Monday, March 23, 2009

Good News, India?

D V Sridharan is one of modern India's heroes. A retired merchant navy officer, Mr. Sridharan started the website in 2000, reporting on numerous grass roots efforts in India. Having covered a wide variety of philanthropic projects, he came to this interesting realization:

My stories were about two broad types. One set of projects was conceived from the beginning to become self-sustaining, which I shall call SS-projects. Holistic land based, environmentally sound projects were of this type. The other type usually served a humanitarian need and required steady inflow of funds. As they seemed to constantly fight a fire instead of ever able to douse it, I shall call them fire fighting or FF-projects. Orphanages, special education centres and gender issues are typical FF-projects.
...SS-projects were almost always rooted in caring for resources like water and soil. FF-projects were invariably funded by foreign donors; the corollary being, Indians are not very forthcoming in supporting charitable initiatives. Several of the FF-projects became addicted to seeking money and became notoriously unprofessional in terms of accounting for the funds received and the manner of their use.
By 2006 Mr. Sridharan decided that he needed to do more than just report on good efforts. This resulted in the beginning of project pointReturn to regenerate a "waste-land" and establish a self reliant community on it. He soon started posting regular updates about the logistics of pointReturn. The whole saga is definitely worth reading for anyone who is considering landscape restoration projects.

Along with describing the logistics, Mr. Sridharan continues to write insightful observations and commentary, for example in the articles India, browning, Gandhigram, an interlude, and A spell of inaction.

From 'A spell of inaction':
Deep in its collective heart, India’s political establishment believes rapid industrialisation is the goal to aim for; that an open door trade and investment policy in every economic activity is the way to get there; that income inequalities will be evened out by prosperity trickling down; that the numerous special economic zones created, -often on agricultural lands- will generate jobs and sustained properity; that India in the long run must come to have no more than 5% of its population in agriculture and that until that ideal balance comes about the only thing to do is to manage the inevitable social churning. Policy makers’ further tenets are that unending supply of industrial grade power must be assured for high standards of living; that such a living will create demand for products and services to keep the economy growing; that rising world trade will make all products available everywhere; that all food can be grown by mechanisation and engineered crops or freely imported from global markets;that the environmental costs of modern production processes are inevitable, over estimated and in any case, can be ‘fixed’ with the surpluses that a booming economy will produce.
The urban world is formally well informed about inflation, climate change, stock and commodity exchanges,the nation’s budget, recession etc but it can escape the negative effects of these in the shorter term because of the cash in its pockets. Rural India on the other hand, has no formal knowledge of these but directly experiences them- consequences of unseasonal rains and rising costs of farm inputs for instance hit them almost immediately. The remaining question is whether rural India can survive these in the longer term. The answer would be yes, for it is closer to the neglected earth. But the yes is a qualified one. The malign neglect of farming must stop, convictions must grow that natural farming -as against chemical farming- can be profitable.



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