A lifeline to India’s farmers on the edge of despair

first_imgBalaraj said the ideas he’s hearing during the competition seem to be getting better each year. Gramhal stood out this year, however, not just because of the quality of the idea, but also because there’s a team in place in India that can hit the ground running.“It’s good to see students thinking big to solve large social problems in India,” Balaraj said. “What stood out about this [project] is they had a good team in Boston, but they also had a very good team in India. So, for … the first 30, 60, 90 days, they have a team that can actually run with it.”Birhma grew up on a small rural farm in India and came to Harvard to pursue a master of public policy degree at the Kennedy School. When he arrived, he began developing the idea for Gramhal and, instead of taking a summer internship here after his first year, traveled back home to develop it further.“I identified the problem, built a local team, and then I came back here,” Birhma said. “I’m graduating and excited to go back to India to work full time on this.” Across India, debt and the subsistence farmer go hand in hand. Unfortunately, so does suicide.There are an estimated 62 million distressed small farmers in India. According to a recently formed nonprofit, Gramhal, a farmer dies by suicide every half hour in India, largely because of hopelessness caused by a “vicious debt cycle.” That cycle revolves around poor farmers’ desperate need for cash during harvest season and is fostered by an informal credit system that lends desperate farmers money at unfavorable rates. The cash crunch and need to repay the debt often forces farmers to sell crops immediately rather than waiting for optimal prices.Gramhal, founded by Vikas Birhma ’19, a Harvard Kennedy School student, offers farmers a way to break that cycle. The organization, which has four employees in India, provides warehousing and pooling of transport, allowing farmers to store their crops and wait until prices improve. For those who need cash while they wait, Gramhal also provides access to credit on favorable terms through a partner bank. All of this is accessible through a cellphone app that also supplies daily price information and a connection to buyers, so farmers can sell at the most favorable time.A pilot program with 25 farmers resulted in a 40 percent increase in income.On Thursday, the organization received a major boost, winning the Seed for Change Program competition sponsored by Harvard’s Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute. The competition seeks to foster student entrepreneurship and innovation in effecting change in India and Pakistan. Winning teams can hail from any Harvard School but must include at least one Harvard student and feature partners on the ground in South Asia. Gramhal won the first prize of $40,000, which Birhma said will allow the organization to double its staff in India and reach 1,100 farmers next year.“The Seed for Change Program best exemplifies what Harvard students are capable of while they’re here at the University,” said Selmon Rafey, program coordinator at the Mittal Institute. “We asked them to identify real problems affecting real people of South Asia and then explore and propose novel solutions to those problems.”Gramhal was among four finalists who presented their ideas to a panel of judges during a lunchtime event at the Harvard Faculty Club. Two runners-up — Meet, an employment app that seeks to connect employers and job seekers, and Riskboard, a digital dashboard tool that monitors political risks such as human rights abuses for corporations, investors, and nongovernmental organizations — both received $5,000 to further their efforts.K.P. Balaraj, the contest’s sponsor and one of its four judges, said Gramhal came out on top because it has immediate applicability to the Indian market, takes a course that is likely to be acceptable to those involved, and targets a problem — the plight of India’s small farmers — widely recognized as urgent.“It’s a very large and current problem,” said Balaraj, a graduate of Harvard Business School. “We could see it scaling over time and at scale it could have groundbreaking impact. I think that’s what excited us [judges] most: If it works at scale it could really create meaningful change to a community that is under stress today.” Getting to the why of British India’s bloody Partition Related Using new technology and techniques, scholars seek answers for 1947 cataclysm that killed millions Strengthening Harvard’s ties to South Asia Lakshmi Mittal family gift expands opportunities for regional engagement last_img read more

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Stuttgart special report

first_imgINTRO: We present a selection of the numerous new products for the rail industry on show at the UITP’s City Transport 97 exhibition in Stuttgart last monthLess wheel squealTRACK component specialist Ortec has developed a number of new products designed to help railways in their efforts to cut wheel-rail noise. Resilient rail surrounds for urban applications include Germany’s Wuppertaler Schwebebahn, but the company says that the vibration-inhibiting design can be adapted for steel bridges on conventional railways.Of special interest to urban operators who have sharp curves is the ’Golden Silence’ concept which is intended to reduce or eliminate wheel squeal. The rail is treated on the head and gauge face with an aluminium-bronze coating that can be applied without raising the rail temperature above 50°C and which has no effect on the rail’s structure. It can be applied to rails that are already in situ.A product for use with German B70 sleepers consists of rubber inserts that sit in plastic holders next to and below the rail; the size of the inserts can be varied according to the application.Ortec, Nümbrecht, GermanyReader Enquiry Number 143Door developmentsVISITORS to the Faiveley stand at Stuttgart were able to see demonstrations of two types of sliding-plug door. One was a lightweight design with full-depth glazing in aluminium panels for light rail and tram applications. Thanks to a telescopic support, the operating mechanism is mounted entirely on a bar above the door, requiring just two fixings to the car body. The second design (right) is that chosen for the Juniper family of trains being built in Britain by GEC Alsthom. The same design is being fitted to Stockholm’s T2000 cars, German Railway’s ’Lint’ light regional railcars under construction by Linke-Hofmann-Busch, and SNCF’s TER2N regional double-deck trainsets.Faiveley Transport, Saint-Denis, France Reader Enquiry Number 144Refitting RATP ticket countersSchlumberger has begun work on a contract to re-equip 900 booking office ticket counters for Paris Transport Authority. Following development of prototypes by Dassault and another company, Schlumberger is to supply equipment that will allow carnets of 10 Edmondson style tickets to be issued in 8sec.Design of the counter (above) and open architecture computer equipment was carried out in close co-operation with the trades unions to ensure good ergonomics. At the busiest locations in central Paris up to 3000 transactions a day are expected from a single counter. First installation will be in 1998, with all units on site by 2000. Schlumberger plans to install and refit each counter in a single night shift.Another Schlumberger contract is to supply 150 ticket vending machines for French National Railways to be installed in time for the 1998 World Cup championship. Using the same type of customer interface as bank cash machines with select buttons to right and left of an LCD screen, the equipment can issue a ticket in less than 15sec. Payment is by bank card, coins or electronic purse.The company has developed a prototype hand-held ticket issuing and reservations machine for use by on-train staff. Called the Watson (right), it uses an electronic pen for data input.Schlumberger, Montrouge, FranceReader Enquiry Number 145Ticket issueSECURITY was a prime consideration in the design of Dassault’s TVM200 wall-mounted ticket machine for Paris Transport Authority. The first of 150 machines was installed a few weeks ago under a contract shared by Dassault and Monétel.Intended to be able to resist attack by vandals or thieves armed with hand tools for 20min, the TVM200 includes features such as a hard wall immediately behind the touch screen that prevents further access to the interior if the screen is smashed. Maintenance and servicing staff have access by electronic codes only to those parts of the machine which they require.Destinations and ticket types are selected using a roller bar below the screen, and passengers accept the displayed data by pressing a single button. Payment is by conventional bank cards or smartcards, which can be recharged in the machine. Contactless smartcards can also be used.Dassault, Paris, FranceReader Enquiry Number 146Railcar drivesTransmission specialist Voith is supplying T312br converter coupling hydrodynamic transmissions for German Railway’s VT612 diesel trainsets, which are to be fitted with Cummins engines. The T312br features a retarder device and electronic controls and is similar to the equipment fitted to DB’s Class VT611 units, the first of which have re-entered commercial service after numerous technical problems.Voith also holds a letter of intent from Linke-Hofmann-Busch to supply transmissions to 30 Class VT640 vehicles. The VT641 railcars jointly ordered for SNCF and DB railcars will also have Voith drives with electronic controls.Voith, Heidenheim/Brenz, GermanyReader Enquiry Number 147last_img read more

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