Retail inflation at 5-year high of 7.3% in December

Paper: GS-III

Topic: Marketing of agricultural produce and issues and related constraints; e-technology in the aid of farmers

Prelims: Operation GREENS

What’s the News?

Retail inflation soared to a five and a half year high of 7.35% in December 2019, with the shortage of onions driving the surge.

Reasons behind Price Rise:

  • This year’s unusual combination of delayed onset of the southwest monsoon (resulting in reduced/late kharif sowings) and prolonged unseasonal rains in October-November (damaging the standing crop at the harvesting stage) has caused significant supply disruptions.
  • The impact of it has been felt most in vegetables, which have registered the highest inflation of almost 36 per cent for November.
  • One of the prime reasons behind high volatility in onion prices stems from a lack of storage facilities that have not kept pace with rising production The traditional storage practices incur losses as high as 40 percent. About 60 percent of onion production is in the rabi season, sown in December-January and harvested in April-May
  • This is the onion which is stored by farmers and traders and it meets export as well as domestic demand till the arrival of the Kharif onion crop, which is sown in May-June and harvested in October-November
  • The late Kharif crop is sown in August-September and harvested in January-February. Kharif onion is of rather poor quality and cannot be stored for very long
  • The prices tend to rise in October-November when rabi onion stocks are almost depleted and Kharif onion is yet to hit the market, or if the Kharif crop is damaged, as is the case this year

Possible Solutions:

  • NAFED, which is entrusted with price stabilisation, should procure at least 2-3 lakh tonnes at the rabi harvest time (April-May), ensuring that farmers get at least Rs 12-15/kg, when they were getting Rs 4-8/kg. This will save onion farmers from a price-crash and give them reasonable profits, incentivising production and exports. But these stored onions will incur storage costs. Storages at farm level suffer losses of about 20-25 per cent, which can be brought down to 5-10 per cent with modern cold storages.
  • Second, use trade policy for price stabilization. In case of a bumper crop, promote exports and in case of a deficit crop, encourage imports. This has to be done well in advance — as soon as one comes to know the advance estimates of production.
  • Third, encourage the setting up of onion dehydrating units and promote demand for dehydrated onions amongst large consumers (restaurants, fast food chains, army, hospitals, etc)
  • Dehydrated onions are being exported to Japan, Europe, Russia, US and some African countries The Ministry of Food Processing and state governments can encourage entrepreneurs to avail grants for setting up onion dehydration and processing units

Conclusion

  • Currently, India exports 85 per cent of its dehydrated onions, and is the largest exporter of dehydrated onions in the world. Dehydrated products are much cheaper to store and are more durable. They can help check the spikes in onion prices.
  • This will reduce wastage and help farmers get a fair price and consumers can switch to these dehydrated onions in the lean season at affordable prices. If the government can take these steps, it will not only know its onions but also farmers.

‘Virtual human’ NEONs — how do they work

GS Paper III

Topic: Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life

Prelims: NEONs- artificial humans

What’s the News?

A Samsung lab on 14th January 2020 unveiled a digital avatar it described as an AI-powered “artificial human, called Neon.

Neon:

  • NEONs – a computationally created virtual being that looks and behaves like a real human, with the ability to show emotions and intelligence. The word derives from NEO (new) + humaN.
  • They look and behave like real humans, and could one day develop memories and emotions — though from behind a 4K display. It won’t be wrong to call them life-size human avatars, or maybe a human interface for whatever you want to do with technology.
  • The virtual humans can show emotions when manually controlled by their creators. But the idea is for NEONs to become intelligent enough to be fully autonomous, showing emotions, learning skills, creating memories, and being intelligent on their own.

Potential uses:

  • They can be “friends, collaborators, and companions. They will answer your queries at a bank, welcome you at a restaurant, or read out the breaking news on television at an unearthly hour.
  • This form of virtual assistance would be more effective, for example, while teaching languages, as NEONs will be capable of understanding and sympathising.

Virtual Assistants and Virtual Humans:

  • Virtual assistants (Artificial intelligence) learn from all the data they are plugged into. NEONs will be limited to what they know and learn.
  • Unlike AI assistants, Neons do not know it all, and they are not an interface to the internet to ask for weather updates or to play your favourite music rather they will be a friend to speak to and share experiences with.
  • Their leaning could potentially be limited to the person they are catering to, and maybe her friends — but not the entire Internet.
  • Unlike AI Assistants, it does not manipulate any scene, videos, or sequence, and instead creates unique behaviours and interactions in real time. CORE R3 creates new realities.

Issue:

It’s potential to create deepfakes, or videos of real people looking like they’re saying or doing something they didn’t.

Conclusion:

The chatbots looking like eerily realistic people and apparently aren’t intended to replace us but “to make us more human.”