India Lately

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Dileep had a conversation with me about an idea of his today. He’s been thinking about it for a while. It directly focuses on something that has been on mine and other people’s heart for the past couple of years regarding India. That is, the plight of village farmers.

Back story: What happens is, and I didn’t fully understand this until today, Farmer Kumar has an acre of land that he grows rice on. That rice is his entire livelihood. Whatever that crop does is what he lives on for the next year.  So, at the beginning of the year,  Kumar goes to the bank to borrow money for his planting and fertilizing costs. If he needs ten thousand dollars to grow his crop, the bank will usually give him about three. If he is going to grow any crop at all, he is forced to turn to loan sharks to lend him the remainder. As you can imagine, loan sharks don’t offer the best interest rates. Right around 100% in these parts. So most of Kumar’s profit at the end of the harvest time goes back to the loan shark and Kumar and his family scrape by on whatever meager amount of rupees is left over.

That’s in a good year. Lately, the years haven’t been so good. Last year floods wiped out everybody’s crop. This year it was a drought. Kumar hasn’t saved up over the years, of course, because he needs whatever he has to feed his family. So when there is no crop, there is no money to repay the loan sharks at 100% interest. Loan sharks aren’t usually the forgiving type. Discouraged and humiliated with no way out, Kumar offs himself, leaving a helpless family to fend for themselves. Widows don’t have a lot of opportunities here. Too often the story ends with a couple of young kids facing certain hell on the streets. 

Dileep’s idea is simple. Offer an alternative to these farmers. Low interest loans at around two or three percent, just enough to cover overhead. This gives farmers a way to get their heads above water. Dileep grew up a farmer. He knows what it takes to grow a crop. He is a math major. He tells me with an easy $200 thousand he could have his whole village out of debt in five years. He has it all worked out in his head. Community repayment obligations. Delivering materials instead of cash. Lots of good strategies to make it work. You recognize this yet, reader? This is economic development. Hey, I’m gonna be going to school for that this year. Networking with and learning from people who have decades of experience doing this kind of stuff. 

The best part of Dileep’s idea is that it comes from an Indian. It comes from a person in the community who has the motivation to see it happen one day. If I could help him raise $200,000, he could get his whole village out of debt. If I could help him raise $1 Million, we could do a few villages at once. Or maybe I am powerless to help him and the support comes entirely through his own efforts. That would be my favorite story. The American is irrelevant. Just standing there studying and reading books about “international” economic development while his business partner saves his own people from suicide and hopeless debt. Afterwards, I could write a book, titled, “The American is Irrelevant” by Some Random White Guy. (That’s my pen name)

I guess not completely irrelevant. He asked me to come up with a name for the hypothetical foundation. I dunno, I’m not creative. Village Hope Project? Village Rescue? Too paternal. Fair Lending Foundation? Rice House Network? Ideas, people. I have one job and I hate to think I have to do it myself. Or put any work into it at all. 

Anyways, Dileep and I both have a bit of the entrepreneurial itch. It’s what keeps us both dreaming big and living with our parents. Except for me. I’m moving out. I’ll be one of those grown up entrepreneurs who you always wonder how they afford their rent. The secret is to not worry about health insurance. You can’t afford it anyway, so just don’t worry about it! I hope my future in-laws don’t read this..

So Dileep has a great idea that I’m gonna be thinking alot about in the near future. But for now, we have a cracking unit to build! We aren’t complete entrepreneurs, we promise, we will see this thing through before starting something else. There is so much left to do before we start moving almonds in May! Dileep was showing me all the paperwork he’s done to get us prepared to build this thing. There is so much! Stamps on everything, so many stamps. And each document from each bureau was fought for. Dileep’s strategy is to sit and wait in the office for two days for his papers to clear, then on the third day start yelling so government officials will give him whatever he wants. This, apparently, is how you get out of paying bribes. All of the officials around here think Dileep is quite rude. It took the full two years to get them all signed off, but we haven’t paid a single rupee in bribes. Dileep is a good guy. 

On we go to the future. Who know what it holds. Stay tuned, reader. We’ve got a couple more weeks of blogging left to find out. After that, you’ll have to send me an email periodically to get updates. I don’t think I could hold your attention with a blog about the tedium of life back home. And I’m not on Facebook. But don’t worry about all that. It’s not a thing. Bangaladoompa.