Category: India -

17 January 2012 | Posted By: Ilana Martin

My Cow Wears a Necklace

So I’m travelling in India, and thinking that this would be a good time to buy a gold necklace. After all, there is probably no country in which there is as much investment in gold jewelry as in India. But then I remembered that the price of gold is rather high right now, so I decided not to invest.

Indian cow with necklace

I was not expecting, however, to encounter cows wearing necklaces (and blankets) in Bihar. Not just one or two, but rather a lot of cows with brightly colored strands of beads. Not gold but necklaces nevertheless!

The obvious hypothesis to this is that cows, being considered somewhat akin to holy, should thus be adorned as gestures of divine reverence. I don’t think that is the explanation, however.
The real answer begins in the field of the smallholder farmer and owner of this cow. My picture here shows a treadle pump in a field of vegetables being grown in the post-monsoon season. Cauliflower, carrots, beets, potatoes, etc., all fetch a good price in this season. The simple treadle pump combined with some sensible agronomic practice has resulted in a significant increase in productivity, that is, a lot more food grown and a lot more income produced. Not just one or two farmers. Lots.

These Bihari farmers often invest next in a cow or water buffalo. A bunch of reasons to do this: milk production, animal traction, farm saving and dung production. So the small plot farmer with his/her treadle pump can capitalize his/her farm operation through the investment in a cow. Adult cows in Bihar are worth as much as $400 or more if healthy.

Cows in Bihar, India

It is winter in Bihar at present (January) and the nights get a bit chilly. I don’t know if this is truly necessary but I saw a lot of cows wearing “coats” for warmth, in addition to their necklaces. From the farmers’ perspectives, these animals are so important that one should make the effort in treating them with respect and consideration.

Now, I don’t actually own a cow, and if I did, I doubt that it would actually wear a necklace. Nevertheless, if I walk a little in the footsteps of the smallholder farmers using treadle pumps to increase their incomes and household asset base, I can begin to appreciate just how valuable the opportunity get ahead a little is. And if putting a necklace on a valuable farm animal which it was thus possible to acquire with the earnings, then I am fully on their side!

21 March 2011 | Posted By: Ilana Martin

Water Into Wine

iDE treadle pump

Ed. note: World Water Day is Tuesday, March 22. Here’s a post on the subject from iDE CEO Al Doerksen’s blog:

Tuesday is World Water Day. iDE is planning to launch a new program to turn water into wine; a replication of the famous miracle at the marriage celebration feast at Cana several centuries ago. To explain how we will do this, and actually, how we are doing this already, I have to start with this last week’s visit to the state of Orissa in India.

It is many months past the monsoon season in India, and the season for rain fed agriculture is also long past. By far, the majority of fields are laying fallow waiting for the next monsoon, still some time away. In Phulbani, however, there are more than a few enterprising smallplot farmers who have dug open wells on their own one acre farm sites. The next thing is to add a surface treadle pump, a simple and inexpensive device which lifts the water out of the well – water which is a key ingredient for irrigation, and also the miraculous transformation to wine.

Working on a treadle pump

The results are dramatic: aubergines, potatoes, beans, chilies, cabbages, cauliflour, tomatoes, okra – we saw them all. No grapes (but we will get to that). These horticultural crops are carefully tended with local organic fertilizer applied. Weeding is manual. The result is three crops annually in place of the usual single rain fed crop. Annual farm income goes from $200 per family member to $600 per person; for the family of five approaching $4000 from one acre of land. In nominal terms, that makes these farmer almost $2/day; still poor but no longer at the subsistence level. Children are going to school. Family nutrition has become a lot more adequate. There is no longer the need to migrate in search of day labor opportunities in the dry season. There is even a little money left over for jewelry and cosmetics – witness the feet of the female farmer on her treadle pump. These are great indicators.

Now to the wine dimension. Also cultivated to a small extent around the edges of the field is a small fruit which is ideal for a local fermentation process. The result is somewhat akin to wine. iDE is not promoting home brewing per se, but we do realize that people around the world like to celebrate their farm successes, and doing so with a little wine, homebrew or local hooch is rather common.

Local fruit

It starts with water. In so many parts of the world, providing access to irrigation water and accompanying technologies for lifting and distribution is the single greatest point of income leverage for small plot farmers. iDE develops these technologies, and arranges for their distribution through local market channels. Local farmers assess the opportunities, invest and harvest the results. Worth celebrating?

May I offer you a glass of wine to celebrate World Water Day?

26 January 2010 | Posted By: Ilana Martin

IDE + Gates: 100K+ Served

Check out Dana Goldstein’s interview with Bill Gates over at The Daily Beast. The discussion touches on a number of topics of interest, including  Haiti, companies that are setting a good example in the bonus era, government’s role in meeting social needs, what works in public schools—and a revolutionary “scuba rice” that can help fight poverty. Of course, we’re also extremely pleased that he mentions our affordable irrigation technology work when asked about innovations he’s most excited about! Here’s what he had to say about IDE and the Gates Foundation’s approach to agricultural development:

…Another technology that is meeting with great success is a simple, low-cost treadle pump that enables farmers with limited water supplies to irrigate their crops, utilizing every drop of water effectively. Our grant to International Development Enterprises has allowed more than 100,000 farmers in India to benefit from this technology.

Innovations that are guided by smallholder farmers, adapted to local circumstances, and sustainable for the economy and environment will be necessary to ensure food security in the future. But technology is only one part of the puzzle. Small farmers also need training and resources to grow these enhanced seeds, and access to stable markets that offer them a fair price for their crops. That’s why we invest in each of these areas with our grant-making, to fund improvements across the agricultural value chain.

Our thoughts exactly. What do you think?

5 October 2009 | Posted By: Stu Taylor

Patient Capital

From Stu Taylor, Executive Director of IDE Canada…

I am an avid follower of TED podcasts. Now playing on my iPod is Acumen Fund CEO Jacqueline Novogratz, who, in her June 2009 TED address, cites IDE as an example of “patient capital” – her term for a third way between pure, market-driven capitalism and socially-driven philanthropy.

While her version of IDE’s history leaves a few gaps, her positioning of IDE in this in-between space is largely consistent with the way we view ourselves and the environment in which we operate.

One the one hand, there is a growing chorus of voices (interestingly, many of them from aid-recipient countries) proclaiming the massive failure of international aid to address poverty – especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. Economists Zambian Dambisa Moyo (‘Dead Aid’), Peruvian Hernando DeSoto (‘The Mystery of Capital’) and American William Easterly have all put forward compelling arguments for the scrapping or complete reformation of our current approach to international aid. Despite spending over a trillion dollars on aid to Africa over the past 60 years, we have seen little real growth, and in many cases even contraction and growing poverty. Aid has too often lined the pockets of corrupt officials, undermined local businesses by flooding markets with free or subsidized products and created a dysfunctional handout culture, where recipients’ ingenuity and creative energies are diverted into gaming naïve programs, rather than creating goods or services of real local value. Whether you believe in reform or wholesale abolition of international aid (if you have a couple of slack hours, check out the [June 2009 Munk Debate] in Toronto on the future of international aid), there is no question that the current system is broken.

On the other hand, while unfettered markets have tremendous power to create wealth – and are doing so for many formerly impoverished populations – they often bypass or ignore particularly vulnerable and poor populations. The truth is that many of the populations we work with – poor, rural families who depend on small parcels of marginal land for their livelihood – live with the reality of market failure. The farmers we serve are incredibly resourceful, hard-working and savvy. However, their communities are a high-risk proposition for most would-be investors and service-providers: poorly served by local communications and transportation infrastructure, subject to a variety of nuisance and exploitative policies and engaged in scattered production of low-volume, low-margin products far from major markets. This is by no means “low-hanging fruit” for businesses looking to fill a niche. At the same time, markets are where poor people already fight for survival. And we like the fact that markets, by definition, treat poor people as customers – listening and responding to their needs and priorities, rather than parachuting in ill-suited ‘solutions’ to grateful ‘beneficiaries’.

Novogratz’ definition of patient capital is investment that is risk-tolerant and long-term, seeking social return in populations – like poor rural households earning less than a dollar-a-day – that are notoriously risk-averse and focused on short-term returns. With the exception of a few, incredibly committed social entrepreneurs, willing (and able) to persevere in difficult environments and forego years of potential returns (like my friend Dan Ball of Forest Fruits Honey in Zambia), patient capital is a rare commodity in the open market. Organizations like Acumen – and IDE – stand in the gap between the social aims (but often limited effectiveness) of philanthropy and the power (but often limited social motivation) of the market.

I am often asked why – if IDE’s products are sold to farmers by local businesses and we emphasize the importance of viewing farmers as customers, not objects of charity – we are organized as a charity, seeking personal donations and grants from governments, companies and foundations. In fact, when Bill Gates visited IDE in India last year, his father asked exactly this question. Like Novogratz, we might describe the answer as patient capital. The money we receive as grants or donations allows us to invest in creating products and services for marginal populations that might be considered too risky or otherwise unattractive to businesses. We are not using the money to give stuff away, but we are able to make investments that might not be possible for a business driven by next quarter’s income statement.

These investments include research and development – designing and bringing to market new or modified products that meet the needs of poor customers, marketing – getting the word out among difficult-to-reach communities, training – helping farmers and local service providers develop the specialized skills they need to succeed, and connecting – linking farmers to better markets for what they can produce (a ‘dating service’ for small farmers and prospective buyers). We have demonstrated that, with these investments, formerly subsistence farmers can move into a thriving cash economy, creating wealth for their families and for a growing local service industry that sustains and drives further growth.

As Novogratz says at the end of her talk, this is how we “…build solutions that start from the perspective of those we are trying to help, rather than what we think that they might need.”

20 March 2009 | Posted By: Ilana Martin

IDE’s New Book at World Water Forum

IDE’s latest publication was officially launched on March 18 at the world’s largest water event, World Water Forum 2009 in Istanbul, just in time for UN World Water Day on Sunday, March 22.

The focus of this year’s WWD observance is transboundary waters and water sharing opportunities.

IDE’s book, researched and written by Monique Mikhail and Bob Yoder, provides a comprehensive study on the practical implementation of multiple-use water services (or MUS) in Nepal and India.

What is MUS? Basically it’s a concept for low-cost water sharing systems that allow poor rural communities to access clean water for domestic needs and agricultural needs from the same source. MUS used in conjunction with IDE’s micro-irrigation systems allows for production of income-generating, high value crops using half the water that traditional farming methods use.

The book outlines clear ground rules for cooperation on implementing a gravity-fed community system design in the middle hills of Nepal, and discusses the legal, political, financial and institutional barriers and opportunities to scaling up larger MUS systems in India.

If you’re interested in learning more, you can download a PDF copy of the book, “Multiple-Use Water Service Implementation in Nepal and India” here (8MB PDF).

For more on World Water Day, check out the site here.

And, if you’re interested in participating locally, some events are listed by country here.

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