A spell of inaction

I’d tackle the crisis beginning with the last of the above problems: inefficiency and corruption. A notable success of India in recent times is the women’s self-help groups [SHG]. Here are some examples [ 1,   2  ] Having membership of between 12 and 15 each, thousands of these groups across India have earned the trust and respect of banks. They have a timely repayment record of 99%+. These women have become adept at formal accounting and reporting practices. But so far SHG’s have confined themselves to dispensing small loans to individual members starting micro-businesses.

The time has come to develop them into business cells. The time and money spent on upgrading their knowledge and awareness can result in a reliable delivery mechanism that is corruption and sloth free.

I’d call upon tycoons, such as say Mr Tata who has announced a Rs.100,000 family car, to develop and market small scale farm machines and equipment. This rice harvester is criss-crossing small fields all over the Far East. There are numerous other machines that aid small farmers in Thailand, Japan, Vietnam and China. These small portable bins can hold grains for months at the village level until fair prices are assured. Manufacturers of sub-15 hp equipment would be incentivised.

These would be made available to SHG at concessional finance. They would render peripheral services -ploughing, planting, harvesting, processing, storing and marketing- to farmers in a cluster of villages.

I’d encourage the non-edible vegetable oil producing pongamia pinnata, a tree that can come up on village road margins and commons. The oil extracted would be used exclusively for driving small farm equipment. This is contrary to the trend of making biofuels for the city’s vehicles, often on good agricultural lands. My goal is local energy self-sufficiency.

Acknowledging that farmers would be reluctant to commit a part of their land to farm ponds, I’d pay the cost of the land, have the ponds dug and hand it back to him. In return for this giveaway the country will be the richer in water wealth and decrease the energy needs of irrigation.

SHG can be incentivised to run goshalas [aged cattle shelters] and turn them into profit centres producing vermicompost.

What has been detailed is of course not a formal action plan but suggests the direction the policy makers should be contemplating on. When rural welfare is earnestly wished for, an accountant’s mindset will turn into that of an environmentalist’s. Wealth will then be computed on the basis of soil fertility, societal health, water wealth and strength of local economies.

Indians used to be pretty good as least-external-input farmers. It can be successfully argued that farming with animals and bio-waste is every bit as productive as with chemicals.

It is sobering to contemplate the consequences of not acting in synergy with nature. In the weeks of inaction at pointReturn, as I idled and turned the pages of a newspaper, I read that the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s [FAO] Director General Jaques Diouf was visiting India. The context of the visit was rising food prices and their scarcity. The report quoted him thus: “The world food situation is very serious today with food riots reported from many countries like Egypt, Cameroon, Haiti, Burkina Faso and Senegal. We fear that this may spread to other countries.”

Altogether, the foregoing thoughts were enough to make me long for action to resume at pointReturn.

2 thoughts on “A spell of inaction

  1. Sorry, I have taken all this time to reply you. You ask some significant questions and make suggestions that I have given much consideration to.
    First off, this: “how about 40 or even more people living off the land, with all the creature comforts that they are used to currently, making absolutely no compromises to their quality of life, and living completely in harmony with the environment.”
    I fear there is a mutual contradiction in this question, that arises out of what ‘creature comforts’ are. If high-end single-user cars, air conditioning, all the electricity you need are excluded, would the residents be making “compromises to their quality of life”?
    I do hope pR succeeds and becomes a template for others. But once we become aware of ‘inconvenient truths’ about sustainability we must be prepared for ‘inconvenient changes’ to our life-styles. I consider safe and comfortable housing, self-rationed electricity, clean water, air and food, collective or public transportation and access to the Internet are all that is required for a modern life and I aim to work towards providing these at pR.
    The costs of a project like pR are surprisingly modest. I do keep meticulous account of the sums spent and will publish them some day soon, when the project has passed certain milestones. Suffice it is to say now, that the whole thing will not exceed a upper-end apartment and a fancy car in any of India’s metros today- and that, in an increasingly wealthy India is within the reach of a population that would exceed that of the UK.

  2. I salute your spirit, and admire your courage to involve yourself in this project.

    I have a few suggestions for pointReturn – I did think a lot before giving these suggestions, because you are out there, doing something that is commendable – and to sit where I am, and just give you suggestions, is something I actually feel guilty about! If you turn around and ask me – why dont you actually do something instead of just giving suggestions, I would be at a loss of words!

    I would like to suggest a subtle rethink to the goals of pointReturn. If this project is to make a meaningful difference, it is not enough to show that it can support 40 people, who are willing to make compromises in their lifestyle, and can live off the land, without damaging the environment. Though that goal is by itself laudable, I think that is something which will not make a meaningful difference to mankind.

    I know this goal itself is quite a challenge, and is quite difficult to acheive. But please consider changing this goal to some other goal, so that it can make a meaningful difference – how about 40 or even more people living off the land, with all the creature comforts that they are used to currently, making absolutely no compromises to their quality of life, and living completely in harmony with the environment. At the same time, it should not cost any more to live this kind of life, than it does to live a regular life.

    In a sense, this project is about a differnt way to live life – but I think if it is just about a different way to live life, people will watch it from far away, and applaud you for your courage and conviction. This has to be a better life to live – not just better in terms of the environment, but actually better, in terms of comforts, quality of life, health, wealth, everything. I hope this project will actually start a trend – not just prove a point.

    Please also publish all your costs of pointReturn – land costs, input costs, labour costs, everything. Let the whole world see how possible and affordable it is to get this kind of lifestyle. Any upfront investments in windmills, solar power, etc. can be quantified and offset against the long run savings of using them. Like a company does audits, there can be initital capital costs, interest costs, depreciation, tax benefits, savings in long term costs, everything factored in.

    This is the sort of project that should make a meaningful difference – it should not be just an experiment, or a proof-of-concept. It should be the stepping stone for hundreds and thousands of such projects all over the world.

    Pls let me know in what ways I can be involved in this project. I cant think of a better way to give meaning to life!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *