Friday, 11 March 2011

Microfinance, the big dilemma
By Mattia Michielan

Nobel Peace prize Muhammad Yunus is recently on the news for a $100 million scam and this is only the latest attack to microfinance institutions. How to forget the article published on October 2010 by Outlook that renamed this economical strategy microusury.

Does microfinance really works with poor?

Like Yunus claims in his bestsellers book 'Banker of the poor' the idea of microfinance came to him when one day, after having taught economy to his students and discussing about billion of dollars economical strategy, he discover that a woman in the local village was getting $0.5 lawns from money lenders to buy bamboo to work and prepare some handcraft. In the night the same woman was selling his product to the same moneylender for finally have a total income of the equivalent of two pens of dollar. That woman was getting only the 4 percent of the total sum.

I wanted to introduction to start a reflection because the article on Outlook claims that sometime the microfinance institution ask an average of 26 percent of interest, sometime happened also the 40 percent. This is an astonishing percentage, almost the half of what poor people earn after struggling have to go back to the institution.
Coming back to the touchy moment when Yunus got enlightened the moneylenders were asking an interest of 96 percent then microfinance is still giving a bigger income to the poor.

In Venice we said that money are good slave but bad owners. Many of the poor that usually ask for money lawn are not educated or are not able to manage the money they get. Multinational like Monsanto deceives farmers asking them to buy its most expensive and sterile seeds because the farmers will use less chemicals and have a biggest yield. Many farmer asked to microfinance institutions lawns for this reason and when their entire crops was eaten by pests and the few seed were infertile they discover to have felt into the net of debt. A lot of farmers and other poor people sometime needs a financial guide more than financial support.    

Better concept of microfinance cames from website like myc4 or kiva where investors from western country can invest little sum of money. This money is used to help young entrepreneurs from poor country to start a business related with sustainable development. For the investors the same interest tax that banks offer is given, for young entrepreneurs is the manna from heaven. This is not only a way to fight poverty but also to fight the advent of multinationals investments by favoring a local economy. 

Yunus clams also that through microfinance is possible to fight and to put an end to poverty in the world. Microfinance is a good tampon to fight the spreading of poverty and to raise a lot of families from the poverty line but it is definitely not its solution. To solve poverty is necessary a planned development, better education that do not regards only schools but also civic education, and the abolition of all caste (in India), classes, political and religious belonging.

In one thing Yunus is totally right, everyone of us human being have the inner power to make a big change in ourselves, into our society, in our nation or in the all world.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Learning about science through toys

Rotating a stick that has an image of an empty cage on one side and a picture of a bird on the other tricks the human brain into interpreting the two images as one, giving the viewer the impression that the bird is inside the cage.
BANGALORE (March10)—Ashok Rupner, faculty member of the Inter University Centre of Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA) in Pune, puts on his lab coat twice a week to teach science to children by involving them in an interactive  session of active and fun learning.
IUCAA’s Children’s Science Centre was inaugurated in 2004 under the name Pulastya, one of the stars of the Saptarshi (Plough) constellation. The workshop is inspired by Arvind Gupta’s aim of popularizing science by teaching it in an entertaining way to encourage young children.
“Classes are held usually on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and children are taught scientific principles through a set of creative toys and experiments,” Ashok said.
Using an empty adhesive tape holder, lengths of copper wire, magnets and a LED diode—all of which was collected from broken toys found in garbage—Ashok built a small power generator.
“When the child starts playing with his hands and discovers the beauty of science by putting it into practise he will be more inspired to study science further,” Ashok said.
Ashok said that “after teaching the child how to make a power generator we teach him to assembly a little electric motor that follows the opposite concept.”
Later, he demonstrated the theory of magnetic levitation using a simple assembly of an empty CD box, two CDs and some magnets. The magnets caused the discs to hover and spin.
“In an hour of playing and making these toys, children learn more than in a full month of school,” he said.
Ashok showed how with a simple drumstick, a thread and a plastic straw it is possible to make a toy to teach the child the principle of persistence of vision through the classic “bird in a cage,” the concept that inspired the  Lumiere brothers to make the first cinematograph.
 “This is nothing,” Ashok said. “A list of more than 2,000 eBooks is available for free online.”
The books he refers to have instructions about how to build games related to astronomy, Newton’s theories, water pumps, maths, motors and generators, electricity and magnetism and many other topics.  “We also have an online video-library database with plenty of videos about how to build our games in almost all Indian languages,” he said.  

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Smart grid to cut greenhouse gas emissions

BANGALORE (Feb. 22)— Energy Minister Shoba Karandlaje on Tuesday launched a two-day workshop on  the smart grid—a highly efficient method of delivering power using digital technology.
Experts from the Karnataka Electricity Board Engineers’ Association and French power company Schneider Electric (India) outlined the new concept of electric grid that will provide power to remote villages and cut greenhouse gas emissions by utilizing renewable resources.

 “What we are proposing is not only a transformation of the power grid, but also of what we think of as the power system,” said Dr. Rahul Tongla, principal research scientist at the quasi-governmental Central Power Research Institute (CPRI) in Bangalore.

Anil Katam of Schneider Electric (India) said that under the current system there is “generation of energy in one centralized point, we have a transmission company which transfers the power to the grid and a supply company will finally give power to the end user…the processes are no longer proactive and have become outdated.”

Anil said that in a smart grid power is distributed on the basis of necessity, and the system automatically cuts unnecessary power consumption in homes, which is advantageous for a power company because it allows it to provide energy for more homes and prevent frequent blackouts as well as saving energy.

“If, in the beginning, the power will still be produced by centralized power generation, in five years, with the help of the government, we aim to begin furnishing roof panels in such way that our customers also become producers of electricity.  This will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve the power grid,” Anil said.
“India has the capability to produce this technology and to reduce its price and in doing so can avoid buying photovoltaic panels from China, which is the world leader in this sector,” said N. Murugesan, general director of CPRI. “The first need is to implement the electric grid.”

Murugesan said no energy source—including solar power—produces zero carbon emissions, and that even green technology entails a cost for the environment.

“The improvement of [solar] technology will help in the long run, and this is green energy because carbon dioxide emission is negligible,” he said. “We actually don’t have any plan about how to dispose of the technology [old solar panels]. We’ll probably follow the example of other companies of Germany and France where special sections or other companies are dedicated to that skill.”

Organic farming only for rich farmers; chemicals for the rest

By Mattia Michielan
Bangalore(Feb. 21)—For centuries in the 33 villages of Yellandur Taluk farmers had grown rice, sugar cane, coconuts, paddy, jowar and ragi using what Mother Nature provided.
In 1968, when the Western world was being rocked by the hippie revolution and women’s rights movement, chemical fertilizers and chemical pesticides began to be used in India, drastically changing farmer’s lives.
Although the produce increased, the land began to lose nutrients, and locals started facing health problems.
“In recent years farmers are becoming aware of the hazard­s that chemicals bring,” said N. Mahadevaiah, assist­ant director of the Agricultural Depart­ment, Yellandur, “They are using less chemicals and they choose bio-pests or bio-fertilizer but the soil had lost many of its nutrients.”
The Agricultural Department is providing bio-manure, vermi-compost and other organic fertilizers to farmers, but according to Mahadevaiah “the switch to organic will take time.”
He says fertilizers are still necessary to ensure a good harvest.
Organic farming seems confined to people that do not depend primarily on agriculture.  Dr. Shashikala Ramesh, owner of a private hospital in Yellandur, is an example. She owns 40 acres of land where bananas, paddy, sugar cane and turmeric are being cultivated with organic methods.
“A mixture of neem, datura and pomegranate is prepared, left to ferment for a few days and mixed with urea and cow dung. After it fer­ments we spray this organic pest instead of the chemical one,” Shashikala said.

“Organic farming gives good results,” said A.V. Shetty, who is among the big­gest farmers in the taluk, “but the problem is that the land has lost a lot of nutrients, and farmers are looking for short term revenues.”

Anand, owner of Nanda Agro Agency, a shop selling agricultural products, said that in the last few years he has been trying to spread awareness among the locals about the hazards of chemicals and what benefits organic plantation can give. It is only recently that the sale of bio-products is increasing, he said.

“Organic grown turmeric plants are much more resistant to pests, and the product is of excellent quality,” he said, pointing to some pictures of the plant.

Green revolution effect
“Once upon a time, farmers were saving some seeds for the next season,” said S. Puttanah, from the Sri Siddeswara Agro Agency in Yellandur. “Now they prefer to buy packs of seeds.”
For Rs.1,200 a farmer can buy a 5-kilogram pack of hybrid maize with a red label on the pack that says: “Treated with poison (tiran, K-obioland, carban­dazim). Do not use for food, feed and oil purposes.”
Puttanah explains that this hybrid-seed has a thin layer of poison that is supposed to be enough to last all the season.
“After two months the clients come back to buy some pesti­cides,” he said. “Here it is not possible to grow anything without chemical fertilizer. After decades of usage of fertilizer and pesticides, the land now needs chemicals because other­wise it will be impossible to harvest.”
Anand picked up a bottle of Rulout from between a box of fungi­cide and acaricide pesticide. “This product—made by Hy­derabad Chemicals—is the Indian version of Roundup,” he said.
“Roundup is mostly sold to big farmers—small ones cannot afford to buy it,” Puttanah said. The pesticide costs Rs.1,400 for a 5-liter container. He said that the the pesticide, made by Monsanto, is mainly sprayed to rid fields of weeds.
“Rondup is mainly for ciprus rotundus—a bad weed—but other plants don’t have any prob­lems with it,” said Mahadevaiah, the shop owner.
Young people prefer to move into cities and work in indus­try instead of working on farms. The lack of laborers play a big role in agriculture because farmers have to use pesticides in place of the labor force that once upon was employed in cutting down weeds.
The expenditure per acre of each farmer de­pends mainly on the kind of crop, but Mahadevaiah said farmers spend an average of Rs.5,000 per acre of pest and fertilizer. Shetty, the Yellandur Taluk farmer, said he spends between Rs.2,000 and Rs.5,000 per acre of crop, but he also uses manure from his farm to fertilize his fields. Sometime it is enough to spray only one time a season, but sometimes he needs to spray up to three times.
The Agricultural Department gives a 50 percent subsidy to farm­ers who want to buy fertilizers, but Mahadevaiah said that the demand is mainly for pesticides, and they are not subsidized. This is the reason that a lot of agro agencies in the town sell pesticides.
“Farmers have to ask for loans from neighbors to be able to cover this high expenditure and that puts them in this circle of debt from which can hardly escape,” Mahadevaiah said.

Endosulfan used in moderation
“Endosulfan is used only in peanut plantations—it’s not needed here.” said Dr. Shashikala Ramesh. A few steps from her private hospital it was possible to find endosul­fan sold for Rs.75 for 250 millilitres.
“To buy endosulfan you should have a special permission from the Agricultural De­partment,” said Chan­drashekar, owner of an agro agency.
“In west Karnataka, endosulfan caused a lot of problems because it was sprayed by helicopters in wide coffee plantations,” said Nanda Agro Agency’s Anand. “Here, it is not affecting the farmers,  who spray it on just a few acres.”
Anand suggests “moderate usage” of endosulfan to the farmers who buy it, but he denied the need for any permit
to buy it. Mahadevaiah said endosulfan is freely available, and that it is mainly use for paddy crops and sugar cane.
“So far we haven’t faced any problems because we use only maximum of a liter per acre,” he said.
GM seeds needed?
When asked about the use of genetically modified seeds, S. Puttanah frowned at me—he did not know what a GM seed is.
Mahadevaiah said GM seeds are unlikely to be introduced in Yellandur anytime soon because the primary crops
are ragi and paddy, and so far there is no interest from big multinationals to work on these crops.
“I am not supposed to give any comment regard­ing Monsanto’s seed, but my personal opinion is that it’s not good at all because this food causes health problems and it will not help the farmer,” he said.
Last word to the farmer
The last word goes to Mahasantra, a small-scale farmer who was cycling in the sunset to a bar to have a sip of alcohol, his only luxury and expenditure of the day.
“Only young farmers can understand what chemicals are,” he said. “The old ones don’t even know what product they are using.”
While he earns around Rs.45,000 a year, he has to spend at least Rs.5,000 annually for chemical pesticides and fertilizer for his one-acre crop. In addition to that he said that in case of need of help in the farm he has to pay a laborer Rs.100 per day. All of this is beyond the budget of someone that earns about Rs.125 daily.
“Government people hardly came once a year to see the farms,” he said. “They simply give us the pesticide, but we need to rent the tools to spray it—that costs Rs.25 per day—and it is only with experience that we learnt to tie a cloth around our mouth to avoid vomiting or even worse problems.”
In Yellandur, there is no AM radio station, no local TV programs and farmers cannot afford a radio. The only media that reaches them is the newspapers, but farmers like Mahasantra have never been to school.
The lack of information and assistance from the government are the biggest hurdles the organic movement faces. Farmers depending on their crops, like Mahasantra, cannot risk investing in organic cultivations.
“Why should I leave everything to go to the city?” Mahasantra said. “In Bangalore no one can feed me. Here I have no money, but I can feed you for seven days.” 

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Steep decline in Bangalore’s bird species sounds a warning

BANGALORE (Feb. 1)—Bangalore’s trees are being replaced by cell phone masts, its greenery is being covered by concrete, and the Garden City reportedly has lost 50 percent of its birds in the last three years.

Satellite images reveal that in the last three years, Bangalore has lost more than one-third of its greenery. Work on the Namma Metro and other development has caused around 50,000 trees to be felled since 2008, according to a report by Environment Support Group, a Bangalore-based nongovernmental organization.
“What took 30 years earlier has been achieved in three years by this government,” said Dr. M.B. Krishna, an environmentalist and ornithologist, referring to the number of trees that have been cut down.

“I remember that 10 years ago, when I start going to school, I woke up to the sound of birdsong,” said Anup Subramanian, 24, a resident of Shantinagar. “I wonder where the birds have disappeared to.”
Krishna said 340 species of birds have been recorded inhabiting the city of Bangalore and its surrounding area—more than half the number of species in peninsular India—and in winter many migratory birds come from the north. In the wetlands and numerous trees of the Garden City, the birds found a perfect habitat.
But the number of many species of birds has dwindled to 2 percent of what it was three decades ago, Krishna said.
“In about 30 years, we have reduced bird life by 50 percent,” he said.
“That's the price you pay for development,” said Vinay Kumar, director of the World Wide Fund for Nature’s Karnataka office. “You want IT on the one hand, and all the wildlife to be there on the other.”

Telephone towers blamed
Researchers say the increase in electromagnetic pollution is the main cause of the decline in the bird population.
“When birds are exposed to weak electromagnetic fields, they become disoriented and begin to fly in all directions, which explains migratory birds’ navigational abilities being undermined,” said Prof. Girish Kumar of IIT Bombay’s Electrical Engineering Department. “A large number of birds like pigeons, sparrows, swans are getting lost due to interference from the new mobile phone masts.”
Kumar explained that the disappearance of birds including kestrels, white stork, rock doves, pigeons and magpies has been observed near base stations for mobile telecommunications. It has been observed that the birds have a tendency to stay longer in the lower parts of the trees or on the ground, and that they suffer locomotion and breeding problems, he said.
Sparrows and humans have shared the same roofs for centuries, and because of the sensitivity to the environment that characterizes this bird, it is the preferred indicator of urban ecosystems. Prof. Kumar said that “a stable house sparrow population indicates a healthy ecosystem for human beings in terms of air and water quality, vegetation and other parameters of habitat quality, whereas a declining population of the bird provides a warning that the urban ecosystem is experiencing some environmental changes unsuitable for human health in the immediate future.”
Research conducted by V .P. Sandlas, director general of the New Delhi-based Amity Institute of Space Science & Technlogy indicates that electromagnetic radiation afflicts not only birds, but also plants and mammals, including humans. Continued exposure to electromagnetic radiation can cause headache, migraine, cataracts, eye irritation, loss of appetite, fatigue, lack of concentration, memory loss, anxiety and depression, sleep disruption and insomnia. Depending on the duration of the exposure and the intensity of the radiation, humans can suffer serious biological effects such as brain tumors, eye tumors, Parkinson’s disease and leukemia, according to the research.

Noise pollution causes birds to sing at night
“Nothing has being proved from microwave towers,” Krishna said. “There’s this speculation that it could have an effect, but since it is not really obvious it may not have as big a role as other factors. What we know for sure is that habitat change can bring about a loss. In fact if you look at all the bird species of the world, 60 percent of the birds are threatened because of habitat loss.”
Most trees in Bangalore grew along roadsides and not in gardens, Krishna said.
“The bulk of the large trees were in public places—public spaces that now are disappearing,” he said.
Work to widen Bangalore’s streets is thus removing a key habitat for birds.
Another key habitat being eroded is wetlands, Krishna said. While these occupy only 5 percent of Bangalore’s land, they support around 40 percent of the bird species recorded in the city. In recent years, development has caused the number of lakes in the city to fall from 51 to 17 and from 147 to 93 in the suburban area.
“Even crows are declining in Bangalore—everything is declining,” Krishna said. The only species that is increasing in Bangalore is the pigeons, which can perch and nest on the projections of multistory buildings, he said.
As well as habitat erosion and electromagnetic pollution there are others important factors that contribute to the decline in the bird population: air, water and noise pollution.
“Do you know how the birds respond to the incredible amount of noise pollution?” Krishna said. “They started singing during the night.”
Bangalore’s unsustainable development is also afflicting the suburban area known as the rural-urban fringe. When a city starts growing, its boundaries became a target for speculation, farmers stop growing crops, landowners do not take care of their land or trees, and weeds grow wild because the only interest is in the value of the land. Usually an area of twice the radius of the city is affected by this socioeconomic change, which results in habitat loss.
“This is an ecological disaster,” Krishna said.
He said that of all animals, birds burn up food fastest because they require energy not only to fly, but to get airborne.
“Per unit of body weight, because of their increased food intake, birds also receive the highest dosages of chemicals in the environment,” Krishna pointed out.
In the past, miners took canaries with them to work in mines because the birds perished if odorless, toxic gases were present, giving the miners time to escape. What imminent danger is the loss of hundreds of bird species in our city warning us of?

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Illegal money changers making a killing

By Mattia Michielan

 Money changers in Bangalore are illegally converting currency for customers at rates that are higher than the current foreign exchange rates.
This is always done without issuing receipts, adding to the rising amounts of black money in the system.
“We have a legal license and pay taxes to the Reserve Bank of India,” said Zamir, the owner of the Multi Foreign Exchange on Church Street.
“But while one euro can be changed to give Rs.55.85, on the street, you could get Rs.58 to Rs. 60,” he said.
Licensed money changers, like Zamir, offer these “services” at an extra fee of Rs.25 for each transaction. Getting a receipt, however, is out of the question.

Money laundered through gold deals

Meanwhile, there are a number of unlicensed operators who challenge these prices, offering to do better.
“I can give you more than the Foreign Exchange Dealers’ Association of India [FEDAI] offices,” said Venkateshwara, a jeweler from Raja Market, who approaches customers outside FEDAI offices on Church Street.
He offers Rs.62 for one euro and has even found a way to clean up the black money he makes on these deals.
“I reinvest the money I make from each transaction in gold, when the prices fall. This is usually done in South Africa or Dubai, where gold is tax free,” he added.
Police refused to comment on the issue.
To read more about a similar foreign exchange scam that operates across the country click here.  

Discovering Asia on a Harley

By Mattia Michielan

Donato Nicoletti left his home in Italy in July last year with the aim of exploring Asia on his Harley. The SoftCopy caught up with him on his way through Bangalore to discuss his
impressions of the continent.

After working for eight years as a mechanic in his hometown, Milan, Nicoletti decided he needed a break.
“I was tired of the monotony of the city life, and slowly the idea of leaving it all behind for an adventure began to grow in my mind,” he said.

He plans to travel as far as Japan before driving home through Russia.
Nicoletti originally budgeted €30,000 for his trip, but has managed to keep his spending down to only 30 percent of that amount thanks to sponsors helping him out with money and equipment.

“After leaving home I rode for 20,000 kilometers,” Nicoletti said. “I went from Pakistan—a friendly country—to India. I faced many difficulties at the border.”
He said he did not stay long in northern Kashmir.

“The wonderful places and clean air of Ladakh [a region of Jammu and Kashmir, the northernmost state of India] made me forget the tension further north [in the state].”

With his rich experience as a mechanic, Donato considers himself to be a “bike doctor.” But even his know-how could not prepare him for every eventuality.

“After the heaven of Dharamsala, I went to the hell of Delhi,” Nicoletti said. He had to get his bike fixed in the only Harley Davidson showroom in the capital.
“When I got to Delhi, my bike wouldn't start. After two weeks of confusion we discovered that a stupid cable was fused,” he said.
He made friends with the staff there and decided to visit the other Harley showrooms in India during his travels. He rode to Bombay, and, after three weeks of R&R on the beaches of Goa, to Bangalore, where he is set to depart for the Karnataka coast before heading to Thailand. 

European magazines are publishing episodes of Nicoletti's adventure and an Indian magazine wants to do a story on his sojourn in the country. When he gets to Japan next year, a journalist will be waiting to interview him.

An Italian’s take on riding in India

Nicoletti said riding in India is far from easy because of the dreadful condition of the roads, the innumerable speed breakers, and, especially, the volume of traffic.
“The driving style here is definitely unique!” he said.

He said he likes Indian food and has got used to the large amount of chili and spices in it. “I get a boost from the spicy chutney,” he laughed.

Nicoletti expressed disappointment with the rampant development in Bangalore. Friends that visited the city in 2000 told him to expect a green city. But instead of trees and lakes, he found malls.
“I suggest that Bangaloreans change the name of their city from Bangalore to Mall-alore,” he said.