Monday, 22 February 2021

No Hope of Success

My wife's experience of living on the farm for over 6 years has convinced her beyond doubt that this lifestyle is the best we (or anyone else) can have and that there is no reason whatsoever to go back to the city. 

That, however, does not mean to her that there will be takers to the transition services Palaash Farm Living hopes to offer. She's even dismissive of the idea that farm living will be acceptable to many people. Even if few people do end up buying into it, the numbers wouldn't sustain a venture, she's sure. 

Her stance has been validated by every person in our direct circle and some beyond it as well. Despite an overwhelming admiration and endorsement of our decision to live on the farm, 2-3 have moved to the farm, but none because of our pursuation or guidance. Not one of these would have paid for the facilitation service. 

However much I wish I wouldn't, I fully agree with my wife that the probability of 'success' is near zero. Such ventures don't attract investors and co-workers. What is the point in attempting something that is bound to fail? 

But someone inside me isn't pursuaded to give up. A low probability of success does not lower the impact potential of farm living. Even if a small section of the urban elite decide to follow their convictions and seriously consider moving to a farm, thousands will take notice. They will notice that it is possible to live in abundance without exploitation of people or the ecology. They will notice that a healthy body and mind, a bright future for children and social appreciation does not require loads of money and designations. 

For me, it is the classic 'karma' conundrum. Nothing significant would have ever happened if everyone were to give up because the probability of success is low. 

I don't need to be convinced that I might fail. I know it. I guess, I'm finally coming out of the employee mode and am getting into the entrepreneurial mould.

Saturday, 21 November 2020

Which One Is A More Social Venture?

If you want to start a venture to help create a better world - healthy, ecologically conscious and economically just - and you have two options, which one would you consider? The first one makes naturally grown food available at fair prices to people in cities. The other facilities people to grow their own food wherever they are. The second one also has an element of barter economy to trade surplus produce for completing the food basket.

The first venture is based in the prevalent market economy, where the producer and consumer don't really know each other. This venture is easier to scale. Wider product variety, finer pricing and more participants are other attractions. 

The second one is quite a tough one to get started on, let alone scale. Product gaps are quite likely and prices may be higher. On the other hand, the participants would know each other better, thus empathise rather than exploit. Quality of product may also be better. Most importantly, this one is likely to go in the direction of making the world better.

Undoubtedly, the probability of success is much higher in the first option. 

Which one would you consider?

Friday, 30 October 2020

Economics Isn't Just About Financial Measurements

The fundamental subject, which makes a very compelling case to promote the adoption of farm living is economics. To understand how, we need to revisit our understanding of economics.

Adam Smith, the father of modern economics defines economics as a study of managing ‘wealth’. Though not explicitly defined, wealth is considered as all that satisfies the human want, but excludes abundantly available resources like air, water, land, etc. Arthashastra, an ancient Indian text on state administration touches upon macro economics as an important component. It gives a lot of importance to agricultural land, forest land, cattle, rivers, mountains and other natural resources, not only as a means to fulfil the material needs but also security of the state and its people.

The modern view of economics may have been relevant during the 18th century, but not in the 21st century. Water scarcity is the biggest crisis.  Pollution of air and water and soil health are formidable challenges. The scope of wealth ought to be revisited – not just from the macro or state perspective, but also for the individual and family. Once we do so, ecology gets included within the scope of economics. 

The Idea of Value
Interestingly, modern economics refers to ‘real value’ and ‘nominal value’. Though this pertains to inflation or depreciation of currency, while revisiting economics, we may consider real value as pegged against financial value. Water has a real value – it quenches thirst, it enables hygiene, it cools the atmosphere and it does much more. Water has a financial value – drinking water, water for irrigation, water for swimming pools, etc. The real and financial values are really not necessarily co-related. The financial value is the market price – determined by demand and supply. If the supply is much higher than the demand, the financial value is low. Therefore in our study of economics, if someone has access to good water, there isn’t much value attached to it. Same holds true for land, cattle, people, festivals, forests, air, open spaces. Adam Smith does not include them in the definition of wealth. When we revisit economics, we should. 

Is Money Redundant?
The answer to this question is quite easily an emphatic ‘No’. Money is a great concept. As Yual Noah Harari puts in his famous book Sapiens, money is a ‘shared myth’.  The value in money cannot be proven scientifically. It exists only for human beings and that too only those who share the myth. However, this shared myth makes it possible for people to trust each other and co-operate for mutual benefit. The role of money, therefore, can never be undermined. 
The fallacy is in the notion that anything that cannot be measured in monetary terms isn’t an economic resource or doesn’t have economic value. We must find a way of assigning value to those constituents of wealth or resources, which cannot be expressed in money terms. It is difficult, but that is no reason to ignore them in the study of a subject, which is central to the civilisation.

A Possible Beginning
Measuring micro-economic well-being can be a possible starting point. Economic well-being at individual, family or community level can be said to be the ability of attaining well being through self-effort, collaboration, interdependence, commerce and access to resources. Self-effort refers to having the strength, inclination and time to fulfil a need. Collaboration refers to having a network of people with similar needs, who can together achieve a higher level of need fulfilment vis-a-vis doing so alone. Interdependence refers to having a network of people, who may be willing to exchange competencies through a barter system. Commerce is where this exchange is done by way of paying money. Access to resources is refers to natural and other resources, which can fulfil needs or a progression towards well being. 

Each of these can be referred to as economic resources. The availability of these resources is what makes it possible for people fulfil their needs (without considering it to be different from wants or desires). People, who have these resources can be plotted on the line of poverty of affluence, in other words economic well being. For example, a village community, which has the following can be considered economically well-off. 

1. the land, labour and access to water and climatic conditions to grow sufficient and nutritionally balanced food

2. Sufficient surplus of food thus grown to exchange it with the neighbouring village for goods, they grow

3. People within the community who can take care of the health, education, recreation and other similar requirements in exchange of being provided with food, water and other needs

4. Sources of earning money sufficient enough to pay for some market supplied goods and services like train tickets, mobile phones, transport, etc

Such a community and individuals who have access to live here can be considered economically well-off even if the monetary income is below what the World Bank prescribes as sustenance income.

The Challenge
It may not be possible to have an objective measurement like gross household income or gross domestic product since it is not possible to convert the value of all economic resources in financial terms. 

A subjective assessment may have to be considered. The results may not be easily usable for arithmetic or statistical purposes. Nonetheless, the results of such a study are likely to be significantly more accurate than the existing methods. 

The Opportunity
By overcoming the challenge of developing a measurement matrix for economic well-being as stated above, there are multiple opportunities

1. Near accurate assessment of poverty/affluence 

2. Macro-economic policy making in light of the results. Separate studies can be undertaken for different needs – education, healthcare, food, etc. 

3. A more meaningful directional guidance to government, non-governmental and business organisations

Saturday, 17 October 2020

Establishing Farm Living As A Worthwhile Alternative Lifestyle

If a noticeable percentage of city residents, say 5%, decide to transition to farm living, it may usher in significant positive social and ecological changes. However, ‘making a positive social and/or ecological change’ can hardly be the trigger for an average urban resident to consider such transition. People adopt changes in the hope or conviction that their personal needs will be better served in the changed circumstances. This hope can get average people to work hard, bear pain and navigate through significant discomfort. The challenge, therefore is to establish a causal relationship between farm living and this hope.

This task is an onerous one, particularly because after much effort, over decades of reinforcement, we, as a society, have almost unanimously bought into the idea that city is the place for a better life. Also, there aren’t enough people leading from the front. Many warriors of ecology and social change live in cities. Even if they live in villages, their lifestyle hardly evokes aspiration in the average urban resident. It is difficult to imagine anyone aspiring for a village life for his/her child.

It is, nonetheless, a cause worth putting up a fight for. The ecological benefit due to the reduced pressure on city infrastructure, reduced energy consumption and reduced pollution is immense. Add to it, the social impact caused by city bred people living in close proximity of villages, mountains, rivers and fields. Farm living also improves mental and physical health substantially.  

So, what will it take to get there? Lots of effort and time is the simple answer. The effort can be enumerated as below

1. A sustained, high decibel campaign aimed at positioning farm living an aspired lifestyle

2. Infrastructure and service providers (at multiple locations) to offer an experience of farm life to aspirants

3. Experts and practitioners in areas of sustainable agriculture, eco-friendly construction, economics, education, healthcare and marketing to design and implement solutions to help farmers transition to natural farming, create residential infrastructure, provide essential services and build enterprises around these

4. A panel of experienced farm residents, who can handhold early adopters through the mental transition journey and also the one on the ground

5. Pressure groups to engage with government and institutions to provide support and encouragement to those opting for the transition

Wednesday, 14 October 2020

We Need To Be Better Customers

It may be quite frustrating to be a good professionals or service providers.

A good doctor, teacher, business consultant, farmer, you name the profession - all of them are faced with too many customers who want quick fixes, prefer cheaper options, unwilling to pay for expertise and extract the best (most exploitative) deal. The larger good - ecology, social justice, fairness are macro concerns - they have no place at micro or transaction level.

The service provider cares for the well-being of his client and also for the overall well-being. He knows how both can be achieved, but feels helpless. His dissonance leads him to being a failure and he too becomes a bad customer.

We can do better than this. In every transaction we know who has an upper hand. Wherever I have an upper hand it is up to me to be a good customer. The goodness will catch on. Let that belief live on.

Behaviour change at micro level is the only way to change the overall picture. The government, the spiritual guru or the NGO can't fix this. It's up to you and me.

Monday, 12 October 2020

Strategy for Social Change

Social change is caused by behaviour change or action taken by a large section of the population within a short time (3-5 years) and the action is not reversed in the short term.

Such magnitude of action or behaviour change can either be self driven or enforced by an authoritative institution/legislation.

Self driven action or change in behaviour, for most people, can happen for a reason that is deeply personal and intense. Most people almost never take sustained action or change behaviour for larger causes; for example, very few people take action for environment or social justice but most people would take action for better earning opportunity. It may be said that people take arms or cause riots for a larger cause. But such actions don't bring about a social change because they aren't sustained long enough. 

Thus, it may be inferred that any social change (at macro level) is incidental and not intended.

If that be the case, how can an organisation working for a larger social impact strategise? It needs to think of those personal benefits, which can encourage a large section of the population to change behaviour or take action, such that the aggregate impact results in the desired social impact.

Monday, 24 February 2020

Post Money

We're in 'Post Money'. Means? We've converted everything we could into money - fossils, minerals, water, earth, forests, animals & animal produce, sunlight and much more. We also turned physical strength, mental aptitude, time, art and skills into money. We've got so used to this conversion that it's almost impossible for us to see the value of anything, unless it can be presented in financial terms. This, however, is the rational side. The good news is that intuitively, we know that value exists even outside the realm of money.

Coming back to 'Post-Money'; We've made so much money that now, there isn't enough stuff to buy with it. Money is fast losing value. I repeat: Money is fast losing its value as a provider of security, convenience, happiness, social prestige, admiration, self-worth and even basic need fulfilment. 

If you've spent your lifetime converting everything you had into money, this may come as an ugly predisposition. You may reject it outright. You are absolutely entitled to do so.

But if you do find sense in the line of thought, it would be a good idea to ponder what might be your future endeavours. You or I aren't the first people coming to terms with this fact. There have been people in all times who have. These people were 'enlightened'. But in today's times, it doesn't require enlightenment to know it. 

Check the link. The author has brilliantly explained.

In one place in the article, the author says, "There is now so much money wanting to buy these dreams that in some cases venture capital investors are pushing money onto startups that don’t want more money because they already have more than enough; but the investors are threatening to harm these companies by providing enormous support to their startup competitors if they don’t take the money." 

So, what does it mean to be in 'Post-Money'? Well simply put, we ought to find something else to pursue (unless of course, you're enlightened and know your purpose of life).

I have proposal. I call it 'Project Restore'. 

If you have a lot of money (or at least more than what you can spend), you can invest the money in re-converting a lot of stuff we earlier converted into money. I have many ideas what all can be restored. You'll find something that makes sense to you. The only catch is that you don't invest money to make more of it. That will be chutzpa.

Let me know if this makes sense.