31 December 2011

fer auld lang syne...

GDC's Holiday Greeting Card. GreenDen Consultancy ©

This time of the year always puts me in a reflective mood, as I take account of everything that has happened. I'm filled with gratitude for my friends, family, colleagues and my work. This year, the most significant thing I have done was start GreenDen Consultancy and make the first big step not only towards entrepreneurship but also towards taking a stand in changing things.

This year has been an extremely hard for many reasons. It has seen its share of natural calamities, a nuclear disaster, oil spills, the European debt crisis, the Occupy Movement, Anna Hazare's hunger strikes in India, the Durban climate talks and environmental problems. Reaching 7 billion people in terms of population has put population control back on the map - AIDS, cancer and malaria research also made tremendous headway. In many ways, this year will set the trend for the coming decade as many issues have reached the boiling point.

The most inspiring trend to be seen is that socio-environmental issues have come to the forefront, not just in the Western world but also in Asia. These were visibly demonstrated in several instances and I reckon that this is going to continue.

One of the biggest deciding factors for a better future will be how we manage our resources. This will have to start this year - oil, natural gas, coal, metals, and minerals will take front and center position in terms of sourcing as well as creating opportunities for companies to be more thrifty. Conserving other resources like water, forests, wildlife, and agricultural land will create even more pressure on the way we live. Overarching conservation policies for all of the above are needed to forge ahead into a world that places the least strain on the environment.

A couple of weeks ago, I just finished reading Amanda Little's book Power Trip and although the book was published in 2009, it is still pertinent. It renewed my faith that the world of the future is possible with consolidated efforts starting now, not only in terms of consumer trends but also government policies. There needs to be radical changes in the way we view energy usage, food security and production as well as resource utilization. Emphasis is required not only on creating new technology to reduce impact but also improving existing technology to make it more efficient.

For now though, let us take some time to reminiscence, gather our strength, mourn, laugh and welcome with hope, a new year as we respectfully lay the last to rest.

04 November 2011

of dal lake and saffron

I recently returned from a trip to Kashmir. It is everything people say it is. There are several things that are uniquely Kashmiri and saffron is one of them. Saffron is probably the most expensive spice in the world and there is a reason why.

Apart from Kashmir, the spice only grows in Iran and Spain. Although Iran supplies up to 70% of the world's saffron, Kashmiri saffron far surpasses it in terms of quality.

The soil required for cultivation is rather dry and bulbs are introduced into the soil in September which give rise to the saffron flowers towards the end of October. These flowers stay alive for just fifteen to twenty days, during which time they must be harvested. Saffron farming therefore, only provides a single crop per year. Many farms in the area use organic practices, both to enrich soil and keep away pests.

I visited Pampore, one of the two saffron growing provinces in Kashmir. Over the last few years, production of saffron has dramatically declined. Most of the saffron farms are family owned and are small plots which are managed by the family for generations - the younger generations have started migrating out of Kashmir and out of the trade which is now seen as unrewarding.

The flowers themselves grow only a few inches off the ground. Each purple flower has three vividly coloured stigmas. These stigmas are the spice, which are plucked, graded, dried and packed.

It surprises me that the Indian government has taken such little interest towards investing in the future of this spice. It also amazes me how other countries take such pride in the native produce be it cheese from Camembert, pasties from Cornwall and so many other foods that have a direct connection from the place of their origin. It is not just an emotional connection, but one of pride and tradition that should not be forsaken.

Kashmiri saffron certainly deserves this recognition and it also deserves the protection placed on heritage foods. The sad fact remains is that if nothing is done about it now, there may not be anything left to protect a few years down the line.

Photo Credit: Saffron Crocus. Akhila Vijayaraghavan ©

31 October 2011

7 billion and counting

Today the world reached 7 billion. It is quite fitting that the 7 billionth baby was born in India, in a place called Lucknow and is a girl - there seems to be a poetic coincidence in all this. Beyond the celebration of a new life, there is a darker reality of how the world is going to support 7 billion people.

Stanford University's Paul Ehrlich, the author of The Population Bomb recently gave an interview that emphasized how population growth is adding to many ecological problems. Population growth is leading to rising food prices, loss of biodiversity, deteriorating ecosystem services, water shortages, contributing towards epidemics, and scores of other problems. By 2050, it is projected that the Earth will support an additional 2 billion people.

These 2 billion people will not enjoy the same comfort of life as the last 2 billion. In order to support the excess population, we have to start farming poorer land, mine from even-poorer ores, drill deeper for water -- all of these will be exponentially more energy intensive.

Talking about population control means talking about sex education, women's empowerment, education of the girl child and scores of other social issues. I believe in India there is a cultural pressure to reproduce - this needs to be addressed. Unfortunately, although birth rates do seem to be falling, it is falling in the urban middle-class. Birth rates have remained the same in rural areas which means that poverty is also on the rise and the rich/poor divide continues to grow larger.

Enforcing a one child policy in India would be disastrous as it would further skew sex ratios. The solution therefore, needs to be the old one of education and awareness. Availability of contraception and birth control measures is one option. Adoption needs to be encouraged, especially in India as an alternative to IVF. The craze for IVF needs to be discouraged - maybe falling fertility rates is Nature's way of telling us that we need to slow down.

Although reproduction is a personal choice - it is not something that can be taken lightly. Bringing children into a world with increasing socio-enviro-economic problems, more diseases, less biodiversity, less natural resources would be selfish on our part.

There are theories that suggest that population will level off, mid-century and then there will a gradual decline. In this case, economic productivity will also decline, but it would be good for the environment. However, if we take care to ensure that we keep our numbers in check, we might be able to have both. Wishful thinking?

15 October 2011

food security, maternal deaths and 685 crores

This country never fails to amaze, astound and embarrass me. The limits to idiocy that India and its politicians can reach knows no bounds. I'm referring of course to Mayawati's megalomaniac display of utter crap. 685 crores, is the price tag for showing what a Dalit woman politician can achieve. Does this actually improve the lives of the dalit community? Absolutely not.

On the one hand, we have India's astounding economic growth. On the other hand, our food security falls behind Rwanda. Rwanda, for crying out loud! Something is wrong. Something is very very wrong. 685 crores could be better spent through community outreach programs, women's education, children's welfare and hoards of other schemes that would actually improve lives of countless people.

By the end of October, the world's population will have reached 7 billion. India contributes a large portion of this number. What are we doing in terms of family planning, planned pregnancy, children's welfare and child labour? There is absolutely a severe lack of grass-root development in a country where the vast majority of the population is grass-root.

India boasts the highest rates of maternal death during childbirth and pregnancy. Every seven minutes, an Indian woman dies bringing new life into this world. 78% of these cases are preventable. And what about after the children are born? Does every child get an education? Does every child get adequate nutrition? Does every child get a childhood?

One of the saddest things I saw recently was on a trip to Mumbai, not long ago. There were two girls maybe around the ages of 8 and 5. The little one was beating on a plastic drum while the bigger one was doing cartwheels in the middle of the street during a traffic-light stop, begging for money. There are scores of children like these. Looking into their eyes is painful. I do believe that a country who is unable to take care of the poorest of its poor and its natural resources has no right to boast about its economic progress.

Recently I was exchanging ideas with New Zealand's former Prime Minister, Helen Clark who is now administrator with the UNDP. It was opined that India's demographics and gargantuan rich/poor divide makes it a key battleground towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals. She also said that, "private sector plays an important role in development but quality state and subnational governance is important too." The world will not and can not meet the MDGs, if India does not.

Poverty elimination is the key. Education is key. Woman's welfare is key. This is the same song that has been sung for the past so many years and yet no one has bothered to learn the true meaning of its lyrics. Instead we allow someone, to spend 685 crores on a park in a country where earning Rs. 32/- a day means you're not poor.

Go figure.

28 August 2011

the power of one

Change. 6 letters and such profound implications. Change is not easy for many of us and changing anything be it behaviour, thought process or a political system requires huge momentum. Today Anna Hazare broke his fast and the government has finally conceded to the Jan Lokpal Bill (People's Ombudsman Bill) . For a country struggling under a form of modern tyranny, this is the stuff of legends.

Indians for the most part are a passive lot and it can be argued that this is part of the reason why the country has survived its very long, and often bloody history. Like reeds along the river that bend when the water rises, the people of this great nation have always stooped to conquer. What Team Anna has shown us is that, sometimes we must stand up to fight.

In his defiance to accept less than what is deserved, he has awoken a listless nation to a full frenzy. Activists always talk about the power of the people when it comes to a social, political or environmental cause. However, we have forgotten what it entails. We have forgotten the passion it demands, the frustration it needs, the belief it creates and the revolution it can awaken.

Change is difficult for many reasons. As human beings we are set in our ways and rarely venture out of our comfort zone. However, throughout history we have witnessed that it often takes only one individual to stand up tall and firmly say, "Enough!" - and magically people follow. There is a saying in India, in fact it is inscribed on the national emblem which reads Satyameva Jayate which literally translates to 'Truth Alone Triumphs'. Ironically, it was adopted as the Indian national motto after Independence but since then it appears that we have forgotten what it means. It turns out that we needed a smiling old man from the time it was initially adopted to remind us.

And oh! what a reminder it was. Not only did Anna Hazare go out to achieve his aims but he has also reminded us all about the power of one. Like I said change is difficult; and memories are short but hope springs eternal. So let us hope that we remember that revolution is not dead and change will come when it is ardently wanted.

22 April 2011

earth day message from the trenches

As you know these days I have been busy with my new venture. We finally have a website up and running and you can check this out - would love to hear your thoughts.

I have re-emerged for this blog post on Earth Day as it seemed fitting to break my silence today. The Green Den has received overwhelmingly positive responses from the CSR community and I've been totally blown away.

We are now of course actively seeking clients, networking and getting our name out there. It's been exciting so far but the real work starts now. We also have our blog up and running which you can check out here. While you're at it, you can also sign up for our bi-monthly newsletter.

Last year in my Earth Day post I said that I wanted to make an expedition to a rainforest and grow my own organic vegetables. Happy to report that I have achieved one of those goals. My organic garden with its own compost is happy and thriving. I even got a bumper crop of tomatoes a couple weeks ago. I plan on adding more vegetables over the next month. The expedition is still in the works!

What has really changed in this year? On the onset, perhaps not much. The BP disaster has left many people still reeling - a year from that and the US congress still wants to push for offshore drilling. No real progress has been made in climate talks, new laws etc. In India, the environment ministry is finally waking up to the fact that there is an environment to protect. There was also a report of increasing tiger numbers but unfortunately, there were also stories of elephants encroaching on farm lands. Or is it the other way around?

There are many environmental challenges that are still solve and still many others to even acknowledge. One of the biggest new developments in India is the acknowledgment that corruption is so wide spread. Recent scandals have rocked businesses and made investing in Indian business a high-risk venture. This scenario needs to change because without a stable economy, we cannot talk about environmental protection and social progress.

This year I have no goals, except to work really hard on GDC. I'm all geared up to change 'business as usual' because I believe the time has finally come to think about things differently.

We cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them
- Albert Einstein

06 March 2011

greenden consultancy

Photo: GreenDen Consultancy Logo ©

This blog has been getting no love from me and finally now I am feeling rather guilty. I have been incredibly busy the past month. Part of the reason is that I am starting up my own consultancy. It is called GreenDen Consultancy and you only have to guess what inspired that.

I have been mulling over GDC's core business plan the past few months and it finally all came together the last couple of weeks or so. To put things succinctly, we are a global network of environmental experts and will be offering cutting edge services for businesses. GDC provides services which will establish a culture of sustainability from ground up by providing businesses with various eco-solutions to maximize profitability:
  • Consulting, report and CSR policy writing
  • Eco-friendly cost saving solutions
  • Environmental services with strategic advice on climate change, biodiversity, waste management and pollution abatement
  • Stakeholder engagement and community development
  • Communication of environmental initiatives
  • Training and learning opportunities

Our team of consultants include experts from Europe, US and India to bring truly global solutions to socio-enviro issues in the business context. Having a business strategy based on sustainable development sees great returns in terms of maximizing brand image, profitability and market share. At GDC we want to help tap into the true potential that every business has because we believe that 'business as usual' is on its way out.

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