agreements.

In both the EU and the US versions of Cap and Share the ‘share’ aims to make the ‘cap’ acceptable to the public within the country through the distribution of money. But, as I found in the seminars mentioned above, there is a feeling that this would be wholly inappropriate in India. About half of all Indians are dependent on the land and on the public distribution system for subsidised food grains at Rs 1-3 (1-3 pence) per kilogram. For these people to benefit in the longer term, the money should be better used to improve the yield of their crops and achieve sources of energy and fertiliser that will survive the demise of fossil fuels. This would not be achieved if the funds were distributed direct to individuals.

A quarter of the country’s population, 300 million, are adivasis (indigenous people) and forest dwellers. Many adivasis look to the mutual support of their tribe rather than to individual accumulation of wealth. I have met some of these tribes through the Thekaekaras and it is clear that the money-based economy of the modern state is disrupting their system of mutual support, and causing serious social problems.

The relatively recent imposition of western economic practice has resulted in India becoming one of the most unequal nations in the world. Graph after graph in The Spirit Level, a book by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, show how social problems in developed countries are directly related to the inequality within those countries. India has taken it one step further: the government is waging war on its own people in its pursuit of economic growth. I refer to the many forest people who are struggling to assert their rights and gain control of India’s forests under the Forest Rights Act. The government is using the Forest Department to make the land available for mining and the steel industry and treating the forest people and their sympathisers as ‘insurgents’, thus forcing them into the hands of Maoists activists who give assistance that the government fails to provide. Having defined them in this way the government is now brutalising its own people in Chhatisgarh, Orissa and West Bengal. Binayak Sen, who had worked as a doctor extending health care to poor people in Chhatisgarh, advocating non-violent political engagement, was jailed for life for merely talking to ‘insurgents’. This caused furious protests across the country and, following a ruling by the Supreme Court, he was released on bail.

Though the elite in India is steeped in commercialism and western economic values there remains a strong political movement for raising the quality of life of the poor majority.

Classical definitions refer to economy as “land, labour and capital”. Taken in that order, the meaning comes close to traditional Indian values. ‘Land’, standing for the environment (earth, water, sky and living things), is the source of all wealth. This is particularly relevant to India where so much of the population is directly dependent on the land. ‘Labour’ refers to the wellbeing of society, and is the focus of socialist thinking that has had a big influence on Indian politics since independence. ‘Capital’ refers to the role of money – a social construct and a unit of account – which should take its place as an enabler, not as the source or the definition of wealth.

In Indian mythology, land is mother earth that has sacred trees and groves to which access is restricted. Mountains are the abode of gods, not challenges to be conquered. Linked to land’s physical properties is the Indian attitude to animals. One finds the elephant-headed Ganesha – the charmed son of Shiva and Parvati – sitting on the dashboards of taxis giving luck (they need it!). In my photos of rural families a cow is almost always included in the group. An animal may have been a person in a previous life, and you may be re-born as an animal.

So ‘land’ – rather than money (capital) – holds the meaning of wealth in traditional Indian thinking. This may be why the seminars objected so strongly to our approach to the use of funds. A 15-year windfall income should be devoted to providing those things that the poor need from the land on a sustainable basis. True development must protect and enhance the properties of the earth, water, sky and biodiversity. People, particularly those directly dependent on the land, will derive long-term benefit particularly if the soil’s fertility can be enhanced on a permanent basis, hence my interest in biochar.

Western attitudes to economics are so entrenched that I would like to comment on the reasons why they are causing harm. It is often mentioned, correctly, that both debt and growth are the foundations of our economy: ‘this is how economies work, how they have given us prosperity. The rules cannot be changed.’ They say! They admit, however, that it is a man-made construct dependent on confidence. By definition, therefore, the rules can be changed. And recent events indicate that they must be fundamentally changed. It is no longer possible to ignore evidence that the rules are unsustainable for economic activity, for society and for the environment.

To understand the centrality of debt it is necessary to understand how money is brought into circulation. A full description of this process is described in The New Economics Foundation’s guide, Where Does Money Come From? (October 2011), and summarised on the Positive Money website. But I will attempt a layman’s description. Banks do not just manage the money we use. They create it. Whenever they make a loan they bring money into existence. It is money that did not previously exist. If all businesses and people paid back the money they had borrowed from banks there would be no money in circulation and the economy would collapse. This is why, in a recession, we are not encouraged to save but to borrow and buy in order to get the economy back on its feet.

Then consider the profit the banks make from being allowed to create money. You take out a mortgage for £200,000 at 7% interest. At the end of its 10 years period you will have paid back the loan, but on top of that you will have paid an equal amount in interest. The only cost to the bank has been typing figures into a computer at, say, £5,000. So with £5000 outlay the bank will have made a profit of £195,000. No other organisation can match that as a business model! All the money that banks create attracts interest, which is why they are described as the lords of the universe living on a financial planet all of their own.

This gives a hint at the faults of the western monetarist model. One might just add a couple of comments by the governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King: “It is hard to see why institutes whose failure cannot be contemplated should be in the private sector.” And, “Of all the many ways of organising banking, the worst is the one we have today.”

So much for debt. It is also called a growth economy because the economy has to grow in order to add interest to the money lent. This means that an increasing amount of resources have to be used. Metals have to be mined and more food has to be produced. It was the fashion among economists to question this during the 1995-2000 ‘dot-com’ bubble that saw huge economic activity requiring little resource input. But after the bubble burst economists became too embarrassed to pursue this hypothesis. Most of the growth required by the system is for luxuries not essentials. We are urged to buy things we don’t need with money we do not have. If our financial regulation requires growth then the finite resources of the world are threatened. Kenneth Boulding, economist, educator and Quaker, summed up the absurdity of a system dependent on growth: “Anyone who believes in indefinite growth in anything physical, on a physically finite planet, is either mad or an economist.”

I find it interesting that passages in the first chapters of the Bible set out ideas for an economy. The two critical rules are an embargo on charging interest- on-money, and that debt should be cancelled every 50 years. This approach protects the debtor as well as the creditor. Ours only protects the creditor. It suggests to me that it could be morally and legally right to default on certain debts both by nations and by individuals.

The rural poor are not benefiting from ‘shining India’. Debt is causing a epidemic of suicides, their land has been degraded by synthetic fertilisers, and the emphasis on industrial development is reducing land and making the country dependent on imported food, which the poor can’t afford. We should not discourage India from the more holistic approach of the panchayat raj.

Labour and land in our system are treated as little more than financial assets to be bought and sold at the dictates of the market. Land, in particular. 70 percent of our land is owned by 0.3 percent of the population. The Duke of Buccleach owns 110,000 hectares, a situation incomprehensible in India where land distribution and a ceiling on land ownership are political benchmarks. Mari Thekaekara was staggered when she heard that one man could own so much land. She commented, “What does he do with it all? Does he farm it or even visit it? Does he know the people who live there?” Our legal system protects this large chunk of the nation’s land as a source of income for an individual. John Stuart Mill made a relevant comment in 1848, “Landlords grow richer in their sleep without working, risking or economising.”

The increase in the value of land, arising as it does from the efforts of an entire community, should belong to the community and not to the individual who might hold title. Bankers love our system, of course. They need to invest their millions somewhere, so it is in the interest of people with money that prime land in cities, for example, should constantly increase in value. In a recession the productive sector – like industry – is risky and receives minimal investment. When the banks were bailed out the majority of this money went into assets, like land, not into small businesses that would increase employment. The banks love secrecy so that money from Russian oligarchs and African kleptocrats via tax havens pushes up the value of assets ever further. Even agricultural land is subject to the same casino. Half the funding of the Conservative party comes from City sources, and three-quarters of the coalition cabinet are millionaires (Cameron £4m, Osborne £4.6m, Clegg £1.9m). Would it be impolite to suggest that this influences the government to act on advice from the very people that created the financial chaos from which we are all suffering? Why else does it allow the value of assets to spiral upwards? Why else does the government not channel funds direct to the productive sector rather than bailing out the banks? Why does it oppose the Tobin tax? The resultant dramatic increase in inequality is leading to widespread unrest though, hopefully, not up to the scale of the French Revolution. One might add that three-quarters of Indian ministers are multimillionaires.

We should learn from Indian philosophy that land is the source of all real wealth. Its rise in value is almost always created by decisions of the community – through, for example, planning laws, transport provision, public open space – but this rise in value goes to the individuals that exploit it. The obvious answer is a Land Value Tax, which could significantly reduce taxes on production (income tax and VAT) and bring us more in line with classical economics and Indian philosophy. For obvious reasons the banks and the cabinet oppose it.

Who should decide on the action to be taken in the use of funds generated by Cap and Share?

India has a highly developed concept of what we term subsidiarity. At one extreme is Britain’s centralised government where little freedom is allowed even for local authorities. At the other extreme was Mahatma Gandhi’s abiding concern with local self-government (panchayat raj) with decisions taken at village level (gram sabha) by all inhabitants, who would only refer to higher authorities matters that could not be decided at this level. Nehru thought panchayat raj was inimical to economic development and he was probably right, though his concept of development can be questioned. Gandhi’s approach indicates a totally different concept of human development and this might have taken us down a route that would not have led to the present global crises. The panchayat raj policy persisted among some states and was revived by Rajiv Gandhi, finding its way into the constitution in 1993 after his death.

Panchayat raj in the constitution devolves significant powers to local institutions and allows the government to deal directly with them, bypassing State administrations if necessary. However the policy is managed pragmatically. States have a veto in the process, and can decide which decisions are taken at the local level, though the panchayats have responsibility over development work: irrigation, education, health, road-building etc. States, through the State Finance Commission, have the final say in how much money is devolved to this third tier of government. Kerala devolves over a third of plan-funds for programmes designed and executed by local institutions, while officials and technical experts help villagers to set their own priorities. This has resulted, in Kerala, in the careful management of natural resources such as soil, water and forests. Other states, such as neighbouring Karnataka, devolve practically no funds.

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, MGNREG, currently delivers around Rs40,000 (€660) a year to a family with four wage earners, and it distributes up to Rs150,000 (€2,500) per acre for land-based soil improvements, sapling and so on. It also guarantees 100 days of public works at around Rs80 (€1.30) per day (though this is below the minimum wage and should therefore be illegal). India is currently debating how to implement a welfare state as well as the development model for the next five-year plan. Anandi Sharan and her colleagues have also argued that India needs a Universal National Guaranteed Minimum Wage to ensure the transition to sustainable development happens without the minimal lifeline protection from the MGNREG Act being withdrawn.

Panchayat raj, therefore, provides a pragmatic approach allowing negotiation between the parties involved. The first port of call is the village council or town ward, where the law states that decisions should be by consensus. Then the gram panchayat of elected members covering several villages. Then block and district panchayats. Town municipalities are the next higher level for urban localities. It will take a revolution in India to implement the principle of subsidiarity since elites have captured the agencies of the state at state and Union level and will not let go. Though, on a positive note, the revolution has already started in Bihar, where an immensely popular janata dal (United) led by Nitish Kumar recently won a second term on a mandate of transparent clean development based on agriculture and land reform. What happens in Bihar could spread to other states.

Anandi Sharan’s 2008 study found that, under a money-based Cap and Share, the annual earnings of a family in the lowest tenth of the population would rise from about Rs5,000 (€85) to Rs100,000 (€1,660) if the price of CO2 reaches €100 per tonne. More if the price of CO2 rises further. A domestic Cap and Share would obviously generate less income for the family. In recent discussions she rejects this individualistic approach and makes the important observation that the process of democracy would suffer through individualism but is enhanced by participation in the panchayat system.

Both the panchayat raj and the MGNREG indicate that India has an elected local government structure that is ready and available for the handling of funds generated by Cap and Share, whether from a global scheme or from the auction of emission allowances in India. This process determines which bodies should receive funds and for what purpose they should be used. Importantly, it is an existing structure that would be strengthened by Cap and Share and would remain after Cap and Share ceases to provide funds.

Most of the Indian population is dependent on the land. Until recently India has been self-sufficient in food but this is no longer the case. The government is making matters worse by giving priority to industry and the extraction of resources. Davinder Sharma reports that in one agricultural state, Uttar Pradesh, the government has designated over a quarter of its rich farming land for industrial use, and has also terminated the ceiling on land ownership. A majority of the farmers do not want to dispense with their ancestral land. Displaced farmers get a bonanza when their land is taken but how long will these funds last? Perhaps the farmers may get jobs in cities, perhaps not. The government argues that only industry can increase the nation’s wealth and this will enable food to be bought from abroad. A recent study, however, found that the marginal cost of importing one tonne of corn costs £150, but only £30 if sourced domestically using fertilisers. And if world prices rise as forecast… Without land the displaced farmers will have to buy all the food they need rather than surviving largely on their own produce. Gone are the days when Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, said: “It is very humiliating for any country to import food. So everything else can wait, but not agriculture.”

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is now warning of a food crisis that will lead to global scarcity and higher prices for imported food. This will be on top of food price inflation in India, which has been over 12% for two years. Rising fuel and fertiliser costs will continue to put pressure on food-production, and thus on consumer prices.

These issues of domestic policies and global shortages point to the urgent need to direct funds towards quasi-landless agricultural labourers, with a need for land reform and community managed sustainable agriculture. These needs are clearly understood by the gram sabhas that would determine policy under panchayat raj.

Another remarkable aspect of India is its acceptance of pluralism. For example, it allows all regional languages to be used, seventeen of which are printed on banknotes. This contrasts with neighbouring countries that tried to impose a single national language. The civil war in Sri Lanka was largely caused by the insistence on only Sinhala to be used while Tamil was outlawed. In Bangladesh Jinnah’s insistence that Urdu should be the only language led to secession. Again this suggests a pragmatic, rather than dogmatic, approach where the use of funds should be targeted on policies that would benefit the majority in the long term with local needs in mind. It could be that gram panchayats and city wards would be responsible for administering part of the funds, and higher levels to administer climate issues that could not be managed at the local levels.

Cap and Share is largely concerned with reducing emissions. But there is also a need to reduce existing concentrations of carbon in the atmosphere. Biochar is the only ‘natural’ way to do this if we wish to avoid the unpredictability of geoengineering. I will finish by mentioning an initiative in India.
SCAD, Social Change and Development, is a non-governmental organisation in Tamil Nadu introducing the use of biochar to the thousands of farmers with whom it deals. The primary objective is to increase the yield of crops but it would also permanently lock carbon into the soil.

Biochar is charcoal, largely carbon, of a type that can improve the fertility of soil. All soils contain some charcoal left from forest fires over the centuries, and the use of charcoal in agriculture has a long history in India though it fell
out of use with the introduction of synthetic fertilisers that provide plants with the main nutrients they need. Land is degraded when the interaction of plants and soil has been broken by synthetic fertilisers, and much of the land in SCAD’s area is now described as semi-desert. These fertilisers are becoming increasingly expensive and government subsidy for them is reducing, so farmers are looking for other ways to maintain the yield of their crops.

SCAD became enthusiastic about charcoal when a banana grower in the area, Pattu Murugeshan, said that he had been using charcoal and ash from a rice mill for four years. His use of water had halved, his need for labour and fertilisers had reduced and the yield of bananas had increased by a third. His neighbours had been adopting the same practice.

SCAD’s Soil Fertility Project is using biochar made from an invasive scrubland bush, prosopis, and from agricultural waste. Traditional charcoal making is avoided because of health hazards and its need to use wood. Instead, the pilot scheme has a robust charcoal pyrolyser that is being developed by BiG (Black is Green Pty) of Australia and now also being made under licence in India. The other main equipment is an anaerobic digester designed and made by Biotech in Kerala, the neighbouring state, which is run on green cooking waste from the central kitchen of a 5,000 student college, plus green waste from town markets.

Slurry from the digester is combined with biochar to make biochar fertiliser. While ordinary compost is of value to the soil, its benefits are temporary. With biochar fertiliser soil fertility increases on a permanent basis since the carbon structure of biochar provides refuge in cavities for moisture as well as for microbes, fungi and mycorrhizae that migrate from the digester slurry. An added benefit is that gas from the digester provides fuel for cooking and for generating electricity. The only input is waste plant material and labour. The pilot project includes rigorous scientific tests as well as field trials and some distribution to farmers and women’s groups.

If the demonstrations are successful it is anticipated that demand will increase, villages will produce their own slurry and a mobile pyrolysis unit will process dry feedstock that they gather. The use of biochar fertiliser will at least partly replace synthetic fertilisers and, hopefully, the practice will spread among farmers.

This is, of course, a simplified description but it points to the possibility of soil enhancement and increased yield within a self-feeding cyclical process. Above all, it is a community project, which achieves benefits and strengthens the SCAD community.

Cap and Share would help in providing the necessary funds for research, for the initial introduction of appropriate equipment, for access to markets, for farmers’ secure use of land (long-term improvements will not happen without this) and for encouraging the practice generally. The SCAD project is funded by a private charity and is carrying out its research with the help of CSIRO in Australia and the Universities of Limerick and Edinburgh.

These farmers are driven by the need to increase yield, not by a desire to extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. However, all plants capture CO2 through photosynthesis, and when charred and buried the carbon remains in the soil. Small-scale farmers manage much of the world’s productive land and the universal use of biochar by them could be a – possibly the – major contributor to reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.


Panchayat raj: traditional local assembly to settle disputes between individuals and villages. Recent governments have decentralised several administrative functions to the village level empowering elected gram panchayats.
Gram sabha: The quarterly meeting of the village panchayat, open to men and women over 18 years old, where all decisions of community development should take place.
Ward: administrative unit of a city.