03 January 2014

Cities of the future: Challenges for the developing world

This is my official entry to Masdar's Engage Blogging Contest for 2014

Never before has there been a convergence of science, innovation, and awareness when it comes to sustainable development. And certainly there has never been a time when cities need to rapidly adapt to the needs of the future. Cities in developing countries especially, are now uniquely positioned to leapfrog into smart cities.

A smart city is a self-contained city
Every city needs to monitor the following:
  1.  Water 
  2.  Solid waste
  3.  Electricity usage and generation 
  4.  Air quality
  5.  Transport

Infrastructure and Aesthetics
Simple infrastructural solutions will create a knock-on effect on overall sustainability.  For example, in India unique opportunities exist to create smart grids, decentralized power generation units, installation of rain-water harvesting technology, home composting units etc. In bigger cities, there are problems of traffic congestion and poor air quality. By increasing the availability of public transport, creation of pedestrian pathways, reducing the number of cars on the road through congestion charges, air quality can improve. Simultaneously there needs to be an increase in urban green spaces, green roofs, which will also make cities more pleasant to live in. Waste management is another area where many cities lag behind – recycling facilities, waste-to-energy plants and reduction of waste like plastic bags will go a long way to making cities greener.

Vision for a city of the future
My vision for a city of the future is one in which all solid waste is recycled, composted, or converted to energy. Water is managed judiciously with adequate sewage treatment facilities and biogas generation from sewage sludge is made possible. Well-planned public transport systems, with designated bike lanes, congestion charges on cars and well-lit, pedestrian pathways. Such a city will also have a smart grid with renewable of power lines, renewable sources of power and options to live ‘off-grid’. A large portion of food generation for such a city will come from vertical farms with aquaculture systems as well as community gardens.

Making the leap
Even though this may appear to be a utopian vision to the present reality of many smoke-clogged, congested cities overflowing with garbage, burdened with power shortages and poor water supply; making the leap is possible. It should be executed one neighbourhood at a time, with planning committees that includes the residents. All new buildings and developments have to be approved only with energy, water, and waste management facilities. Adequate parking and green spaces should be incorporated into the building plan. Older buildings need to be retrofitted with energy-saving smart meters, green roofs, solar panels, and other utilities to make them future friendly. Every major city can designate one neighbourhood into which these changes can be incorporated to serve as a model for the rest of the city.

Emphasis on urban planning at university level degrees, and creation of jobs in this sector will go a long way in making cities more sustainable. Building sustainable cities requires a strong reliance on infrastructure development along with holistic planning and resource allocation. Private sector investment will play a vital role in changing the landscape and driving innovation. Governments should be willing to work with private companies and attract foreign investment in order to build cities of the future. Planning should be managed in such a way so as to attract the best ideas from global experts – this combined with local knowledge should propel business and technological innovation on the front of smart urban planning. Cities are already groaning under the weight of years of mismanagement, and the time for repeating mistakes of the past should end now. 

08 March 2013

the business case for women’s empowerment

I’m writing this on International Women’s Day, well after the horrific rape cases reported in Delhi and South Africa. These incidents have shaken the world and have definitely created a renewed discussion on violence against women. As a woman in the 21st century, it pains me that women are still facing the medieval problems of gender inequality, violence, and misogyny.

The fact is that empowering women and girls has a business case. It starts first with a woman’s right to education – time and again, statistics have shown that educating women can curb a host of socio-economic problems. Women’s who have an education and who have access to support systems like microloans are twice as successful as those who do not have even basic education. There is a reason why micro businesses, ‘cottage’ industries, and rural development schemes start with women. No offense to all the men out there, but women intrinsically just get what opportunity means and grab it with a passion and work at it. This not only makes economic sense, but when uplifted from poverty, it makes sustainable business sense.

This was backed by UN Secretary Ban-Ki Moon at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20): “The private sector contributions will be crucial. We cannot achieve sustainable development without buy-in from business—from leading global corporations to small- and medium-size enterprises, from investors to entrepreneurs. Nor can we achieve sustainability—at a corporate or a global level—without empowering the world’s women.”

The second most important thing is a woman’s ownership of her body - her right to reproduce and her right to refuse. Women who are educated choose to have fewer children which puts less economic strain on their communities. Countries that respect a woman’s right to education, safety, and a better quality of life have more inclusive growth and societies that are beneficial to both genders.

Finally, respecting a woman’s right to work. Women are an essential part of the work force that contribute to global GDP. Booz and Company reports that India's GDP alone would skyrocket by approximately 27%, if an equal number of Indian women joined the workforce. Similarly, Egypt's GDP would rise by 34% if more Egyptian women began professional work. Such benefits aren't limited to countries with dismal female empowerment rates. Advanced nations also stand to gain significantly - Japan's laggard economy could rise by 9%, Argentina's by 12% while America and China could each enjoy 5% GDP growth by 2020. 

Time and again women have proved that they are equal citizens of the world, yet they are subjected to horrific crimes, brutality, and violence. Violence against women has a huge economic cost – women who report sexual harassment at work place are often overlooked for promotion, demoted, or fired to state a simple example. In Kenya, for example, 95 percent of women who had experienced sexual abuse in their workplace were afraid to report the problem for fear of losing their jobs, according to the International Labor Rights Fund.  A World Bank study has found that in Nicaragua, women who reported abuse earned 46 percent less than women who did not. Women in India lost an average of seven working days after an incident of severe violence, according to the International Center for Research on Women.  

The private sector plays a huge role in changing this. Women-centric CSR programs with a focus on sustainability development are a must. There will be battles and there will be wars.  But change will come. Change must come. 

25 April 2012

pumping indian farmers out of poverty

This is the official entry of Akhila Vijayaraghavan for the Rio Blogger Prize. The winner of the prize gets to go to Rio to cover the climate talks in June. If you like what you read, please support her and like, share, comment and tweet the original on TckTckTck’s website

One of the biggest deterrents to achieving a sustainable future is poverty. Therefore, alleviating poverty is the best way to reach balanced economic growth and social development without environmental degradation.

Farmers in India need help to get out of poverty

In India, poverty is one of the largest reasons for social problems. As a largely agrarian economy, the country is as vulnerable to climate change like any island nation. A study by Purdue University concluded that changes in the weather patterns have direct implications on the monsoons.

Farmers depend on the monsoon rains from June to September to irrigate their crops, and bad rains means a failed crop which has economic implications. India’s farmers have the highest rates of suicides, especially following a bad monsoon.

During the fallow seasons, farmers often migrate into cities looking for work. Since the entire family moves, children’s education is frequently interrupted, keeping them in a loop of poverty. 

Read the complete article here

11 April 2012

Green Business Entrepreneurs Success Summit

I'm proud to announce that GreenDen is the official media partner for The Green Business Entrepreneurs Success Summit. The Summit is a FREE virtual, week long, alternative Green MBA, featuring the visionary leaders who are defining the sustainable economy and ethical marketplace, plus marketing gurus who will help you take your conscious business to the next level.

Here are the details
The event runs from April 16-20 Earth Week 2012. To get access to the calls, please register here. This event is brought to you by Green Marketing TV.

Who Should Attend
  • Change makers seeking to unite purpose, passion and profit
  • Conscious or heart based entrepreneurs who believe in sustainability
  • Established sustainable business owners and green business professionals
  • Green marketers & green product designers
  • Forward thinking entrepreneurs driving corporate sustainability initiatives
  • Early stage green startup entrepreneurs
  • Aspiring green and social entrepreneurs researching innovative business ideas
What You Will Learn
  • Evaluating the Marketplace & Identifying Your Niche
  • Developing Your Visionary Business Idea
  • Raising Capital Through Business Plan Competitions, Crowdfunding & VC Investment
  • Growing Your Business Without Going Crazy
  • Marketing Your Business on a Bootstrap Budget

Panel Topics

Monday April 16 | Track 1 – The Growth of the Green Economy & Ethical Markets
Here we cover the state of the sustainable economy and socially responsible markets. We are going to explore the ethical marketplace, as well as uncover the hottest opportunities for green jobs and green entrepreneurship. We’ll discuss sustainable business as a global movement and the greening of mainstream America. We will discover extraordinary companies that are solving the world’s most pressing concerns and learn how they succeeded.
  • The Hottest Solar Trends & Keys to Selling Solar Online
  • Sustainable Business as A Global Movement
  • What Will It Take to Co-Create a Green Economy?
  • Making Green Sexy: Guerrilla Marketing Tactics for Small Green Businesses
  • Emerging Green Career Opportunities and How to Land your Green Dream Job
  • New Ways to Create Wealth and Grow the Ethical Economy through Socially Responsible Investing.
Tuesday April 17 | Track 2 – From Visionary Business Idea
This series will help you identify your unique genius, leave your day job, create a business plan, and embark on your journey to financial freedom. From business plan competitions, to online fundraising tools and social venture funding, we also look at some funding options for social entrepreneurs and what it takes to attract investors.
  • Keys to Manifesting Entrepreneurial Success Using the Law of Attraction
  • Hacking Social Enterprise Business Plan Competitions
  • How to Attract VC Investors to Fund Your Social Enterprise
  • From Hobby to Thriving Handmade E-Commerce Business
  • The Art of Defining Your Niche & Attracting Your Perfect Fit Clients
  • How to Launch a Successful Crowdfunding Campaign
Wednesday April 18 | Track 3 – To Thriving Green Enterprise
Once you’ve launched your sustainable social venture, what does it take to reach your target audience and scale your business, without going crazy? In this track, experts talk to us about what it takes to succeed as an emerging entrepreneur. Plus, we’ll cover some high impact green businesses that are coming out with innovative products to feed your creative mind and keep you inspired.
  • The New Rules of Green Marketing: What Green Entrepreneurs Need to Know Now
  • The Greening of Mainstream America
  • How to Power Network Your Way to a More Sustainable World
  • Online Productivity Tools Every Small Business Should Know About
  • The Whole Systems Approach to Keeping Your Small Business Sanity
  • Why Cradle to Cradle Will be the New Strategic Advantage
Thursday April 19 | Track 4 – Grow Your Good Business With Social Media Marketing Social media marketing is a powerful and free way to grow your business, expand your reach, and create a community of fans around your business who will promote you and buy from you over and over again. But many small businesses don’t see the ROI in social media and have a hard time getting it to work for them. In this track, we will show you what you are doing wrong, and how to do social media right.
  • Your Small Business Social Media Command Central
  • Cracking the Code to Profitable Social Media Marketing As a Small Business
  • Your Social Media Launch Blueprint & Advanced Strategies for Savvy Marketers
  • What it Takes to Build a 6 Figure Business For Good Blogging Empire
  • Facebook – From Social Time Vortex to Lead Generation Machine
  • Boost Your Street Cred with Self Publishing,Sell Your Book with Social Media
Friday April 20 | Track 5 – Bootstrap Internet Marketing for Green & Socially Responsible Business Small businesses have smaller marketing budgets, but this doesn’t mean you can’t compete with big brands, and even out market them. As an SMB, you have the advantage of strategic agility, while big businesses often take months to execute on a simple web strategy because of the politics and bureaucracy. This track focuses on your optimizing your website and content marketing strategies that drive organic web traffic.
  • Small Business Website Essentials
  • WordPress SEO Strategies for Time Strapped Small Businesses
  • The Art of Turning Website Visitors Into Adoring Customers
  • Why Local SEO Matters for Your Small Green Business
  • Grow Your Sustainable Business with Green Affiliate Marketing

The event includes 28 Visionary Speakers

Alisa Gravitz, Executive Director Green America & Green Festivals
Andrea Vahl, Social Media Consultant and author of, “Facebook Marketing All-In-One For Dummies”
Bob Doyle, CEO Boundless Living & Wealth Beyond Reason, Law of Attraction and “The Secret”
Daan Elffers, Founder ELCAMEDIA Cradle to Cradle Marketing Agency
David Mihm, Co-Founder of GetListed.org & Local SEO Consultant
Elena Christopoulos, Interim President, Green Chamber of Commerce
George Kao, Holistic Marketing Coach Greg Wendt, CFP and Founder of Green Economy Think Tank and Co-Founder of Green Business Networking
Jacquie Ottman, Author of The New Rules of Green Marketing
JD Lasica, Founder SocialBrite.org & SocialMedia.biz
Joey Shepp, Founder Earthsite and Sustainable Programs Director of Dominican University of CA School of Business and Leadership
Joost de Valk, Founder Yoast.com & Creator of WordPress SEO Plugin
Karen Lee, Founder EcoKaren and Eco Etsy Team Captain
Katrina Heppler, Founder 77webstudio
Kriss Bergethon, Founder Solar Sphere
KoAnn Vikoren Skrzyniarz, CEO & Founder of Sustainable Life Media & Sustainable Brands Conference
Kyle Rutkin, Author and Founder of Palooza Press
Lorna Li, Founder Green Marketing TV
Morgan Morris, Co-Founder Inspire Green
Nick Aster, Founder Triple Pundit, Co-Founder TreeHugger
Nikki Pava, Co-Founder EcoTuesday
Rich Brooks, President Flyte New Media
Scott Cooney, Founder GreenBusinessOwner.com
Shawn Berry, Co-Founder LIFT Business Coaching
Shel Horowitz, Author of “Guerilla Marketing Goes Green”
Tyler Gage, Co-Founder Runa Amazon Guayusa Tea Company
Tad Hargrave, Founder Marketing for Hippies
Warren Fligg, Founder Performance-Based Green Affiliate Network

afreen afreen

Today marks the death of one baby girl who has been in the headlines the past few days. Afreen who died today was three-months old and was brought in to a Bangalore hospital on Saturday by her mother. Her father who wanted a boy had physically abused her in the days before her hospital admission.

She was brought in suffering from haemorrhages in her brain and retina. She also had multiple bite marks and cigarette burns on her body. She has been comatose the past two days and finally her frail body gave in today.

Earlier this year in January, baby Falak made headlines in another case of human abuse. Both babies suffered for being female and both died, tragically. Of course, reading all this in the media leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. It also leaves some of us with a sense of helplessness, outrage and a keen feeling of disgust. However, what is to be done?

Violence again women is not anything new and it happens everywhere - everybody has at least heard about a case, if not being directly affected. There is also a growing apathy to abuse against women as demonstrated by the recent rape case in Gurgaon where the cops almost said that the victim was asking for it. The statements released by the police department were as shocking as the curfew they imposed. The same attitude also prevails in a domestic violence complaint.

The whole attitude towards women in India reeks of sexism at its mildest form and goes all the way up to blatant misogyny. This needs to change - but how? Women are conditioned to be submissive and passive to a large extent, and men are conditioned to expect this from women. However, now with the shift in gender balance and with more and more women becoming financially independent, men simply cannot handle the loss of traditional 'power'. This is in turn misdirected back to women in the form of violence.

However in the case of Afreen and Falak - they were defenseless infants. Attacks upon them point at a violence of a whole different level. It also speaks of the kind of society we have allowed ourselves to degenerate into. Decades of turning a blind eye have resulted in this. Every person is a product of their society and so is every action. Violence of this kind is not just abominable but it also says something about all of us as a society for abetting it in some way. Now this might be hard to swallow, but apathy is a form of consent.

There are many of us, myself included who ask themselves what can be done and in this case, there is truly nothing that can be done for Afreen. However, there are countless number of Afreens of all ages, castes, religions, socio-economic backgrounds, and places in India and around the world. For every Afreen that has come into the media spotlight, there are many more hidden from view. For them and ultimately also for us, something must be done because violence can not be tolerated.

It needs to start with educating girls that violence towards them should not be accepted. It needs to start with teaching boys not be violent against girls and to treat them with respect. It needs to start by inculcating girls with self-esteem to stand up for themselves and also teaching them self-defense against physical attacks. This government for sure isn't going to do much about it. Sisters are going to have to do it for themselves, just like we have done in the past.

10 April 2012

on first looking at a blue whale...

In February, I headed off to Sri Lanka with Nature Wanderers to combine two of my passions - photography and travelling. The trip started off at Mirissa which is supposedly one of the best places to spot Blue whales. This is something I did not know before, but apparently Sri Lanka has a resident pod of Blue whales that never migrate out of their waters.

So we headed off in the morning on a boat and we kept going and we kept going. Along the way, we had a rare sighting of False killer whales. These whales are called because of their resemblance to the more familiar Killer or Orca whale. They are not spotted very often in Sri Lankan waters but we were lucky. We also saw plenty of Spinner dolphins, jumping and twirling out of the water. I tell you, dolphins are truly one of God's happiest creatures. According to old ocean legends, spotting a dolphin is said to be good luck and sure enough we saw a blue whale spouting away in the distance.

We quickly made it to the spot and cut our motors to watch it beautifully fluke at a distance. Unfortunately, I was on the wrong side of the boat to get a photo of this. Then we headed off again and this time a whale came up really close to out boat - maybe about ten feet. We were supposed to keep a distance of fifty feet, but apparently he was as curious about us as we were about him!

He was so close that he went out of my frame and I could see the sucker fish stuck on his grey-blue skin as well as his markings and the sunlight glistening off of him. It was a wondrous moment to see the Earth's biggest creature this close. There was pin-drop silence on the boat except for the lapping waves and the sound of the burst mode of about a dozen cameras pointed at him. Everybody stood still and turned off their lives to simply be. In that crystalline moment, the great hum of the ocean was meshed within us.

Then we were snapped out of our trance when he decided to submerge, and whilst doing so created a whale-sized vacuum on the surface of the ocean. It was as if someone had poured some oil onto the waters, as it was perfectly calm only in this spot. With a collective startle we realized that we could actually feel all the water being displaced.

I think the enormity of what I had witnessed on that day is just now sinking in, as I'm writing this. It stresses again, the importance of conservation and the work that needs to be done for our fragile planet. After Mirissa, we headed on to Yala to spot and photograph leopards but that's another story! The trip has left me with some unforgettable encounters, incredible memories and a whole bunch of new friends.

Photo Credit: Top - Pod of False Killer Whales. Bottom - Blue Whale. Akhila Vijayaraghavan ©

my entry for the rio blogger prize

I know, I know its been ages again. But I have news and have been rather busy. GDC had her first major outing last month in Mumbai where we got to meet several companies and we received positive feedback all around. I recently wrote a piece for the Rio Blogger Prize by tcktcktck and if I do get selected I have the chance to go to Rio for the climate summit in June.

I wrote a simple piece about a very innovative man that happens to live in Coimbatore and how he is changing the lives of rural women through his unique sanitary pad. This is the article on Triple Pundit which you can also read here.

The real heroes of environmental and social change are the ones that don’t get talked about often and don’t want any accolades. One such man lives very to near my town and he makes sanitary napkins for a living. A high-school dropout by the name of A. Muruganathan is the inventor of a machine that can churn out 120 pads an hour. It costs about 1 rupee (0.02 USD) for each napkin and the machine itself costs about Rs 66,000 (USD 1500).

Major brands only make up 7% of market share for sanitary napkins, which means that the playing field is wide open for this type of social enterprise. Muruganathan has sold his machines to women entrepreneurs all over India, thereby leading them to become business owners themselves. Several of them have been able to make a substantial income for themselves by selling the sanitary napkins to nearby villages as well schools and colleges.

The core material that makes up the napkin is wood fibre which is procured from waste wood, making the product relatively eco-friendly. Muruganathan wants to experiment with other materials and also bioplastic as a protective sheet.

Muruganathan has single-handedly tapped into the rural market for sanitary pads and caters exclusively to those women with no access to menstrual hygiene. Rural Indian women often use pieces of cloth and other unhygienic protection during their menstruation. In many areas in the country, women are ostracized during this period. Many teenage girls end up missing several days of school a month and eventually drop out due to inadequate menstrual protection. Muruganathan has obtained a patent for his machine with the help of India’s National Innovation Foundation and has received accolades for his product and business model from many business leaders.

However, a new government scheme of making sanitary napkins available free of charge for women below poverty line will likely threaten Muruganathan’s business. The government will have to procure the napkins at a much higher price from companies like Proctor & Gamble, Johnsons & Johnsons and supply them at reduced costs. This will cost the government approximately $400 million to cater to 200 million rural women. However, 100,000 units of Muruganathan’s invention can be bought for less than half the cost and provide employment to over 1 million women.

With Indian villages becoming the hotspots for decentralized power generation, the sanitary napkin machines can work in conjunction with them providing a local industry as well as a sustainable, hygienic alternative for many rural women. Many companies are taking interest in Muruganathan’s technology as part of their CSR; Jindal Steel has sponsored two units. Dupont and Moserbaer have also sponsored a unit each. As the machine runs on a combination of power and mechanical energy, the cost of running it remains low. This input power can easily be renewable energy, with the right set up.

There are several organizations in Africa that use similar models to tackle the dual problem of waste as well as female hygiene, while creating employment at the same time. However in India, Muruganathan seems to be the only one around. As for the man himself, he remains as humble and unassuming as ever. He has even refused a blank cheque from a multinational for his machine and wants to keep it as a social enterprise through and through.

08 February 2012

why FDI in retail is bad for India

Way back in November I was asked by Abhirup Bhattacharya to contribute an article to his blog. Abhirup runs the very successful blog called Ideas Make Market and on there he discusses many pertinent business topics as well as invites guest writers to post their views. At the time of writing, FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) was the buzz in the air. My thanks to Abhirup for this opportunity for presenting my views to his audience. You can follow him on @ideasmakemarket

Please see below for the article that was posted on his site or go here to read directly on his site.

The last few days have seen big debate around the issue of retail foreign direct investment (FDI). It has split politics as well as business into two opposing camps. 51% for FDI is a huge amount, one that could change the retail landscape in India, perhaps forever. One of the conditions for this proposal is that multi-brand companies should source at least 60% of their farm produce from small farmers. The justification is that this will give a boost to small farmers but there is an inherent flaw in the argument. Since the 1970s, farmers in the US actually make less because they supply to big stores and the same thing could likely happen in India.

The second argument is that this FDI will create jobs. However, nobody is talking about the kind of jobs it will create and the kind of jobs that it will threaten, namely the small grocer and kirana shops that is the hallmark of any Indian neighborhood. Finally and most worrisome of all, nobody is addressing the kind of down-the-line problems FDI will create.

The model of multi-brand supermarkets is hardly working nor is it sustainable. It involves massive supply chains ranging from remote corners of the globe, encourages consumerism, cheap produce and planned obsolescence. It creates more waste and more pollution.

India already struggles with massive infrastructural problems with waste management –what is the proposal to deal with the excessive amounts of waste created by the FDI investment? What about actually making space for building the Walmarts, Tescos, Carrefours that propose to come in? What is going to happen to home-grown super-market chains? Are Indian cities going to look like soul-less American ones with no character and only neon signs and parking lots for decor?

The multi-brand supermarket is a failed business model even in those countries that pioneered them, notably the United States. The more enlightened shun these business establishments and are moving towards encouraging local produce. If the Indian government is really serious about encouraging small farmers, then they will be rejecting GMO and making sure locally produced organic food is more widely available. If the government is serious about creating jobs then they should be focusing on improving sectors within the country namely waste management, agriculture and infrastructure development.

The great experiment of consumerism in the United States that started off in the 1950s is moving into India in leaps and bounds with advent of malls, multiplexes and now multi-brand supermarkets. However, now this model of consumerism is showing serious cracks – instead of using resources to come up with something that works, something that is progressive and fits in with the Indian ethos, why do we insist on blindly following something that does not work?

The way I see it, the retail sector in the country does not need a new business model. India as a country needs a new business model that embraces the principles of long-term sustainability and eschews the policy of short-term financial gain. Let the supermarkets go create jobs, encourage farmers and flood shelves with cheap Chinese products in their own countries. India need not follow suit, indeed India should not follow suit.

This country needs to be developed from ground-up in a holistic manner. All we are currently doing by encouraging foreign investment that does not fit in with systematic growth is focusing on the embellishments whilst the foundations lay crumbling.

the state of governance

Yesterday the people in the Coimbatore District, India took to the streets in protests over the power-cuts that have been plaguing the city. On Monday and Tuesday, the city saw eight hours of total power cuts! This has affected several MSMEs, hospitals, vaccine banks, schools, offices and even homes. The common complaint among businesses was that they still had to pay their workforce even as they sat idle.

Small health care centers had to stop procedures and even surgeries half way through the procedure. Several of the bigger hospitals have resorted to switching on diesel generators up to the capacity of 125 KV to tide them over. Traffic signals were mere decoration on the street. Many students were affected as power-cuts in certain areas occurred in the evening, when they are about to study. Housewives could not do their morning chores without electricity to run their mixers, grinders, washing machines and refrigerators. Milk soured and vegetables rotted and people are sleepless.

Electricity is something that many of us take for granted and power-cuts of this scale on a daily basis, is not something that people in Western countries can even comprehend. People thoughtlessly leaving lights and fan switched on as they leave the room or leaving gadgets charging endlessly - all of it leads to increase in power demand. The Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation (TANGEDCO) has stated that power cuts are likely to continue because there simply isn't enough power generated to meet demand. The state currently faces a shortage of 3000 MV.

Although there is a 'scheduled load-shedding' for two hours everyday, the past month has seen up to six hours of 'unscheduled load-shedding' everyday. TANGEDCO needs to regularize this, so that at least people are aware of the times when there will be no electricity.

The state of governance is such that, the government has given away free televisions, mixers, grinders and laptops for the needy, sharply spiking the need for power but yet has done nothing to ensure that there is more power being generated. The Kudankulam Nuclear issue is currently at a deadlock and no further investment is being made into tapping other sources of energy. With India's tremulous safety record, setting up further nuclear plants is a bad idea. Funds need to be diverted into safer sources like solar, wind and geothermal.

Subsidies for small-scale power generation is also seriously required. Foreign investments in building up infrastructure like roads and power systems are the need of the hour, not FDI. As the Tamil Nadu government lays floundering over the issue, our neighbouring MPs in Karnataka are watching porn on their mobile phones during a state assembly.

11 January 2012

towards food security...

I wrote this awhile ago but posting it only now, but better late than never! Along with my first post, my blog is debuting a new look this year. Malnourishment made national headlines awhile ago, with the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh calling it "a national shame". And it should be. GDP projections for this year is 6.9% but this is meaningless when the 'other' statistics are gut-wrenching.

42% of Indian children under the age of five, are underweight. Every 15 seconds, a child dies due to neonatal complications. And India has one of the highest rates of child deaths in the world, accounting for 20% of the world total. In addition to this, India's sex ratio is one of the worse in the world, bringing to the light the issue of female foeticide and infanticide.

The Jaisalmer district in Rajasthan for example, has one of the worst gender ratios in India. There are 868 girls for every 1000 boys under the age of six. The national average is 914 girls for every 1000 boys according to the 2011 census data. But I digress... back to the issue of malnourishment. I simply do not understand this phenomenon in a country that actually produces enough food to feed everybody. The revamped Food Security Bill is going to do nothing to alleviate this problem and it is not the solution.

I will use Devinder Sharma's point to also argue my case. He has said that, "the PDS (public distribution system) - on paper - meets the food requirement of 900 million people. If this is true, I see no reason why the country should have the largest population of hungry in the world."
What India needs is deep introspection but for some reason this seems to fail our government. The hunger situation can only be alleviated through a program at a sub-national and state level. A grass-root inventory of food supplies and distribution system is needed to target the most needed communities - any PDS should only target the poorest of the poor. In spite of its largely agricultural economy, Indian farmers have tremendously difficult jobs and low wages. This needs rectification, otherwise addressing food security is pointless.

Education in rural levels should cater to rural lifestyle - the growing trend of establishing sub-par engineering and medical colleges not only diverts farmlands that are needed but educates children of farmers in education streams that do not fetch jobs. This also results in loss of local knowledge of agricultural techniques, paving way to more chemically intensive methods of farming and genetic engineering.

Agricultural education needs a new focus with rural colleges that teach sustainable farming, permaculture and organic farming techniques. This needs to become a priority fast so that the farming community can have a sense of pride in their heritage. These colleges should also develop to become research centers for studying about indigenous crops that resist drought and are nutrient dense. Dependence on monoculture like rice and wheat should be discouraged.

Community-based organic agricultural programs should be encouraged, especially in urban areas to reduce transportation burden as well as to encourage a culture of eating locally and seasonally. With growing environmental and climatic pressures on agriculture, measures that are taken now will ensure hunger eradication in the future.

It is indeed shameful for India to still struggle under the stigma of malnourishment. It is an even greater shame for Mr. Singh to admit it after seven years of being Prime Minister, and the only solution he can offer is to revamp an already broken system.

Photo Credit: Akhila Vijayaraghavan ©