Category Archives: Technology

My first article this year published in TerraGreen magazine after my return to India. I am glad to have written about the amazing rural women leaders who are the forefront of fight against the pandemic.

Rural Women leaders at the forefront of fight against the Pandemic

Rural grassroot women across the districts of Latur, Solapur, Osmanabad in Maharashtra, were exemplary in their fight against Covid pandemic Consequent to the announcement of lockdown in Aril 2020, these women designated as Sakhis joined hands with state health authorities and local administration as Sakhi Task Force team for the program initiated in July 2020 by their organisation Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP). The covid prevention work spread rapidly impacting rural areas of Bihar, Odisha, Gujarat, and Kerala, with 2500 of these dynamic grassroots women joining in and leading the fight.

The program for rapid recovery from the health crisis which was supported by UNICEF in collaboration with Block administrators and Gram Panchayats had its impact hailed as praiseworthy and a role model action for the entire nation to draw lessons from.

Under their supervision 1 lakh masks and 15,000 sanitary napkins were distributed in rural communities, 3 lakh soaps were distributed to frontline workers; food, ration, and hygiene kits to 18,320 needy families and PDS made to reach 30,000. They assisted 2,30,517 families through education and practices and as a community contributed Rs. 35.64 lakhs and mobilized groceries, vegetables & dairy products.

As the last mile support in optimizing Primary health care services, the Sakhis took up the task of spreading awareness for social distancing, handwash demonstration, surveillance of travellers and their screening at village entry points with temperature check-ups and oxygen measurement, logistics coordination in transfers to covid care centres for quarantine, contact tracing and checking for comorbidities.

Communicating the problems to the district administration while making decisions about building shelters, jobs, and food security for migrant workers, the STF helped at least 4000 returning migrant workers find jobs with MNREGA and 2,250 families grew their own vegetable gardens.

The taskforce team worked briskly during the second wave to spread awareness for quick testing and providing PPE kits to health care workers along with sanitizers and masks to the public. They are also helping people with registering for vaccinations on COWIN sites on their mobile phones. 

Empowered women farmers of the disaster- prone regions

The quickness with which the rural women took up positions as leaders and decision makers during the crisis is not surprising given that they are grassroot women leaders in climate resilient farming and agro-entrepreneurs of their communities.

Swayam Shikshan Prayog

Not in the distant past, however, the grassroot leaders were considered marginal women of the society. The journey of their transformation from meek and muted household labourers in their family owned- lands to landowners and decision makers was due thanks to the years of grooming and training by the Swayam Shiksan Prayog under the leadership of its founder Ms. Prema Gopalan in collaboration with the local administration and the Department of Agriculture.

Women led Climate Resilient farming (WCRF)

The regions of Marathwada are mostly rain fed and men grow mostly cash crop like sugarcane and soyabean. During drought years having no crop output from their lands they suffer loss in savings, and in chemicals and other expensive inputs. SSP’s WCRF model of farming was a life changing intervention for the farmers of such drought prone regions.

WCRF model on one acre land works on the precept that women are the best people to know and understand their families’ nutritional requirements, who go the extra mile in bringing the necessary elements to grow their crops whether in terms of input seeds, bio fertilizers or pesticides.

In four stages of four seasons, the women are onboarded, adopted, trained and hand- held till they join the village farmer federation to market their produce. In the first season, depending on village maturity level, community resources like demonstration farms and farm ponds are created and farmers trained till they begin farming in half acre land. By the third and fourth seasons they are ready to expand their farming to one acre land and become part of the village collective by sharing of resources and labour, eventually becoming a social capital to be scaled up by Government intervention.

As a first step in implementing the program, a community facilitator is recruited with a stringent screening test. She is trained and groomed through classroom and demonstration of all farming stages till she becomes an important resource for the Government and a mentor for the village community farmers. Three groups with twenty farmers in each and one farmer as the group leader, are tied to one community facilitator.

Community resilience funding

Through a community owned fund sourced by low interest bank loan, adopted marginal and small farmers are helped to buy animal fodder, hydroponics, seeds and most importantly get access to government schemes and subsidies to buy sprinklers, drip irrigation sets, and create village pond.

Technology for Enhanced value chain

Women also lead in technology partnerships for enhanced value chain. Block level Committees are set up to develop value chains for the farmer groups federated to improve the quality of vegetables and dairy milk, keeping them fresh and providing logistics to deliver to the markets otherwise not easy to access. With technology and innovation linked partners, farmers are ensured a good price for their products viz. veggies stored in craters of vegetable coolers are kept cool and fresh with minimum wastage. The committee maintains farmer wise records and money is disbursed off immediately after the sale. Machines installed through the rural enterprise SURE for milk collection in milk centres run by trained women dairy farmers have ensured drastic improvement in milk quality and price. Further intervention like quality of cattle feed and availability of veterinary doctor has doubled the farmers’ earnings.

Benefits of WCRF

By leveraging the innate wisdom of women and linking the adopter farmers to government schemes the model has achieved food security, water security, livelihood security, and women empowerment. Farmers own water related assets while growing less water intensive crops with increase in crop productivity and less input costs. Convincing their husbands for transferring of the land rights is crucial to the women’s success and impressed husbands follow them in doing chemical free farming. Growing as many as 17 types of diverse crops results in good health and nutrition for their families with improved immunity for cough and cold problems, while the produce ensures savings on market bought food and enhanced agri-businesses.

Making the farming model effective and impacting has proved win- win for both SSP and its key eco-system partners who otherwise find it hard to reach out to the women farmers. The key partners are Government Agriculture department for water conservation and harvesting, ATMA for bio inputs for chemical less farming, the training partner Krishi Vigyan Kendra, and partners for market linkages, knowledge, and strategies.

SSP’s programs which has its outreach across five states provide the much-needed anchor to the government’s investments and schemes towards attracting more women into mainstream agriculture and climate resilient farming.

Bihar’s Rural women Entrepreneurs in clean energy

In a state where 25% of women had maximum 10 years of schooling and 40% are illiterate, SSP has made strides to bring the women from margins to mainstream by leveraging on its expertise of building ecosystems of women led rural enterprise. SSP has empowered and transformed lives of marginalized rural women across Nalanda and Gaya districts of Bihar as economic engagers and entrepreneurs for clean energy products.

Women’s ability to network and to know the best consumer product for their family and create awareness through their networks positions them as the best people to do microbusiness. Women excel as last mile agents in marketing of consumer products since in-between their household chores they do not mind sparing 4-5 hours to travel to nearby villages to earn money.

In recent years, the rural energy landscape has changed, and electricity is made available through most part. Hence the need is to introduce other village consumer products for health, hygiene, and climate adaptive solutions so that Sakhi business continues and flourishes.

Sakhi selection and network

A successful Sakhi businesswoman can generate net income of Rs. 4000/. Factors vary from their ability to invest initial capital money, owning of a smartphone and training on app for ordering, ability to diversify their Sakhi basket with socially responsible products and ability to network with potential consumers of those products. Generally, Sakhis are scouted among the women networks at Block level, ASHA, SHG networks, Aanganwadi centers, and local administrative units. Women with some level of literacy and having support from their families to travel to adjacent villages and owning their Kirana shops with a customer base built on a previous business are preferred as they are likely to succeed with marketing, and sales of the Sakhi products.

The Sakhis who can network, sell, and get more women Sakhis under them become Super Sakhis. 3 Super Sakhis are managed by one Block coordinator. The Super Sakhis extend hand holding to Sakhis to buy the products by credit, initially market, distribute and sell till they get confident of marketing their products.

Covid lockdown a Boon

Many lessons were learnt during covid lockdown. The Sakhis engaged in covid relief work received social recognition when they worked hand in hand with frontline workers. Use of digital technology as an effective means to save time and effort to travel was recognized and the digital app Gaavkhoj was launched. Meetings and trainings were held online through smartphone. Using the app, the Sakhis could continue their business while identifying the needs of village folk. Those Sakhis who own smartphones could order products, with further handholding could market, distribute and sell on the online platform. Using Gaavkhoj, some 10,000 unique products as diverse as solar lamp to tarpolain, were distributed to 6,188 consumers and an income of Rs.2,00000 generated during the Covid crisis.


As an impact of the microbusiness, Sakhis now have an additional income and digital inclusion to expand their business. For the business partners and collaborators of SSP, creating awareness and making the product reach out to rural consumers in far- flung places are the major impacts. A door-to-door marketing by the Sakhis with a range of products in their baskets means everyone in the family is happy to get something of utility at their doorstep without having to travel, with the product’s service, maintenance, and warranty.

Demand mapping across sectors like health, nutrition, WASH, agriculture, education, and getting the right private sector partners to collaborate with the possibility of taking up government loan schemes to set up a shop for them can further scale up the SSP program and bring more women under the Sakhi business.


Good bye to an internet powered simple life

It is the last week of our stay in Hyderabad and marks the end of nearly twelve months of our minimalistic, easy camp sort of life in the city. As I go around the house to finger count the number of items to be packed including a few kitchen utensils, books and couple of foldable things that made our only possessions here, I tend to neglect the small unassuming Bose Revolve SoundLink Speaker and the Echo Dot with Alexa sitting in an obscured corner. Taking a step back and reflecting on the days spent here, I realize my blunder. I was overlooking the fact that these lightweight, small size devices were the ones that had brought significant change to our prosaic life in a house of mostly empty spaces and near-zero assets.

Fifteen months ago, when we were packing and winding up in Singapore, my heart cringed the most at the sight of my beloved Sony DVD Home Theatre System getting dismantled and Sony Smart TV being disassembled to be packed and shipped to India. The idea of temporary dysconnectivity to the digital world of entertainment was painful.  After relocation to the city of Bengaluru and reassembling of the devices, our lives were, though, restored to normal where Airtel company gave us Broadband connectivity to run our Smart TV, computers, mobile and landline phones, very soon, life took a turn towards dysconnectivity yet again, by a move to the city of Hyderabad. We found ourselves temporarily thrown again into a lifestyle of previous century with minimum possessions and no fancy gadgets for our daily entertainment. To live in a rental villa with minimum furniture and large open spaces was indeed a frightening thought.

So, the only hope of connectivity to the digital world of music and TV being the Internet, we lost no time in subscribing to ACT Fibernet with 50Mbps Internet speed. Bit by bit our digital world of entertainment returned to us with live streaming of our favourite internet radio stations on our Smartphone, and TV serials and news channels on our humble Personal computer, enhanced considerably, very soon, by equally humble looking devices.

Indeed, it is a marvel how the internet and the Smart devices that seamlessly connect to internet and to each other can change our lives and our lifestyles. Internet connected to Echo Dot with Alexa voice recognition service gives an unlimited range of music and a Le-Bose revolve sound-link speaker that seamlessly connects through Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, gives an enhanced Surround quality sound from voices playing on PC or Mobile phones. The best part is the ease of carrying these light weight handheld devices to any place or space of our desire. We can enjoy movies on Netflix in our first-floor room where sitting in front of our PC screen, we can control the room’s ambient light – the colour and amount of lighting of Wipro Smart LED, right from the soft touch button of our mobile. Echo Dot Alexa is a delightful companion during our tea/coffee, book reading or short- nap sessions on holidays, which at the smallest instruction plays our choice of music, makes calls to any place we desire, tells us the weather conditions, traffic and any useful information that we want to know.

The ease and flexibility that these lightweight digital devices have given, to enliven our empty living spaces is a big gain over the small compromise on picture resolution and sound quality and occasional dropping of internet streaming, as compared to that on robust large fixed devices.  I eagerly look forward to going back to a 4K, high- quality picture on a 55’ screen and Dolby sound quality music in my Bengaluru home, however, I am also pretty sure I will miss the digital entertainment world that the small devices created and brightened the otherwise open and banal vacant spaces of our Hyderabad home.


The Future of HIV in India: dismal or bright

India and other developing countries of Asia and Africa may see a rise in HIV cases in coming years. In a breakthrough finding by the only research lab in India doing research on HIV C pathogens, which needs to be confirmed with few more rigorous experiments, scientists fear an onslaught of HIV in near future.

The head of the program and emeritus scientist Prof Ranga Udaykumar of JNCASR, Bengaluru, said that the C variety of HIV which is specific to India, China and part of the African population has a natural propensity to change into new variants. The root of the problem of the emerging new variants is identified as the promoter (DNA sequence) in the HIV C family gene. The promoter in C family is quickly changing and getting stronger with capability to make more and more viral proteins that in turn are making them resistant to all medications.

A seemingly super intelligent virus, with some brilliant design strategies, HIV C has unlike other viruses a single promoter that controls an entire range of gene expressions with any important change having an impact on the entire viral pathology. The variant property is also manifested in Tat protein in C virus, which is instrumental in lesser incidents of dementia in HIV infected people in India as compared to that in Caucasian population.

The new discovery has baffled the scientists yet again who have for long battled to understand the genetic code of the HIV C family that is causing more than half of global HIV infections. The study is a collaboration of AIIMS, St John’s medical college Bengaluru, YGRK Chennai, National Aids centre Pune with 800 HIV infected samples from patients who were not administered with any drugs. The study has also added to their puzzle of understanding the software code or virus algorithm responsible for the unique viral transcriptional silencing property by which the virus completely switches off after infecting and activating the immune system.

The unique property of the virus which is more pronounced in C family makes one cell active and keeps itself silent in the other cell. Multiple proteins come together and make daughter virus which inactivates the cell defence machinery by targeting the CD4 white blood cells, before making more of itself. With the emerging new variants this proliferation is much more in C family as compared to other families which the scientists fear to be of extensively drug resistant varieties.  It could then have a direct impact on HIV treatment too. The ART (Antiretroviral therapy) that is currently the only drug available for HIV patients may have to be administered for life.

For aforesaid reasons the focus of research which was till recently on vaccine development worldwide is now shifting slowly to understanding of virus software code and the emerging drug resistant variants.

“The problem in India is of funding. The government funding is too dismal. Where there is all the money and the lab there is no C virus and where there is C virus there is no money. So far, all the research has been focussed in the western world, towards understanding only B variety.  Sadly, in India there is no philanthropy funding too,” laments Prof.Uday kumar who pioneered the research on C virus in India.

The Tech Buzz

The yearly technology event CommunicAsia, Broadcast Asia, EnterpriseIT2015 was back in Singapore recently. The 4 day event was held in Marina Bay Sands between 2nd to 5th June. Over the years the scale of the event has grown considerably and changed venues with the latest covering five floors in the MBS Convention centre. For the past couple of years some free programs have been included for the public. Technology tours and lectures by industry experts are some of the popular ones. It is an easy way for the general public to get acquainted with latest technologies and actually see the demos in many booths on display.

Smart home related technologies have been around for a few years now. But this year smart techs displayed covered an entire range of home appliances and devices across every part and aspect of home like LED lighting to curtain drawing. Other than Smart technologies what a visitor took away as this year’s buzz was the cloud services and internet of things in the enterprise related technologies. Among those displayed in the BroadcastAsia technologies that saw the maximum crowds was the TV everywhere  zone which basically is about monetization of OTT (Over the top) content for multi-screen viewing and for devices on the move.

It is evident that what was envisioned on papers as a research topic a few years ago has now mushroomed into a host of applications with the bottom-line reason being that the devices can now connect to the internet faster than ever through technologies like Wi-Fi, 3G and 4G. The whole idea of smartness which was till few years ago limited to smart handheld devices and Smart TVs today spans the entire spectrum of the consumer, health and industrial electronics based technologies. The small  embedded chips have made entry into our lives in unimaginable ways through every sort of device, tools or even wearables acting like sensors and providing unlimited data for analysis. The new technologies have spurred some builders including the HDB to announce building of smart homes as part of the drive towards making Singapore a smart nation.

The IOT or the internet of things which is essentially the collection of data (Big Data) through sensors in industry environment with a centrally managed cloud is believed to be waiting for a second wave to become widely accepted if only its business model could add more functional value to the devices at a radically lower cost with real privacy. If cloud services is decentralized the enhanced functionality of devices could create a new market place and a new economy of things.

The increased connectivity and connected devices is central to the players in OTT market too who are trying to make money by producing the right digital content for the right device also known as second screen content. The deployment of 4G(LTE) mobile networks in recent years has enabled a higher bit rate with increased streaming speeds for viewing on smart devices like I-phone and I-pad. Since the full rollout of Digital Transmission(DVB) is yet to catch up in many countries, and traditional broadcast networks not being ready to support for the much hyped 4K UHD, OTT networks provide alternative channels for 4K content delivery for the broadcasters. Broadcast- IP broadband integration technologies are thus the in thing to take care of the changing consumer behavior with regards to on -demand and anywhere and everywhere of the viewing content. This has opened up a range of possibilities for tech companies for leveraging their expertise in content management.