18 February 2010

"India's agriculture: need for evergreen revolution" by Dr M S Swaminathan in WSJ

Two reasons why agriculture is important to India:

One, 66% of Indians work in this sector.  India cannot “emerge” until the quality of life improves for farmers.

Two, food security is important to any country.  Production and storage of food cannot be left to market forces of supply and demand.  Most countries, including USA, provide subsidies to farmers to ensure market forces do not drive them away to other sectors or other products (such as cash crops).

India moved successfully from producing 800 kg/hectare to 3,200 kg/hectare 42 years back thanks to Green revolution.  Dr M S Swaminathan played a key role in achieving this.  His views on the challenges India faces, as articulated in this interview with Wall Street Journal are important:

One:  India, unlike China, has not focused on water management.   60% of our farm production depends on rainfall.   We need storage of water and bridging of supply across geographies and across time.

Two:  Growth has not weaned farmers away into alternative livelihoods.  Population dependent on farming has increased over time.  Farm sizes have shrunk (80% of farms are less than 1 hectare in size).   We need to follow the examples of China, Japan and Netherlands and create farm co-operatives without challenging ownership.  (Farmers would not cede ownership of land).  We need a management revolution.  We did this in milk industry.  We need to do this in agriculture. 

Three:  Farming continues to be a risky business; a big bet on monsoon, land, pests, storage, distribution and prices.  Insurance is available only to 7% of farmers.   93% suffer risks.  More than 50% of the farmers, as a result, are indebted.  

Four:  Farmers do not have access to medium/long term low cost credit.  Annual loans do not reduce farm risks; and have actually increased business for moneylenders.  We need the equivalent of an HDFC, dedicated to farm loans. 

Five:  Our support prices are just not enough.  If farmers lose incentive to produce, our social system would collapse.  Dead consumers do not generate demand.  (We are not talking of trade distorting subsidies.  Only 7% of our production gets exported).

Six:  We hold 50 million tons of food grains in store.  We need to build worldclass storage facilities for holding this stock.  We need to extend storage to legume grains and pulses too.

Seven:  We need to create Special Agricultural Zones that would serve as the granaries of the future.

Dr Swaminathan elegantly summarizes that we need to add “brain” and “bank” to the “brawn” in agriculture.  Seventy years ago another great Indian, Mahatma Gandhi, urged us to marry “intellect” to “labor” in agriculture.

We need a political heavyweight with management background to focus on agriculture.  Our green revolution would turn into an evergreen revolution.

13 February 2010

"Glengarry Glen Ross" by James Foley

In my view, this 1992 movie (an adaptation of David Mamet's 1984 play) is good enough to be in an all time top ten list.

Two days in the lives of four salesmen under significant pressure to meet targets. The quality of leads is poor.  The products offered are shady opportunities to invest in real estate.  The clients are unwilling and suspicious.  The management is heartless.  The need to close business is very real.

Each salesman has a unique personality. 

Jack Lemmon performs as the past maestro currently slightly out of touch.  The salesman's abilities to “sell” by charm, alternate between emotions and “bargain his way out” under challenging circumstances are exceptionally well displayed.

Al Pacino performs as the top star salesman (who inside his heart knows this is more due to luck than due to skill).  His seemingly incoherent but fully effective monologue playing upon a prospect’s insecurity and complacency to close a deal; easy willingness to mislead and avoid a cancellation are portrayed very well.

Ed Harris performs as the angry, upset underperformer willing to “steal” the leads away to competition egging his colleagues to join him.

Alan Arkin performs as the whiner concerned about his inability to close deals and the poor quality of leads.

Add to this a hardball head office guy, a corrupt office manager, burglary, loss of high quality deals, a police investigation, and unlimited use of profanities.

You get an amazing mixture that grabs your attention from start to end.

Whose role did I enjoy the most?

Jonathan Pryce.  He plays the role of a gullible prospect who succumbs to the top star’s pitch and signs up; but has to cancel “now” at the instructions of his wife.  His display of curiosity, interest, greed, doubt, consent; pressure and guilt (in having to cancel the deal the next day); last minute swings in opinion; disappointment and disgust is truly outstanding.

Would see this movie again.