[ To Express, To Reflect, To Give Back ]

Feeding a billion people every day

Saturday, February 26th, 2011

Listening to NPR’s special report yesterday, I was astonished to learn that some of Nebraska’s farmers manage as much as 2500 acres, with help from few humans and monster machines. I hear Nebrasks’s corn belt is booming but I was left to wonder how could just few people farm thousands of acres? I cannot fathom this conquest of agricultural technology – virtually erasing farm labor from the equation. You may also want to know, Twitter too is part of Nebraska’s success story! (more here)

Nebraska's Farming Profits Abound

On the other side of the globe, Indian farmers are struggling to keep up with rising demand on one hand and age-old, labor-intensive agro practices on other. Add to that the dependence on a lackluster monsoon season. For its part, the government of India hasn’t provided the infrastructure support for electricity, irrigation and storage. As much as half of farm foods don’t get to the people and rot even before it reaches its first trading post. This is pathetic and colossal waste of human and natural resources. Consequently, inflation in food prices is at unbearable levels – leaving most Indians to spend all of their income on just feeding the families. Though GDP growth is elevating many out of poverty, many wonder if it is as effective as economic theory suggests.

Such is the state of food production in a country that must feed over billion people every single day. About 250 million of that are adolescents – whose health and nutrition is crucial for the future of India. There is no concerted vision or effort from government or private sectors to address these problems holistically.

India’s problems are manifold and which one is a priority is debatable. In fact, the endless is debates amongst political groups and media is one reason decisions are stalled. I believe the livelihood and as UNICEF attests, the future of the country, rests more on agriculture than on information technology or skyscraper-studded cities. Yet, it appears there is no sense of urgency or apprehension around state of agriculture. No doubt, the decision makers are enjoying a smooth ride on the GDP bullet train. When would they have the time to step back?

Pegging our hopes on India's budding entrepreneurship

There were times when some of India’s leaders had the will, but not all the means to make it happen. Today, there are probably many ways to address this issue within a 10-year timeframe, but a vision, leadership and of course, the will, is obviously missing.

The one ray of hope is the phenomenal power of India’s educated youth. I know they are entrepreneurial (Tarun Khanna, a Harvard Professor claims billions of entrepreneurs here and here!) with the will and capability to take the best from around the world and mix it with the best of India’s past to revolutionize its future. May the almighty bless my wish to come true soon!

PS: Think Change India is a wonderful place to check out and keep track of growth in social entrepreneurship in India, specifically around agriculture.

Twitter’s brilliant sweetspot!

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

I was late to sign up on Twitter but am now convinced it is truly a brilliant idea. It allows me to stay connected and follow anyone who I care about. It doesn’t have to be a person, it could be a firm or brand or whatever meaningful entity that deserves even one person’s attention! It doesn’t matter if that other person doesn’t know me – in most cases they don’t know me, but what matters is I am now as close to them as I virtually can.

In the pre-Twitter days, there wasn’t an easy-quick-and-dirty way to accomplish this – besides visiting websites and subscribing to blogs and news feeds etc. It was even worse in pre-Internet era! All I could wish for was to hope that Esquire magazine would publish an article about Cory Booker for me to know what he is up to. Today? Cory Booker goes above and beyond to keep me informed of what he is doing and thinking. All I had to do is just to follow him on Twitter…How insanely cool is that, especially if he is one of those people who inspires me everyday? He does, for ONE MILLION followers, like me.

Strolling across one of the isles in Barnes & Nobles the other day, I stumbled upon a book called “Procrastination Equation” by Piers Steel. Impressed with some of the ideas he espoused, I wondered if the author is on Twitter so I could stay connected with what’s on his mind. Not surprisingly, he was on and active on Twitter, and in seconds, I was set to keep track of him. Practically speaking, I am all set to stay abreast from one of the best minds on subject of Procrastination. Just a few years ago, that act would have meant writing long letters across the continent! And, no doubt, I would have procrastinated the hell out of writing a letter. Twitter simply eliminated the impulsiveness & the delay in Procrastination. Woh Woh? Hold on. Not clear on that last statement? Here is the Procrastination Equation that Piers writes about:

Procrastination Equation by Piers Steel

Piers thoughtfully clarified the formula (in a footnote in the book) by adding “+1″ to the denominator so the division doesn’t go nuts. Motivation=(Expectancy x Value)/[(Impulsiveness x Delay)+1]

With that formula in front of you, now feel free to cogitate on that statement again: Twitter simply eliminated the impulsiveness & the delay in Procrastinating the action of connecting with the book’s author.

Where Twitter becomes a Himalayan challenge is when I start following a lot of people (a lot is say 50 people, at least for me). At that point, I should let go of any intention to “keep up” with everything coming in from everyone I follow. If I try to keep up, I am doomed! I realized Twitter becomes a shallow stream of universal consciousness and all I should and can do is to be content with occasional dips in the stream. I can always selectively dig deeper for particular topics or people – but the stream itself only goes as deep as few days! The world rightfully loses and doesn’t care about last week’s or last month’s or for that matter, yesterday’s state of universal consciousness – tweets!

Even if I am simply using Twitter to just follow – I get so much out of it. When I start tweeting or even better, retweeting some of what I follow, the power and quality of stream multiplies by as many followers as I have and as many people I follow. When everyone start doing the same, this power becomes unbelievably exponential! Not only what I say is heard by some (if not all followers), but I also act as a catalyst in passing every information that needs to be heard! As we have seen in the news lately, that exponential power of Twitter is precisely what is driving social revolutions left and right of Middle East. It first revolutionized the digital world, now it is doing the same for the real world – where revolutions matter the most! So what country is up next? In the universal scheme of tweet-consciousness, nobody knows! Time of course will tell.

Twitter, perhaps unintentionally, ended up in a perfect, irreplaceable sweet spot between one-to-many (radio/tv) and one-to-one (phone/text/IM) and many-to-one (newspaper/magazine) and many-to-many(websites/blogs) communication streams. I am trying hard to imagine what would be next – short of a gift of telepathy for all.

Twitter's sweet spot in (information) revolution