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September 24, 2023

Activists address food, energy in India

By BEN KUPFERBERG | April 28, 2012

On Tuesday, Apr. 24, the Graduate Representative Organization hosted a discussion about the problems with food and energy that face many poor villages in India. Aravinda Pillalamarri and Ravi Kuchimanchi, activists directly involved in efforts to help India's poorest people, were the primary speakers at the event.
Pillalamarri and Kuchimanchi are volunteers for the Association for India's Development (AID), a charity organization that seeks to alleviate inequities in one of the world's poorest countries. Their efforts earned AID the Times of India's Global Contribution to India award in 2012.
"This particular event was to raise awareness about the initiative for organic foods. We wanted to examine how India got into this desperate situation, and how they can get out of it with various strategies for food and energy," Sidadharth Dhama, a member of AID, said.
Kuchimanchi founded AID in 1991 at the University of Maryland - College Park, where he was studying for a Ph.D. in physics. He contended that the solutions to fix India's problems were interconnected, and sought to focus on developmental issues in India, such as rural electrification and integrated development.
Pillalamarri studied English at Hopkins and obtained her Master of Arts in South Asian Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
"While I was in the English department at Hopkins, I was always interested in issues of global justice. AID gave me the opportunity to actually work in these poor villages, and connect with other who wanted to enact the same sort of social change," Pillalamari told The News-Letter. The event began with a slideshow showing a plethora of achievements that India has accomplished, such as launching a rocket, various infrastructure developments and meeting certain energy requirements. However, the slide ended by asking the simple question: but did we miss something?
Pillalamarri and Kuchimanchi were there to address what was missing, focusing on the problems with malnutrition and lack of energy. Pillalamarri began by discussing the potential of ragi - a millet-like grain - to revitalizate the market in India because it was easy on farmers, and very nutritious. A decade ago, there was no publicity and, therefore, a lack of production of it.
"With AID, we conducted a door to door survey, weighing children to get records of nutrition levels for specific families. This way we could target specific plans for certain families, and make sure that they became aware of the advantages of ragi," Pillalamarri said.
AID attempts to solve these various problems through developing interconnected solutions. A few of the projects that the organization has been involved in include building a mobile school in Pune, creating a village library, and setting up vocational training programs in Gujarat. AID is also trying to enhance the health care system, position of women and create micro credit programs for various villages.
"Before the next generation loses the ability to harvest and enjoy ragi or other grains, the current generation needs to teach them the ways of these coarse grains and biodiversity. AID will need to help with this important process," Pillalamarri said.
Kuchimanchi followed up with a focus on energy and the importance of rural electrification. He cited the statistic that many villages in India have around 1 watt of energy per capita, preventing productivity.
"The problem in India is that everyone receives different amounts of energy, and the poorest people don't receive the same amount of energy as the upper classes. We have to think not only about how to provide the energy, but more importantly who we are providing it to," Kuchimanchi said.
The last segment of the discussion was about a product that they had produced, which combined their focuses on food and energy. The device was a hay basket that is both made and sold in Indian villages, to be used as a rice cooker. This device allows rice to be half-boiled and then placed in the basket to finish cooking. This conserves energy from the stove, and allows the production of double the amount of rice.
There was a brief discussion about how to receive more support from the undergraduates at Hopkins, even though the majority of students in attendance were graduate students.
"The best way to engage Hopkins undergraduates is to give them specific projects to work on. If they have a goal, they will be more determined and have a specific end in sight. We have also spoken to medical professors on campus, and are trying to get some students to intern in India, just to introduce basic medicine," Sidadharth said.
There were a few undergraduates dispersed among the crowd, which was definitely a starting point for AID.
"I came for the free dinner, but I ended up learning a lot about sustainable development in rural India, and how third world solutions can be applied globally," junior Henry Chen said.

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