In India’s northern desert states, farmers are scrambling to harvest as much as they can of a bean with the power to lift them out of poverty. In the United States, the multi-billion dollar shale energy industry is banking on their success.U.S. companies drilling for oil and gas in shale formations have developed a voracious appetite for the powder-like gum made from the seeds of guar, or cluster bean, and the boom in their business has created a bonanza for thousands of small-scale farmers in India who produce 80 percent of the world’s beans.“Guar has changed my life,” said Shivlal, a guar farmer who made 300,000 rupees ($5,400) – five times more than his average seasonal income – from selling the beans he planted on five acres (two hectares) of sandy soil in Rajasthan state.“Now, I have a concrete house and a color TV. Next season I will even try to grow guar on the roof.”
We don’t want to jump the gun, but the shale gas industry has racked up quite an impressive record. It’s driving our country’s utility industry to switch from coal to natural gas, it’s convincing long-haul trucking companies to begin to buy natural-gas fueled trucks, and it’s also putting solid roofs over the heads of thousands of farmers in northern India. Not bad, so far.