Renting a tractor the ola/uber way…

October 20, 2016

How lessons are transplanted from one industry to the other.

This bit is really interesting (HT: CB Blog). Mahindras have launched an app called trringo. The small farmers can just swipe and call a tractor. Just like we do for taxis using ola/uber:

Hailing a ride with your smartphone? That’s old news — ask any Uber, Lyft or Careem customer.

But how about hailing a tractor?

Just as urbanites may find it impractical to own a car but still need a ride once in a while, so, too, in the Indian countryside: To get the most from their land, small-scale farmers may need tractors and other machines from time to time, but they may not be able to afford their own.

Renting can be the answer, but the way it was done in India before was not very appealing to farmers. The process was usually informal and local, run by equipment owners who could be capricious or discriminatory, and prices tended to surge at the times of year every farmer in the area would be doing the same job and need the same equipment.

Mahindra & Mahindra, a major Indian vehicle manufacturer, thought there had to be a better way.

“One of the things that struck us was the toll it took on the self-esteem of the farmer,” said Rajesh Jejurikar, chief executive of the company’s farm-equipment division. “It was, literally, like having to beg for it. He didn’t feel like it was his right.”

So the company came up with a smartphone app, Trringo, which it rolled out in September in the state of Karnataka and will soon be available in other agrarian states like Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan.

Right now, a farmer can use the app to specify what is needed and when, and the company will send the requested tractor and a driver from one of about 20 hubs across Karnataka. The machine might belong to Trringo or to a private owner using the service to book rentals.

There is one snag: By recent estimates, only about 9 percent of rural India has mobile internet access. So the company has also set up call centers for farmers to arrange rentals by telephone.

Will be interesting to see how this experiment fares…

How does Geography shape and redefine society: Case of Rajasthan

October 20, 2016

Thingnam Sanjeev of National Archives of India has written a book review of this book by Yamuna Sunny. The book is called Sprout: A Social Geography of Rajasthan and looks like quite a read.

Sanjeev says:

The book is groundbreaking in terms of its presentation, the way it illuminates ideas and events with the clarity of a schoolbook. By using graphics, illustrations, pictorial maps and dialogues, it opens up a new way of approaching and understanding geography which ties up with Sunny’s claim of building on “the informal spaces of reading that should be available to the people” (in acknowledgement). The book is thus heavily driven and informed by a sense of social justice, and is indeed, a pioneering work of its kind on Rajasthan in particular, and geographical studies in India at large. Deviating from the general trend of geographical reading with its focus on the physical landscape, Sunny tries to show how the processes of production and distribution of a region determine the social formations.

The book provides us a window to critically examine the various social challenges that retrograde and divide the people of Rajasthan. It argues that popular knowledge on geography is generally confined to “the encyclopedic form” and attempts to reinvent and reinterpret new perspectives on geography. By using social imagery to explain various modes of life of Rajasthani society, Sunny shows how geography becomes the site where human groups interact with nature to produce goods. It is the unequal nature of this interaction that has produced the social categories of class, caste and gender. She has captured local cultural perspectives through the references to oral traditions, ancient texts, folklores, plays, folksongs and food culture of Rajasthan. How the Rajasthanis as a community viewed their own geography and their responses to the changing spatial relationships have also been explained. The book constitutes a relentless interrogation into how the social geography of Rajasthani society has been governed by the caste system and how it is this very system that has denied the underprivileged class/caste like Dalits free access to public spaces.

How you dislike Geography and History throughout school. This is only to figure later they are perhaps the most important and relevant subjects for the rest of your life.

Fed’s rising focus on racial diversity and will it be reduced to an employment targeting central bank?

October 20, 2016

One has been so bored of reading FOMC statements that they are almost being ignored. The usual thing about inflation and unemployment is so much an overkill.

But Conor Sen points to this interesting new development. Fed is increasingly concerned about racial diversity in employment and reporting them as well. These are signs that Fed is going to be a more diverse place for employment as well:

The Federal Reserve gave two indications last week that one of its next structural pushes will be toward incorporating more diversity into how it conducts its business. For a variety of reasons, this evolution is likely to lead to a monetary policy with a more dovish bias than the institution has had in the past.

The first sign came in the release of the minutes from the September Fed meeting. For the third meeting in a row, the Fed commented on racial unemployment disparities, pointing out that “the unemployment rates for African Americans and Hispanics remained above the rate for whites.” The Fed also noted that for ages 25 to 64, the employment-to-population ratio was higher for whites than for blacks and Hispanics.

The second sign came in comments made by Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari. “We cannot have confidence we are achieving maximum employment if we don’t understand what’s happening beneath the surface. … Understanding the composition of maximum employment is actually very important to us achieving the mandate that Congress has given us,” he said. Kashkari, whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from India, has previously said he will spend a day in the life of a struggling black family in order to better understand that experience.

This incorporation of demographic data in policy making isn’t the only way the Fed is looking to account for diversity. The Fed has increasingly been criticized by congressional Democrats for a lack of diversity on its staff. None of the Fed’s 12 regional branches has ever been led by a black or Hispanic president. Fed Chair Janet Yellen has pledged to increase diversity among the Fed’s ranks as it looks for a new Atlanta Fed president. With Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia, the Atlanta Fed branch includes four of the six states with the highest proportion of blacks in the country.


In the end, he says Fed is likely to look more at employment diversity than inflation as latter is hardly a concern now:

The future looks to be one with a more diverse Fed concerned more with achieving full employment in a variety of ways and less on elevated inflation, a focus that increasingly appears to be a relic of history.

This will be quite something if it happens.

And here in India, our central bank does not even think of regional representation in its overall policies. Though, in terms of employment Indian central bank could be more diversely employed given India’s affirmative policies. But the overall utility of this better representation can still be questioned. Does it really help address the wide regional and community differences in policies? On the face of it, it atleast does not seem to be the case..

250 years of the bond-equity correlation in UK – from positive to negative

October 20, 2016

The word correlation seems to have magical powers till you enter a statistics class. The class rubbishes the claim “correlation implies causation” and with it dies all the magic associated with the word. So whenever you read the word correlation, your reactions are mixed.

This post by Matt Roberts Sklar of BoE Blog Bank Underground shows 250 years of correlation between bonds and equities.  Interestingly, the correlation was positive till 1990s and has been negative ever since:

For most of the 18th-20th centuries, government bonds usually behaved like a risky asset. When equity prices fell, bond yields rose, i.e.  bond and equity returns were positively correlated (bond prices move inversely to yields). But since the mid-2000s, bond and equity returns have been negatively correlated, i.e. bonds became a hedge for risk. Before this, the last time this correlation was near zero for a prolonged period was the long depression in the late 19th century.

Bond-equity correlation

Source: Thomas and Dimsdale (2016) and author calculations.
Line shows ten year trailing correlation of monthly returns.

The change in the bond-equity correlation since the mid-2000s partly reflects investors being less worried about inflation risks. As well as demand-type shocks being more prevalent than supply-type shocks, the introduction of credible inflation targeting has helped anchor inflation expectations and reduced the likelihood of high inflation risks. Investors may also have become more focussed on bad states of the world.

At the same time, there has been a structural increase in demand for ‘safe assets’, with more investors demanding safe government bonds for reasons unrelated to their expected cashflows. This has been exacerbated during and since the financial crisis, with deterioration in risk sentiment leading to episodic ‘flight to safety’.  And the addition of QE and forward guidance to the monetary policy toolbox may mean long-term bonds react differently to previously.

The long historical perspective is interesting.

We usually think of stock and bond prices correlations like this. Say inflation goes up. Markets then expect central bank to increase rates and as a result bond yields go up and prices fall. In equity markets, the expectation is that valuation of firms will be lower in future down due to higher interest rates. So, the equity prices also decline. Thus, we see a positive correlation in the two assets.

But this monetary policy thing is recent development in 250 year history even if central banks are not. After all BoE came up in 1694, much before this data which is from 1750s. So to see this positive correlation even back in 1750s is interesting. Even more as during those times inflation was relatively stable due to commodity/gold standard. Prices hardly changed and inflation was hardly a risk. The shocks then mist be more around due to crop failures, sudden  rise in price of gold/silver , banking panics etc.

So say there is a banking panic this would have led both bond and stock investors shunning both and prices declining.

I would imagine this correlation has changed mainly due to increased central bank adventurism. In case of a shock people know central banks will infuse liquidity mainly via buying more bonds. Thus bonds are never really out of favor and only equities suffer.

There is a lot of interesting stuff in this one graph..


Learning basic finance from Norway’s Wealth Fund

October 20, 2016

Espen Henriksen and Knut Anton Mork write about a committee report (headed by Prof Mork himself) to look at portfolio of Norway’s Sovereign Wealth Fund. It has some useful finance lessons to offer:

 Index funds whether explicitly or implicitly seem to get better of the active ones..

City Union Bank – A good buy despite 112 years of existence!

October 19, 2016

Radhika Merwin of Hindu Businessline says City Union Bank is a good stock buy amidst the gloomy Indian banking sector.

Read the rest of this entry »

Iceland Today, the US Tomorrow?

October 19, 2016

One would have least expected even during the deepest crisis moment during 2008 crisis that soon people will compare US to countries least expected.

Ron Paul leaves Fed for a moment and takes a deeper dig at the US as a whole. Both countries are using departure tax to shore govt revenues:

Read the rest of this entry »

Why Indian States will give way to megaregions? (But is it anything new?)

October 19, 2016

Ashok Malik of TOI has an interesting piece. He says States as a way of political and economic organisation is passe.

India is going to be run by three megaregions in future:

As units of political and economic reckoning, states have come into their own and two recent but different episodes have emphasised this. The passing of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) constitutional amendment and the creation of the GST Council gives states greater authority in fiscal policy than before. On the other hand, the Cauvery dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu has made apparent that strongly regional politics sometimes renders compromise difficult.

Nevertheless, whether as a political challenge or an economic trigger, the salience and empowerment of states is set to rise. There is hope that a sense of competition will get states to push each other in attracting investment and business opportunities, incubating manufacturing and innovation, and growing the overall Indian economy. India is making up for lost time. It is devolving powers to states and provinces in the manner China did in the late 1970s and 1980s, a decade in which Indira Gandhi did everything that was possibly wrong.

Having said that, is a template for the 1980s or 1990s true for the 2020s? Are states already yesterday’s story, and are tomorrow’s units of economic reckoning clusters and megaregions that will inevitably run across state boundaries? Consider some numbers. India’s GDP is today valued at $2 trillion. Amitabh Kant, chief executive of Niti Aayog, says if all goes well it could touch $10 trillion by 2032. A shorter-term assessment would have it reaching $5 trillion in the next decade, by 2025-26.

How will this $5 trillion GDP be distributed? About two-thirds of it will be located in three megaregions. First, the National Capital Region, comprising Delhi, Gurgaon and Noida, but frankly stretching to a variety of other locations: from Jaipur-Ajmer to Meerut to Gwalior.

Second, there is the Mumbai-Pune-Thane belt, extending by way of the National Highway to Ahmedabad and constituting the southern end of the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor.

Third, there is the 350 km stretch from Chennai to Bengaluru. Linking two states currently divided by the waters of the Cauvery, this stretch is being developed, with Japanese support, as an industrial corridor driven by technology, innovation and high-end, precision manufacture.

It is a reasonable bet, borne out by statistical modelling, that in 10 years each of these three megaregions will individually have a $1 trillion GDP.

He then points how economic megaregions are present in advanced countries as well. Though the example is only one from US but we do get to read such cases in Germany etc as well. Even if we continue with the States, they will just be obsolete:

Economic megaregions exist in every major country. In the American Northeast, for example, the Boston-Washington, DC, corridor (running though New York and Philadelphia) has a GDP about as large as Germany’s. A megaregion is recognition of the fact that business ecosystems and complementarities cannot be curbed by state boundaries and will tend to overwrite political maps. That’s why states as a category are becoming obsolete. India’s future for much of the coming 25 years at least will be shaped in its three emergent megaregions.

This is all fine and could easily happen as well.

The thing is it is hardly anything new. This organisation and reorganisation business keeps happening as we move.

The interesting thing though is how little things have really changed. We have had two of these regions – Bombay and Madras – as the key megaregions during British time as well. Instead of Calcutta which was the political and commercial capital during British time, we have Delhi this time. Post State reorganisation in 1956, we thought differently and made these megaregions part of the States.

But this reorganisation could not really change the fundamental aspects. Their geographies had historically earmarked them for growth and development. It is interesting and important they have continued to remain relevant despite so many years.

What would have been more interesting is emergence of newer megaregions..

Mark Carney: Britain’s celebrity central banker

October 19, 2016

George Pickering student of economic history at the LSE and Mises University has an interesting piece. He talks about Mark Carney who has emerged as a big celebrity central banker:

An awed hush descended over the crowd, as the most powerful man in the British economy prepared to give his response. Sitting at the front of the room, Bank of England governor Mark Carney surveyed his audience, paused to consider the question for a moment, and then finally decided on his answer: “Pizza.”

The event in question took place last month, when Mr. Carney visited Whitley Academy in Coventry, a small provincial city in the English midlands, where he was questioned by a group of 12–18 year old pupils on everything from his favourite kinds of food (pizza, for the record) and chocolate, to his favourite television programmes, to whether he preferred dogs or cats. The event was part of the BBC’s “School Report” initiative, which aims to give young people a taste of what it’s like to work for Britain’s state-sponsored news and entertainment monolith. As well as Mr. Carney, BBC School Report has also allowed pupils to meet with celebrities such as Angelina Jolie. But even in such illustrious company, the pupils’ meeting with the man in charge of the world’s oldest central bank left them impressed with how “informal” and even “cool” he was.

They aren’t alone. Ever since he was appointed to the position in 2013, the personality and antics of the UK’s monetary policy czar have delighted and captivated the press. In the eyes of the British public, everything from his square jaw to the accent stemming from his far-off and exotic homeland of Canada, makes Mr. Carney appear closer to some sort of Hollywood celebrity than to the technocratic coterie of crumpled grey suits who preceded him in the post. Over the past year in particular, Mr. Carney has happily cultivated for himself a degree of national visibility from which many of his predecessors would have shied, even when the media’s adulation of the BoE governor seems to centre as much around personality as it does around policy. After he cut interest rates to their lowest level in history this summer, for example, the media were delighted to photograph him conspicuously attending a music festival just days later, replete with brightly coloured polo shirt and a “glitter tattoo” on his face. In the immediate aftermath of Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, which Carney loudly proclaimed to be the “toughest day” he’s ever faced as BoE governor, he was nevertheless sure to be photographed chatting with famous actors at Wimbledon. London’s Evening Standard even went so far as to call him “the biggest babe in banking,” on account of his “George Clooney good looks.”

As absurd and amusing as this all may be, it nevertheless represents a development which could provide clues to what the future of the British political landscape might look like. When placed in the context of the disarray and chaos engulfing Britain’s political system at present, Mark Carney’s self-conscious ascent into the elite club of “celebrity” central bankers, could have more to it than first meets the eye.

Ironically, Post Brexit it is these starry qualities which are keeping Britain at bay. But for how long will it last?

It is interesting how the fortunes of the two central banks – England and India- intertwined in 2013. The same piece could easily have been written for  India as well. I mean the Indian media reporting fawning was as atrocious and fawning as in British lands. Just that India has thankfully escaped but the torture and entertainment  continues even now..

Big data in 19th century Ireland (Why is India missed each time??)

October 18, 2016

A terrific post by Prof. Cóilín Parsons who is a Professor of English at Georgetown University, in Washington, DC.

She points how big data is hardly a 21st century thing. It actually can be traced to 19th century when British decided to make Gazetteers documenting small details about parishes in Ireland.

Read the rest of this entry »

Understanding moral repugnance: The case of the US market for kidney transplantation

October 18, 2016

Julio J. Elias, Nicola Lacetera, Mario Macis have an interesting paper:

….to accept a system based on private transactions, the median respondent would require about a 30 percentage point increase in supply, corresponding to 10,000 extra kidneys procured (which would reduce the shortage by more than 50%), and $1.26 billion in savings for taxpayers. This difference in the estimated trade-offs appears to derive from the fact that the public agency paid-donor system was considered less repugnant than the private transactions system along all of the morality features that we included. In particular, participants rated the public agency system as being equally ‘fair to the patients’ as the unpaid donor system (these two systems allocated organs to patients based on the same priority rules), whereas private transactions (in which the allocation is purely market-based) were considered highly unfair.
The issue of a kidney market is a very sensitive one and needs to be dealt with a lot of patience and humility.

Alvin Roth stresses that “we need to understand better and engage more with the phenomenon of ‘repugnant transactions’, which often serves as an important constraint on markets and market design.”[1] The prohibition on payments to kidney donors is one important example of this phenomenon. Our research suggests that individual choices based on repugnance considerations respond in a predictable ways to efficiency information, but also that ethical views play a crucial role in these preferences.

Supplying evidence and promoting studies on such sensitive topics might therefore lead to greater awareness and improved policy design based on the actual preferences of a population. In the case of introducing regulated payments for organ donors and their families in particular, the evidence is particularly strong that informing society about the potential benefits of economic incentives does impact the acceptability of this transaction.

Because individual preferences appear to depend on expected efficiency in addition to ethical considerations, pilot trials testing the outcomes of different arrangements may enhance the ability of a population to determine the preferred organ procurement and allocation system.

This topic of kidneys is really intriguing for this blog.

This post – Regulated market for kidneys in Iran – written in July 2010 continues to get comments till date. There is hardly a week when someone does not post a comment which is related to either demand or supply of kidneys. It currently says 60 responses but is much more as many have been deleted given the randomness of the comment.

So it seems this is one big missing market (if one can call it that) which is affecting a lot of people. How to make it work keeping sensibilities in mind is obviously a big issue to tackle..

The future of web design is hidden in the history of architecture

October 18, 2016

Superb picturesque post by Mike Sall.

The history of Western architecture can teach us a lot about the evolution of web design. As forms of art, both are defined by several factors:

  1. They serve as places where other people go.
  2. They’re engineered to do this pragmatic job.
  3. The evolution of technology limits this engineering.
  4. And yet, they’re definitely still art.

Within these constraints, both have progressed along remarkably similar paths, building on the past and reacting to it in similar ways. If you want to know where web design is heading, just look at where architecture has already gone.

History of architecture has so much to offer…

How many payments banks will come up finally?

October 17, 2016

The story of payment banks has been off the radar for a while. After initial euphoria over their being seen as game changers, there was sudden shock when three of them opted even before starting their business. One was expecting more to drop out but were perhaps scared of the regulator which wished to penalise the future drop outs.

In a new article, banking journo Tamal Bandopadhyay asks the question –  How many payments banks will come up finally? He says even if the remaining come up, they will struggle to make profits:

Of the eight that are putting the final touches on their business plans, four are in the telecom space—Airtel M Commerce Services Ltd (partnering Kotak Mahindra Bank), Reliance Industries Ltd (Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd is partnering State Bank of India), Vodafone m-pesa Ltd and Idea Cellular Ltd. In July, Bharti Airtel Ltd had close to 257 million subscribers, Vodafone India 200 million, Idea 176.5 million and a 9 October statement said Reliance Jio had managed to get 16 million customers since its launch the previous month. They have a captive subscriber base and, if nothing else, the payments bank activities will help them create stickiness for their telecom customers. For others, it will be a difficult task—setting up a payments bank and making money, even after five years.

It is amazing how little thought has gone into the business model and profitability angle of these banks. The regulator expressing its interest is one thing as it does not worry about profits really. But to see so many private sector stalwarts make a beeline for the licences makes one wonder on what was really going on.

Most were thinking that it would lead to a their backdoor entry into banking. But even for that to happen they would have to cross this first hurdle of making their payment bank viable.

One does not even know this aura of owning a bank. Unless one is thinking that he/she could siphon off the bank funds to own business, even normal  banking is a very tough business. Even siphoning funds to one’s own business would be tough given the constant sword of the regulator on its head.

But both media and our banking experts think differently. Anything  to do with private banking is seen as this game changer without really looking at the details..

Future of Library in next 100 years: A novel initiative to keep books in demand

October 17, 2016

Katie Bennett of Oxford University Press has a post on a very interesting initiative taking place in Oslo, Norway.

The idea is to make some efforts to ensure both libraries and books remain relevant even 100 years later:

I want to live to be 100 years old. Yes, that is a bold statement, and I’ll admit this goal may be a bit unrealistic and potentially impossible, but my curiosity pushes me to beat the laws of nature. As a 22-year-old avid reader working for a publishing company, I can’t help but wonder: what will be the future of the printed book? Since the creation of the world wide web by Tim Burners-Lee in 1989 and it’s continual expansion since then, this question has haunted the publishing industry, raising profound questions about the state of the industry and the printed book. After the debut of the Amazon Kindle and the Barnes & Noble Nook, it seemed as if the days of print materials were numbered. Katie Paterson, founder of the Future Library of Norwa project, doesn’t seem to think so, and she’s got a plan to ensure their existence.

A renowned Scottish artist, Paterson is known for her grand-scale artistic ideas and endeavors. On 12 June 12 2014, Paterson began a century-long project as her way of preserving the future of the library and the printed book. Over 1,000 trees have been planted in the Nordmarka forest just outside of Oslo, Norway for the Future Library, called Framtidsbiblioteket in Swedish. These trees, only now just saplings, will grow to full maturity by 2114, ready to be harvested to print the most mysterious literary anthology ever compiled.

Each year, one prominent author submits an original manuscript of his or her writing—be it a poem, short story, novel, play, anything—and seals it in a box. For the next 100 years, that box will be kept in trust, unpublished, until 2114 when the future project leaders will publish the set of works submitted into printed anthologies available to the public. The New Deichmanske Public Library in Bjørvika, Oslo, opens in 2019 and will house the manuscripts in a specially designed room, lined with wood from the forest. Only the authors’ names and titles of their works will be displayed.

For the next 98 years, no one—not even Katie Paterson herself—will be able to read these submissions, and the authors of these works will most likely never experience the public’s reaction to their writings. In fact, most everyone who is currently working on this project with Paterson will never see the results of their efforts, and can only hope that the people to whom they entrust this project will continue their legacy in the ways directed. With hope, their grandchildren might be old enough to purchase a volume of the anthology, but even that’s no guarantee. In a world so consumed with providing a better existence for future generations, how selfless of an endeavor to work on a project the creator will knowingly never be able to enjoy.

Some authors have already begun to submit their anthologies. One can already buy a right to ensure delivery of the anthology when it opens to public in 2114.

A short history of cricket in Hindi cinema

October 17, 2016

There are three things which Indians are usually mad about- politics, cricket and movies.

Baradwaj Rangan a film critic and an associate editor with the Hindu in this piece mixes cricket with movies.

He tell you about several Hindi films which have had cricket as a plot. There is also a review of cricketers who tried the celluloid. He actually covers a lot of ground in this piece and hardly misses any movies:

Read the rest of this entry »

Why was there a graveyard inside the Bank of England?

October 17, 2016

As central banks are getting highly predictable and laughable, they are turning to other ways to keep people ( and bloggers like me) interested. One way is to keep bringing some interesting trivia to people’s attention.

An example is this bit from Bank of England. Bank of Engalnd established in 1694 soon outgrew its original location. It then took up a graveyard nearby:

The Bank of England moved to its current site on Threadneedle Street in 1734.  We quickly outgrew our first building so to expand further we bought a church that was situated next-door.

The church was deconsecrated and demolished, but its graveyard was left in place.  This later became the Bank’s Garden Court..

There is then a story of a really tall employee who wanted to be buried in the same graveyard. His coffin was found later as the building was redone:

The Bank was completely rebuilt in the 1920s and ‘30s, and Jenkins’s coffin was found when the Garden Court was dug up.  Along with the other coffins found, it was moved to Nunhead Cemetery near Peckham, South London.  However, Jenkins’ coffin proved to be too long to fit in the vaults there, so arrangements were made for it to be placed in the catacombs..

So there are no longer any graves in or under our Garden Court today.  At least, not to our knowledge…

Scary stuff…
One can decide what is scarier. The Bank’s ever adventurous monetary policy or working late night at the Bank with your office being closer to the Garden Court…

What’s next in history of economics? A wish list

October 17, 2016

Beatrice Cherrier an upcoming economic hisotrian has a wishlist:

Read the rest of this entry »

The Dizzying Grandeur of 21st-Century Agriculture

October 14, 2016

This is just an amazing photo essay on what 21st century agriculture looks like atleast in some places if not all of them (HT: MR blog).

Our industrialized food system nourishes more people, at lower cost, than any comparable system in history. It also exerts a terrifyingly massive influence on our health and our environment. Photographer George Steinmetz spent nearly a year traveling the country to capture that system, in all its scope, grandeur and dizzying scale. His photographs are all the more remarkable for the fact that so few large food producers are willing to open themselves to this sort of public view.

Amazing pictures of cranberry fields, Turkeys (scary actually to see just one person amidst so many birds), calves and so on. Must watch..

Globalized fruit, local entrepreneurs: How one banana exporting country achieved worldwide reach

October 14, 2016

An interesting book review on history and growth of Ecuador banana industry.

Role of geography was  just crucial:

Ecuador’s many assets for having a successful industry are also identified. It has optimal soils for growing the fruit, an appropriate and relatively storm-free climate (bananas are easily damaged by strong winds), and an ample labor force already living in the lowland regions that would become the country’s banana zones. In addition, it had just experienced the failure of its prior primary export crop, cacao, adding some urgency to the interest in switching to bananas on the part of many farmers.

Another unique dimension of the Ecuadorean industry is its relatively late beginning. The country’s location on the west coast of South America had been the biggest deterrent to the successful export of the fruit prior to 1914 when the Panama Canal opened. While Colombia and Central American exporters all had Caribbean coasts through which their exports could pass, Ecuador’s trading links to Europe and most of North America involved an arduous voyage around the southern tip of the continent. The canal alleviated that necessity and, while adding on the expense of the canal toll, it allowed Ecuadorean bananas to be competitive in foreign markets. The country first attempted to develop a banana export industry in the 1930s but the Great Depression and the ensuing world war caused major reductions in global demand for the fruit. Instead, the industry got its real start in the late 1940s and took off during the first half of the following decade when Ecuador became the world’s leading exporter of the fruit, a position it continues to occupy. The late start actually worked to its benefit as it was able to learn from the problems confronted by its competitors in the region to its north. That helped both its entrepreneurs and its government make better choices, while also taking advantage of the U.S. Consent Decree of 1958, an anti-monopoly measure that required United Fruit to divest many of its landholdings in Latin America.


Foremost among Ecuador’s distinctive characteristics is the prior existence of an important port city, Guayaquil (now the country’s largest city). Guayaquil has played a significant role from the colonial period on and, in the process, fostered the development of entrepreneurial skills of many of its residents. These were largely in place by the time bananas became a major export commodity for the country in the 1950s. The city spawned several entrepreneurs who would be instrumental in the development of the banana industry. The most notable among these was Luis Noboa. His story, recounted at length throughout the book, was a classic rags-to-riches tale of a driven man who became Ecuador’s wealthiest man and whose firm ultimately became its largest banana trading company (and the fourth largest in the world).

Fascinating to know all this…

Agriculture linked to trade is as old and as modern as it can get..

How many more people will die of potholed roads before we take the issue seriously?

October 14, 2016

Today the ToI reported how a young dentist died in a Mumbai suburb as her father was trying to avoid potholes. Such news really sickens you.

On one hand, we are building this huge image of India shining and on the other we have not been able to resolve these small issues. Any grand plan by Highways Ministry is written and commented a lot by the media and the experts. However, we fail to understand how little these things matter in daily living. In daily life, it is not these grandiose plans but much smaller ones that matter. In terms of roads, it is not those big flyovers and sealinks that matter but safe and pothole free roads.

It is amazing how many people die due to potholed roads very year in India. Just last year some 10700 deaths were reported which could just be an under reported figure. There are several cases of fatal injuries and near deaths as well. We are not even including accidents here. It is just about potholes. It is a daily struggle for most commuters in India’s top cities to avoid and survive potholes.

We also fail to understand that it is not just building new roads that matters. They have to be maintained as well. There should be stringent action against officials against such basic negligence of roads maintenance. It is all too casual at the moment with no accountability. Even post the above accident all the authorities said was this:

The civic body has ordered an enquiry and Yuvraj Bhadane, public relations officer of Ulhasnagar Municipal Corporation, said, “We will look into the matter and ask the contractor to fill up all potholes.”

In Bangalore, one authority claimed he found just one single pothole on his drive on a major road of the city! Perhaps he understood pothole as the road and there was just one spot of road which was seen as a pothole.

One does not even know how to react to such reactions by the authorities. Given such blatant ignorance of matters, what else to expect really..