Friday, 30 May 2014

To Feed a Hungry Mouth

In the run up to the BFSI Vision CSR Awards 2014, I pause to think of one of the core areas of CSR – poverty eradication. One question that haunts me is – can the BFSI sector do something about a sustainable poverty eradication campaign? Can we from the sector lead the way in this cause? To an extent, there is continuity in our theme – last week we spoke about women empowerment. This week it is poverty eradication. If we achieve the former, the latter is bound to happen.

We are so caught up in the dreams of a better tomorrow, that we forget the millions of our country men go to sleep hungry. We are a nation of paradoxes. We buy a huge amount of grain from the farmers and then promptly let it rot. At a conservative estimate, nearly 40 percent of our food crops are wasted for want of better supply chains. How different are we from the avowed capitalists who do not baulk at destroying food because it will reduce prices.

I recall the top three issues listed in the top ten priorities for poverty eradication by the UN. According to the UN, “eradication of poverty cannot be brought about by charity, but needs first and foremost empowering the poor, focusing on women, and tapping their tremendous potential.” The next on the list is “Women fall into poverty more easily and more frequently than men. They constitute majority of the people living in poverty. Ending discrimination against women and girls and promoting gender equality were critical for poverty eradication.” And the third “Productive employment, including self-employment, played a central role in poverty eradication. Access of the poor to land, capital and other productive resources must be improved.”

For me the agenda is clear. These three points are what we call “Financial Inclusion” – aimed at providing women across the country with the means to start small income generation schemes. But we seem to forget that the income generation schemes under the financial inclusion program are limited in their scope – they are limited to the village ecosystem. The poor connectivity between Indian villages traps them in islands of human habitation, limiting the market size. Whatever is produced has to be consumed within the village. The villager is not able to transport her produce to larger markets, and if she attempts to do so, nearly half the produce is wasted.

For the villages to reap the benefits of the financial inclusion program, they need to be connected to the towns and cities. Their produce should be able to reach the consumption centres without nearly half of it being wasted.

Hopefully, the new government will make linking of villages a priority – else, the silent poor majority in Bharat will continue to envy the urban India progress.

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