Midday Newsfeed

  • BoP Energy and beyond: BP has built a new stove for the BoP market that produces much fewer emissions than the typical wood burning stoves. Scaling up, the government predicts that by 2017, 10% of total transport fuel will come from biofuels. In order to improve public transportation in Hyderbad and the surrounding area, the World Bank has decided to fund a new bus rapid transit system.
  • Microfinance: Growth of microfinance has been shown to be fastest in the Eastern part of the country while it has the strongest presence in the South. We wrote about it already here, but ACCESS’ partnership with Hindustan Unilever to provide potable water has been picked up by Microcapital.org.
  • Education 2.0: Shital spoke before on the use of technology to democratize education. Now the CEO of Digital Media Convergence Ltd has said that education will be the driving force behind the adoption of IPTV.
  • Healthcare: Despite efforts by government to help communities defray the cost of healthcare, most people still find themselves fronting the costs of such procedures and tests. The central government has amended the law regarding organs transplanted from cadavers.
  • Culture: A small, indigenous group in Maharashtra continues to fight to preserve their mother tongue and heritage. In another story, one of the poorest communities in Assam has taken to international standards to help them emerge from poverty.

In Desperate Need of an Agricultural Revolution

On Wednesday, Indian Finance Minister P. Chidambaram attacked developing nations’ usage of crops for biofuel, referring to the policy as “uncaring” in light of a relentless rise in prices of food and commodities. 

Chidambaram isn’t the only one getting alarmed about the nexus between agricultural productivity, rising food prices, and poverty – in fact, just yesterday, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) launched the publication of its flagship survey entitled, “Sustaining Growth and Sharing Prosperity,” in which it “examines the most critical issues, challenges and risks confronting the Asia-Pacific region in its socio-economic spheres of development.”  One of the main issues highlighted in the survey focused on declining productivity in the agricultural sector, largely due to the “absence of rural infrastructure, incomplete land reforms, and limited alternative income generating activities.”  According to Ravi Ratnayake, director of ESCAP’s Poverty and Development Division,

“Agriculture provides employment for 60 per cent of the working population, mostly poor, in Asia and the Pacific, but decades of neglect by policy-makers have weakened the sector’s capacity to lower poverty and inequality.  Growth and productivity in agriculture have been slowing, and the ‘green revolution’ that boosted agriculture yields in the 1970s has bypassed millions.” 

In response, the survey calls for a “revolution” in agricultural productivity, especially in light of rising food prices and the soaring demand for biofuels: 

Agriculture needs revitalization. This requires a market orientation with a focus on improving agricultural productivity. Also needed are reforms in land policies, connecting the rural poor to cities and markets, and making it easier for farmers to access loans and crop insurance. Along with this approach, diversification of skills should complement agricultural development – by empowering the poor, particularly women, improving skills to tap labour market opportunities and by promoting rural non-farm activities and regional growth centres.

To read the complete text of the survey, go here.

Source:  OneWorld South Asia

Evening Edition

  • A new United Nations report, Redefining AIDS in Asia: Crafting an Effective Response, was just released and makes an astonishing prediction: 500,000 peaple could die each year people due to AIDS-related illnesses by 2020. (Source: PSD Blog)
  • Another UN report focuses on the rise of food costs in Asia due to the use of crops in biofuels and urges governments to protect the poor by expanding social welfare and health programs.
  • In the last fifteen years, 4,750 rural branches closed down in India. These numbers stand in contrast to claims that rural credit has increased.
  • The Union Cabinet approved the creation of a Farmers’ Debt Relief Fund with an initial corpus of Rs.10,000 crore, which will help small and marginal farmers.
  • According to CNN Money, Deutsche Asset Management, a unit of Deutsche Bank, plans to launch the first private equity fund specialising in climate change investments. The fund will invest in a broad spectrum of assets including green technology, agriculture and infrastructure related to alternative energy.