Revive agriculture to promote tourism

The feature in The Times of India, “Ecoturism charts a revival course” (Mar. 22, 2016) is informative.

Kerala State Forest Development Agency (KSFDA) has the right approach for tourism development: “Bringing more destinations under community management is the way forward for the department to tap the state’s full potential in ecotourism.”

Finally, there is some sense in the tourism promotion activities by the Kerala government: “Tourism in forest areas brings in a lot of pressure, and to make it non-destructive and sustainable, the participation of dependent tribal communities is vital. We need to educate people on the conservation of nature,” said K. J. Varghese, additional principal chief conservator of forests.

However, the next report, “Unsound marketing means destinations remain unexplored,” contains misguided ideas. “We do have a significant number of domestic tourists thronging these destinations, but to lure foreigners, we need adequate marketing programs,” said ecotourism director Joseph Thomas.

First, efforts for “luring tourists” are misguided. It demonstrates lack of an intelligent economic perspective about tourism. A good starting point will be to think tourism development can also benefit “locals.” Well manicured roads and gardens surrounding charming castles of the Loire Valley [2, 3] in France is an example for developing tourism destinations, while preserving nature, culture and history.

Trying to market specific destinations will be counterproductive. There needs to be a unified marketing theme for all tourism promotion activities. For example, the caption could be “Destination Kerala.” Within this invitation, there can be several themes: 1) beaches, 2) mountains, 3) lakes, 4) forests, 5) wildlife, 6) human agriculture, 7) nature conservation, etc. Specific destinations may be highlighted within these themes. And all marketing efforts need to focus on “Destination Kerala.” Haphazard marketing activities aimed at specific spots will dilute overall marketing effect.

Agriculture by humans is rare or non-existent in developed economies. Reviving organic agriculture in fertile Kerala will provide multiple benefits, including pesticide free food available locally, provide a tourist attraction, and “nature renewal” of abandoned agriculture lands currently lying idle. Such coordinated efforts will help develop Kerala’s tourism potential, at the same time provide supplementary benefits in other areas.


Of sand mining and vanishing rivers

In response to a report in The Times of India, “Of sand mining & vanishing rivers,” “Despite hurdles, river rejuvenation project moves ahead in capital,” Mar. 14, 2016.

“We have banned sand mining in six rivers. But, almost all rivers in Kerala are over exploited as far as sand mining is concerned. Sand is one element that contributes to the life of a river,” said Chalakudy River Research Center’s scientist Dr. A. Latha [2, 3].

The statement shows lack of understanding at many levels. All the construction activities going on in Kerala generates high demand for sand. Merely banning sand mining does nothing to address the underlying causes for illegal mining. Unless steps are taken to meet the demand for sand, banning just promotes illegal activities and bribery.

This is an example of a problem that requires holistic thinking. Instead viewing this an river problem, it needs to be viewed as a state level construction materials demand issue. Unless such an approach is taken, problems will only multiply.

“The plan was to recycle the waste water from dhobi ghats. But we did not get any response,” said Kerala State Council for Science Technology and Environment (KCSTE) advisor and chief project coordinator K.G. Pillai (“Despite hurdles, river rejuvenation project moves ahead in capital.”)

Waste water recycling is a complex public problem and the Kerala government is expecting private businesses to solve it! The purpose of a state government to take collective action on problems that are too big to tackle at local level. Unless Kerala government takes such a unified approach, problems will not get solved, but multiply.


An early bird misses the worm

In response to a feature on startups in The Times of India, Mar. 15, 2016: “An early bird misses the worm,” “Future is in the ‘internet of things,’” “No dearth of funds for a bright saleable idea,” “A startup strategy for traditional industries.”

“Kerala has a history of missing buses. We have this legacy of innovating things first and then losing that advantage. Perhaps the first decentralized manufacturing plant in the world was Keltron. We missed that bus, followed by the IT and biotechology buses. And now, its Startups,” said Shilen Sagunan [2], CEO of SS Consulting.

Kerala legacy is not “innovating,” but chasing novelties — a natural outcome since a significant portion of the people of Kerala are employed all over India and around the world. Constant travel to Kerala and from Kerala facilitates awareness, but not expert knowledge, of current trends. And Kerala government starts programs without sufficient understanding of the key “success factors” and “misses the buses.”

For example, the Kerala IT Mission activities are mainly construction projects with impressive labels “Technopark,” “Infopark,” “SmartCity,” etc. In reality, they are merely centralized business parks with centralized facilities, network connectivity and transportation. They provided some employment when IT adoption was in full swing. But there was hardly any attention or investment in the underlying technologies, such as semiconductor, software, networking, fabrication, assembling, packaging, or testing, to develop an ICT (information and communication technologies) industrial base. In addition, there were no changes in the education system, beyond cosmetic, leaving the state deficit in cutting-edge IT expertise.

The current craze is startups, trying to mimic the Silicon Valley, without understanding the critical success factors. Silicon Valley has world class education and research institutions conducting cutting edge research. In addition, Silicon Valley is immersed in “free enterprise” culture of the USA and “frontier mind-set” of the “wild west,” and imbued with pioneering spirit from historical developments.

Foolishness of the Kerala government technology policies may be inferred from the actions of KSIDC (Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation). KSIDC is offering seed funding of Rs 25 lakhs ($37k) to 30-odd startups (“No dearth of funds for a bright saleable idea“) and expecting technology revolution. What else can you expect from a KSIDC managed by bureaucrats who have had government jobs all their careers, and do not have any direct knowledge how free market economy operates.

Prime Minister Modi has made “Startup” an all-purpose catch-phrase (“A startup strategy for traditional industries.”) The startup paradigm developed in the Silicon Valley due to deficiencies in the banking system to provide financing for productive economic activities, especially high risk technology ventures. Kerala government wants to popularize ‘startup’ idea for traditional industries. The potential for fast-growth, followed by exit (acquisition or becoming a public listed company) is what is driving the startup model. Traditional industries do not have such potential. What is needed for traditional industries is a functioning banking system that supports productive economic activities, instead of concentrating on real estate bubbles.

“Kerala should focus more on high-end technologies like IoT. This will give a first mover advantage and that will attract more people into new technologies. Fortunately, Kerala has a good polity and have lot of other things that could support entrepreneurship. What is lacking is only focus. Perhaps the government could setup a center for excellence for IoT, and that will attract more serious outlook from the government of India,” said Purushothaman K, Senior Director at NASSCOM (” Future is in the ‘internet of things.'”)

IoT is being promoted in the USA as the “next big thing,” since the social media bubble has reached its full potential. The critical reason why IoT cannot achieve its potential at this stage is deficiencies in the current network infrastructure (cyber security and access are the main ones.)

Maybe the Kerala government will be tempted to chase after “first mover advantage” with IoT, or maybe not. Kerala government may have learned the lessons from chasing after so many trends for “first mover advantage” without sufficient preparation or understanding.


‘Make in India’ tagline is better

In response to an op-ed in The Times of India, “Create in India may be a better bet: What will the fate of Make in India be once robots take over manufacturing?” (Mar. 12, 2016) recommending to change the tagline “Make in India” to “Create in India.”

I don’t think changing the tagline is a good idea. In an economy there are two types of activities: creative (productive) and distributive: “The Financialization of the Economy.” Economic problems in the US are mainly due to excessive share of distributive (financial) activities at the expense of productive activities.

Economists using mathematical and linguistic gymnastics created mass confusion (“Resource page: Financialization and economy“) and succeeded in decimating manufacturing base in the USA and in the U.K. (“Do Trade Agreements Kill Jobs?“.) India should avoid such mistakes and learn from the successes of Japan, China and South Korea.

Until the “Startrek Replicator” [2] technology is invented, manufacturing need to be a critical part of any economy. With current economic institutions and financial systems, activities in the “creative economy” is not a substitute for manufacturing.

Make in India” implies making real goods, hence describes economic priorities better than “Create in India.” This not to discourage creativity, but emphasize the need for a strong manufacturing base.

To be viable, every modern economy requires manufacturing with and without robots.


Efforts on to standardize Ayurveda

In response to a feature in The Times of India: “Efforts on to standardize ayurveda,” “Medicinal plant cultivation: Change in approach needed,” “Not enough facilities to ensure quality of medicines,” Feb. 22, 2016.

Achieving full potential of Ayurveda [2, 3, 4] medicines require a much broader approach than what is currently in use. Trying to fit Ayurveda into the existing framework used by modern medicine is less than optimum. The organizing principle for modern medicine is “treatment of diseases.” With gross simplification, modern medical model for pharmacology consists of:

  • diagnosing, identifying symptoms and causes of diseases,
  • identifying, discovering substances and compounds that can alleviate the symptoms, and
  • treatments for symptomatic cure.

In contrast, the organizing principle in Ayurveda is “normal health.” And the fundamental idea is to assist the body to return to normal health using naturally occurring substances. Hence, the benefits achievable using Ayurveda system with a disease-oriented model, will be less than its full potential. Better results are possible with a personalized, helath-oriented framework.

In modern pharmacology, once the active ingredients are identified and dosages determined, standardization and quality assurance are straight forward.

But dependence on natural substances by Ayurveda inherently makes standardization and quality assurance methods used in modern pharmacology a misfit, due to natural variations in the substances used. A personalized health/wellness centered framework is better suited for Ayurveda. Developing such a health-centered framework is necessary to help achieve the full potential for Ayurveda.

Over dependence on traditions may not always by helpful. In addition, incorporating current medical knowledge, biochemistry, theories of human physiology and clinical practices can help enhance Ayurveda’s effectiveness.


Smart City: Oppn flags user-fee trap

In response to a report in The Times of India, “Smart City: Oppn flags user-fee trap,” Feb. 16, 2016. [2]

You may have been wondering when you read that the Kochi Corporation accepted “Free Consulting” from a London based firm for preparing the Smart City proposal (“Smart Cities Project: Kochi to Get UK Support“). Kochi Smart City project is part of a larger program by the Government of India.

Ponder no more! You have the answers now. You will be asked to pay again for the “Smart City” facilities as “user fees.” (If you didn’t have questions about the “free consulting,” it is high time you paid attention to what your elected representatives are doing in your name.)

In an economy there are two types of activities: solution-seeking and extractive (Please see, “Extreme Inequality = Economic Collapse“). In a regenerative economy, “circulation and investment in human capital and solution-seeking leads to systemic vitality and well-being for all.”

Kerala economy consists mainly of extractive activities. Hence the pathetic state of the Kerala economy. Kochi Corporation’s Smart City project is an example of a plan for private capture of public resources.


The green signal for change

In response to a feature in The Times of India, “Kochi on track,” Feb. 8, 2016.

Your glowing adulation, “The green signal for change,” Feb 8. 2016, about the Kochi Metro is detached from reality. You say, “The Kochi Metro Rail signals a big development in transforming into a new economic order that will be driven by world-class infrastructure creation.”

For an example of a futuristic world class infrastructure, please review: “Going Underground: Our journey to the future.”

Actually, Kochi Metro project is a missed opportunity. Kerala lost an opportunity for capturing a significant industrial venture, while implementing a transportation system. There wasn’t even a thought, let alone effort, to bring rail manufacturing in Kerala as part of the Kochi Metro initiative.

All engineering/manufacturing activity related to Kochi Metro are being done in Andra Pradesh.

Kerala government could learn some economic development lessons from the Kochi Metro project. Significant part of the Kochi Metro financing is being provided by the French government. This enabled the French company Alstom to bid for the project below other competitors.

The reason is, unlike the Kerala government, French government understands that having a rail technology development and manufacturing center in France is far more valuable than some financial numbers in a banking/treasury ledger. Or, for that matter, industrial and manufacturing assets are more valuable than any financial assets or instruments from an economic perspective, which is what the Kerala government should be interested in.

Kochi Metro project demonstrates, yet again, the ignorance and inability of Kerala government to look after the economic interests of the Kerala state and its people.