Thursday, November 10, 2016

The bitter, untold and detrimental truth about the Agribusiness

This post is basically a summary of another chapter in the book that I am reading these days to understand world hunger and starvation. The name of the book is "How the other half dies" authored by Susan George. 

" Agribusiness was a term coined by Harvard Business School Professor Ray A. Goldberg. He defines it as "all production and distribution of farm supplies, production operations on farms and storage, processing and distribution of farm commodities and processed foods". Some examples would be Nestles, Uniliver, General Foods, Ralston Purnia, Quaker Oats, Swift & Armor etc. 

The agribusiness that concern us more in the context of the world hunger crisis are the ones that use a host country's land and labour for producing food - rarely to satisfy local needs, almost always for export to the developed countries' market that will pay the most for their produce. While investment in manufacturing abroad is gradually becoming less profitable, a new world food prices make investment in agriculture in the UDCs  (under developed countries) a very attractive proposition. Public opinion is much slower to smell the sweet odour of a new and relatively unexploited field for profits than the quivering and alert noses of the MNCs. As we have understood from previous posts that hunger and starvation is not a population problem, it is a social condition that comes due to lack of employment and increasing poverty. There is already plenty of evidence to suggest that agribusiness is capable of destroying everything it touches: local employment patterns, local food-crop production, consumer tastes, even village and traditional family structures. 

On the contrary, agribusiness see themselves as the world's salvation, capable of solving the problem of world hunger. And the heads of agribusiness though do admit that "private business can attack malnutrition, not starvation". While agribusiness is all for the profit motive, it is less enthusiastic about taking commercial risks in the 'most underdeveloped countries'. 

One of the important things to understand about agribusiness is their advertisement and promotion. In the agribusiness world they care very little what you eat so long as they can persuade you to buy it. R&D expenditures on food actually decrease proportionally to sales while advertising increases. If the most profitable foods agribusiness makes are the most highly processed, this is no accident. They have to be to sustain the vertical integration that includes nationwide distribution and long storage periods. Food industry spends more on advertising and less on research than any other industry in America. It seems fair to conclude that agribusiness is not the most thrifty and wholesome way that could be found to feed people, nor to protect the interests of the majority of small farmers- those who are left-against the interests of huge corporate processors. 

American consumers are considered to be the richest in the world, but if the quality of what they eat is any indication of wealth, then they are poor indeed. There has been marked evidence of milk consumption going down and that of soft drinks going up, less and less of fruits and vegetables and more and more of junk food. All this means profits for the agribusiness. It would be a mistake to assume that this phenomenon is unique only to US. Processed-food purveyors pick their markets carefully. They also invest in local production in countries with relatively high per capita incomes where consumers can be taught to pick convenience foods over raw foodstuff. 

Agribusiness is harmful to small, family-type farms and to consumers in the affluent countries.  Interviews of foreign food firm heads in India showed that their products were invariably aimed at upper-income-level consumers. It is a sad fact that the most nutritional food products marketed by commercial firms are aimed at the segment of society least in need of them. The poor buy the same because they are influenced by the companies' barrage of advertising. This has led to "Commerciogenic Malnutrition" : result of teaching the people that their traditional foods are somehow inferior ! 

Agribusiness is basically antagonistic to national control over local food production and marketing; thus governments that welcome it should do so in the full knowledge that what is raised will be largely exported to paying customers, with only a small residue left out for the local middle class. Rich sources of protein like fishmeal, which could perfectly well be used for human food are processed and exported by agribusinesses to feed America's 35 million dogs and its 30 million cats. any rich mongrel or pampered cat is a better customer for agribusiness than a poor human being. 

More and more land in the UDCs is devoted to greater and greater quantities of luxury food products that fewer and fewer people, proportionally, can afford. 

Most of the agribusiness companies promote food which is not healthy, highly processed and disguised to look healthier than natural alternatives. Take for example, Nestles baby food. Nestles as a company has been found to be encouraging African mothers to abandon breastfeeding of their children in favour of formulating milk feeding. A quarter or a third of husband's salary goes on just feeding this one infant with artificial milk. So in fact they buy still buy milk (their breast milk has dried up) but they don't buy adequate quantities. Their food promotion is a scandal!

However, there are positive stories also in which agribusiness has shown that business could make development if social goals, not merely profitability were present in the project from the drawing board to actual operation. The example is Mumias sugar complex in Western Kenya, we shall learn more about it in the next blog post. 

Agribusiness bears a special responsibility for the present food crisis. While food deficits and malnutrition have grown worse during the past ten years, the accelerated growth rate and prosperity of the MNCs during the same period has been inversely proportional to the increase of scarcity. 

This phenomenon is only paradoxical on the surface; the goal of agribusiness is not to increase food resources, not to contribute to their equitable distribution, nor yet to adapt existing technology to the conditions of particular countries. Their goal is first and foremost to increase their markets, and their commercial outlets, to realize maximum production-costs reduction and to increase their profits. This is a truism, but should be made clear. 

Food workers of developing countries have long and bitter experience of this capability. There are great numbers of agribusiness workers whose low salaries, substandard housing, poor health and squalid working conditions are such that hunger, malnutrition and under-nourishment for them and for their families are commonplace. If so many multinational firms do not even allow their own workers to feed themselves properly, then how can we imagine for a moment that they can bring a decent diet to everyone?  " (Entirely from book)

All this makes me wonder "what kind of world am I living in?".  A world in which profit making is acceptable at the cost health of its people and their loss of small employment. The advertisement for agribusiness has certainly spread insanity among people. As aware humans we must be conscious of our choices of purchase and from where to purchase. This chapter has led me to so many questions in side of me. Never had I wondered that the e-commerce way to order fruits and vegetables online is an anathema to local vegetable grocery store people. Never had I wondered that this "convenience" has actually led to "inconvenience" to so many other people and also to the consumers (from health point of view). Vegetables in market early morning are obviously fresh than the ones which are stored in halls cemented with all sort of chemicals to keep them fresh and edible. It has led to increased vehicles on roads, which use more and more fuel and lead to greater and greater pollution. No one seems to have time today to go out and buy vegetables, we are all living super-busy lives! In order to save time, we have allowed our health and local-business to be at stake. On the contrary, I also wonder that employment has increased ! Then is it some sort of trade-off? Certainly, then it is not a black and white situation. 

As I am growing in my life, I am increasingly discovering the contradictory nature of truths of life! It is unsettling to a mind which has not yet been polluted by the false air prevalent all around. It is imperative to be aware of our roots, from where we have come. This makes me so grateful for the way my parents have brought me up, in an environment of absolute, unbending strictness towards natural way to live and eat. I owe them my gratitude. I consider myself sometimes extremely fortunate to have seen and lived in both the worlds : in village and in city, and I think the village aspect is still very close to my heart. "simple living, high thinking" . 

God Bless You  All. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

Understanding Reason behind World's Hunger : Part Two

In this post we shall understand the implications Green Revolution had on the world hunger and its impacts over agriculture, farmers and Third World Economies. 
There is an entire chapter on "Green Revolution" in the book titled, "How the other half dies" by Susan George. However, in this blog we shall keep talking about Green Revolution later on from readings and works of Vandana Shiva also. 

For this series of posts, however we our focusing on the book by George. 

Green Revolution was started in Mexico, in 1943. Green Revolution (GR) was touted to be a road towards self sufficiency and eradication of hunger. Its role in increasing the marketable surplus, thus in helping to feed urban consumers has been very important. Having myself studied in school books about the boon that GR was or is (for few sections of society as we shall learn later), it was very difficult for me to understand and to be able to accept the picture that was not painted in the books. In fact, when Dr. Ravi Arole at Jamkhed was telling me more about it, I remember my eyes were wide open radiating disbelief; all of that had left me nonplussed. Like any normal student, I had wondered, "Why did the books did not tell us the complete story?" , "Why were all these aspects hidden from the future leaders of our country?" "What could be the reason?". But now that I am reading more in depth about this revolution I consider it my responsibility to share with others the knowledge that I have gained. But here is the thing with knowledge, it is contradictory because the world where we live in,  everyone is a lobbyist with an agenda. However, few texts on GR have compelled me to jot down for readers valuable insights. 

GR, technically speaking means breeding (producing) plants that will bear more edible grain, increasing yields without increasing cultivated crop areas. These are called as "High Yielding Varieties" (HYV) . Not only could the new HYVs produce more grain per acre - but they could do it with shorter growing cycle, allowing double or even triple cropping on the same land in a single year. But these seeds have a lot of requirements to be able to function: HYVs will not bear full fruit until heavy doses of fertilizers are applied. "Miracle" seeds must have plenty of water, plenty of nourishment, plenty of chemical protection - pesticides, fungicides against diseases; herbicides against weeds that also thrive on fertilizers. If single one of these elements is lacking, HYVs can sometimes produce less grain, than what could have been obtained from traditional varieties. 

GR is partly a complex system for foreign agribusiness domination of how, where and what Third World farmers will produce and at what cost. Such required inputs are not generally produced in Under developed Countries (UDCs), which can lead to total collapse of system. And once, it becomes profitable to use modern technology the demand for all kinds of farm inputs increases rapidly. Only agri-business firms can supply these new inputs efficiently, result of which is that MNC has a vested interest in agricultural revolution. As increases in farm production become more dependent on purchased inputs, and the proportion of farm production that is marketed rises, investment in agri-business becomes more important.  GR leaves a UDC with no freedom of choice in combining modern foreign supplied inputs with traditional, indigenous elements. 

Below is a conversation adapted from the book for better understanding of the haplessness of the poor farmers. The characters are landlord and tenant at the harvest time. The landlord might be a city man who rarely appears in the neighbourhood except to collect his rent (which may be paid in cash or kind) or he may farm a sizeable piece of land himself with the help of hired hands. The farmer might be a tenant or a sharecropper; he has only a small piece of land he has always thought of as "his". In any case, the landlord has bought the whole HYV package and has doubled his yield since last  year. The farmer could not afford the inputs- his harvest is the same. 

LANDLORD: You owe me a third more rent this year- I'll take it in wheat or in cash. 
TENANT: But I can't pay you any more - I didn't even feed my family all year on the harvest. 
LANDLORD: Just look at what my land has produced. You see that it can be done and you ought to be growing more yourself. Your land belongs to me and is not bringing in enough profit. 
TENANT: It's easy enough for you to talk. I know how you did it- you spread a hundred sacks of fertilizer on the soil and the well is on your property. How am I supposed to buy fertilizer when I already have to buy food? I can't even use the water I want to. 
LANDLORD: Tell you what. I'll give you this money right now and you get off that land. In the bargain, I'll even hire you next year at sowing and harvest time and may be in between. That's more than you would have got last year, but the land's valuable and I'm generous. 
TENANT: But I don't want to get off the land. My father and his father farmed it before me, for your father and his father. 
LANDLORD: In that case, I'll loan you the money to buy fertilizer and seeds. That way you can pay me a higher rent when the new crop comes in. The loan will only cost you 5 per cent a month. (Aside: heh heh, I get the money at 8 per cent from the bank in town).
TENANT: But I could never pay you back. I already own money for my daughter's wedding and for the money I had to borrow to buy food last year. 
LANDLORD: In that case, consider yourself evicted. I'll farm the land myself. By the way, I still may be needing your services, so stay around. Oc course, I won't be able to pay you much. Times aren't that good, and if you don't like your wages, there are plenty of others around who'll be glad of a job. Besides, I plan to buy a tractor. 
TENANT: But what about my wide and children? What are we to do? In your father;s time this could not have happened. He even gave food to tide us over the bad times. 
LANDLORD: Sorry about this. Business is business. You might try the city. 

If this sounds like melodrama, so be it. It is exactly the kind of conversation that has taken place and continues to, all over Asia and Latin America. 

Where nothing is done to alleviate inequalities, the GR is guaranteed to worsen them. GR is increasing the farmers' misery to what may nevertheless become an intolerable level. 

Understanding Reason behind World's Hunger : Part One

This series is taken up to augment my own understanding of the perpetuation of world hunger and starvation. Especially in India, where so many children under the age of five are malnourished, it is imperative that we understand the forces that lead to existence of such abhorring truth, in a world where there is absolutely no paucity of food! By that logic, it should be absolutely unacceptable that people die due to hunger or hunger related causes. Through this series of posts, myths will be debunked and Western beliefs broadcasted by media will be demystified. This is a personal journey to understand the reason behind "Hungry People Existence". The series will consist of huge amount of lessons from a book by Susan George, titled, "How the other half dies". 

In the first post, we shall basically try to understand the ground information about hunger and this is an introductory post. 

Hunger is not a scourge, it is a scandal. Hunger is caused by identifiable forces within the province of rational human control. World Food Conference held in 1974 in Rome, had focused on a very wrong idea: the idea of food production rather than equitable distribution. In a world where food has become a source of profit, tool of economic and political control and means of domination, it is inevitable that its availability or non-availability is used to exploit those who cannot afford it, or its selling is done only to those who have money to pay for it. 

Why do not people get enough to eat and who are they? 
Patterns of injustice and exploitation prevents people from feeding themselves. Today's world has all resources and technical skills necessary to feed present population or even a larger one, however food production market which is largely controlled by Developed countries (DC) is related to monetary market demand and not to the needs of humans. MNCs grow cheap and sell to rich, largely ignoring poor people who cannot become consumers. 

Poverty and hunger walk hand in hand. People who are poor with no means to make a living, not even a land are at cross-roads to feed themselves. The social inequities that they obtain in their own countries makes it impossible for them to make a living; the land which is equivalent of wealth in an Under Developed Country (UDC) is concentrated in so few hands. The poor have literally nothing to work with and most proclaimed land reforms exist chiefly on paper. In situations where poor are employed as farmers, they rarely control the processing technology or the distribution circuits which alone could add value to the food they produce. 

Another popular myth is that of population. The media often highlights that one of the biggest cause of hunger is population growth. Nothing could be further from the truth. World hunger is not caused by population pressures, although these do aggravate the situation. The structure of land holding has more to do with erasing hunger than the amount of total population. Both hunger and population growth reflect the same failure of a political and economic system. Hunger and population growth are both symptoms - one is not the cause of the other - and to single out population growth for direct attack is both a costly and a tragic illusion. 

Poor people do not deliberately give rise to more number of children. For them more children might mean more mouths to feed upto a certain age, but those mouths will have two hands which will contribute towards the livelihood of the family. Poverty thus leads poor people to have more children with a vision that somehow their penury will be addressed. Government idea to control population through family planning is a flawed approach. It does not attack the root of the problem: population problem is related to poverty, social injustice, ill-health, primary education and illiteracy. 

Thus, hunger we understand is one of the results of inequitable distribution of resources supported for political and economical reasons and that poverty is one of the main culprits for the perpetuation of hunger in the world! 

I would like to end this post with a quote from a powerful lady whom I am beginning to know, Aurde Lorde: 

The fact that we are here and that I speak these words is an attempt to break that silence and bridge some of those differences between us, for it is not difference which immobilizes us, but silence. And there are so many silences to be broken."

Monday, August 15, 2016

Reflections

As a public health enthusiast and as someone who is passionate about making everyone healthy in best possible ways, I keep on reading accounts through books, research papers, articles and also acquaint myself by watching youtube videos. These things make me so grateful for the people who shared all these stuff. Sharing is akin to living in larger scheme of things. The idea behind this post is however different. 

In all the accounts, the detailed ones, especially the books that I have read it bewilders me when I read about deep rooted superstitions in the villages of India and their manifestations in their own community. "Keeping slipper beside the head of the new-born to ward off evil spirits", "Not breastfeeding the new-born for three days and using cotton wick to feed goat milk instead", "not sitting beside the women of low caste", "not getting treated from ANM if she is from lower caste" and the likes. And mind it, these are the ones that I have only read accounts of, there must be many implicit discriminations and superstitions ingrained deep in their community. The interesting and the difficult-to-believe thing is that things like these can pose to be a great deterrent to the application of health practices to improve the health of the public. People have to be made to understand that being healthy is more important than caste battles. But more than that important is to devise programs of health in a village in such a way that caste barriers melt away on their own without much hard-work. Health is simply not prevention and curing, at it seems to us so called intelligent people well trained in good schools and working in big corporates. Health is much more. One issue in health is accessibility and acceptance. Even when there is health facility, people will raise barriers, suspicion and in some cases outright denial out of their ignorance and beliefs. The people like us would disregard them as "horrific" and "unacceptable" but deep study into it would reveal that if one has to work to create some meaning he has to shed his modern and urban knowledge and mix with community and make them knowledgeable in smart ways. Thus, health is certainly not prescription and medication. Health is a bigger enterprise. What we see in cities clouds our imagination of realities and real issues of this broader framework of health. This was my first lesson. 

My second lesson, and it rightly comes at such auspicious moment of India's 70th Independence celebration. What a pride to have been born in free India and to have got world-class education? Would villages harbour such ignorance and superstition if they were also educated as I am? Education is the one of the most abused and underestimated commodity that is, especially among so-called-educated who revolve around problems which are distraction from the real problems. Always, when I read I just thank my parents for giving me such incredible foundation of education on which my future rests today. And this is a responsibility that I carry with it, I must leave the world better because of my education and actually create meanings in the lives of the less fortunate people who could not see this utopia which follows the life of an educated person. I am currently reading "JAMKHED" the project undertaken by the inspiring Aroles in the field of public health for the poor community. It is making me so much aware, and the next step would be to see them with my naked eyes at Jamkhed. 


Saturday, June 18, 2016

Indian Health Crisis : Part One

In this series of blogposts, we shall learn more about Indian Health care system, its achievements, bottlenecks, challenges and the remedies. Stay tuned. The source is the same as before : An Uncertain Glory, Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze. 

Sometimes, the most important things in life are least talked about. The overall coverage of health issues in editorial discussion of leading Indian *lightweight* newspapers remains miniscule- about 1 percent of the total editorial space (even if we adopt a very broad definition of health-related matters). The low visibility of health issues in India's mainstream media and democratic politics applies also to child health, adding to the neglect of children in political discussions in general. There is a very little public awareness of the fact that India's immunization rates are among the lowest in the world.  Since the practice of democracy depends greatly on which issues are publicly discussed, the comparative silence of the media on health care makes it that much more difficult to remedy the problems from which Indian health care suffers. There are, thus, two interrelated problems faced by health care in India: first, its massive inadequacy, and second, the near-absence of public discussion of this inadequacy. 

Public expenditure on health in India has hovered around 1 per cent of the country's GDP for most of the last twenty years- very few companies spend less than that on health care, as ratio of GDP. India's 1.2% compares with 2.7% in China, 3.8% in Latin America, and a world average of 6.5% (including countries in European Union). In absolute terms, this translates to $39 per person per year in India, compared with $66 in Sri Lanka, $203 in China and $483 in Brazil. Public expenditure accounts for 29% of total health expenditure in India, and this is some indication, among others, that India has one of the most commercialized health care systems in the world. 

The unusual reliance on private health care in India results largely from the fact that the country's public health facilities are very limited, and quite often very badly run. Health facility surveys conducted by the International Institute for Population Sciences (Mumbai) in 2003 gave a chilling picture of the state of public health centres around the country. To illustrate the point, only 69% of the PHCs had at least one bed, only 20% had a telephone, and just 12% enjoyed 'regular maintenance'. These are national averages, and the corresponding figures for the poorer states are much worse. In Bihar, for instance, a large majority of PHCs had to make do without electricity, weighing machine or even a toilet. 

Even when health facilities are available, their utilization leaves much to be desired. Absenteeism among health workers is a major issue. The problem is, naturally, most intense for the poorer Indians, but the bias towards private facilities, affects even the relatively well-off. The technology and expertise are usually available, but public facilities are highly inefficient and disorganized, and private facilities are virtually unregulated, leaving patients at the mercy of unscrupulous practitioners. Fraud, over-medication, exploitative pricing and unnecessary surgery seem to be quite common in private health sector.

In the next section we shall read more about the "Nutritional Failure" of the Indian sub-continent. 

My Visit to SEARCH, Gadchiroli

13th till 15th June 2016, I spent in the serene campus of SEARCH situated at Gadchiroli. For those of you who do not know what SEARCH is, allow me to tell you that SEARCH stands for Society for Education, Awareness and Research in Community Health. It is an organization created by Dr. Abhay Bang and Dr. Rani Bang to cater to the health needs of the tribal people. For more detailed information, please visit http://www.searchgadchiroli.org/ .
In this document I will enlist my experience of those three days and the vital takeaways in this very short time. The time I spent was small, but by no means insignificant. I believe I planned this visit at an apt time, when equipped with theory I had formidable knowledge and SEARCH opened a beautiful class analogous to that of a practical chemistry lab.
Tribal people seated for bed net distribution. Village name: Udaygaon. 


First day, was understanding what SEARCH is - beyond accounts, books, newspapers, magazines and all sources that we can get while sitting in front of our laptops. The moment I entered the campus, I felt baffled at this place in the midst of a place where on both the sides of serpentine roads one can only see bushes, trees and jungle. It gave a glimmer of peace when I entered, I could make out easily that this was indeed friendly to the people who are served in the premises. Right at the entrance is the small temple of danteshwari devi, the chief god of the tribal people. One official accompanied me and explained to the me the working of the hospital which is inside the campus. This hospital equipped with all modern facilities helps tribals and villages alike in their times of ill-health. There are special modern cemented huts where the family of the admitted person can also stay, something which the tribal themselves told the doctor couple. The doctor couple often allude to the Chinese poem:

Go to the people
Live among them
Learn from them
Love them
Start with what they know
Build on what they have:
But of the best leadersWhen their task is done
The people will remark“We have done it ourselves.”

Getting signature while distributing bed nets.
Village name: Paraswadi
This poem best illustrates the concept of community and the strength that community cooperation can bring to the people who are part of it. The person, named Ganesh, helped me understand and get acquainted with various sections of the campus, and also told me about the programs that are run under the ambit of SEARCH. He told me about their popular program for youth- NIRMAAN, tobacco de-addiction program for the tribals , HBNC (Home-based neonatal care), sex education program for adolescent. He also showed me the evidence of their programs through statistical results which are well displayed in the room dedicated to the exhibition of SEARCH and its activities. The same day I met with NIRMAAN program co-ordinator, who enlightened me on the way the program operates and the objective of the program. I was convinced that NIRMAAN, is one of those programs which very clearly seeks for the commitment in the youth and at the same time allows them the liberty to pursue what they wish to, in ways they wish to with a belief of making the world a better place. Later in the day I met Dr. Yogesh who has been working with SEARCH for the past five years and is intrigued by the cases of stroke and hypertension in the tribal areas. Dr. Yogesh has worked in USA for the past six years but when he ruminated about his long term life, he ended up at SEARCH.

Home based neonatal care (HBNC) Kit
Village : Bodli
He lives in SEARCH campus with his family. In fact, most of the instrumental pillars of SEARCH stay in the campus with their families: a fact that almost led me to a state of amazement. I understood very clearly, “Acknowledging that things need to be repaired, mended and tended to is a different thing, taking efforts on the other hand after acknowledgment is altogether a different thing. Many are willing to acknowledge, but extremely few who come forward and make efforts”. One has the power to make effort where he is, with what he has, lack of will can be the only blocker. Later in night, after prayer: a custom observed at SEARCH at 6:30 pm, I met Nikhil. A post graduate from IIT Kanpur, the way he expressed his motivation to have come to search was very beautiful. His statement, “I was living on an island with all facilities, uninformed about the reality of the world and then I decided it was time to work for the reality”, still echo in my mind. This is definitely one of the many profound statements I have heard and choose to keep in mind. Nikhil works on how technology can play a great role in assisting the health care drivers for the tribal and village people, majorly.

First day was a good introductory day, not to forget the delicious food served at the mess of SEARCH. Second day was to be a field day.
Primary health care centre. Village: Bodli

Second day
The day started with three of us, a girl doing her practical training in summers, an ANM (auxiliary nurse midwife) and me ensconced in the gypsy. Second day was about distribution of bed nets in two of the forty eight villages that SEARCH has taken responsibility of : Udaygaon and Paraswadi. First was Udaygaon. In this village live 62 families. We distributed close to 180 bed nets, one bed net to be shared among two. Not that I have not been in a village before, but being a part of the process made me realize the responsibility we carry, as being the educated and hence the empowered lot. We also had lunch in a tribal house. These people do farming for some three months and then use the harvest to eat throughout the rest of the year. These villages were really deep in the wilderness. Then we did the same at the Paraswadi.

The interesting thing I discovered was that these tribal people often resort to using the bed nets for fishing, thus, there was an agreement that was signed by everyone that these chemical-induced bed nets will not be used for fishing purposes. After the end of the first day, I had a couple of deep thoughts in my mind. I saw someone having the most common symptom of filariasis, elephantiasis. This was the first time I saw someone like that, and I was shocked to see it. I did not even know the name of this condition. I looked at my legs and I looked at heaven above. Its a miracle that I have a well-shaped body without any inherent deformities, something that we take so much for granted. Education, is the biggest asset of any human. When I was in village, I felt nostalgic of my own roots and the humble roots from which father has created an empire for us. I just can never thank him enough for having given me the kind of life I live and cherish today. Education, I am convinced is the greatest asset and blessing a human can ever acquire, and by bestowing that on me, my father has done me a favor beyond limits. An interesting observation was that sanitation was non-existent, if at all. On inquiry, it was learnt that there was not much funding to avail that facility. And I understand why funding is a problem. Funding is a problem, primarily because the health budget is not used fully and hence the government feels compelled to reduce the offerings the next time. Certainly, plans are not being implemented as deftly as they are posited in the papers.
At the home of traditional birth attendant (TBA)
Village: Bodli

It was quite a hot day with scorching heat and high humidity, but lessons which were like a breeze of cool air. This is just one incidence, when I have been at such a distribution, but I could easily make out the paper overhead that is a big problem. Data managing can be quite a task using papers, that’s when my next lesson came up: “Technology need not be complex, but it ought to be useful”. It almost seems vacuous to me that technology is growing in leaps and bounds, making lives of rich people further easier but doing so little to enhance the basic processes in the areas to assist them in living in better way. And I decided to make an effort in this direction.

Third day:
Third day I visited a relatively near place, an urban village named Bodli. There I, along with two others got the opportunity to meet the health messengers (aarogya doot) which are the principal drivers of home-based neonatal care (HBNC). She gave us a very comprehensive demonstration of the way she carries out the responsibility of taking care of the health of the new borns and their mothers. It was a clear cut message, “equip the villagers with suitable knowledge and skills, they can take care of themselves”. This message is clearly aligned with the gist of the Chinese poem that is shared above. We also happened to visit the PHC (Primary Health Care) centre in the village and the facilities there were quite impressive. It was a very brilliantly built infrastructure. Alas! That time no doctor was present, else it would have been informative to know more about the functioning of this PHC. After that visit, we came back to our campus. And it was time to travel back to Bangalore.

This was certainly a rich experience and something that will remain in my mind. The important takeaways can be formulated as follows:

  1. Technology need not be complex, but if it is not useful for those who need it, it is not serving its full purpose.
  2. If village people are equipped to take care of themselves and their community, they need not depend on full-time external assistance.
  3. There are people who still think of rendering meaning to their lives by service to others rather than being lost in the race of status and money.
  4. Acknowledging that things need to be repaired, mended and tended to is a different thing, taking efforts on the other hand after acknowledgment is altogether a different thing. Many are willing to acknowledge, but extremely few who come forward and make efforts. But, all of us are capable of creating meaning wherever we are, with whatever we have.
  5. None of us is as strong, as all of us.

I would like to thank Tushar Khobragade for having given me this opportunity to stay at SEARCH and enlighten myself beyond books.









Saturday, June 4, 2016

Indian Education: Development, Achievements and Challenges

In this post, we discuss and try to understand the Indian education scenario. 

The bulk of India had astonishingly little schooling- for India as a whole, when the British left, the adult literacy rate was only around 18 per cent. This neglect of school education continued solidly through the post-independence years, until quite recently. It is encouraging that in recent years the neglect of school education in India has been partially addressed. But there is a long way to go to remedy this long-standing neglect. India's official statistics show a steady increase in school enrolment both girls and boys-and in the facilities available in the school. Governmental decisions as well as orders of the Supreme Court have contributed to these developments, and the enactment of the Right to Education Act in 2010, uncertain as its impact may be, is certainly an attempt to move things forward. The all-India Sarva Siksha Abhiyan ('campaign for universal education'), implemented by state governments with central government support, has also been of great help in expanding and improving school facilities across the country.

The progress that has come about is apparent not only in the government's own report but also in the independent studies. Progress has been envisaged in the school enrolment rates in the remote areas of India. Though far from complete, the rapid movement towards universalization of primary-school enrolment across social groups is nevertheless impressive. But apart from all this statistics, the standard of education in schools in India is far from satisfactory. This can largely be attributed to the truant teachers who are absent most of the time and if present do not attend to the students. Students are also, as an effect become handicapped to discern the beauty of education and that leads to their absenteeism. There is a dearth of teachers in India, largely because they feel that the salary that is given to them is not sufficient.

In the PROBE states (Bihar, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, MP, Rajasthan, UP, Uttarakhand), the official number of school days per year is around two hundred. But with a teacher absenteeism rate of 20 percent, and a pupil absenteeism rate of 33 percent, the combined probability of a child and his or her teacher being present on an average day is only just above 50 per cent. This brings down the number of teaching days effectively to one hundred days or so. But this is not the end of the story, because the survey also suggests that even during those hundred days, about half of the time is bereft of any teaching activity. So, the actual teaching time is more like fifty days- about one fourth of what would happen in a well-functioning schooling system.

School education in India suffers from two principal deficiencies: firstly, limitation of coverage, and secondly, poor standards of the education that is offered and received. Teaching methods are quite often dominated by mindless rote learning, including repetition- typically without comprehension- of what has been read, and endless chanting of multiplication and other tables. In short, the quality of education suffers due to the lack of dedication and commitment in the Indian teachers, which gets affected due to their low salaries. This makes me refer to one of my observations I had, "Indian are their own nemesis".

In the next post on this series, we will talk about "privileged excellence and social exclusions" in the education sector in India.
Most of the inputs in this blogpost, are taken from the book "An Uncertain Glory". 

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Indian Education System : Development and Education

This is first in the series of articles on the understanding of Indian Education System. Education and health are the main pillars of any nation and the progress on these two parameters finally decide the quality of life in a nation. in our first part series we focus on the education in India. 

It is no secret that an educated population is an asset for a nation. Educated people are people who are aware of their rights and duties and also understand that education has a big role to play in the development of the individual and nation as a whole. History has a number of examples to quote how the nation progressed as the people of that nation got educated, thanks to education reforms. Achievement of cent percent in the field of education reforms, after careful study of these nations, does not look like a distant dream at all. 

The connection between education and development, including crucially important role of public services in bringing about an educational transformation, was very clearly seen more than two hundred years ago by Adam Smith, who provided the classic analysis of how the market mechanism can work successfully. He wanted much greater use of state resources for public education and argued:
"For a very small expence the publick can facilitate, can encourage, and can even impose upon the almost the whole body of the people, the necessity of acquiring those most essential parts of education".  

The experience of Europe and America, which have been extensively studied, bring out most forcefully the pervasive role of education led typically by government initiatives, in facilitating and sustaining economic and social development. Education, it can be argued leads to a more enhanced lifestyle of people and also contributes towards what Amartya Sen calls, "development as freedom". An educated person, is essentially a liberated person and does not have to feel insecure as people who are pauperized feel. He can earn and make out a living, without getting divested of his right to live a life of dignity and respect. Also, education equips a person to claim his/her rights. Basic education will propel them to better health conditions also, as has been shown by science that basic knowledge among women about nutrition helps them to take better care of their new born babies and reduces the risk of early mortality. 

The famous adage that goes, "if you educate a woman, you educate entire family" cannot be more true. Education, holds a more important value for women which are mostly prejudiced and segregated owing to their womanhood. An educated woman is an empowered woman and can lead to better functioning of governmental organizations due to her deep understanding of the problems of people and their concerns, which can be traced back to her experience as being born as a human.  



The fact that human development in general and school education in particular are first and foremost allies of poor, rather than only of the rich and the affluent, is an understanding that has informed the Japanese strategy of economic development throughout its modern history. Later on, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong and of course China followed similar routes and firmly focused on basic education largely delivered by state. 

Widespread global development would be difficult to envisage without educational reforms in the world as a whole. In the next post, we shall look at the achievements, challenges and developments in the Indian Education System.