Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Cool visits and crazy politics...

 July 22

Today we went to an agricultural research center and though that might sound boring, it was really interesting. This place is multi-purposed but community outreach from the neighborhood/village level is their primary intent.  One of the ways in which they are doing this is through the restoration of mangrove forests (which have the same sponge-function as coastal wetlands) in villages in order to protect them from monsoons and tsunamis. They found that coastal villages that had already done mangrove forest restoration survived the tsunami in India whereas those who hadn’t were destroyed.  Also, in an area where fresh water is in tight supply because the rivers are very polluted and there have been years of drought, having restored mangrove forests help hold water and work as filter for pollutants.

The other main function of this research center is to bio-engineer plant species for higher salinity tolerance and higher drought tolerance. In these coastal areas where fresh water is so limited, having salt-tolerant rice plants allow for coastal villagers to use seawater mixed with freshwater in order to grow rice. They are also collecting and cataloging folk knowledge on the medicinal value of local plants and working to protect endangered plant species in rural areas. They have created grain and seed storage caches in rural village so that the people can sustain themselves in times of shortage. This organization is very focused on sustainable agriculture in order to fight famine and hunger in a lot of India.  They are also developing more nutrient rich crops that are more nutritious with less volume. So, we walked through their labs, their gardens, and met with their PR people.

They reminded me a lot of the function that CSU has in terms of research and outreach. Having been in the College of Natural Resources, I know that the CNR and the College of Agriculture do a huge amount of world-wide outreach regarding sustainability at the grassroots through the governmental levels. The organization we visited today takes a bottom-up approach and works at the small level with individual communities in order to help people make immediate and highly relevant improvements to their lives. It was so cool to see that those who have the resources here are working to help those who don’t. They also had an on-site outreach facility for rural kids to come to in order to learn about computers. They have weeklong computer courses where they teach kids how to use the whole Microsoft Office package so they won’t be at such a huge disadvantage  compared to their urban counterparts.

One of the other really cool functions is through village outreach and education centers where they get weather reports to local fishermen through text messages on their cell phones. Before this, many fishermen were just at the mercy of their own luck and scanning of the skies, but now they are informed before they go out to fish. This has allowed many lives to be saved and I just found it so interesting that it was all through text messaging. Apparently, many people are getting cell phones who have never even had their own land phone because it is so much easier and more affordable.

But, most excitingly, I figured out that for my curriculum project I think I might do something about mangrove forests and wetlands in the US and how they are related. We already look at how humans impacted the removal of wetlands in the bayous of Louisiana and how that removal resulted in a higher storm surge during Katrina, thus destroying more of New Orleans than what would have happened with the wetlands still intact. So, I think that I can also have the kids look at the 2004 tsunami and how mangrove forests protected coastal areas. Or, I might just stick with my original plan and look at the school system in India on the whole. Although, as you have read, it has been difficult to a form a picture in a succinct way. I could probably do a weeklong presentation and never really make a dent in the complicated system.

Today the Indian government is having a trust vote to see if they want to vote out their current government. So far, it is look like the current government is going to stay in power but it is really close, like maybe 5 votes in the parliament. Interestingly, this whole thing started because the Indian Communist Party broke away from the coalition who is in power because they didn’t like how the nuclear talks with the US were being handled. A lot of the parties think that the prime minister’s party bowed down and gave into the US and there is constant TV news covering this today. TVs are on in all parts of the hotel, this is on all of the newspapers, and people are not talking about much else. The debate got so heated that parliament had to temporarily adjourn and now they have reconvened but everyone is yelling a lot.

India has many, many political parties, and unlike in the US, more than just two parties have a big impact on national politics. They all make coalitions with each other to get into power and so those relationships shift based on issues. Based on the nuclear talks, there has been shifting among the coalitions, thus causing this confidence vote in the current government. So, just like on American TV, pundits are all yelling at each other and they slip in and out of Hindi and English. Hindi is such an ancient language that they do not have many words needed in modern society. So, many times, they just say the English word and it is hard to tell unless you are carefully listening that they have slid between two languages! 

In the end, India's current government won the confidence vote and will remain in power for now.

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