Why Can’t India Feed Its People?

A stirring (and  disturbing) piece by  of Business Week. He relates his experiences living in a small village (Auar in UP) where his ancestral family once lived.

It is not as if things have not changed in his village. They have but things like hunger, lack of sanitation & water etc still remain a huge challenge. So people may not be hungry but nutrition is an issue:

In some ways, Auar has kept pace with modern India. I counted about 60 motorbikes parked outside houses. And 400 or so of the village’s roughly 2,000 residents carry mobile phones, according to the local merchant who offered a recharging service for the equivalent of about 20¢, using car batteries he carried on the back of his bicycle. Auar has power now—sometimes. Every other day the electricity poles hum and spark for a couple of hours, bringing life to the television in the small village store and the handful of wells irrigating the fields of wealthier farmers. It’s a luxury, nonetheless: About 400 million Indians have no access to electricity at all.

In other ways, Auar is unchanged from my father’s time. There’s still no running water in most homes, and it takes dozens of cranks of a hand pump to fill each bucket of water. Every act of nature requires a 15-minute walk to a field where pigs root around in the remains of yesterday’s visit. In 38 of the 40 households I visited, I noted the teenagers’ ribs and the distended bellies and loose, stretchy skin of the toddlers, the first and most obvious symptoms of a diet sufficient in calories but lacking in protein. When it was first reported in 1935 in Ghana, doctors called this form of malnutrition kwashiorkor, taking the local word for the illness a child gets when it’s weaned too early because a new baby has arrived. In Auar the villagers had no name for it.

Robert Gordon in a must read paper had explained the innovations which powered US economy. He lists innovations under three phases:

The analysis links periods of slow and rapid growth to the timing of the three industrial revolutions (IR’s), that is, IR #1 (steam, railroads) from 1750 to 1830; IR #2 (electricity, internal combustion engine, running water, indoor toilets, communications, entertainment, chemicals, petroleum) from 1870 to 1900; and IR #3 (computers, the web, mobile phones) from 1960 to present.

It is not the third but the second phase which had the most value. Basic things matter more than fancy things. Unfortunately India’s prowess is seen in the third revolution and very conveniently has skipped the second phase  and part of first as well (roads). People talk so much about developments in the third innovation and how Indians can gain from them. Well there is no denying the importance of third but we want access to basic innovations first…

Superb stuff…

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