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Short and long: Seoni 4

July 17, 2013

The image of a firefighter links to one of the biggest arcs of our discussions there (Note: Using the term ‘our’ gives me more credit than is accurate. I was mostly an observer to animated discussions in Hindi, but I was able to pick up general gists). Agrini’s founders are so embedded in their communities. I was struck by their fierce sense of belonging and pride. They are so close to the people they want to help and feel as though they have to be doing things immediately that will benefit these people right now. Instead of teaching, they wanted to provide livelihoods for the students, to give them the fish ponds to develop and sell from. Instead of using traditional seeds (which I was surprised to learn are almost impossible to find; people have to search for them in remote places), they want to use hybrid seeds with huge yields. They want to do many things quickly that will build a good relationship between them and the villagers. They want to be respected and want to earn that respect.

Pradeep cautioned that if they kept pursuing these short term projects they would pull completely away from their “real” objective: to train rural changemakers, people who would be able to mobilize their communities to adopt innovative, sustainable practices. They would not see the impact right away, but instead of giving a student a fish pond, they would give a student the ability to help four or five others make their own fish ponds. The effect would be longer in coming, but it would be exponential.

I saw the logic of both sides. I felt the tension between the two positions. “Can there be a way to merge the two somehow?” I thought of an article I had read about a scientist who tried to restore abandoned farm fields to an untouched, natural state. He had to use a “transition species” – a type of grass that paved the way for the other types of grass but then faded from view. What is between short-term and long-term views. Can they work together?

The conflict came up again when we discussed malnutrition in the villages. In Madhya Pradesh (the province we are in), forty percent of the population is malnourished. Forty percent! And yet, as Agrini’s founders were quick to point out to me as we drove through the villages, many of these mud-walled homes had satellite dishes. “People like to spend their money on such things because it shows status.” It also is a more tangible, immediate return on investment. Malnutrition shows itself eventually: kids are shorter, and do worse in school, people get sick more often, but it’s never as immediate. 

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