Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Banker to the Poor: The Story of the Grameen Bank

Author: Muhammad Yunus, Alan Jolis

ISBN: 0143102915

Publisher: Penguin BooksPages: 336

'It's not people who aren't credit-worthy. It's banks that aren't people-worthy'

—Prof. Muhammad Yunus

Banker to the Poor: The Story of the Grameen Bank is an autobiography written by the founder of Grameen Bank, Prof. Muhammad Yunus, who received considerable amount of appreciation from all over the world because of his innovative way of using micro-credit for alleviation of poverty and generating livelihood security. Even the US First Lady Hillary Clinton made her remark, by saying, "By giving poor people the power to help themselves, Prof. Yunus has offered them something far more valuable than a plate of food. He has offered them security in its most fundamental form". The winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, Prof. Yunus set up the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh in order to lend small amount of loans to the poorest of the poor, who were earlier shunned by ordinary banks. Besides the Bank, Grameen has gotten involved with health insurance, handlooms, fishery and phone services, making it one of the interesting conglomerates currently, which is competing in the corporate world. Against the advice of banks and government, Yunus carried on giving out 'micro-loans' since 1974, and in 1983 formed the Grameen Bank, which is founded on the principles of trust and solidarity. Alan Jolis who is the co-author of the book Banker to the Poor, is an American journalist and writer, now living in Sweden. The book Banker to the Poor is an inspiring memoir of the birth of micro-credit, written in a conversational tone that makes it both moving and enjoyable to read. The book provides a background history of how Bangladesh's terrible 1974 famine underlined the need to enable its victims to grow more food; of overcoming criticism in many governments and in traditional economic thinking; and of how micro-credit was extended into credit unions in the West. Prof. Yunus' dream is to totally eradicate poverty from the world, and in this book he explains how it can be done. In 1976, he began visiting the poorest households in Jobra, Bangladesh in order to see if he could help them directly. There were three parts to the village: a Muslim, a Hindu, and a Buddhist section. When he visited the Buddhist section, he would often take one of his students, Dipal Chandra Barua, a native of the Buddhist section, along with him. Otherwise, a colleague, Professor HI Latifee, would usually accompany him. He knew most of the families and had a natural talent for making villagers feel at ease. That is how Prof. Yunus started by lending money to basket weavers, who were women and this activity later expanded to become the Grameen Bank. But when he started his work amidst poor people, he also faced opposition from the official machinery, Yunus writes.

Prof. Yunus started the Grameen Bank in 1983 with the avowed intention of turning banking practice on its head and lending to the poorest of the poor. In June 2007 the Grameen Bank had 7.21 million borrowers, 97 per cent of whom are women who managed a repayment rate of 98.61 percent.

In this autobiographical book, Prof. Yunus provides his background and throws light upon his work towards creation and direction of the Grameen Foundation. He was born in the year 1940 in Chittagong, a seaport which is situated in Bangladesh. The third of fourteen children, five of whom died in infancy, he was educated at Dhaka University, Bangladesh and was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to study economics at Vanderbilt University. In 1972, Yunus became the head of the Department of Economics at Chittagong University, which was also the year when Bangladesh faced domestic problems. Prof Yunus also explains how the money which is provided by the Grameen Bank would enable poor women to set up the smallest village enterprise and thus, pull themselves out of poverty. He also writes how collateral free loans help poor women to stay away from village-level moneylenders. Most of the loans provided by Grameen Bank go to poor women, and it is said that since its inception, there has been an astonishing loan repayment rate of over 98 percent. Kudos to a person like Prof. Yunus who has pioneered such an attempt to help the poorest of the poor.

The image has been taken from:

Comments on the ICRIER’s Report on ‘Impact of Organised Retailing on Unorganized Sector’

The report by ICRIER, which studied the ‘Impact of Organised Retailing on Unorganized Sector’ has failed to mention how to enhance competition in the retail sector as a whole. The importance of competition law cannot be ignored as that can lead to welfare of consumers in the form of lower prices and good quality products and services.

In the backdrop of global crises in terms of high oil and soaring food prices, one can really doubt whether India would be able to retain economic growth at 8-10% per annum in the next 5 years, as have been mentioned in the report. For e.g. the Macroeconomic and Monetary Developments First Quarterly Report 2008-09 of RBI states that ‘the Indian economy continued to record robust growth in 2007-08, although marginally lower than the last year. According to the revised estimates released by the Central Statistical Organisation (CSO) in May 2008, the real GDP growth was placed at 9.0 per cent during 2007-08 as compared with 9.6 per cent in 2006-07’. One must also know that the Prime Minister’s economic advisory council (EAC) chairman, C Rangarajan, has recently said that the country’s economic growth may moderate to 7.5-8% in the current fiscal owing to domestic and external factors, not to mention about the current financial crisis faced by the US and the EU.

When the report mentions that economic growth is likely to lead to the growth of the retailing sector as a whole which can further help in maintaining livelihood security, then one can really wonder whether the report is inclined towards the much criticized theory called ‘trickling down’ phenomenon. Moreover, many still doubt whether India would be able to achieve all the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. The report could have mentioned about the dismal state of health expenditure in India as could be configured from the above table 1. By looking at the figures above one can surely comment why poor people are suffering from health related problems. In order to see the situation of other important sectors, kindly have a glance at the table 2 above.

While the report has endorsed the view that unorganized sector will be adversely affected initially due to the growth of organized, it has failed to mention how the unorganized sector can receive financial and technical support from the government so that the livelihood of many can be made secured. The biasness of the report towards organized retailing has been corroborated by giving reasons that it will help the consumers, and that organized and unorganized retailing will both co-exist in the future. While the entry of organized retailing in food and food processing can help the farmers to sell directly to the big players at profitable rates[1], without depending on middle-men, this leads to another moot question whether that will lead to subcontracting like situation. In economic literature there exists theories on interlocking of factor markets, putting out system, piece rate system et al, but such terms are entirely missing in this report. Moreover, the report has entirely missed out to mention about the importance of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in retail industry, which can reduce transaction costs drastically. While the emphasis has been on public private partnerships (PPP), but there are serious issues before such partnerships since that can lead to more risk ownership on the part of the government[2]. At least, one good thing about this report is that it has recommended co-operatives and associations of unorganized retailers for direct procurement from suppliers and farmers. But one must know that co-operative movement has failed in India. While the report endorses corporate transformation of the Indian economy on one hand, still it asks for co-operatives of poor and unorganised worker on the other hand. By mixing Gandhianism with McDonaldism, the authors have committed a grave mistake. It would have been better if the report had asked for more financial support through the network of banks that exists in the rural hinterland and urban areas. There is a need to question whether successful business models (economically as well as ecologically sustainable) exist even for the un-organized sector, which can enhance entrepreneurship. The report does not mention whether the sample survey was done exclusively in the urban areas or in the rural areas. If rural areas have not been covered in the report, then that is remorseful. Again, the report could have mentioned about the role of cluster formation for enhancing retailing.
[1] Note: This has happened in the case of ITC’s e-choupal initiative.
[2] Note: To have some basic understanding on PPP kindly go to:,

Monday, July 28, 2008

Education System in India: Related Issues and Policy Concerns

1. Policy Evolution

Education is a vital input for human resource development and is essential for economic growth. This has also been corroborated by new economic growth theories. Article 45 of the Constitution of India stipulates that the State shall endeavour to provide within a period of 10 years from the commencement of the Constitution for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of 14 years. Educational policy and progress have been reviewed in the light of the goal of national development and priorities set from time to time. In its Resolution on the National Policy on Education in 1968, an emphasis on quality improvement and a planned, more equitable expansion of educational facilities and the need to focus on the education of girls was stressed. The task of providing education for all with concrete plans of action gained greater momentum after the drafting of the National Policy on Education (NPE) 1986, which got revised in 1992. The World Declaration on Education for All (EFA) paved the way for basic education getting the international attention.

The National Policy on Empowerment of Women 2001 commits that equal access to education for women and girls will be ensured. Special steps shall be taken to eliminate discrimination, universalize education, eradicate illiteracy, create a more gender-sensitive educational system, increase enrolment and retention rates of girls and improve the quality of education to assist life-long learning as well as development of occupation/vocation/technical skills by women. Reducing the gender gap in secondary and higher education would be a center area. Sectoral time targets in existing policies will be achieved, with a special focus on girls and women, particularly those belonging to weaker sections including the Scheduled Castes (SCs) /Scheduled Tribes (STs) /Other Backward Classes (OBCs) /Minorities. Gender sensitive curricula would be developed at all levels of educational system in order to address sex stereotyping as one of the causes of gender discrimination.

Education for All

At a conference of the World Education Forum held in Dakar, Senegal in April 2004, representatives of 164 countries, including India, adopted the Dakar Framework for Action on Education for All. The Framework identified six goals, which included, inter alia,

(i) expanding and improving comprehensive early childhood care and education, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children;
(ii) ensuring that by 2015 all children, particularly girls, children in difficult circumstances and those belonging to ethnic minorities, have access to and complete free and compulsory primary education of good quality;
(iii) ensuring that the learning needs of all young people and adults are met through equitable access to appropriate learning and life skills programmes;
(iv) achieving a 50 per cent improvement in levels of adult literacy by 2015, especially for women, and equitable access to basic and continuing education for all adults;
(v) eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary education by 2005, and achieving gender equality in education by 2015, with a focus on ensuring girls' full and equal access to and achievement in basic education of good quality;
(vi) improving all aspects of the quality of education and ensuring excellence of all so that recognized and measurable learning outcomes are achieved by all, especially in literacy, numeracy and essential life skills.

To achieve these goals, the governments, organizations, agencies, groups and associations represented at the World Education Forum pledged to:

(i) mobilize strong national and international political commitment for education for all, develop national action plans and enhance significantly investment in basic education;
(ii) promote EFA policies within a sustainable and well-integrated sector framework clearly linked to poverty elimination and development strategies;
(iii) ensure the engagement and participation of civil society in the formulation, implementation and monitoring of strategies for educational development;
(iv) develop responsive, participatory and accountable systems of educational governance and management;
(v) meet the needs of education systems affected by conflict, national calamities and instability and conduct educational programmes in ways that promote mutual understanding, peace and tolerance, and help to prevent violence and conflict;
(vi) implement integrated strategies for gender equality in education which recognize the need for changes in attitudes, values and practices;
(vii) implement as a matter of urgency education programmes and actions to combat the HIV/AIDS pandemic;(viii) create safe, healthy, inclusive and equitably resourced educational environments conducive to excellence in learning with clearly defined levels of achievement for all;
(ix) enhance the status, morale and professionalism of teachers;
(x) harness new information and communication technologies to help achieve EFA goals;
(xi) systematically monitor progress towards EFA goals and strategies at the national, regional and international levels; and
(xii) build on existing mechanisms to accelerate progress towards education for all.

The policy framework for development of education and eradication of illiteracy is laid down in the National Policy on Education (NPE) 1986, which had set a goal of expenditure on education at 6 percent of the GDP. As against this target, the combined total expenditure on education by Central and State Governments was 3.74 percent of GDP in 2003-04 (BE), thus showing lack of commitment on the part of the State to attain its objective as enshrined in the National Policy on Education 1986. The share of educational expenditure on elementary education was 56% during the First Five Year Plan, which came down in the subsequent Five Year However, elementary education was given the highest precedence in sub-sectoral allocations (during the Ninth Plan) within the education sector, indicating a strong reiteration of the country’s resolve to achieve the goal of EFA. It can be questioned here whether such an effort would really lead to a situation where India would be producing less of technicians, doctors etc. This can also be an effort towards privatization of higher education, in order to cut government spending. Under the Ninth Plan, the goal was sought to be achieved through several measures, which included:

· Amendment of the Constitution to make elementary education a fundamental right;
· Decentralisation of planning, supervision and management of education through local bodies at the district, block and village levels;
· Social mobilization of local communities for adult literacy through campaigns and for promotion of primary education;
· Convergence of different schemes for UEE (universal elementary education);
· Stronger partnership with non-government organisations and voluntary organisations;
· Advocacy and media campaign for UEE;
· Provision of opportunities for non-formal and alternative education for out of school children in the most backward areas and for unreached segments of the population in response to local needs and demands; and
· Universal participation and retention rather than universal enrolment. The goal of UEE was enlarged to include provision of education of a satisfactory quality to all children.

2. Present Scenario

Gender disaggregated data on literacy rate shows that women have stayed behind men in terms of literacy. Literacy rates for men have increased from 24.95 percent in 1951 to 75.85 percent in 2001. Literacy rate for female have increased from 7.93 percent in 1951 to 54.16 in 2001. India (61.3%) stands behind China (90.9%) and Sri Lanka (92.1%) in terms of adult literacy. Gross enrolment ratios of girls have stayed below boys in the primary, upper primary and elementary level of education. However, enrolment ratio of girls in elementary education has increased from 17.7 % in 1950-51 to 79.3 percent in 2002-03.

There is grossly under-representation of women in the science and technology frontier of education. Pattatucci (1998) documents research that shows that right from childhood women are discouraged from studying science. Parents are more willing to send their sons to studying science and technology in higher education. Girls are encouraged to take up arts and commerce. It is a perceived notion in the society that women are incapable of understanding the language of mathematics. However, the enrolment of women in undergraduate courses in engineering and technology has risen from a meager 0.09% in 1971 to 10.09% in 1991. The proportion of women in total enrolment in pure science subjects in colleges and universities rose from 7.1% in 1950-51 to 34.17% in 1996-97 (Chanana, 2001). However, there is a clear tendency for women as students as well as teachers, to be concentrated in a few faculties and specializations. The options exercised by the students are based on certain qualities (masculine or feminine) that the subjects are seen to hold.


The Public Report on Basic Education (PROBE) is prepared by a team of researchers based at Centre for Development Economics (Delhi School of Economics) and other institutions, and does a detailed survey of the schooling system in north India. The PROBE survey was conducted in late 1996 in 188 randomly-selected villages of states of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. These four states account for more than half of India's out-of-school children. Aside from surveying all the schooling facilities in the sample villages, the PROBE team interviewed 1,221 households.


The PROBE survey challenges several myths about the causes of educational deprivation in rural India.

Myth No. 1
Elementary education in India is free.

It may well be free, or nearly free, in the restricted sense that admission fees in government schools are negligible. But education is not free in the wider and more relevant sense that it involves no expenditure for the parents. The PROBE survey indicates that north Indian parents spend more than Rs 300 per year (on fees, books, slates, clothes, etc.) to send a child to a government primary school. This is a major financial burden, especially for poor families with several children of school-going age.

Myth No. 2
Indian parents have little interest in education.

The PROBE survey suggests that an overwhelming majority of parents, even those amidst the deprived sections of the population, attach great importance to the education of their children. For instance, 98 per cent of all parents would like their sons to receive at least 8 years of education, and even for girls the corresponding proportion is as high as 63 per cent.

Myth No. 3
Economic dependence on child labour is the main reason why poor families are unable to send their children to school.

PROBE data on the time utilization of children show that out-of-school children only perform two hours of extra work per day, compared with school-going children. Further, the direction of causation does not necessarily run from child labour to non-attendance. In many cases, it is the other way round: dropout children take up productive work (of their own choice or through parental pressure) as a "default occupation".

What averts so many children from going to school? The main problem seems to be that sending a child to school on a regular basis requires a good deal of parental effort (not only due to the significant costs involved but also in terms of the time and attention required to ensure the child's sustained attendance and progress), and that the poor quality of the schooling system often discourages parents from making that effort. The effort required tends to be all the greater for parents from a deprived background. This basic problem is often compounded by other factors such as seasonal dependence on child labour, gender bias in educational priorities, and occasional parental irresponsibility. These aggravating factors, however, should not divert attention from the central problem of the disproportion between expected parental effort and the quality of schooling. First, the schooling infrastructure is inadequate. Second, schools are short of teachers. Third, classroom activity is minimal. Fourth, the stultifying nature of teaching methods and school curricula tends to undermine the motivation of the child. The PROBE survey has found a number of cases of children who were still unable to read or write after several years at school, showing poor quality of teaching application. While the PROBE survey shows a grim picture of the schooling situation in India, there is a sense in which these findings are good news. If child labour or parental motivation were the main obstacles to universal elementary education, the government might have good reasons to feel somewhat powerless. On the other hand, much can be done to reduce the costs of schooling (e.g. by providing school meals), and to improve its quality (e.g. by raising teacher-pupil ratios).

3. Structure of School Education

A uniform structure of school education, the 10+2 system has been adopted by all the States and Union Territories of India. However, within the States and the UTs, there remains variations in the number of classes constituting the Primary, Upper Primary, High and Higher Secondary school stages, age for admission to class I, medium of instruction, public examinations, teaching of Hindi and English, number of working days in a year, academic session, vacation periods, fee structure, compulsory education etc.

Stages of School Education in India

A. The Primary Stage consists of Classes I-V, i.e., of five years duration, in 20 States/UTs namely Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, Orissa, Punjab, Rajasthan, Sikkim, Tamil Nadu, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Chandigarh, Delhi and Karaikal and Yanam regions of Pondicherry. The primary stage consists of classes I-IV in Assam, Goa, Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Dadra & Nagar Haveli, Daman & Diu, Lakshadweep and Mahe region of Pondicherry.
B. The Middle Stage of education comprises Classes VI-VIII in as many as 18 States.Uts viz., Arunachal Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, Punjab, Rajasthan, Sikkim, Tamil Nadu, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Chandigarh, Delhi and Karaikal region of Pondicherry; Classes V-VII in Assam, Goa, Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Dadra & Nagar Haveli, Daman & Diu, Lakshadweep and Mahe region of Pondicherry and Classes VI-VII in Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Yanam region of Pondicherry. In Nagaland Classes V – VIII constitute the upper primary stage.
C. The Secondary Stage consists of Classes IX-X in 19 States/UTs. Viz., Arunachal Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, Nagaland, Punjab, Rajasthan , Sikkim, Tamil Nadu, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Chandigarh, Delhi and Karaikal region of Pondicherry. The High School stage comprises classes VIII to X in 13 States/UTs viz., Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Goa, Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Orissa, Dadra & Nagar Haveli, Daman & Diu, Lakshadweep and Mahe & Yanam regions of Pondicherry. However, the Higher Secondary / Senior Secondary stage of school comprising classes XI-XII (10+2 pattern) is available in all the States/UTs though in some States/UTs these classes are attached to Universities/Colleges.

4. Tenth Plan Objectives

The key issues as per the Tenth Plan would be a greater focus on improving access and reducing disparities by emphasizing the Common School System which it is mandatory for schools in a particular area to take students from low-income families in the neighbourhood. The Plan will also focus on revision of curricula with emphasis on vocationalisation and employment-oriented courses, expansion and diversification of the open learning system, reorganization of teacher training and greater use of new information and communication technologies, particularly computers.

The Commission for Tenth Plan (2002-07) has set itself the target of identifying and designating 25 universities ‘with the potential for excellence’ across the country. These institutions will be ‘funded at a higher level to enable them to attain excellence in teaching and research’, as per the UGC concept paper.

Along with a few hundred colleges, these universities will be given full academic freedom to experiment with the curriculum, introduce innovations in teaching, conduct their own examinations and award joint degrees with affiliating universities. In addition, quality control issues resulted in the creation of the National Assessment and Accreditation Council of India (NAAC) in 1994 with the objective of assessing and grading institutions of Higher Education on a scale from 1 to 5.

The key issues in technical and management education during the Tenth Plan would be to continue to focus on increasing intake; quality of education, including research in technology. Other issue include: faculty development, optimal utilization of resources through networking; development of IT education; modernization of the curriculum; international benchmarking; developing capacity in new and emerging technology areas; strategic planning and management of the technical education system and developing the informal sector.

Measuring Primary Completion

Both the Education for All (EFA) and the Millennium Development Goal 2 states that all children should ‘complete’ primary education. The UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), together with the World Bank, has been developing indicators of primary completion for the purposes of assessing progress towards the international goals. International surveys were conducted in 2004 and 2005 to collect data on the numbers of graduates and drop outs, and other information, such as national concepts of primary graduation in order to develop robust indicators of primary completion.

The UIS survey illustrated that not all countries have the same formal notion of graduation at the primary level as at the secondary level. At the primary level, children may be judged to have been ‘successful’ in completing the cycle because they passed a final exam, because their teacher gave a favourable assessment, or by using other criteria. Automatic promotion from primary to secondary is common, but in some countries selection may occur at the last grade of primary education because of the limited availability of places in lower secondary education. For these reasons, indicators based on graduation should be used as a measure of progression and represent proxies for education outputs.

--Global Education Digest, 2005

Other issues to be dealt in the Tenth Plan would be using technology for the development of Indian languages like the digitalization of manuscripts; upgrading pedagogical skills; preservation of manuscripts and contemporary writing; promoting educational development / mainstreaming of minorities; education in human values.

India’s engagement with UNESCO, international cooperation in the field of education, operationalisation of Educational Exchange Programmes, encouraging Indian education abroad, and development of the Auroville Foundation would get bigger attention during the Tenth Plan.

Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan
The scheme of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) evolved from the recommendations of the State Education Ministers’ Conference held in October 1998 to pursue universal elementary education in a mission mode. The scheme of Sarava Shiksha Abhiyan was launchd by the Government of India in 2001.

Goals of SSA are as follows:
· All 6-14 age children in school/ EGS centre/ bridge course by 2003;
· All 6-14 age children complete five year primary education by 2007;
· All 6-14 age children complete eight years of schooling by 2010;
· Focus on elementary education of satisfactory quality with emphasis on education for life;
· Bridge all gender and social category gaps at primary stage by 2007 and at elementary education level by 2010;
· Universal retention by 2010.

A Framework for Understanding Education Quality

Quality in Humanist Tradition

· Standardized, prescribed, externally defined or controlled curricula are rejected. They are seen as undermining the possibilities for learners to construct their own meanings and for educational programmes to remain responsive to individual learners’ circumstances and needs.
· The role of assessment is to give learners information and feedback about the quality of their individual learning. It is integral to the learning process. Self-assessment and peer assessment are welcomed as ways of developing deeper awareness of learning.
· The teacher’s role is more that of facilitator than instructor.
· Social constructivism, while accepting these tenets, emphasizes learning as a process of social practice rather than the result of individual intervention.

Quality in the Behaviourist Tradition

· Standardized, externally defined and controlled curricula, based on prescribed objectives and defined independently of the learner, are endorsed.
· Assessment is seen as an objective measurement of learned behaviour against preset assessment criteria.
· Tests and examinations are considered central features of learning and the main means of planning and delivering rewards and punishments.
· The teacher directs learning, as the expert who controls stimuli and responses. Incremental learning tasks that reinforce desired associations in the mind of the learner are favoured.

Quality in the Critical Tradition

Critical theorists focus on inequality in access to and outcomes of education and on education’s role in legitimizing and reproducing social structures through its transmission of a certain type of knowledge that serves certain social groups. Accordingly, these sociologists and critical pedagogues tend to equate good quality with:
· education that prompts social change;
· a curriculum and teaching methods that encourage critical analysis of social power relations and of ways in which formal knowledge is produced and transmitted;
· active participation by learners in the design of their own learning experience.

Quality in Adult Education Approaches

In the adult education tradition, experience and critical reflection in learning is an important aspect of quality. Radical theorists see learners as socially situated, with the potential to use their experience and learning as a basis for social action and social change.

Quality in the Indigenous Tradition

Challenging dominant Northern ideas about the quality of education, indigenous approaches reassert the importance of education’s relevance to the socio-cultural circumstances of the nation and learner. The following principles are implied:
· Mainstream approaches imported from Europe are not necessarily relevant in very different social and economic circumstances. Assuring relevance implies local design of curriculum content, pedagogies and assessment.
· All learners have rich sources of prior knowledge, accumulated through a variety of experiences, which educators should draw out and nourish.
· Learners should play a role in defining their own curriculum.
· Learning should move beyond the boundaries of the classroom/school through non-formal and lifelong learning activities
---taken from Chapter 1: Understanding Education Quality, Education for All, Global Monitoring Report 2005

Thursday, July 24, 2008

SME scenario around the world*


In developing nations, mobilising SME viability has attained significant positions among many strategies of economic development. In the scenario of global, knowledge-based economy, these nations are now looking to make use of Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) to support and facilitate SME development. ICTs have proven to be vital tools in improving the efficiency and expanding the out reach of SMEs to global market in a more innovative way. There is no universal definition of SMEs since the sector is diverse and flexible that resists any narrow categorisation. SMEs are generally defined on the basis of annual turnover, number of employees, investment in plants and machineries, assets etc.

SMEs in Asia

The contributions of SMEs to employment and the countries' gross domestic product (GDP) are by no means trivial. As of July 2006, close to 140 million SMEs in 130 countries employed 65 percent of the total labour force. SMEs already contribute bulk of growth, and SMEs could make a much bigger contribution to the Asian regional economy if efforts were made to address impediments to SME internationalisation. This could add as much as $1.18 trillion in trade over a 5 year period. It is without a doubt that ICT has enabled the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) networks to become more integrated, and more effective across longer distances, operating with more efficiency and conducting transactions in greater volume. However, it must be noted that in reality the small businesses that constitute the bulk of developing economies have yet to reap these benefits evenly as obtaining such opportunities rest largely upon the ability of its SMEs to engage in the regional and global economic business networks which, in turn, demands provision of a pre-requisite level of access to and use of ICT. China is regarded by all SME leaders as having the most competitive SMEs. This is followed by North Asian markets including Japan, Hong Kong, Korea and Singapore. There is a lot of scope in other regions to enhance the competitiveness of the SMEs. East Asian SMEs for example provide about 70 percent of employment in the region. However, it can be noticed that the average number of people employed per SME is more in developing countries when compared to the developed economies. This means there are fewer start-ups, and the pool of SMEs from which high grown SMEs can emerge is much smaller. This makes a strong case for a major thrust on micro-enterprises to push up employment rates.On a broader scale, within and among countries in the Asia Pacific region there are growing rural-urban disparities in terms of policy support, access, affordability, and absence and relevance of practical content. The rural-urban digital divide is widening because of geographic locations, lower literacy, and lack of knowledge and awareness. Urban populations seem to be benefiting more than the rural areas from new infrastructure, applications, and services. Supporting MSME as a vehicle of self-empowerment, capable of working in both the urban and rural environment, can effectively act to connect the two environments together, facilitate knowledge transfer and encourage collaboration.

The top 10 barriers

(i) Shortage of working capital to finance exports; (ii) identifying foreign business opportunities; (iii) limited information to locate/analyse markets; (iv), inability to contact potential overseas customers; (v) obtaining reliable foreign representation; (vi) lack of managerial time to deal with internationalisation; (vii) inadequate quantity of and/or untrained personnel for internationalisation; (viii) difficulty in matching competitors' prices; (ix) lack of home government assistance/incentives; (x) excessive transportation/insurance costs.

SMEs in Africa

SMEs comprise over 90 percent of African business operations and contribute to over 50 percent of African employment and GDP. SMEs sector has shown positive signs in South Africa, Mauritius and North Africa. In South Africa, SMEs constitute 55 percent of all jobs and 22 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in the year 2003. SMEs constitute 95 percent of formal manu-facturing activity in Nigeria. Senegal and Kenya have provided conducive environment for SMEs. Subcontracting is uncommon in Africa, but has grown in South Africa since the year 1998. Clusters of SMEs are little developed in Africa and are concentrated mainly in South Africa, Kenya Nigeria, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. In Angola, Novobanco provides loans free of bank charges, without a minimum deposit and informal guarantees (property assets and a guarantor), as well as permanent contact with loan managers. During 2005, the UN Year of Microfinance, the international spotlight was firmly on SME development in Africa. Some of the initiatives for the SMEs sector in Africa are:

• UK Commission for Africa: It advocated the creation of an African Enterprise Challenge Fund , to be backed by US$ 100 million of investment, and is designed to support private sector initiatives targeted at SME development.

• African Development Bank: AfDB launched a Small and Medium Enterprise Facility in Africa (SMEF-Africa) to complement its existing franchisee to support SMEs development programme.

• International Finance Corporation: It published the work of its Africa Project Development Facility (APDF) to support SMEs and, in collaboration with other donors, established the Private Enterprise Partnership for Africa (PEP-Africa) to build on the work of the APDF in establishing a strong private sector in Africa.

• United Nations Industrial Development Organisation: UNIDO established a Cluster/Network Development Programme so as to provide access to training, information and advice on business management for SMEs.

Problems faced by SMEs

(i) Political and economic instability; (ii) limitations in absolute market potential; (iii) informal or non norganised ( Bringing the SMEs into the formal sector is expected to generate increased revenue through taxation and Formalisation can help the SMEs to get protection under legislation.); (iv) standardisation and benchmarking, (v) lack of a coherent regulatory framework and a legal/policy environment which is conducive to business; (vi)small local markets and undeveloped regional integration; (vii) access to formal finance is poor because of the high-risk of default among SMEs and due to inadequate financial facilities; (viii) micro-credit institutions remain fragile and modest in size etc.

SMEs in Latin America

Studies pertaining to Latin America reveals that clustering has helped local enterprises to overcome the growth constrains if attention are to be paid for the factors like external linkages and significance of global market, imbibing specialised skills, and getting access to technology, information and credit facilities. Recent changes in system of production, channels of distribution and financial markets, accelerated by the globalisation and the spread of Information and Communication Technologies too suggest more attention needs to be paid for the external linkages to upgrade the clusters to boost nations' economy. The nature of the industrial sector also plays a role that affects the SMEs' upgrading prospects (upgrading as innovating to increase value added). Enterprises may achieve this in various ways, as for example by entering higher unit value market niches, by entering new sectors, or by undertaking new productive (or service) functions.

Obstacles for small businesses

(i) Lack of data and definitional understanding, (ii) inadequate government support hindering the competitiveness; (iii) access to funding and working capital; (iv) lack of conducive legal systems for their countries (iv) market intelligence and streamlinsing the supply chains; (v) transportation infrastructure etc.Key issues in this broad study include perceptions around business climate, economic and employment forecasts and specific business practices. It also examines the importance of international commerce, the impact of free trade agreements and the influence of China.

Facts about SMEs in Africa

• Around 80 per cent of firms in Congo have fewer than five workers. Congo has 2,100 firms in the formal and 10 000 in the informal sector.

• A 1997 survey in Benin showed that of the 666 SMEs counted, half were in commerce and the rest were mostly in construction, or were pharmacies and restaurants. Only 17 per cent were in manufacturing.

• SMEs in Kenya employed some 3.2 million people in 2003 and accounted for 18 per cent of national GDP.

• SMEs in Senegal contribute about 20 per cent of national value-added.

• SMEs in Nigeria account for some 95 per cent of formal manufacturing activity and 70 per cent of industrial jobs.

• In Morocco, 93 per cent of all industrial firms are SMEs and account for 38 per cent of production, 33 per cent of investment, 30 per cent of exports and 46 per cent of all jobs.

• Micro and very small businesses in South Africa provided more than 55 per cent of total employment and 22 per cent of GDP in 2003. Small firms accounted for 16 per cent of both jobs and production and medium and large firms 26 per cent of jobs and 62 per cent of production.

Source: African Development Bank and OECD Development Centre, African Economic Outlook (2004-2005).

• Lifting of trade barriers and the establishment of free trade agreements within Latin America t for promoting greater prosperity, according to 92 percent of SME executives

• 72 percent anticipate greater trade with China • 53 percent of SME leaders have plans to expand their payrolls.

• To sustain the success and competitiveness, 87 percent of the region's executives want government to provide more support and 86 percent want greater access to financing.


It is expected that the presence of global companies can help the establishment and growth of SMEs, through the use of local suppliers and distributors. Innovative initiatives for encouraging and stimulating new businesses by providing seed funding, training, capacity building and business opportunities in their supply chains provide not only social but micro economic and macro economic advantages. In both developed countries and emerging markets, franchising has been effective in ensuring business growth with private ownership and skills transfer. To help SMEs emerge, there is need for a better investment climate, improved capacity to cope with banks' requirements, and more diverse sources of financing from financial institutions and the existing large enterprises. Business cooperatives in Africa are also keen on forming SME support network to share best practices and to cross-guarantee each other's funding. In order to encourage investment in SMEs, there is the need to reduce SME project financing risk.

(* The article has been written by: Ajitha Saravanan, Prashant Gupta and Shambhu Ghatak)

The image has been taken from:

Friday, July 11, 2008

Enabling technologies for the differently-abled

With the help of computers enabled with speech synthesizers, students with vision impairment doing higher studies, are becoming independent in all their reading and writing needs. Computer literacy is giving the visually impaired and low vision persons new professional opportunities, thus enhancing their job status, and giving them additional proficiency (edge) and confidence at work.

Definition of disability
According to the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 (India), disability means: blindness, low-vision, leprosy-cured, hearing impairment, locomotor-disability, mental retardation, and mental-illness. The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 (India) is considered as an important landmark and is a significant step in the direction of ensuring equal opportunities for people with disabilities and their full participation in the nation-building. The Act provides for both preventive and promotional aspects of rehabilitation like education, employment and vocational training, job reservation, research and manpower development, creation of barrier-free environment, rehabilitation of persons with disability, unemployment allowance for the disabled, special insurance scheme for the disabled employees and establishment of homes for persons with severe disability etc. Disabled (differently-abled) people are often discriminated in the African and Asian societies. If one is born disabled (differently-abled), then it is seen as a curse by his/ her family and society. For example, in Senegal, as elsewhere in Africa, the disabled face enormous difficulties of social and labour market insertion because of discrimination and especially, physical obstacles to workplaces and transportation, lack of audio or visual-signaling etc. Hence, the ICTs and the Employment of People with Disabilities Project (Acacia II) of the International Development Research Centre, was designed to combat the workforce exclusion generally experienced by the disabled and to promote their insertion into social life and the labour market through the exploration and implementation of tele-work opportunities adapted to their functional disabilities.

ICTs for the empowerment of the disabled
For too long, it has been observed that the benefits of ICTs was not reaching the visually and physically-challenged persons. However, things are changing slowly and steadily. Multi-national IT giants have started producing interactive-softwares for the visually-challenged. IBM was going to launch a multimedia browser code-named the Accessibility Browser or A-Browser, in order to make audio and video content accessible to people with vision impairments. The software was created by a blind employee of IBM in Japan named Dr. Chieko Asakawa. Nowadays, innovative softwares are also being produced by common man, which is much cheaper than the branded/ proprietary software products. According to one recent news, a visually-impaired student from India developed 'Brailleface' software, which converts Braille commands into 'Devnagari' script on the computer screen. The point is to reveal that a licensed copy of Microsoft's JAWS—the most popular screen-reader for the visually impaired, costs INR 70,000, and it cannot read most Indian languages. Webel Mediatronics Limited, a West Bengal Govt Company has a Research and Development Unit, which is recognized by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR), Govt of India. This unit has developed a complete portfolio of tools to help people with visual impairment get access to better educational facilities. Webel Mediatronics Limited developed tools such as TextBraille–Text to Braille Transcription Software in Indian Languages; DirectBraille–Braille to Text Software for the visually impaired; EasyBraille, Automatic Braille Embosser, Braille Keyboard and E -classroom System and Electronic Tactile Device and E Reading System. With the advent of Text to Speech Technology, computers have become accessible to visually challenged persons. In the National Association of Blind (RK Puram, New Delhi, India), there are computer centres, where visually challenged students undergo training in Windows, Word Processing, Internet, e-mail, spread-sheets etc. With the help of computers-enabled with speech synthesizers, students with vision impairment doing higher studies, are becoming independent in all their reading and writing needs. Computer literacy is giving the blind and low vision persons new professional opportunities, thus enhancing their job status, and giving them additional proficiency (edge) and confidence at work. It has been widely recognized now that disability/ challenged is “a social construct created by ability-oriented and ability-dominated environments”. According to this model “even though impairment has an objective reality that is attached to the body or mind, disability has more to do with society's failure to account for the needs of persons with disabilities”. It is now increasingly felt that challenged (/differently-abled) people should get the facilities a normal human being enjoys. Thus, there should be regulatory frameworks and standards regarding the designing of ICT-devices so that challenged persons can access and utilize them without facing problems. This is expected to ensure equality of opportunities. Moreover, as a part of corporate social responsibility, challenged persons can be given good jobs, which is non-discriminatory in nature. It is increasingly perceived that there are two main means for ensuring that persons with disabilities benefit from ICT. Under the principles of Universal Design (American) or Design for All (European), there are generic guidelines for designing mainstream products and services, which will accommodate a ‘broader average’ of users including many of those with disabilities or older people. However, for persons with severe disabilities, there is need for designing special products and services. In many cases, there is need for adapting, or interfacing, existing products or technologies to meet the user's specific requirements. Usually, the technology, which is based on universal design and on special products and services for older people and people with disabilities, is termed as 'assistive technology'. The principles of Universal Design should include the principles (and perspectives) of equitable use, flexibility in use, simple and intuitive use, perceptible information, tolerance of error, low physical effort, and size and space for approach and use.

Examples of Adaptations and Assistive Devices

Visual Impairments

Glare protection screens, large monitors with high resolution, Magnified displays of computer screens, Magnified displays of hard-copy materials, large print production, Color and contrast selection, Keyboard orientation aids.


Speech synthesizers, Screen reader software, Braille printers, Braille translation software, Braille displays, Braille notetakers, Braille input devices, Optical character recognition (OCR), and Speech recognition.

Hearing Impairments

Visual redundancy on computers, Interpreters, Hearing aid compatible phones, Speech amplification telephone, Speech amplification meeting or conversation, Text telephony, Text telephone relay services, Signaling systems, Electronic mail and fax, Videoconferencing.

Mobility Impairments
Sequential keystroke input, Key repeat rate control, Keyboard macros, Alternative keyboards, Non-keyboard dependent input devices, Word prediction software, Speech recognition, Robotic devices, Mouse alternatives, Key guard, Speaker phone, Gooseneck receiver holder, Phone headset, Speed dialing. Some of the softwares in order to support the disabled are: (i) Dragon Naturally Speaking—Voice Dictation Software; (ii) Jaws—Screen Reading Software; (iii) Magic—Screen Magnification Software, and (iv) Openbook—Scanning Software.

ICTs can play a crucial role in the empowerment of the differently-abled provided the policies, legal standards and regulatory frameworks are 'justly' guided, structured and created at the local, national, regional and international levels. There is thus the need for wider level of social networking among the donor agencies, the government, the local-level institutions and the civil society organisations including NGOs for capacity-building of the society and the social actors so that benefits of ICTs reaches the differently-abled. However, one should not forget the fact that ICTs in itself alone can provide all the solutions. There is need for a more humane approach to empowerment especially when we talk of reaching out to the differently-abled.

Monday, July 7, 2008

What do we mean by the 'YouTube'?


The latest technology to have made much dent on the minds of young people, both in the West and the East, is the 'YouTube'. 'YouTube' is basically a website known for uploading, viewing and sharing video clips. It came into being in 2005, thanks to the efforts of three former PayPal employees. 'YouTube's' playback technology is based on Macromedia's Flash Player 7, and it utilizes the Sorenson Spark H.263 video codec. It is a platform for posting and sharing videos/ video-clips/ films, which is free, provided one is registered with the website. It has been found that videos on 'YouTube' generally stream smoothly, without lags or slowdowns. The mobile site of 'YouTube' titled 'YouTube Mobile' came into being on 15 June, 2007. Although there are allegations against 'YouTube' regarding copyright violations, and the kind of content which is posted, 'YouTube' nowadays is also used in a positive fashion. It is now clear that the uploading of pornography or videos containing nudity is not allowed in the 'YouTube'. 'YouTube' does not allow anybody to upload content, which is not permitted by the copyright law of the United States. Like the Internet and blogs, 'YouTube' has also faced censorships and bans by various national governments all across the globe, owing to the threat it poses to states in terms of security, morality and ethics. There are allegations against 'YouTube' for hosting videos of real-life animal cruelty. 'YouTube' has also been used in few countries by students to bully. Hence, YouTube is a platform to post and share videos which can be animation, footage of public events or personal recordings of friends, provided the content is not offensive or illegal. YouTube since its inception had been useful for journalists, film-makers and even politicians, apart from the ordinary 'netizens'. It is argued by some that 'YouTube' is an outlet for creativity of creative people.

The Critique

During the United Nations Internet Governance Forum, which was held at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in November, 2007, there was discussions on the pros and cons associated with the Internet and new media. It has been observed by some during the Forum that “Web 2.0”–the second generation of web-based communities and hosted services–would bring less, and not more, democracy. User-generated sites like 'Facebook', 'Wikipedia' and 'YouTube' have not benefited the talented. In fact, profits (read 'supernormal' profits) incurred/ generated was not going to the creators of content, but to a tiny corporate minority. There are also allegations that the Internet is responsible for trivializing politics by helping to create a “cacophony of opinions, where one cannot sort out the truth.” Hence, there is the need for media literacy and healthy scepticism in order to judge and assess the growth and impact of the new media, the Internet and interactive websites like the 'YouTube'. A really important argument, which can be provided here is that the existing 'digital divide', would not allow the common man to utilize and maneuver the new technologies and the new media. The point is to govern and move the technology in a decentralized manner, and not letting the technology govern and shape the progress of the human race. For example, nowadays, if one logs on to 'YouTube', then one can now watch classroom lectures being delivered by professors from various universities such as the University of California at Berkeley, University of Harvard etc. 'YouTube' has served the student community by bringing higher education within the ambit of the web. 'YouTube' can thus be used for imparting visual and virtual literacy. In another way, 'YouTube' has proven itself to be something worthy and serious. 'YouTube' is now considered as a website, which provides real substantial, useful interactive content. 'YouTube's' higher education initiative, as have been exemplified earlier, works as a marketing tool to help strengthen alumni ties, and expand community outreach. Through the YouTube, young film makers can now market their documentaries and films, too. Although 'YouTube' provide some hope and space in the era of globalisation, but there still exists voices to look at this new medium critically. One can do a thorough research on 'YouTube', by seeing its impact on gender relations in a patriarchal society in India, in this respect. By simply, projecting 'YouTube' as 'the' best technology, which is available, would be to neglect the real issue. There exists alternative forms of expressing one's talent. There exists alternative platforms for expressing creativity such as street theaters, jatras (another form of traditional drama, which exists in Bengal, India), bahoorupis (artists) performing in front of the rural folks, Kalighat paintings (another form of traditional painting/ art, which came into being in Bengal during the 19th Century) etc. In the backdrop of emerging technologies like 'YouTube', it is essential to know whether such old art forms will die out or remain intact. In fact, one can add that platforms like 'YouTube' itself can be used to promote old
(folk) art forms by creative and young artists and film-makers. Unfortunately, not much effort has been made in this direction.


The present article would look void if the concept of 'new media and development' is not mentioned. What one means by “old” media are: print newspapers and magazines, which are static representations of text and graphics. Print media still exists as a powerful Fourth Estate in modern democracies. However, till the 1980s, media relied only on print and analog models. With the advent of the Internet and digital computers, new media came into being. New media includes: Web sites including brochureware, audio and video, chat rooms, e-mail, online communities, Web advertising, DVD and CD-ROM media, virtual reality environments, integration of digital data with the telephone such as Internet telephony, digital cameras, podcasting, digital satellite television, video podcasting, blogs, wikis, Web 2.0, hypertext fiction, graphical user interfaces, software and hardware, digital libraries, electronic journals, and mobile computing. Under the scope of new media data communication is happening between desktop and laptop computers and handheld devices such as PDAs, and the media they take data from, such as compact discs and floppy disks. Even old media nowadays rely on the new media. Internet is considered as the prominent example of media convergence. New media is making impact on the day-to-day lives of individuals since it is interactive, improves the speed of communication, and cuts back geographical distance to zero. The Internet has replaced the 'one to many model' of traditional mass communication with the possibility of a 'many to many' web of communication. In the knowledge era, the new media is believed to have turned the world into a global village. According to some, the creation of new media and technology is because of various complex factors such as: scientific discovery, technical innovation, and social applications. New media has originated due to the convergence of the media and technology. There are various issues before it such as intellectual property rights (IPR), proprietary rights versus open access, ethical and moral interventions, transfer of technology, etc.

1. 7 things you should know about YouTube,

Worldwide Press Freedom Index

Reporters Without Borders for the sixth year in a row has come out with the Worldwide Press Freedom Index. The report states that Eritrea has ranked last for the first time while G8 members, except Russia, recovered lost ground in terms of the press freedom. Eritrea has replaced North Korea in last place in an index measuring the level of press freedom in 169 countries throughout the world, according to the press release of Reporters Without Borders. It has been claimed by the report that the privately-owned press in Eritrea has been banished by the authoritarian President Issaias Afeworki and the few journalists who dare to criticize the regime are thrown in prison behind the bars. This is actually nothing but violation of democracy and strangulation of the Fourth Estate. Of the 20 countries at the bottom of the index, seven are Asian (Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Laos, Vietnam, China, Burma, and North Korea), five are African (Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea, Libya, Somalia and Eritrea), four are in the Middle East (Syria, Iraq, Palestinian Territories and Iran), three are former Soviet republics (Belarus, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan) and one is in the Americas (Cuba).
According to the report of the Reporters Without Borders, all of the European Union member countries made it into the top 50 except Bulgaria (51st) and Poland (56th). After falling steadily in the index for the past three years, the G8 members have recovered a few places. Some non-European countries have made their first appearance in the top 50. They are Mauritania (50th), which has climbed 88 places since 2004, Uruguay (37th) and Nicaragua (47th). Several countries fell in the ranking in 2007 because of serious, repeated violations of the free flow of online news and information. In Malaysia (124th), Thailand (135th), Vietnam (162nd) and Egypt (146th), for example, bloggers were arrested and news websites were closed or made inaccessible. Reporters Without Borders compiled the Worldwide Press Freedom Index by sending a questionnaire to the 15 freedom of expression organisations throughout the world that are its partners, to its network of 130 correspondents, and to journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activists. It contained 50 questions about press freedom in their countries. The index covers 169 nations. Other countries were not included because of lack of data.
In this respect, one can comment that in South Asia, democracy is definitely under threat. If one looks at the situation in Nepal, then one can find that the newly founded regime which came into being after the King was overthrown, is still into the grip of volatility and despair. There are fears that the ultra-left which was responsible for overthrowing the King, may take violence as a weapon, which can turn out to be more problematic for the Nepalese society. There are pressures by the UN bodies that the ultra- left should stay peaceful, and take the path of democracy. A 'peaceful' Nepal is always good for India, which is its neighbour, as per the experts. In the case of Pakistan, the political parties are yet to find space until and unless the President make room for holding democratic elections in the country. In Sri Lanka, the Norwegian peace initiative could not do much 'good', despite holding talks with the rebels and the Sri Lankan government. In fact, the situation cannot be solved unless the Tamil population in Sri Lanka and the Sinhalese citizens do come forward for some basic level of negotiation and understanding, which is democratic, fair and humane in nature. In Bangladesh, the looming problem of poverty, the constant tug of war between the two biggest national level political parties, and the rise of ultrafundamentalism, has created obstacle and trouble in the path towards democracy and good governance. In the case of India too, there are multiple number of problems, which include: inequality in income and wealth distribution, illiteracy, gender inequality, inaccessibility of basic services, casteism et al. For Burma, the military junta government is yet to decide about the fate of citizen centric and non-corrupt democracy. In the recent years, the Fourth Estate (i.e. the press) which is the symbol of democracy has attracted lot of bashing, censorships, regulations, controls and attacks by the State or the national governments. For e.g. the military junta's crackdown on the democratic institutions in Myanmar during 2007 has attracted the attention of various national governments, civil society organisations, donor agencies, and most importantly the civilians. Seeing all these, the construction of the Worldwide Press Freedom Index seems to be a bold and correct step.

Source: The image of the cartoon has been taken from

Thursday, July 3, 2008

A Discourse on Food Security

Article 47 of the Constitution of India states that “the State shall regard raising the level of nutrition and standard of living of its people and improvement in public health among its primary duties”. Successive Five-Year Plans laid down the policies and strategies for achieving these goals
---- Tenth Five Year Plan, 2002-2007

In the past, a lot of emphasis (particularly in the 1960s and 1970s), was given on green revolution technology with much emphasis on the package--major irrigation projects, hybrid seeds, chemical fertilisers and pesticides, particularly to promote growth of agricultural output in the Western part of India, which later spread to the rest of India. Environmental and economic sustainability of the green revolution was questioned later. Green revolution further aggravated the problem of production relations that existed because of the feudal and semi feudal structure of the India society (not to speak about the case of zamindari). This sudden emphasis on agricultural production came when the 2nd Five Year Plan failed due to its much attention on industrial production. During the early 1950s, in India, community development programme, including extension services (which was sponsored by Ford Foundation) was given much attention. However, as per the critics, the programme could not do much since it relied too much on the advice of American sociologists (believing in modernisation paradigm and alien to Indian problems), on whom our first Prime Minister had too much faith. Reliance on external agencies (like World Food Programme and Food Agricultural Organisation) had been happening for getting technical and financial assistance. Some have also criticised that. Under the green revolution (which started after the IADP and IAAP in the early 1960s), there was much emphasis on growing up of high yielding varieties of wheat and rice (one should remember Norman Borlaug here), disregarding what impact it will have on those who rely on growing coarse cereals. Little emphasis was given to preserve indigenous varieties of seeds. We should also remember that even before the advent of green revolution, emphasis on growing cash crops like indigo, jute, tea, coffee, cotton, sugarcane et al came from the policies adopted by the then British Indian government for its vested interest of sustaining industrial revolution. Irrigation was developed in the Western part of India, by the Britishers. Promotion of railways (in the 19th century) for not only carrying foodgrains (for exports and may be for benevolent reasons--carrying food from food surplus to food deficit regions) but also for carrying arms, ammunitions and soldiers (remember the term Marshal race used by few army regiments), was also a part of the entire strategy. The Western metropolis (Britain, France et al) not only used cheap labour (in various forms such as indentured coolie labour in Fiji, Java, West Indies) from the peripheral nations to maintain its domination in markets for textiles, coffee and even spices, but also to maintain its balance of trade, if we talk from a political economic perspective. One should also talk about the case of the (in) famous Irish potato famine, and even the Bengal famine. One should also recall that after the Irish famine lot of migration took place to the newly white settled colony named America. Globalisation started long back, and not in the 1990s. But what happened in the 1990s was that the State (for the first time after Independence) started rolling back its support by reducing various forms of subsidies (on various grounds that it results in inefficiency, corruption, balance of payment crisis) resulting in the impoverishment not only of the landless and marginal farmers but also of the farmers from middle income groups. Dismantling of the Public Distribution System is just a part of the entire scenario (to reduce fiscal deficit and control inflation). Corporatisation of agriculture (by both national and international MNCs) also took place with policy recommendations that ceilings on land should be removed. This was done to make our agriculture export oriented. Reliance on GMOs (genetically modified organisms) also took place. Information technology came handy for such farms since that reduces transaction cost. Similarly, investment in infrastructure is emphasized since that promotes economic growth, reduces transportation and administration cost, and other related costs as per the mainstream economics. But one should also remember that some farms have started offering the farmers credit in advance provided they sell their product to them in the future (which reminds one about the putting out system that existed in Britain during the 19th century or the interlocking of factor markets). How much future and spot trading has really helped farmers (from all income and caste groups, and different land holding size) is a matter of controversy. The recent controversy or even in the past regarding impoverishment actually shows how media and even research groups are used by various lobbies of farmers and interest groups. The big question is what happened to poverty, distribution, inequality, and various forms of social evils that exists not only in the heart of rural India, but may be in an A class city? How far the past policies regarding trade reforms etc. have helped us? There should be clear cut discussion and understanding taking into account the present reality, the long term planning and our past track record in the current regime under the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

The decade of 1990s saw the debate surrounding the contraction of public distribution system (PDS) in India where economists and social scientists of various camps (in relation to their stands with the IMF and World Bank policies) expressed their viewpoints in various journals, seminars and public meetings. The important areas which were touched during these discourses were: what one means by food adequacy, level of malnutrition, role of State and market in food allocation and distribution, impact of trade liberalization on the Indian food market (including producers, sellers and consumers) etc. To summarise such a rich and enlightening discussion in a few words would be both difficult and impossible. However, certain elements could be pulled out and pondered upon to understand the politics of rights-based approach to food security. Food security started as a 1970s-era global-scale concern for food supplies that saw the supply of food as the influential variable for food (in)security. Under this view, places with greater food supplies are perceived as more food secure than those with fewer supplies. The UN World Food Conference was thus held in 1974, a year when hunger in the world had reached a level that was unacceptable to most of the Third World countries. However, from the late 1970s through the 1990s, the food security focus on food supply failed to identify causal links between the material circumstances of particular groups and their experiences of food insecurity in events such as the African famine of 1984-85. Studies of such events revealed that even in the context of famine, the cause of food insecurity was not the amount of food in a given place. Rather, food outcomes are shaped by access (entitlements) and production, which are themselves linked to social roles and status. In the face of this new understanding, food security studies shifted their approach from a view of food as a basic need to a livelihood perspective that treats food as one of a number of objectives, resources and outcomes. The contemporary structure of food security recognizes the value of local knowledge and local perceptions of problems and insecurity in understanding the causes (and results) of that insecurity. One should also include the concept of social exclusion while talking about access to food. In the livelihood framework, outcomes are specified not only in terms of income but also in terms of well being and reduced vulnerability. Importantly, livelihoods are seen as being derived from a set of assets, particularly 5 kinds of capital: human, natural, financial, social and physical.

Streamlining the PDS

The public distribution system which was universal in nature during the pre-nineties came under criticism on various grounds. It was argued that there was limited accessibility of PDS by the poor, there was regional and rural urban disparities in PDS, there were inefficiencies associated with the PDS, and leakages from PDS was considered to be quite high [Swaminathan (2000); George (1984); Dev and Suryanarayana (1991); Ahluwalia (1996)]. The Revamped PDS was introduced by the government adopting an approach which could be expressed as: helping all the people living in the poor areas. Such poor areas included drought prone areas, desert areas, tribal areas, certain designated hilly areas and urban slum areas. The government short listed 1752 blocks under the RPDS to improve the food availability situation in these backward areas. Although the offtake from RPDS was going up (as can be seen from the table 1 above), the government decided to further curtail the PDS by adopting Targeted PDS i.e. TPDS. This can remind one of the phase wise liberalisation of the exchange rate regime (see notes)[i].

TPDS was the result of government’s policy of fiscal contraction which too came under criticism on various grounds. Although the TPDS was started to lower the food subsidies, it could not meet its objective because of pressures on the government to buy food grains at prices higher than the market prices. Those who were ‘net consumers’ suffered due to higher prices of food grains prevailing in ration shops (and also fair price shops), including the people living below the poverty line. In most of the cases, TPDS also suffered from non-inclusion of poor in the scheme, which can be termed as Type-II or E-mistakes [Cornia and Stewart (1993); Swaminathan (1996)].

The impact of targeting the PDS on food security was discussed too. The three broader aspects of food security i.e. food availability, food distribution and food accessibility, became the major areas of research and debates. It should be mentioned here that food security at the household level and intra-household food allocation which is determined by many factors including gender norms, formed a negligible part of these debates. One can mention about the household livelihood security model which allows for a broader and more comprehensive understanding of the relationships among the political economy of poverty, malnutrition and the dynamic and complex strategies that the poor use to negotiate survival. The model places emphasis on household actions, perceptions, and choices. Regarding the physical availability of food security, it was argued by some that the change in the cropping pattern in favour of non-food crops led to more risks and increased impoverishment of the small and marginal farmers, and decreased food availability per capita. This was countered by the argument that such a shift would lead to higher returns for small and marginal farmers, more exports and would be compatible with the change in tastes and preference of both the rural and urban consumers [Patnaik (1997); Radhakrishna (1996)]. However, one should also taken into account the vulnerability aspect (which covers external factors affecting food security viz. natural and man-made disasters), and sustainability aspect (which involves attention to the conservation and enhancement of natural resources like land, water, forests and biodiversity).

The Issue of Malnutrition

It was argued that the most of the rural and urban population do not have enough purchasing power to meet their calorie norms [See the table 2]. But this argument was countered by saying that given the increase in the level of real expenditure per capita of the poor, there is shift in consumption from calorie based food to non-calorie based food. However, the calorie based definition of food security itself is subject to many criticisms---the required calories by a person may vary across geographies, culture and time. Even if one assumes that ‘adequate’ calories are available to every member of the household, there is no certainty that available calories will meet the requirements of protein energy, and micro-nutrients, such as iron, iodine and important vitamins. The construction of poverty line on the basis of minimum required calorie intake has also been debated [Swaminathan (2002); Vyas (2004); Dev (2005)]. Micronutrient deficiency is somewhat related to changing food habits of the people because of the changes in their tastes and preferences, and is also related to their respective income levels. The relation between tastes and preferences, and income levels is subject to the condition, which creates values. There is no exact one to one relationship between income level and micronutrient deficiency. The importance of capacity building to create awareness about food values is quite essential. However, once awareness is generated, it can be the people with more access to income as well as non-income resources, which can benefit. Thus keeping the prices of the food (which are rich in micronutrients) affordable is quite pertinent.

There was a growing consent among economists and social scientists to widen the connotation of food security by including the concept of nutritional security at the household level. Some argued that the calorie based definition of food security be replaced by nutrition based definition of food security at the household level (Vyas, 2000). Without an assurance of nutritional adequacy, food security has very little meaning (United Nations Administrative Committee for Co-ordination: Sub-committee on Nutrition (ACC: SCN) (2000): Fourth Report on World Nutrition Situation, Geneva). The usage of anthropometric measures in order to find the level of malnutrition (see notes)[ii] and measuring the micronutrient contents in food are some techniques in order to assess the nutritional aspect of food security. If the nutritional aspect of food security is followed, then it can be found from the Second National Family Health Survey that 47 percent of all Indian children are undernourished, 52 percent of all adult women are anaemic and 36% have a BMI (body mass index) below the cut-off of 18.5 commonly associated with chronic energy deficiency (International Institute of Population Sciences, 2000). Although there is decline of extreme hunger and severe undernutrition but the improvement of anthropometric indicators (heights and weights of Indian children) is quite slow. Anthropometric indicators show rural-urban disparity and gender disparity (Dreze, 2004). One can look at the table 3, in order to get the anthropometric measures among women and children across various states and union territories (UTs). One should also mention about life cycle approach to understand food and nutrition security.

In order to understand the complexity of food security, one can look at the figure 1, shown above. Figure 1, clearly shows that nutrition status of an individual not only depend indirectly on household food security, but also gender norms practiced in the society as well as sanitation, access to health facilities and safe drinking water etc. Micronutrient deficiency—especially deficiencies in iron, iodine and vitamin-A—are even more widespread worldwide than that of protein-energy malnutrition. Besides being important causes of disability in themselves, micronutrient deficiencies often underlie other types of morbidity. Iron deficiency is the most common cause of anaemia worldwide. The consequences of iron deficiency are more serious for women.

Rise in net availability of food grain at the national level do not ensure food security at the household level. But still there is a necessity to become self-sufficient in food production. There are limits to increasing production through area expansion as the country has almost reached a plateau in so far as cultivable land is concerned. Hence the emphasis has to be on productivity increase. Overall growth rate decelerated to 1.80% per annum during the decade of 1990s which is just about equal to annual population growth and therefore is a matter of concern (see table 4). Annual growth in wheat continues to be robust but in rice it tapered off in 1990s after fairly high growth in 1980s. Whereas decline in coarse cereals output is understandable because of substitution effect, failure in improving growth in pulses is quite a setback.

Rights Based Approach to Food Security

Coming back to the issue of TPDS, it could be said that the new scheme could not reach its target population as has been argued by some. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, the food stocks in the Food Corporation of India (FCI) godowns went up due to lowering purchasing power of the rural masses, and very little price differential between market prices and issue prices of food grains in ration shops, as has been argued by some. Drought and famine led to further impoverishment of the rural poor as there were little concerted efforts to improve their entitlement by capitalizing on the endowment poor people has i.e. labour power. The Sampoorna Grameen Rozgar Yojana (SGRY), which was introduced in mid-2001, was no better and suffered from the problems of under-utilisation of funds, mechanization of work, and fudging of the muster rolls. The Indian state was unable to provide ‘safety net’ to its small and marginal farmers who could not get the return for their investment in agricultural activities. News of starvation deaths and suicides were reported from different parts of India. Although the civil society voiced its concern about these issues, the government seemed to pay no attention to it. Some of the states which performed poorly in ensuring food security were Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa and Chattisgarh. Cases of starvation deaths were also reported from the South 24 Parganas district of West Bengal. The poorer regions which suffered hugely were Palamau in Jharkhand, Sarguja in Chattisgarh, Kalahandi in Orissa. Cases of starvation deaths were reported from the tribal communities such as sahariyas, musahars, kols and bhuiyas. Consumption of ghas ki roti made from sama (a forest grass) took the lives of sahariyas in Rajasthan. Tribals in Bolangir district of Orissa were found to mortgage not only their land but also their rations cards for a paltry sum of Rs. 50. The moneylenders also lent back the cards at higher prices [EPW (2002); Mander (2003); Dreze (2003)]. Farmer’s suicides in Vidharbha region in Maharastra can also be mentioned which is happening because of high debts, high cost of inputs (including credit) and too much reliance on green revolution technology instead of traditional farming methods (Mohanty, 2005).

The ‘right to food’ movement / campaign which grew after the hearing by the Supreme Court of a writ petition filed by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (Rajasthan), at that critical junction not only provided the Indian citizens with information about the food security situation but also made a serious attempt to draw the attention of Supreme Court to consider ‘right to food’ as a fundamental right. The early dialogue on food security happening among economists changed its track, giving more stress on action oriented research. There are however hurdles to make right to food as a fundamental right because: (i) There are multiplicity of meanings of the term ‘freedom from hunger’[iii]. It can mean—getting two square meals a day, meeting specific calorie norms, avoiding nutrition related ailments and so on. (ii) If right to food is seen as right to ‘nutrition’ as provided in the Article 47 of the Indian Constitution, then one can look into the debate among nutritionists regarding the constituents of ‘good’ nutrition. Another aspect of nutrition is that ‘good’ nutrition varies across time and space (already discussed). Nutrition can also be linked with issues like safe drinking water, good health etc., without which body’s absorption and metabolism of nutrients goes down; and (iii) Ensuring right to food is not only the responsibility of the State but also institutions and individuals (Dreze, 2004).

Despite the international summits such as the Vienna Declaration, 1993 adopted at World Conference on Human Rights affirming that ‘extreme poverty and social exclusion constitutes a violation of human dignity’ and the Rome Declaration (1996) made during the World Food Summit stating that ‘food security is achieved when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active life’, it is difficult to transform these into the fundamental rights of the Indian Constitution. Although the right to food comes under the Directive Principles, it is difficult to convert it into a fundamental right. While the Article 37 explicitly states that the Directive Principles ‘shall not be enforced by any court’, it goes on to stress that (i) that these principles are nevertheless ‘fundamental to the governance of the country’; and (ii) that ‘it shall be the duty of the state to apply these principles in making laws’. However, the manner in which right to free and compulsory education to every child has been made into a fundamental right through pressures coming from the civil society organizations and international agencies like the UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), gives one some hope about pursuing the State to make right to food as a fundamental right. But this does not mean by making right to food as a fundamental right will automatically ensure food security for all at all the times. There may still be problems in enforcing and implementing such rules. This is what was happening with the right to free and compulsory education to every child as has been reported. Many have even questioned the quality of education imparted through Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan [Jha, (2002); Dreze (2004)].

The politics behind making right to food as an obligatory fundamental right of a State can be understood from the stand United States took. During the 1996 World Food Summit, the US refused to sign the final declaration based on the logic that such a step would make “welfare reform illegal under international law”. While some countries like the G-77 and some European countries were pushing for a clearer and a stronger language regarding the enforcement of right to food, the US opposed the inclusion of any language whatsoever. After a compromise was struck, the World Food Summit 1996 was followed by the establishment of General Comment 12 which was adopted by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1999. The General Comment 12 outlined the duties and obligations of states with respect to implementation of the right to food. In the year 2000, the United Nations appointed a Special Rapporteur on the right to food. During the World Food Summit 2002, which was held in Rome, Italy, from June 10-13, the US Administration wanted to support a much narrower world-hunger agenda which focused on a greater role for the private sector, including the interests of biotechnology firms[iv]. Since the US could no longer demand for the exclusion of language, they were asking for alterations in language—pushing for the right to access to food, rather than for the right to adequate food. In fact, the US preferred the UDHR (Universal Declaration of Human Rights) and the non-ratified ICESCR (International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) formulation of right to food, which is vague and non-binding. (President Jimmy signed the ICESCR, which has still not been ratified by the US). During the World Food Summit 2002, the United States expressed this idea by arguing that “..…the attainment of the right to an adequate standard of living is a goal or aspiration to be realized progressively that does not give rise to any international obligation or any domestic legal entitlement and it does not diminish the responsibilities of national governments towards their citizens”. The US therefore did not understand the right of access to food as a guaranteed entitlement. Thus, we find the United States among few of the nations which has not ratified the ICESCR. Expecting to halve world hunger by the year 2015 is now a distant dream particularly for most of the countries of South as there is lack of political will to take steps vis-à-vis right to food. But one can learn from Norway which has recently adopted the legislation making the ICESCR legally binding within the country and has established the right to food as the basis for its agricultural policy. [Rosset (2002); Sheff (2002)].

In the absence of political will to make right to food as a fundamental right, there are certain steps which the civil society organizations and human rights activists have taken. Firstly, right to food in India can be linked with right to information. Information regarding the unavailability of food grains in ration shops, non-issuance of below poverty line ration cards and corruption in general can be found from the authorities, if a particular state has enacted the Right to Information Act. Disclosure of records of ration shop can help in preventing corruption, where through bogus entries food grains from ration shops are siphoned off to open market for a better bid. Some grassroots level NGOs are working in the state of Delhi in order to check such illegal activities. States that have done considerably good in Panchayati Raj, should go for implementing the Right to Information Act judiciously [The Tribune (2003)][v]. Secondly, the issue of right to food can be linked with right to free and compulsory basic education to children. On 28 November 2001, the Supreme Court under the pressure of public campaigns directed state governments to introduce cooked mid-day meals in all government and government-assisted primary schools within six months. On 15 August 2003, the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee announced that cooked mid-day meals would soon be extended up to Class 10 as a national programme. Under the mid-day meals programme, 50 million children are covered. Although the quality of mid-day meals varies from state to state, but states like Tamil Nadu and Gujarat have performed exceptionally well. Some states have given the excuse of shoe string budget of not introducing such schemes. Introduction of schemes like mid-day meals in schools, not only ensures higher enrolment of children, but also reduces the drop-out ratio among girl children. Even the problem of child labour could be countered to a large extent. Eating food together also leads to social cohesiveness among children of various castes. Further, it leads to employment of women cooks in the schools. Thirdly, there is need for efforts to establish an Optional Protocol, which would allow the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) to hear grievances regarding right to food at the international level. While the decisions taken will be non-binding and subject to the approval of the defending state, establishment of an Optional Protocol would be an important step towards the rising enforceability of economic rights, including the right to food. Distress migration of farm labourers, distress sale of land and other valuable assets (including ration cards) by small and marginal land owning farmers, committing of suicides by consuming harmful chemical pesticides in the backdrop of debt trap, adivasis (tribals) eating ghaas ki roti (breads made of local grass) due to hunger etc. are some of the incidents, which can really create agony and angst in the mind of any normal human being. Some of the Indian states have also seen plundering of groundwater by corporate sector, which have adversely affected not only environment but also the very common man. However, a special package for farmers was announced for 31 districts in Andhra Pradesh, Maharastra, Karnataka and Kerala, where there was high incidence of farmers' suicides. The measures include: (a) Waiving of interest on overdue loans as on July 1, 2006 so that farmers have no past burden; (b) The overdue loans of the farmers as on July 1, 2006 will be rescheduled over a period of 3-5 years with a one year moratorium; and (c) A credit flow of INR 21,422 crore will be ensured in these 31 districts in 2006-07. But it can pointed out that what we have seen in India is gross regional inequality in development, which even created and perpetuated old social problems like bonded labour system, child labour system, gender-based discrimination, caste-system, illiteracy and what not.

It is increasingly felt that Indian agriculture is currently suffering from “technology fatigue”, due to which the earlier gains made during the green revolution has withered away. Moreover, green revolution itself has been criticized for being Euro-centric, environmentally unsustainable and being apolitical (it never addressed the issues of land and tenancy reforms, and other related institutional reforms). Green revolution actually tried to improve yields and production, without taking into account the needed change in rural and social institutions. Since it offered a high-valued package, so it helped only the rich farmers (owning large landholdings) from assured irrigated areas. Areas where rainfed irrigation take place could not gain much from the green revolution. Green revolution only promoted production of certain crops which are agro-climatically suitable for certain regions, which some say have affected biodiversity. Green revolution relied excessively on major irrigations (instead of minor irrigation and rainwater harvesting), chemical fertilizers and pesticides. In order to sustain green revolution, huge subsidies were given on inputs (for producers of inputs—firms, and consumer of inputs—farmers) like electricity, fertilizers etc, thus making the entire effort economically unviable and unsustainable. The Bollgard Bt cottonseed and other such seeds, which have been recently introduced, have failed to cater the needs of the rural farming community who belong to the lower income group (as well as socially backward groups), and possess small-sized farmlands and cropping fields. In fact there are allegations that due to the liberalization of the Indian economy, multi-national corporations (MNCs) from the North got the opportunity of plundering the farmers of the South, by patenting and giving 'new names' to the indigenous varieties of plants (such as turmeric, basmati rice) and animals (via genetic engineering) from the South, thus leading to bio-piracy. Issues and debates surrounding bio-ethics, bio-piracy and violation of intellectual property rights (IPRs) have come to the forefront during the recent years, which are still needed to be solved at international forums like World Trade Organisation (WTO). The National Agricultural Policy (NAP) (2000) announced by the Government of India, sought to give a prominent role to contract farming. However, it is said that contract farming has led to 'corporatization' of Indian agriculture, which has adversely affected the small and marginal farmers. Contract farming has been criticized as being a tool for the agribusiness firm to exploit an unequal power relationship with growers. However, advocates of contract farming view it as a way to create a synergy between agribusiness firms and small farmers that benefit both without sacrificing the rights of either. It is seen as a mechanism to modernize small peasant holders through transfer of technology.


The debate over the issue of food and nutrition security is going to become more intense in the coming days. While many will put forward the argument of allowing genetically modified food, which is cheap, to float in the Indian market, others may raise their concern regarding the risks associated with such food. The government will try to promote biotechnological research for raising the food availability. But ecologists and environmentalists may disagree to taking such steps. It is important to mention that in the year 2002, many South African countries expressed concern about genetically modified crops supplied as food aid by multilateral agencies. Their concerns regarded both food safety and environment. However, the WFP, FAO and WHO reacted by stating, “the consumption of foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) now being provided as food aids in Southern Africa is not likely to present human health risks. Therefore, these foods may be eaten”. International law, however, does not currently address GMOs in food aid (FAO, 2005). Under such circumstances, raising the issue of right to food and nutrition security from a human rights perspective will become more difficult unless a global forum is created and used for pressure tactics and monitoring. It is also imperative to understand that under the human development framework, one cannot compartmentalise one right from another.

The 'green revolution' which spread from the Western part of India to the rest of India, could not help in pulling majority of the rural masses out of the poverty and debt trap. Eyebrows have been raised about the role of old institutions (for R&D) like: State Agricultural Universities, krishi vigyan kendras (KVKs), Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) etc., apart from the public distribution system (PDS). Taking such institutions as pious would be a great mistake. There are needs for institutional reforms so that they cater the needs of the rural farming community keeping in mind the issues of ensuring food security, rural development and poverty reduction. It has been felt by economists that instead of giving subsidies to those schemes which lead to environmental hazards and other negative things (can happen also due to negative externalities), more finance should be allocated in crucial areas such as soil amelioration, watershed development, groundwater recharge, surface irrigation and other infrastructure and also allow for substantial expansion in the reach of critical farm support systems. It is now suggested that agricultural production has to be increased not only through increase in yield but also through increase in area under cultivation.


[i] Note: The system of partial convertibility of rupee was done in the budget of 1992-93, to be followed by full convertibility of rupee on trade account in the budget of 1993-94. Full convertibility on current account was achieved on August 19, 1994. Many other relaxations regarding convertibility were introduced in the subsequent years.

[ii] Notes: Anthropometric measures are calculated by finding the z-scores of weight-for-age, weight-for-height and height-for-age, and finding their standard deviations from the norms. This is done mainly for pre-school children. For more information, see India Nutrition Profile (1998), published by Department of Women and Child Development, Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India.

[iii] Note: The phrase ‘freedom from hunger’ was coined during the World Food Conference (1974) which resolved that, ‘every man, woman and child has a right to be free from hunger and malnutrition’.

[iv] Note: There were protests by a noted ecologist during the year 2000 against the food aid which was given by the US after the Orissa cyclone of 1999. It was alleged that the corn-soya mix had genetically engineered content. American officials said that the GM content of corn and soya in the US was such that it was likely that the food-aid supply to Orissa would be genetically engineered, but they said that would not be in breach of any Indian or international regulations and met American safety standards. Source: ‘US 'dumped' GM food in Orissa’, Saturday, 3 June, 2000, 00:09 GMT 01:09 UK, by Mike Wooldridge, accessed from

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