Thursday, November 14, 2013

Research findings from my thesis work

In my last post, where I shared my thesis, I promised you a short summary of my research findings. Here they are. (Well, some of them, anyway.)

First, a quick reminder of the research issue: In eastern India, ~85% of farmers irrigate their land using fossil fuel-powered pumps because they do not have access to electricity. Diesel and kerosene pumps have very expensive operation costs that farmers cannot afford, so they often choose not to irrigate outside monsoon season. With few other livelihood options, they migrate elsewhere for work. When they migrate seasonally, their families often cannot access social services such as health and education. I sought to address this challenge by developing an alternative off-grid pumping solution.

(Please do not confuse this with the opposite irrigation problem in western India, where free or near-free electricity for agriculture has led to unlimited pumping and severe over-exploitation of groundwater resources. The water table is not falling at a dangerous rate in eastern India. In fact some people argue that increasing groundwater extraction would reduce the incidence of flooding during monsoon season, because the soil would not be as saturated.)

For more about irrigation economics, see an earlier post here.

And now for my favorite research findings:

1. Rental costs are greater than fuel costs. This one actually surprised me. Everybody loves to talk about dirty fossil fuels and how the high cost of diesel (or in this case, kerosene) is what's keeping poor farmers from irrigating their fields. But I tested the actual performance of some pumps owned by farmers in Gumla and found that the flow rates were so bad that farmers needed to rent the pumps for an absurd number of hours to soak their fields--and hourly rental rates are fairly high. The implication? The focus of designing a new pump should be on increasing the flow rate more than fuel efficiency. The faster the flow rate, the less time it takes to irrigate a field--and the fewer hours required to irrigate, the less a farmer spends on renting a pump.

costs to irrigate one acre of land with 2" of water with a 12 year old Honda pump

2. Eliminating, or at least significantly reducing, suction head can reduce operation costs by up to 44%. I ran an experiment to test the hypothesis that eliminating suction head would increase efficiency and flow rates--and the experiment verified this hypothesis (see chapter 2 of my thesis). I then spent a great deal of time during my master's research trying to come up with affordable ways to run a submersible pump with a surface engine (see chapter 3 of my thesis), only to be outsmarted by the farmers (as usual): see #3.

3. Farmers already know #2. It turns out that farmers have already figured out that reducing suction head increases the pump's efficiency and flow rates (apparently, they experiment with lowering their pumps once the groundwater level falls beyond 7 m, the suction capacity of a pump, during dry season). Some lower the pump into the well with a rope, while others dig a trench next to the well:

4. Indian pumps are super leaky, but farmers know how to deal with it. I couldn't get an Indian pump to suck. Period. I tried a million ways to plug the leaks and just couldn't do it. That is, until I met a bunch of farmers who laughed at my teflon tape and showed me how it's done: slash an old bike tire and wrap those strips of rubber around all pump connections and hose fittings. Jugaad at its best! (But seriously, this is a problem the Indian pump industry desperately needs to address.)

5. Farmers claim Chinese pumps are more efficient than Indian pumps. Nobody knows why or if this is even true. Unfortunately I was unable to test a Chinese pump (I couldn't get them to work at MIT, and the villages I visited didn't use them--I would have had to go to West Bengal, and I did not have time). By taking them apart, I learned that they use a 3" discharge hose, rather than the 2" hose that Indian pumps use, and they have a smaller impeller-to-chamber volumetric fill ratio. The larger hose diameter makes sense to me: larger diameter = fewer pipe losses = higher efficiency. But I'm not sure how impeller-to-chamber volumetric fill ratio might impact efficiency, and I would be interested in exploring this issue further in the future (especially because I'm fairly certain Chinese pumps are going to take over the eastern Indian pump market).

6. Women don't touch engines. This one is not surprising. I heard from both men and women in the villages that "machines are for men" (though one women did pull me aside and asked me to show her how to start a pump engine when her husband wasn't looking). Women came up to me while I was testing the performance of their husband's pumps and asked, basically, "What about us? We're stuck with a bucket and rope. Our husbands may use a greater volume of water with their 'paani ki machine,' but we use water more frequently." To be honest, I had considered domestic water supply a completely separate issue from agricultural water supply, and I thought improving irrigation would increase the wealth of the entire family and thus benefit women too. But if I'm working on water supply anyway, why not think about a multi-purpose pump?

7. Manual rope pumps intended for irrigation end up utilized for domestic uses. Manual rope pumps have been installed all over the world as part of various water programs. In many cases, such as in rural Orissa (in eastern India), the pumps are intended for irrigation. Well, it turned out that in Orissa, the pumps were not used for irrigation. Irrigating a field requires a huge amount of water, and manually pumping that volume of water is time-consuming and exhausting, especially in the heat of the dry season (temperatures can soar to 50 C/120 F). Instead, it turned out that women used the pumps for domestic purposes: drinking, cooking, washing. The women love the rope pumps because they are way easier to use than throwing down and raising a bucket. Plus, children and the elderly can use a rope pump; otherwise they need the women to fetch water for them, since they are not strong enough to raise a heavy bucket of water.

8. Farmers like the color green. This is maybe a silly one, but farmers associate green with agricultural productivity. PRADAN, the grassroots NGO I worked with, told me that whenever possible they use the color green in their products and services, because the farmers respond better to it.

So, what did I do with all of this? I designed a dual-mode rope pump. The pump can be used in motorized mode for high-flow applications such as irrigation and in manual mode for low-flow applications such as domestic uses. The engine is removable, so it can be safely stored at home (farmers expressed concerns about theft) and one engine can be shared by or rented out to several wells, as is done now with the regular centrifugal pumps. Plus the men have no problem allowing women to use the pump in manual mode (the hand crank is removable so it doesn't injure someone when the pump is operated in motorized mode). And yes, I painted the pump green.

Below is a video of the pump in action, being tested by users. I got pretty good feedback from the users, and I have some ideas for future modifications.

Speaking of user testing, I employed human-centered design methodology throughout my research process. Here's a video explaining what I did:

Ok, so maybe this post wasn't a very short summary.

HUGE thank you to PRADAN and Swastik Engineering Works for their support. I could not have done this project without them.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

My thesis

I completed and submitted my thesis about two months ago and, finally, earned my master's in mechanical engineering! I very ceremoniously received my diploma in the mail, so it's official.

If you are interested in reading my thesis (or parts of it), please click here. Warning: it's a 15 MB pdf file. I will soon post a summary of my findings, if you don't want to read the thesis but are interested in my work. You can read a bit about the problem I focused on in these posts.

So what's next? Well... I don't know yet. I'm in the process of applying to jobs. If you know of any awesome opportunities in international development/energy/water/all-of-the-above, please let me know!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Green Pune, Clean Pune

"Green Pune, Clean Pune" is one of several slogans painted on walls and concrete barriers all over the city. Pune is famous for having one of the most, if not the most, organized and effective waste systems in India. As part of a project my advisor has me working on, I investigated Pune's waste cycle.

"Green Pune, Clean Pune" painted on a wall, ironically next to trash. Photo taken from Google Images.

In Pune, there are several different avenues municipal solid waste (MSW) can follow. Each housing society is served by two waste pickers who belong to the Solid Waste Collection and Handling Cooperative (SWaCH), an enterprise founded by the Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat, the trade union of waste pickers. Each home pays a monthly fee of Rs. 10 to 30 (depending on the area) for waste pickers to directly pick up trash from their homes. This miniscule monthly fee is not how waste pickers make their money, though. They earn cash in the scrap market. They sort the waste and sell the very valuable recyclables to scrap dealers, who in turn sell scrap to larger dealers or wholesalers. Some of these wholesalers then either sell the scrap to "super" wholesalers or process the scrap into usable plastic pellets for manufacturing. 

Perhaps the most interesting recycle-cycle is plastic bags, which are slowly being banned by cities around the world for being non-recyclable. World, take a good look at Pune. One large wholesaler mechanically cleans these bags then processes them into pellets, which are sold to an irrigation company to be melted and molded into drip irrigation pipes. Since the recycled plastic bags are an absurdly cheap material--there is no competing demand for them--the drip pipes are among the cheapest in the world and can be sold at affordable prices to smallholder farmers.

(Actually I still think banning these plastic bags is a good idea. But for cities that are still using them, don't give up hope on them being non-recyclable!)

Waste that does not end up in home trash cans likely ends up in dumpsters or in the streets. This more public garbage is taken care of by the Pune Municipal Corporation, which employs safai karmacharis (cleaning workers) to sweep the streets and empty the dumpsters and then sort all the waste. Organic ("wet") waste is sent to either biogas power plants to supply the city of Pune with electricity or to fertilizer production plants. Recyclable waste goes to recycling processing plants. Non-recyclables mostly go to incinerators or landfills, but Pune has been experimenting with using the waste as syngas fuel for electricity generation.

Large commercial entities such as malls have their own custodial staff who take care of the waste in various ways. Some shopping complexes sell their waste on the scrap market to wholesalers while others send the garbage to major recycling plants.

This whole process is illustrated in the figure I made below (click on the image to enlarge). I'm sorry it's confusing and busy; this is the first time I've attempted to create such a diagram. Two caveats: (1) that process is what ideally happens and (2) that figure excludes the non-unionized waste pickers who go to the landfills to scavenge. A lot of trash slips through the cracks of the system, and the non-unionized waste pickers try to recover some of the valuable recyclable waste that has slipped through. This figure might imply that 100% of recyclables end up recycled, but that's not true. In Pune, almost 50% of plastics end up recycled. But keep in mind that is still extremely high: in the US about 8.2% of recyclable plastics get recycled. (Source.)

Pune's waste cycle. Click on image to enlarge.
Whenever I talk about waste management in India, I like to recall a story from December 2009, when my brother Ben and his friend Joel visited me in Delhi. We went on a trip to northeast India, and on our way back we passed through Kolkata. Ben ate a banana and could not find any trash can to discard his peel. After having seen tons of garbage in the streets (Kolkata can sometimes be particularly dirty), he decided to simply drop the peel where he was standing, in the middle of a plaza. An Indian man came over to Ben and started yelling at him not to throw his trash on the ground. Ben, of course, was exasperated: "Have you seen your streets? You have no right telling me not to litter when you treat your streets like landfills. Everyone else in this filthy city is littering. What am I supposed to do with my trash if there are no trash cans?"

But if you looked around more carefully, you would realize there was not a piece of garbage in the plaza itself--but tons of trash piling up in the streets lining the plaza's border. Street sweepers, like those safai karmacharis in Pune, pick up the trash in the street, but not in the plaza. Thus, Ben should have added his banana peel to an existing pile in the street, rather than dropping it anywhere. However, this is not obvious to an outsider who doesn't know anything about India's waste system and sees waste strewn about in a seemingly indiscriminate way. And really, Ben was right in a sense. It is unhygienic to allow trash to pile up in streets, even if street sweepers or waste pickers will come by later to collect it. Not to mention that it's far from aesthetically or aromatically pleasing.

So yes, the streets of India often appear filthy. When you walk around, you have to watch your feet lest you step in garbage (...or cow dung). But it's important to keep in mind that this littering is part of the waste system, and in fact, putting waste into the hands of professionals, rather than hoping the average citizen can sort his or her waste properly, results in higher recycling rates, as witnessed in Pune.

As I have learned again and again, nothing in India (or anywhere, really) is as it seems on the surface. It's too easy to judge and make assumptions based on first impressions, especially when those impressions are as strong as smelly piles of trash in the street--but those assumptions will almost always be wrong. We have to delve deeper to understand what's actually going on (and we probably still won't fully understand; I certainly have much more to learn!).

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Open source rural technology?

I don't know much about intellectual property law. Especially not in India (other than, perhaps, as it pertains to pharm re: the recent Novartis case). But something IP-related has been bothering me the last few days.

I'm working with an organization that runs a vocational school of sorts for school dropouts. It gives the students technical training, but I don't know if you would necessarily call them mechanics at the end. The curriculum encourages creativity, and the students are involved in designing new, affordable technologies that address problems they face in their villages.

In 1983, students developed a low-cost, low-power tractor suitable for smallholder farmers--a very large group of farmers in India who cannot afford big tractors. Then in 2002, some students significantly improved upon the design. The organization decided to make the design "open source," with the idea being that any farmer anywhere could take this design and build himself a tractor.

But that's not what happened. Instead, or so the story goes, Mahindra, the largest tractor company not only in India but in the world, took the design and now manufactures and sells it, making millions of dollars in profit. (I have no idea if this is true or not. It's very possible Mahindra also came up with an affordable small tractor without any knowledge of this organization's tractor, since it seems fairly obvious that there's a large market for such a product.)

Mech Bull Tractor and agricultural equipment
The organization's tractor
A Mahindra tractor
This organization views this story as a huge success.

I view this story as a huge lost opportunity.

If this story is really true--if indeed Mahindra just took (I would like to say "stole," but it was open source) and modified the organization's design rather than coming up with a similar design independently--then this organization lost out on a lot of money. Not that they have the capacity to mass-manufacture, or that commercialization is their goal. I understand that their primary focus is educating their students. However, had they patented their design, they could have sold it to Mahindra and made some royalties off of the profits. That money could have been invested back in the students by improving facilities and programs, without (or with less) dependence on donors.

This organization does great work educating their students, and their students come up with clever solutions that would improve the quality of life in rural India. I understand that this organization wants to remain non-profit, but it would be really fantastic for the students to see their technologies become a reality, to see their products being sold in villages around India. And maybe these students would earn some money from the royalties and start climbing out of poverty.

Honestly, I don't see how open source technologies could work in rural India. At least not yet. How would smallholder farmers even learn that this new tractor design exists? The organization did zero knowledge dissemination, other than to post some photos and specs on their website (which a poor farmer would never see). And if the farmers did learn about the tractor, how would they go about building it without the necessary resources and mechanical expertise? I guess rural mechanics could make the tractors and sell them--but again, how would they know about the tractor?

If this organization wants to see the technologies their students develop reach the people who would benefit from them, they should consider engaging in partnerships with major manufacturers who have large distribution networks. That way the organization doesn't actually have to do the scaling-up themselves; they can continue to focus on the education. I just think that working with established manufacturers is likely to be a more effective way to disseminate technology than to make the technology open-source.

Besides, people copy products all the time in India without any consequences. Knock-offs of every type of product are super common. (Case in point: I bought a gym bag in Lajpat Nagar that has the word "Reebok" on the front and a Nike swoosh on the side.) The organization could patent the product, sell it to or partner with a company to manufacture and sell, and the product would still effectively be open-source. What's to stop a village mechanic from copying a Mahindra tractor if he wants to?

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Back in India again. And behavioral irrigation economics.

I'm back in India. Bet you didn't see that coming! It happened extremely quickly. I literally bought my flights two days before I took off. Highlights of flying Swiss Air through Zurich: free Swiss chocolate and amazing views of the Alps. Highlights of returning to Delhi: catching up with old friends and drinking mango shakes.

Two days ago, my first day back, I met with an agricultural economics researcher. He researches irrigation in Bihar and Gujarat, which is why I was meeting with him. He is interested in the groundwater economy and pumping behaviors. Like me, he finds irrigation fascinating because it lies at the energy-water-food-livelihood nexus.

I learned a lot from this meeting. For one, I learned that economics is really a study of human behavior. I guess that's obvious, but for some reason I never thought of economics that way. This makes econ a lot more interesting than what I had imagined it to be.

As I may or may not have explained before on this blog (I honestly don't remember), in eastern India where pumps are ~85% diesel- or kerosene-run rather than electric, pumps are not installed on a well. Instead, a handful of people own pumps and rent them out to their neighbors on an hourly basis, and pumps are transported on bicycles. These pump owners essentially run an oligopoly. They seem to agree on high rental rates. Interestingly, as more farmers purchase their own pumps and enter the rental business, increased competition has not driven down hourly rates, contrary to what one might expect. This researcher thinks he has learned why: the costs to the pump owner are so high he doesn't have any particular motivation to actually rent out the pump to more customers. He must deliver the pump to the well, which is a pain in the ass. A pump is a pretty heavy thing to strap to your bike. Then, the farmer who is renting the pump may or may not know how to operate the pump, so the owner has to start up the pump for him. Someone has to hang around near the pump to make sure operation is going smoothly and to add more fuel when necessary; sometimes, this someone is the pump owner and not the renter, if the renter is inexperienced with diesel engines. A pump is usually run for several hours at a time, and if the pump owner must babysit the pump for that time, he is losing out on hours that could be spent more productively (in most cases, the pump owner has his own farm to tend to). His time is pretty valuable, so he keeps rental costs high, and often he would rather have that time to do other work than rent out to another customer. Therefore more competition does not reduce prices.

Because of these high operation costs that do not even include fuel cost, according to this researcher, advances in efficiency of the pump would not make much difference to the pumping behaviors of farmers. I'm not taking into consideration all costs involved in operation. Yes, the farmers would spend less on fuel. But the time cost would remain high. Maybe if farmers are getting more water per liter of fuel or per hour, they would be able to irrigate more. But if the farmers want to translate the fuel savings into more hours of pumping, that puts a bigger burden on the pump owner. It is possible that the pump owner would raise hourly rates in response. So even if I make the most efficient pump ever, I might not have any impact on reducing operation costs. (But this doesn't mean a more efficient pump is a bad thing!) In that case, my hope should be that the farmers would get more water for the existing amount of time they irrigate. However, this increased efficiency in operation hardly matters if the pump has a higher capital cost than the cheapest pumps on the market (which, at least at this point, it certainly would). Capital cost reigns supreme over operation costs in financial decision-making. Though all the renters would benefit, the pump owner sees little advantage to his rental business to have a more efficient but more expensive pump--more demand for his pump means more work in renting out the pump, and the rental business is not his only source of income. So why bother spending money on a more expensive pump?

...I really need to learn more about economics.

In addition to enlightening me about pumping behavior and economics, the researcher confirmed something I already suspected: farmers lie about everything when surveyed. (Ok, "lie" might be too strong a word. Stretch the truth, maybe?) But I did not understand the whole picture. I had always thought that I couldn't fully trust people's answers to my survey questions because they were trying to give me the "right" answer. I thought they were trying to come up with the answer they thought I wanted to hear (for example, a woman might lie about keeping her child away from the stove while she's cooking, even if the kid sits right next to her, because she knows I would think the smoke is bad for her child's health). This is true in some cases. However, in many cases, especially when you ask about earnings and expenditures, people exaggerate to make themselves seem poorer. Says the researcher, "They see you, a white woman, or me, a city guy, and they think 'this person works for some NGO and is going to go back to Delhi and write up a report about how we need more subsidies or government assistance.' So they exaggerate how poor they are in order to get more money." Even if a fellow villager is taking the survey, the fact that the survey is taking place at all alters people's answers.

This is a very cynical point of view, and I assume this isn't true for every single person interviewed, but I can believe this does happen sometimes. Probably this behavior stems from a history of NGOs advocating for more government assistance based on field surveys. Like how kids in Kerala constantly ask white tourists for pens because about a decade ago an American group donated supplies to local schools there. (This researcher does not deny that these people are indeed very poor or in need of assistance, by the way.)

So how does this researcher deal with the untrustworthiness of survey responses? "Just add error bars. Uncertainty is part of the fun of social science! See, you want accurate numbers. That's why you're an engineer. You like precision. You don't get the same precision in social science, and you have to be willing to work with that." Well, we use our fair share of error bars in engineering, too. But I guess I see his point.

(To be fair, his research is not all wishy-washy. He gets real numbers when he can: he acquires irrigation data from electricity meters, flow meters, pressure gauges, etc. like an engineer would. But questions of income and costs are a lot trickier to answer in a village where people don't have good records. No receipts, bills, paychecks, etc. Without any paper trail, you have to take people at their word.)

I have been thinking recently about switching into the social sciences (maybe economics or public policy) (this is a topic for another post). But as someone who has training in engineering, will I find the fuzziness frustrating? Or will I find it to be an exciting puzzle to be deciphered, the way this researcher does? I have a lot to think about re: my future.

(As a side note, this researcher got his master's at Princeton and his PhD at Harvard. To those of you interested in studying public policy with a focus in international development, he recommended Harvard over Princeton.)

In other news, I noticed in my blog stats that I get a lot of traffic from a seemingly random blog out there in cyberspace. Apparently, a blogger named Vikram Garg called my blog "the best American in India blog." Thanks for the shoutout, Vikram. Shouting right back at ya! Check out his blog at  

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Rare earths mining: what is the just way forward?

As many of you know, the fellowship program that funds my work in India holds weekly seminars. Each week, one or two speakers talks to us about various issues in India or developing countries or discusses a particular methodology (for example, cost modeling or randomized control trials). At yesterday's seminar, a professor in MIT's Department of Materials Science spoke to us about minerals cost forecasting. Specifically, he talked about rare earth elements.

For those of you who don't know about rare earth elements (I certainly knew nothing before yesterday), they are used in a lot of modern electronics, advanced motors, and other automotive parts. China is pretty much the only player on the rare earths market. China produces 97% of the world's rare earths, and India produces the other 3%. India has the world's second-largest reserves of rare earths, but those reserves have barely been tapped. India has tremendous potential to expand rare earths mining, especially in the states of Jharkhand, Orissa, and Chhattisgarh, home also to the largest concentrations of adivasis (indigenous people) and iron ore.

The professor somehow managed to talk about rare earth elements without talking about the sticky politics of mining those elements in India's adivasi heartlands, where a Maoist insurgency has taken root partly due to the perceived illegal exploitation of tribal lands for mines. To be fair, this professor is not a political scientist; he's a resource economist who tries to predict supply and demand curves of various minerals and then uses those predictions to advise mining corporations on how to prepare for future market behavior or engineering firms on which minerals to employ in their products. The point of his talk was not about the politics of mining in Jharkhand, Orissa, and Chhattisgarh, but about how supply and demand forecasting can influence material selection in engineering.

Last night, I briefly chatted with my friend Marena about the sloppiness and fuzziness of environmental justice, and it got me thinking about the rare earths talk. Mining rare earths is good for the global environmental cause: these elements are necessary for the magnets found in the motors of electric vehicles and wind turbines. If we want to ween ourselves off of petroleum-fueled vehicles and coal power plants to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate climate change, we're going to need a lot more of these minerals for our electric cars and wind farms. On the other hand, the mining process of rare earths devastates the local environment. Much like hydrofracking, the process is water-intensive and results in heavy contamination of local water resources. So, do we sacrifice the local for the global? What is the "just" thing to do?

Arundhati Roy would say the just thing to do would be to "leave the bauxite in the mountain." (Yes, I've referenced this quote before.) She feels so strongly about this issue that she declared the 2009 Copenhagen climate talks should focus on mining in eastern India rather than curbing worldwide carbon emissions. Roy is an ardent supporter of the Maoists, who oppose the mining operations. She implies that the Maoists represent the wishes and beliefs of all tribal people in the regions in which they fight. However, this is simply not true. It is difficult to quantify support for Maoism, as the Maoists tend to utilize intimidation techniques to garner support. While certainly there are genuine supporters, many adivasis who show support do so out of fear. Some agree with the Maoist ideology but disagree with their violent methodology. Others disagree with them altogether. Like any population, adivasis feel divided on politics.

I learned during my visits to Jharkhand that the poorest people do see the mines as a lucrative employment opportunity, especially because there are few other opportunities. It is very easy for the Maoists and Roy to paint the government and mineral companies as evil bullies stealing land from helpless tribal people at absolutely zero benefit to them, but it is not that simple. Mines do provide jobs, and jobs that pay well due to the dangers.

I'm not denying that the major mining corporations exploit the local communities. Of course they do. To admittedly simplify the issue: the forest lands belonged to the adivasis, and then the Indian government took those lands away and sold them to outsiders for huge sums of money--and adivasis haven't seen a rupee. But the answer cannot be to completely eliminate mining; the world needs the minerals (Japan definitely wants an alternative supplier to China!), and these impoverished states of India need the money. The answer has to involve some form of inclusive development. How can the benefits to the local communities be maximized and the risks to the environment be minimized? How can the profits be more equitably distributed so that adivasis see more advantages from these mining operations? The local communities need to be included from Day One in the planning of the mines--not just included for the sake of being included, but included as an equal partner with equal power--and the environmental damage needs to be adequately contained. (Ok, maybe I'm asking for a lot that is not realistic...)

For now, major corporations on the demand side, such as GE, are preparing for the potential decline in rare earths availability by trying to design induction motors that do not require rare earth magnets. One supply side player, Molycorp Minerals, has been developing more environmentally-friendly (or should I say, less environmentally-devastating?) mining methods that meet California's environmental regulations so that they can re-open the Mountain Pass rare earth mine (in 2002 California had closed Mountain Pass, the only rare earths mine in the US, due to environmental contamination). Certainly researching ways to reduce the demand for rare earths and ameliorate the environmental impacts of mining is a step in the right direction for environmental justice. But for the foreseeable future, rare earths mining is going to be in high demand and highly dirty--with potential for high profits. Given this reality, what is the just way forward in Jharkhand, Orissa, and Chhattisgarh?

Some further reading:
If you want to learn more about mining in India, it is definitely worth reading Roy,* even though I don't think she takes a nuanced-enough approach. She does make some strong points, so click here for her thoughts on mining and Maoists.

India Together's mining news here

Ernst and Young's "Mining India Sustainably for Growth" here

"India bets on rare-earth minerals," Wall Street Journal here

*My problem with Roy, really, is that she doesn't seem to recognize that the modern world has encroached on traditional tribal life. She never offers any alternatives for tribal development; she seems to think India should simply leave the adivasis alone. That might have been fine if they were always left alone, but now they're in this weird limbo between their traditional lifestyle and mainstream society as a result of various British colonial and Indian policies. The adivasis probably cannot revert to their old way of life given modern realities. I'm not saying India should force them to join mainstream society, but they should be included, somehow, in policy-making and be given the tools to make decisions about their own future. (Where I work, former forest-dwelling adivasis have been forced into a settled agrarian lifestyle due to various forestry policies. But they were not farmers before a generation ago, so they lack a lot of the knowledge and skills that are usually passed down from parents to children.) Ok, Roy rant over.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

My first poster (an update on my research)

It's been forever since I've posted, and that's because, well, I haven't been abroad in a while. Which means my life is a helluva lot less interesting. But I did recently present my first-ever poster. If you're interested in an update on my research, click on the image below: