Archive for January, 2008

A flourishing, scaleable e-commerce business in Bujdha village, near Udaipur, provides a glimpse of how rural India could connect to a globalised world.

Sunday, January 6th, 2008

I spent two interesting days visiting the villages around Udaipur, and especially the Ubeswar area. My local host, Dr O.S.Rathore( former Principal of Agriculture College, Udaipur), took me to village Bujdha, which has a population of 4500, of whom over 1000 are tribals.
The highlight of this trip was my meeting with a gentleman called Vardi Chand, who has created a remarkable business around Vermi-compost and organic farming.Vardi Chand at his organic-manure unit
Until a few years ago, Vardi Chand was a salaried employee earning Rs 3000/- p.m. Today, he has transformed into a new-age businessman producing 20 tonnes of organic manure each month, and selling them via internet, to customers spread across the country. Besides this, he raises and sells organically-produced wheat and vegetables to hotels who value this.
It was fascinating to see how Vardi Chand, with some help from his son, actually runs a website out of this small village. By using this site for e-commerce, he converts the dung produced by his 40 cows into marketable organic manure, that earns him over Rs 4 lakhs p.a..

All set for the market

Can there be a better example of bridging the digital divide?
The internet truly symbolizes the global, connected world. Likewise, the current fad for organic foods could be dismissed as the fancy of the rich. What on earth could either of these two symbols have to do with poor farmers in India who have more-pressing, survival issues to address. The deteriorating state of the poor Indian farmer, and the globalising world have often been considered by observers to be opposing trends.
But, does it have to be that way? Can the two trends work with, and support each other, rather than be antagonistic?
The Vardi Chand example shows that the Digital Divide can indeed be bridged. As organic food sales($40 billion in 2006, and currently account for 1–2% of total food sales worldwide) grow rapidly, in both developed and developing markets, it is likely that farmers in India can draw inspiration from him, and reach out to national and global markets.

Four teachers for eight classes; and the doctor is missing!

Sunday, January 6th, 2008

On the second day of my trip, we drove into Dhar village to figure out the state of school education and health-care.
Our first stop was the government school where 170 kids are enrolled in classes 1 through 8. So far, so good.
But, because, there are only 4 teachers, they run combined sessions cutting across different classes. Consequently, the prescribed syllabus is not followed. Nor are there any labs or such facilities.

The kids also run small errands for the school because there is no peon or non-teaching staff.
In such an environment, no surprises that most kids drop out of school quickly. Less than 25 kids have made it past Class 8 over the past few years. And almost everyone drops out after Class 10, in order to take up odd jobs in nearby Udaipur city.If this peek into the state of the country’s school education system wasn’t depressing enough, our next stop made it worse. Dhar Panchayat( comprising Dhar village, plus three other villages) has one Ayurvedic & Allopathic health centre each, as well as provision for a Village Nurse-cum-Midwife(VNM).

Health Centre
As we approached the Ayurvedic health centre, perched on a small hillock, it seemed to exude a welcoming calm. The reason became clear when we climbed the stairs, and went inside. The peon showed us around the 3-room structure., but both the doctor and the compounder were missing.

 The doctor is missing!

Although the peon gamely defended their absence, and offered excuses, it was clear that this was no aberration. Lucrative private practice in the city was any day preferable to a journey into this village.

The same story was repeated at the nearby centre where the VNM is supposed to report for duty. Here, it was one step better; the centre was simply locked!

Under lock & key

 When the Finance Minister presents his annual budget, analysts bemoan the fact that spends on healthcare are low. But, for starters, if the allocated money  itself is put to good use, that would bring a great deal of relief.

A Village enterprise near Udaipur supplies all the PC ‘Dust-Covers’ to Amkette

Sunday, January 6th, 2008

As we traveled further to another nearby village, I encountered yet another instance of rural India getting connected with corporate India, in interesting and synergistic ways.

 Two brothers, Choga Lal Teli and Takhat Singh Teli, run a home enterprise for producing PC ‘dust-covers’ to IT peripherals company, Amkette, which is based in Delhi. Brothers at work

Here, 670 km away, in a village in Udaipur district, the brothers churn out 8000 piece each month. Their employees cut the sheets, stitch them into shape, and brand them as ‘Amkette’ before shipping them out.
As a related diversification, they also produce 50 kg of PolyPropylene ropes each day in another location nearby.