Taylor Ian Christopher
ictaylor at hkusua.hku.hk
Sun Feb 25 21:18:40 MST 1996
The Relevance of the Kerala Model
in the Emerging World Order
Richard W. Franke and Barbara H. Chasin
Montclair State University
Upper Montclair, New Jersey 07043 USA
e-mail: franke at saturn.montclair.edu
e-mail: chasinb at saturn.montclair.edu
The International Congress of Kerala Studies
27-29 August 1994
AKG Centre for Research and Studies and
Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala 695 034
The apparent recent victory of capitalism and market economies
poses severe challenges for the 3rd world. Capitalism has shown
its capacity to produce consumer products, generate wealth for
some, and defeat most attempts to create socialist or populist
alternatives. But the capitalist system's current dominance over
the world's economies is accompanied by problems that render it a
highly questionable force for improving the lives of the majority
of 3rd world people. In the 1980s and early 1990s capitalism was
accompanied by 5 major phenomena that undermined the lives of
the 3rd world poor:
1.Two deep recessions -- 1980-82 and 1990-92 -- in the
rich countries which played out as one long and
continuing recession in many 3rd world countries.
2.The lack of a powerful competing social model, thus
weakening 3rd world countries such as India that
had previously used U.S.-Soviet competition to
bargain for a more independent, self-reliant path to
3.A large drop in so-called "soft" development aid
correlated with a large increase in demands by the
IMF and World Bank for "structural adjustment" and
4.A growing world-wide environmental crisis which now
threatens the production of food and other necessi-
ties in the next century.
5.Increasing inequality that threatens to harden into a
wall separating a few wealthy countries and some 3rd
world elites from a mass of workers and farmers to
be left dispossessed and in misery by the daily
workings of the new world order.
Against the domination of international capitalism, few coun-
tries at present have viable alternatives for development that
emphasize justice, sustainability, and empowerment of ordinary
people. One possible alternative is the "Kerala Model," which has
been widely discussed by scholars and activists such as you who
are attending this congress. The Kerala Model of earlier years
was built on progressive mass movements of peasants and work-
ers. That model has now been enhanced --renewed -- by a
series of programs that offer the potential for democratic, partici-
patory, justice-oriented development in the emerging world order.
These programs are called The New Democratic Initiatives. In
this paper we shall survey several features of the emerging world
order and explain why we think the combined old and new Kerala
models are so important both in Kerala and throughout the 3rd
Two sharp and deep recessions -- 1980-82 and 1990-92 -- con-
tributed to the world order that emerged in the 1980s and 1990s.
In capitalist economics, recessions are generally considered part
of the market's corrective mechanism, part of capitalism's overall
drive towards "efficiency." Capitalist analysis seems to prefer
efficiency to justice, but Harvard philosopher John Rawls (1971:3)
has argued forcefully that priorities should be the other way:
...laws and institutions no matter how efficient and
well-arranged must be reformed or abolished if they
Rawls (1971:62) goes on to define justice
as basically a result of equality:
All social values -- liberty and opportunity,
income and wealth, and the bases of self-respect --
are to be distributed equally unless an unequal dis-
tribution of any, or all, of these values, is to every-
Neither justice nor equality resulted from the recessions of
the 1980s. Between 1984 and 1990, 3rd world countries trans-
ferred $178 billion to rich country commercial banks (Bello
1994:68). One result of this process was that average per capita
incomes in Africa decreased by 12.5%; in Latin America they
dropped 9.1% (Pinstrup-Anderson 1993:87). Official poverty
levels in Latin America rose from 25% in 1980 to 31% by the end of
the decade (Pinstrup-Anderson 1993:88). In Costa Rica between
1971 and 1983, the poorest 10% of the population lost 20% while
the richest 10% gained 15% relative to prices (Pinstrup-Anderson
1993:88-89). In Ghana a long-term trend of falling infant mortali-
ty rates was reversed by a 20% increase from the mid-1970s to
mid-1980s (Pinstrup-Anderson 1993:105); in Abidjan, Ivory Coast
neonatal mortality rates went from 37 per 1,000 in 1977-1981 to 81
per 1,000 in 1982-86 (Pinstrup-Anderson 1993:106). In Brazil,
60,000 "extra" child deaths are attributed to the 1980s recessions.
Brazil had previously been labeled an economic miracle. The 3rd
world generally absorbed more than 500,000 excess deaths in 1988
alone than might have been expected. War-related deaths are not
included in these estimates (The New York Times 20 December
1988:1; Grant 1989:1). Despite a long-term trend of declining
child deaths, 13 million children died in 1993, 98% of them in the
3rd world. At least 8 million of them could have been saved by
oral rehydration therapy, vaccinations, and public health actions
to prevent diseases such as malaria, meningitis, respiratory
ailments, and certain kinds of diarrhea (Brown et al 1993:96).
These figures illustrate how fragile are the development achieve-
ments in many countries.
What did the world gain from all this suffering and death?
>From 1990 to 1992 the gross world product (GWP) fell nearly 3%.
Strong economic recovery will be needed even to get per capita
incomes back to their 1990 level by 1995 (Brown et al 1993:72).
Yet, in the U.S. at least, the 1993-94 recovery so far has been
the weakest since 1945 in both growth and in jobs created (Miller
1994:9). Worldwide, per capita grain production -- one of the
most important indicators of food and thus health conditions --
dropped by 9% from 1984 to 1992 (Brown et al 1993:26-27) despite
"structural reforms" supposed to raise output by introducing
market efficiency in certain stagnant 3rd world agricultural areas.
3.The One-Power World
The collapse of the Soviet Union and its allies has deprived
many 3rd world countries of their carefully constructed neutrality
and independence. The most important of these is undoubtedly
India. Since independence in 1947, successive Indian govern-
ments tried to steer clear of excessive alignment with either the
US or USSR power blocs. Now, India and other countries that
followed such policies find themselves with no counterweight to
the demands of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World
Bank to structurally adjust their economies.
This is only part of the story, however. Bilateral foreign aid
may also be on the decline. The Clinton Administration plans to
phase out 21 USAID missions servicing 35 countries and to elim-
inate 1,000 aid-related jobs, 92% of them held by 3rd world na-
tionals. USAID administrator J. Brian Atwood explained that with
the demise of communism, "We no longer need an aid program to
purchase influence" (The New York Times 20 November 1993:5;
and 5 December 1993, Section 4:5).
India may not suffer much from this policy shift in the short
run: the country received only $3.20 in aid per capita in 1991
(World Bank 1993:276-277). This figure contrasts with $354 per
capita received by Israel, a country with a per capita GNP of
$11,950 while India had $330 (World Bank 1993:238). With 34% of
the world's "absolute poor" in 1989, India received 3.5% of
overseas development assistance from the developed nations. In
1988, 41% of bilateral aid from the rich countries went to high and
middle-income countries; in 1986, only 8% of US aid was "develop-
ment assistance devoted to low-income countries" (UNDP 1992:7).
In 1990, India received $0.30 per capita in all overseas aid for its
health programs (World Bank 1993:210).
And what is the record of private foreign investment in the
poorest countries? Sociologist Dale Wimberley (1991:406) found
that the degree of transnational corporate penetration of a 3rd
world economy "has a substantial detrimental effect on food con-
sumption which grows with the length of the lag between penetra-
tion." India is one of the 60 3rd world countries in his sample.
Using food consumption as his dependent variable and transna-
tional corporate investment as independent variable, Wimberley
concludes for the 15 year period of his study that "There is a
predicted [downward] difference of 730 calories and 21 grams of
protein consumed per person per day between countries having
the maximum and minimum levels of penetration..." (1991:419).
Wimberley's calorie and protein figures represent about one-third
of minimum needs.
If bilateral aid and private investment show few positive
trends, what about the World Bank and IMF? The phenomenal
taking from the poor to give to the rich in the 1980s was accom-
plished in large part by Reagan era changes in World Bank and
IMF policies that emphasized "structural adjustment" rather than
targeting aid to the poor that had been popular as part of the
basic needs strategy of the late 1970s.
Targeting aid to the poor -- first known as the "basic needs"
approach -- grew out of the liberal approach to development aid.
In the 1950s, developing nations had proposed creation of the
Special United Nations Fund for Development (SUNFED), in which
each country would have one vote. The wealthy capitalist coun-
tries, fearing demands for redistribution of global wealth, set up
the International Development Association (IDA) in place of
SUNFED. The IDA was part of the World Bank, where voting
power goes according to capital subscriptions, not membership.
The African, Asian and Inter-American Development banks were
set up along the same lines (Bello 1994:11).
While keeping strict control over international lending agen-
cies, liberal capitalist bureaucrats made some concessions to the
concerns of developing countries by setting up a global anti-
poverty program. This took place under the World Bank direc-
torship of Robert McNamara.
The 1970s' victory of the Vietnamese revolution, the partial
success of the OPEC price cartel, and signs of rising nationalism
among even many anti-communist 3rd world governments, brought
a severe reaction in the West. The right-wing administrations of
Reagan in the U.S. and Thatcher in Britain led a counterattack,
forcing McNamara to resign from the World Bank directorship in
1981. Swiftly following his replacement by A. W. Clausen, and in
the mid-80s by even more conservative Barber Conable, the Bank
reduced its IDA section by US$300 million, and began a shift from
project lending to its structural adjustment or SAL program (Bello
1994:26). When growing 3rd world debt in the 1980s presented
the rich countries with an opportunity to further regain domi-
nance over the developing world, the Reagan Administration put
forth the "Baker Plan" in 1985 which tied loans for rescheduling
earlier debts to acceptance by the receiving countries of World
Bank and IMF structural adjustment policies (Bello 1994:28).
Structural adjustment is a package of so-called reforms aimed
mainly at opening public economic sectors to private -- usually
rich country -- investors. Structural adjustment advisors from
the World Bank or IMF usually demand cuts in government servic-
es to control inflation. This leads to a better business climate
for outsiders but lowers wages and increases poverty levels for
ordinary people. In a recent survey, Walden Bello found that
Chile, Costa Rica, Ghana, and The Philippines -- countries that
have been structurally adjusted several times in recent years --
show rising levels of poverty, increasing environmental damage,
and little growth to compensate (Bellow 1994; cf. Nash 1994).
Structural adjustment seems to mean turning the recessions of the
1980s into a permanent condition.
Despite the evidence for substantial harm from structural
adjustment, the program continues. The 1993 World Bank spend-
ing priorities were: $4 billion for structural adjustment, $3.3
billion for agriculture and rural development, $2 billion for educa-
tion and $1.8 billion for population, health, and nutrition com-
bined. Most of the rest of the $23.7 billion loan fund went to
large infrastructure projects like dams and roads (figures from
5.The Environmental Crisis
By the 1980s and 1990s, environmental destruction began to
affect production as well as to endanger quality of life. Grain,
animal, and fish production are all threatened by projected declin-
ing land availability, water shortages, overuse, and lack of likely
technological fixes (Brown et al 1994). In Ludhiana, Punjab, for
example, ground water pumping exceeds recharge by one third
and water tables are dropping nearly 1 meter per year (Postel
1994:14). Similar conditions exist in much of the western U.S.
In parts of Africa water availability has already become the main
limiting factor in food production. As Worldwatch analyst Sandra
Postel (1994:3) has aptly put it:
Human societies have been altering the earth
since they began. But the pace and scale of degradation that
started about mid-century -- and continues today --
is historically new.
As for long-term natural resources, the dramatic threat to
tropical rain forests has received worldwide attention. Less well-
known, temperate forests are now in decline, with 22% of Europe's
forests now considered damaged by air pollutants, acidic and
impoverished soils, and toxic metals (Denniston 1993:108).
Researchers are also becoming alarmed at the rise of chemical-
related deaths. For 80% of the 50,000 industrial chemicals used in
the United States alone, no information at all is available on
possible toxic effects (Misch 1994:119); what is known is that
death rates from cancers with no known links to smoking are on
the rise in several countries. These include cancers of the brain
and central nervous system, breast cancer, kidney cancer, skin
cancer and several others (Misch 1994:121).
The overuse or destruction of natural resources and the intro-
duction of unsafe or untested chemicals highlight the need for
development strategies that include sustainability and concern for
the environment, not just a mad rush to high output with a capi-
talist-defined short-term concept of "efficiency." But for such
development strategies to succeed, another factor must be con-
fronted: rising social and economic inequality.
The severe "global rollback" (Bello 1994:2) of the 1980s has
exacerbated longer-term trends towards increasing inequality both
among and within nations. In 1960, the richest 20% of the world's
countries had 30 times the wealth of the poorest 20%. By 1989
the rich countries had 59 times what the poor countries had.
When in-country inequality is factored in, the richest 20% of the
world's people may have 150 times the wealth of the poorest 20%
(UNDP 1992:1, 36, and 98).
Gender inequality compounds class inequality. Many women
bear the double burden of being poor and female. Women work
longer hours than men, performing labor that is frequently
undervalued without even the small amenities that make the lives
of poor men more bearable: a visit to a tea shop, a game of
cards. Families with scarce resources may favor male children in
health care and education. Even where improvements are being
made, such as in literacy, at present rates it will take more than
200 years for 3rd world women to become as literate as men
Ironically, the growing inequality data and predictions of even
more inequality in the future appear just as some economists are
discovering that greater equality may be good for development.
A study by Cereseto and Waitzkin (1988) had found that for any
given level of average per capita income, countries with more
equality provided better education, longer life, lower infant
mortality, etc., than those choosing a growth alone strategy.
The advantages of redistribution are relatively greater in coun-
tries with the lowest per capita incomes. More recently, econo-
mists Bowles, Gordon, and Weisskopf found (1990:223) that even
among advanced industrial countries both productivity growth and
investment performance are strongly and positively correlated with
equality. The New York Times (8 January 1994:A39) reported
that "many economists...[have] begun to see greater income
equality as compatible with faster growth/
and perhaps even contributing to it." Despite the evidence
supporting redistribution and greater equality, the policies foster-
ing greater concentration of wealth and greater disparities bet-
ween rich and poor continue to dominate.
7.Bleak Capitalist Future Visions
Forced structural adjustment, growing inequality, environmen-
tal destruction, and a weak capitalist recovery from the recent
recessions have been compounded in the early 1990s by a wave of
political unrest and the deterioration or collapse of several 3rd
world states. Refusing to consider the responsibility of rich
countries and their development policies, some writers have
become pessimistic about the world in general, offering grim
prophecies of a coming age of suffering and death. Atlantic
Monthly writer Robert D. Kaplan (1994) warns readers that many
3rd world nations are about to "break up under the tidal flow of
refugees from environmental and social disaster." He further
predicts a "wall of disease" between rich and poor countries.
Kaplan (1994:70) also notes a connection between continuing
abject poverty and the tendency towards militarism in many 3rd
A large number of people on this planet, to whom the
comfort and stability of a middle-class life is utterly
unknown, find war and a barracks existence a step up.
He further predicts that most future wars will be "subnational,"
part of the death of 3rd world states. Already the massive flow
of refugees around the world and the almost weekly news of a
new center of violence seem consistent with Kaplan's gloomy
French economist Jacques Attali -- head of the European Bank
for Reconstruction and Development -- sees an equally bleak
In the coming world order, there will be winners
and there will be losers. The losers will outnumber
the winners by an unimaginable factor. They will yearn
for the chance to live decently and they are likely to be
denied that chance (1991:84).
For the winners, new technology will bring levels of comfort
and security unknown in the past or present/a wrist watch, for example,
that constantly monitors one's health, reporting the onset of
high blood pressure or an infection to a local computer network
which alerts a medical center and results in immediate advice or
Such advances will spread across Japan, North America,
Europe, and among tiny elites in the poor countries. But Africa
will be "entirely excluded from abundance"; Latin America will
probably "slide into terminal poverty"; Europe and Japan will try
to bring India "into their orbit as a beachhead for multinational
companies..."; "Inequality will cleave the new world order as
surely as the Berlin Wall once divided East from West" (1994:73-75
Against all the recent trends, against the dismal expectations
of writers like Kaplan and Attali, what possibilities exist for local-
ly-empowered, participatory, sustainable, egalitarian, ecologically
sound development? By combining the classical Kerala model with
the New Democratic Initiatives, we can see a path with hope for a
8. The old Kerala Model: Redistribution and its Limitations
Scholars and activists at this congress will be well aware of
the successes and shortcomings of the old Kerala model. Despite
low per capita incomes, Kerala achieved high literacy, long life
expectancy, low infant mortality and birth rates, and high access
to medical care. Kerala carried out a significant land reform,
effective public food distribution, pensions for retired agricultural
laborers, and a high rate of government employment for members
of formerly low caste communities (Franke and Chasin 1989; Jef-
frey 1993; UN 1975). The most recent data show continuing
achievements for the Kerala model including a continuing drop in
birth rates and infant mortality rates, increase in life expectancy,
and the like (Franke and Chasin 1994). Kerala's child tuberculo-
sis, polio, and DPT (diphtheria-pertussis-tetanus) vaccination
rates in 1992 were 100%. For measles the rate was 92% (GOK
1994:119). The recent addition of headload workers to a self-
financing welfare board/while proceeding
slowly (Pillai 1992)/indicates that
ordinary working people are still at the forefront of the Kerala
model. Kerala continues to be the only Indian state with no major
statistical evidence of excess female mortality.
The Kerala model thus continues to benefit Kerala's people.
But has the model run its course?
9.The New Democratic Initiatives
After decades of redistribution struggles, Kerala's leading
progressive political parties found themselves in a difficult posi-
tion after winning the 1987 statewide elections. Many organizers
felt that few additional gains could come from further redistribu-
tion at the time. Overall growth in the Kerala economy was not
impressive, leading to questions whether the Kerala model is
inimical to growth. Without the massive remittances from the Gulf
states, would the Kerala model be in place at all? What could be
done to stem the growth of communalism and casteism in the socie-
ty and nepotism and corruption in political life? Could production
be increased without increasing exploitation and inequality?
Could the land reform be made more economically valuable to the
former tenants who had received titles to such small plots? Could
environmental concerns be integrated into development? Could
development be made "participatory," "democratic," "sustainable?"
After intense internal debates, the LDF ministry launched the
New Democratic Initiatives. These initiatives have in common the
attempt to involve ordinary people at the village and district
levels in actions to create sustainable development. To involve
people, the New Democratic Initiatives pledge to empower them.
In our view, the 4 most important initiatives are the elected Dis-
trict Councils, the Total Literacy Campaign, the installation of
high-efficiency wood-burning stoves, and the People's Resource
Mapping Programme. Let us consider briefly the content of these
10. Elected District Councils
In January, 1991 Kerala voters elected representatives to
newly-formed District Councils. These councils were vested with
substantial powers, including about 150 policy areas previously
under state control (Mathew 1991:1320). The District Councils
were to be linked to further decentralization to the panchayat
level. The Kerala State Planning Board provided each panchayat
with Rs 200,000 in untied funds: the elected panchayat councils
could decide how to spend the money. Many fixed roads, built
new bus stands, or made other infrastructural investments. The
30% reservation of district council seats for women seems to
express an intent to democratize the decentralization process it-
self, and to use it as a vehicle for bringing in left-out sections
of the population.
After what appeared to be promising starts, both the District
Councils and the panchayat funds decentralization experiments
became embroiled in party politics. The UDF government elected
in June of 1991 appears less favorable towards decentralization
than the LDF had been, and Kerala voters may be asked to
decide in a future election how much they want to pursue the
11.The Total Literacy Campaign
In December of 1988, the LDF government organized a cam-
paign to establish full literacy throughout Kerala. The campaign
was initiated in Ernakulam District, where the Kerala People's
Science Movement (KSSP) mobilized nearly 22,000 volunteer activ-
ists. The volunteers organized jathas, meetings, drama presenta-
tions, and literacy classes in neighborhoods where illiterates were
concentrated. With great fanfare, activists opened a project
office on 15 December, 1988, and kept it open 24 hours daily
until 4 February, 1990 when the District was declared 100% liter-
ate (KSSP 1991:11).
Energy and involvement were further emphasized by the crea-
tion of popular committees in all 860 panchayat wards of the Dis-
trict as well as municipal wards. The inauguration of the cam-
paign was festive, with 5 literacy jathas beginning from 5 edges
of the District on 21 January 1989. These jathas were led by
major political leaders, literary figures, religious scholars, and
academics. Each jatha also had an artist's groups. They trav-
eled for 6 days on foot giving street plays, folk performances,
group songs, and speeches at various stopping points. An
average of 300-400 people gathered at these reception points.
As the campaign got underway, further jathas and artistic
performances helped create an atmosphere in which people felt
they could come forward and admit their illiteracy and join in the
classes. After the classes began, literacy walls were set up in
each panchayat ward to give news of the campaign. Literacy
banners sprouted throughout the District with an eventual compe-
tition for the most attractive. Ernakulam town put up huge
signboards bearing the slogan "Sakshara Nagaram-Sundara Nagar-
am," meaning "Literate City-Beautiful City."
At some events, illiterates were encouraged to come forward
and display any talents they had. Many could sing, dance, or
recite. The campaign encouraged such activities as ways to bring
out the self-esteem and self-awareness of the learners. Thou-
sands of prizes and certificates were awarded. Teacher training
involved additional jathas, performances, and a 3-day formal
Activists hoped to teach villagers to read in Malayalam at the
rate of 30 words per minute, to copy a text at 7 words per
minute, to count and write from 1 to 100, to add and subtract 3
digit numbers, and to multiply and divide 2 digit numbers. They
also hoped to transfer some knowledge about the world through
lessons on human basic needs, Kerala and India, public institu-
tions the learners would have to encounter, nutrition, the dignity
of work, prevention of disease, equality of the sexes, the need
for clean drinking water, India's freedom struggle, the nature of
local government, the post office, fair price shops, oral rehydra-
tion therapy, how to read a clock, and what immunizations should
be given to one's children at what ages (Tharakan 1990:44 and
Classes began in May. Activists discovered that their overall
plans were too ambitious: many instructors could not absorb and
transmit the amount of material envisioned, and opted instead for
the more limited goal of teaching Malayalam reading and writing
along with the health and immunization topics. These latter were
coordinated with a campaign that eventually led to vastly in-
creased immunization levels against measles, tuberculosis,
diphtheria, and polio.
With few funds at their disposal, the activists had to solve
problems through community participation. During the campaign,
teachers discovered that lack of eyeglasses prevented many of the
learners from reading no matter what efforts they put into the
program. In one Muslim region, organizers responded with an
appeal for local people to donate spectacles. During October
through November, 1989, more than 50,000 pairs of eyeglasses
were donated. These were matched to those who needed them by
40 volunteers who were given one-day training courses to work
with doctors, medical students, and traditional Indian Ayurvedic
physicians (Tharakan 1990:74).
In February 1990, the District Collector of Ernakulam declared
the district 100% literate: 135,000 persons had learned to read
and to write out of an estimated total of 174,000 illiterates in the
district (Tharakan 1990:50). The 135,000 neo-literates had
scored over 80% on a test given as part of the program; the other
39,000 had failed the test, but gained some literacy skills they
could build on in the follow-up programs. An independent observ-
er calculated that each student became literate at a cost of bet-
ween Rs 205 and Rs 333 (Tharakan 1990:45 and 81-82). The Rs
333 figure comes to less than US$26 per literate person. Dr. K.
Ekbal of the KSSP (India Today 31 August 1991:80) estimated the
direct money outlay at "Rs 50 per head." In recognition of
KSSP's work, UNESCO bestowed its 1990 literacy award on the
organization (Gupta 1991).
One achievement of the campaign was the pride of accomplish-
ment of the mostly low-caste learners. Many of the older learners
had fought in earlier years in the land reform struggles or had
other long-term experiences with trying to change their lives.
Learning to read and do arithmetic gave them the confidence to
challenge government officials above them. As one journalist
reported: "Collectors in Kerala say neo-literates are writing let-
ters to demand better roads and health facilities" (Shekhar
1991:77 and 80). Those who are literate and who have felt the
power of learning know they have rights. They are willing to
struggle for them. Such people constitute a democratic force
which, even for a government ostensibly committed to their wel-
fare, must pay attention or face their direct action. As Michael
Tharakan (1990:65) noted:
the immediate benefit of the EDTLP
was in helping the neo-literates and instructors being
better equipped as participatory citizens. Probably
the most astounding example of such a development is
from the Pongumchuvadu Tribal Colony where the
learners with the help of instructors cleared two
kilometres of road through the forest, organized a
cooperative society, and organized a fair price bazaar
The literacy campaign also furthered the breakdown of caste
barriers. Teachers from generally higher castes learned to
have close contact with adult students and their children from
the lowest castes.
Finally, the program seems to have awakened women to contin-
ue both their education and their meetings together. Where at
first they were meeting to learn the alphabet, later they came to
talk about their problems and their feelings. Their discovery of
their abilities and of their solidarity with each other became a
force in itself, motivating them to work for cleaner water, better
transportation, and more responsible government officials, includ-
ing those of the LDF who supported the program.
A follow-up of the program was to include publication of a
special newspaper, AKSHARAM, for the neo-literates, and expan-
sion to all districts of Kerala. The all-Kerala expansion resulted
in Kerala's being declared officially 100% literate in 1991.
12. High-Efficiency Stoves
Another new Kerala program aims to help many of the rural
poor in the short-run while protecting the forests in the longer-
run. By installing high-efficiency stoves, organizers hope to
reduce the strain on Kerala's precious few remaining forests.
India's overall fuel crisis is acute. The nation lacks substan-
tial known oil or gas reserves. As a result, wood-burning
provides 69% of rural energy (CSE 1982:149). Centuries of use,
high population, and lack of alternate fuels have resulted in
dramatic forest loss, long hours searching for and hauling wood,
and a bleak energy future for the country.
The traditional Indian stove burns at only 10% efficiency. It
also causes considerable air pollution. Research in 1981 indicated
that Gujarati household cooks inhale 21,000 milligrams of suspend-
ed particulates annually per individual. Non-cooks inhaled 3,700
and Ahmedabad city traffic police 2,600. The WHO recommended
level is 210 (CSE 1985:123). A 15-year study in New Delhi found
likely associations between cook stove use and heart disease,
research in Ahmedabad linked smoky kitchens to chronic bronchi-
tis, and in Nepal domestic smoke is associated with higher infant
deaths since carbon monoxide compounds the anemia already
present or latent in poor, undernourished women. To sum it up,
cooking for 3 hours in a Gujarati kitchen has been found equival-
ent to smoking 20 packs of cigarettes per day in exposure to
benzoapyrene, a likely carcinogen (CSE 1985:125-126).
Against the multiple problems of dying forests, polluted kitch-
ens, long hours of hauling wood, and an uncertain energy fu-
ture, KSSP joined the all-India work for installing high-efficiency
stoves to reduce fuel use and improve home air quality.
Although high-efficiency stoves were developed in India from the
1940s, few have been adopted. As part of The New Democratic
Initiatives, KSSP's approach has been to carry out user-oriented
research and action to popularize and improve the stoves.
At the Integrated Rural Technology Centre (IRTC) a small
team of scientists and engineers works on projects including
improved stove design. Their special contribution to stove design
and popularization includes a respectful attitude towards the end
users: household cooks and their family members. KSSP en-
gineers have developed a stove -- the Parishat 21 -- with 2 main
burners and one auxiliary burner with 25% burning efficiency. A
community kitchen model for schools, temples, etc. burns at 44%
Households are encouraged to participate in the installation of
their own chulahs. They provide tiles, bricks, clay, rice husks
(for temper for the clay platform), lime, and sand. In 1992,
these household-provided materials, some household labor, and
190 rupees could install a high-efficiency chulah. Skilled labor
charges for a mason accounted for 30 rupees while another 160
went for the asbestos chimney, molds, a reducer pipe, and some
other materials that could not be made locally. The 190 rupees
equaled about 5 days wages for an agricultural laborer. IRTC
staff calculate that the original investment of 190 rupees will save
the household 600 rupees in fuel costs per year.
Using its repertoire of jathas, artistic performances, lectures,
and the like, KSSP has accounted for more than half the 200,000
stoves, installed in Kerala. The 200,000 figure represents about
9% of the expected user population, far higher than other parts
A special feature of the IRTC is its seminars to bring together
household cooks and scientists. KSSP activists use these semi-
nars to generate enthusiasm for the chulahs while scientists listen
respectfully to user complaints so that designs can be improved.
This approach differs substantially from the top-down, peasants-
are-backward approach used in many programs. Already, the
IRTC style has helped to surmount one difficulty. Early stove
designs had a chimney going up directly from the back of the
cooking platform. To clean the chimney, users had to lie across
the platform, pull out a piece of the baffle behind the reducer
pipe and auxiliary burner, and reach in with a brush or their
hands to get out the accumulated soot. Such cleaning is neces-
sary at least once a month; otherwise, the soot defeats the entire
purpose of the stove by clogging the lower chimney, reducing
efficiency, and sending dangerous fumes back into the kitchen.
After listening to user complaints and studying carefully the
cooking habits of users, IRTC engineers put an extension on the
back of the stove, so the chimney is entirely outside the house.
A 90 degree angle piece bends upward from the start of the
chimney outside, and a screw-out plastic trap allows the user
conveniently to dump accumulated soot.
Despite some success, activists have identified several major
obstacles to chulah popularization. Cooks want to see the flame,
sometimes the fire is difficult to start, cooks must be able to use
all 3 burners at once to get the efficiency benefits from stove,
and in some areas, kitchen smoke is actually desired to dry copra
and fish. For the poorest 10% of rural households, the smokeless
chulah's 1 meter square platform is too large (Pillai 1992). To
get cooks to use all burners at once, activists have to confront
directly the problems of domestic work organization: women do
almost all household cooking and they often stagger it with other
chores, leaving a single pot to simmer. Each of these problems
must be approached creatively to overcome user skepticism.
13. The Peoples Resource Mapping Programme
Kerala's most advanced work towards sustainable development
is the Peoples Resource Mapping Programme. This program mobi-
lizes villagers to make maps of their resources. The maps are
combined with scientific maps to create a basis for local level
planning with environmental considerations and discussions of the
long-term consequences of resource use as well as short term
gains. Activists saw the project as a logical extension of their
work in the total literacy campaign: the People's Resource
Mapping Programme is an attempt to create land literacy among
the direct owners and users of the land (CESS 1991:2).
In their initial overview of the program, supporters outlined
their view of the interconnection between natural and social
The concept of sustainable development has gained
significant importance in recent years due to (i)
inadequacy of existing development processes to wipe
out socio-economic inequality and (ii) well evidenced
nexus among environmental degradation, resource
depletion, economic disparity and poverty. Many
environmental problems like deforestation, overgraz-
ing, soil erosion, salinisation, water logging, drying
up of water courses, etc. are directly or indirectly
linked to poverty and consequent stress on the local
bio-physical system (Chattopadhyay 1991:2).
Because of their view that sustainability
is threatened by poverty and lack of power of villagers, project
activists and their scientist allies held a suspicion of large-scale
central planning from the national and state capitals. Who would
know better, they reasoned, than the local landowner, what are
his/her land and water resources? At the same time, could the
individual landowner fully appreciate the role of nearby factors in
raising or lowering land productivity? These problems suggested
a need for collective action of villagers along with some input
from professionally trained scientists to create an awareness
...of the land as a unit to be
understood for proper use...For this, the involvement
of local land owners and users in evaluation, planning
and development can make land use rationalised
(Chattopadhyay et al 1991:8).
A proper intervention strategy can only be worked
out if the status of natural resources along with their
spatial distribution is understood fully by the plan-
ners, the land owners and the users. Involvement of
local people in this process brings out relevant, at
the same time, genuine problems that affect productiv-
ity. In addition, it would generate not only a sense
of participation among the local people but also a
desire to improve their land use (CESS 1991:2).
To develop a structure for the mapping
activities, geographers at Kerala's Centre for Earth Science
Studies (CESS) mapped the Ulloor Panchayat in which the insti-
tute is located. From this work, they concluded that 7 maps
would be necessary:
3.Depth to bed rock.
5.Depth to water table.
6.Environmental appraisal for land use planning.
To start this ambitious program,
scientists submitted a grant proposal and were awarded 15 million
rupees from the Indian government's Department of Science and
Technology. With these funds, and additional resources from the
Kerala State Planning Board, Kerala State Land Use Board, Sci-
ence, Technology and Environment Committee of Kerala, CESS
scientists selected 25 panchayats across Kerala for a pilot run of
the project. To get things going, they asked for the participa-
tion of KSSP activists and the IRTC campus.
To start the campaign, KSSP utilized its traditional mechan-
isms -- jathas, artistic performances, lectures, seminars, puppet
plays, and the like. After creating a festive atmosphere in each
of the 25 selected panchayats, KSSP organizers worked to draw out
at least 5 "development volunteers" per ward with SSLC or more to
be the local mapping activists.
These volunteers underwent brief training after which they
began mapping with the assistance of the scientists who spent up
to 10 days in each village. The volunteers were usually set on
their own after the first or second day, but evening assessment
meetings allowed for discussion of problems. Village mappers
collected data on land use, local assets, water resources, and
other elements not requiring specialized scientific knowledge.
They used old British tax maps -- cadastral maps -- which
have land units marked as they appear on the ground. Thus the
maps looked much like what the volunteers could see around
Along with the people's mapping, the scientists took 16 sample
observation points per square kilometer for additional mapping
which was later integrated into the maps drawn by the villagers.
The scientists used a different set of base maps, which had to be
later combined with the information on the cadastral maps.
After drafting of the initial maps, CESS scientists reworked
the materials to produce a set of final maps from which they
developed the environmental appraisal map. This map went back
to the village, where it became a focus of deliberations involving
villagers and map volunteers and the scientists in developing the
action plan map. The role of the scientists was to be advisory;
the decision-making power was to be in the hands of the land
How well has the program worked? Researchers report much
enthusiasm and activity in many of the pilot panchayats. Longer-
term results have been mixed. By April 1992, the voluntary
mapping was completed in 21 of the 25 pilot villages, and the
scientific mapping in 20 villages. In only 2 of the villages,
however, had action plans been developed (CESS 1992). In one
of these -- Kalliasseri in northern Kerala -- local people with
leadership from an experienced KSSP activist decided that they
needed socio-economic data to supplement the information on the
maps. They had already drafted plans for improved water drainage,
a small village forest reserve to protect slopes, and some other
projects. The socio-economic survey, however, indicated several
areas for interventions not immediately suggested by the maps
The research showed, for example, that late in the long dry
season, villagers were purchasing significant amounts of vegeta-
bles imported at great cost from other parts of India to the vil-
lage market. At the same time, many rainy season rice fields lay
fallow for lack of water. And --
unemployment of youth was a serious problem in the village. The
People's Resource Mapping group and the panchayat committee
decided to sponsor a small experimental program in which land
owners would grant free use of their fallow rice fields during the
dry season to groups of unemployed youth who would cultivate
the most popular dry season vegetables on the land and sell these
in the local market at lower prices than the imported foods.
But which plots would yield the best? The committee went to
the depth to water table maps to choose sites and consulted the
overall environmental appraisal map to consider whether they
would be harming the environment by using those lands and the
water at that time.
In the dry season of 1993 all 21 groups got medium harvests
and broke even on their investments. A total of 2,500 unem-
ployed youth got work experience and pay. More than 6 acres
became productive in a new way. In 1994 organizers hope to time
the planting and harvest so that market prices will be higher and
a profit can be made (Gangadharan 1993).
14. The Promise of the New Democratic Initiatives
We face two futures. One is constantly being set in motion by
the self-interested actions of investors on the world's major stock
markets, buttressed by military and political actions taken in
Washington and other rich country capitals. Despite their occa-
sional and selective high-sounding talk about human rights, the
future they are likely to generate will be an extreme form of the
5 characteristics we noted in the first part of this paper. It will
leave the majority of ordinary people in the 3rd world with little.
Against such a future, Kerala offers an alternative: redistribu-
tion followed by the participation and empowerment of the New
Democratic Initiatives. In place of cuts in services to assuage
foreign investors, instead of growing inequality, and the deterio-
ration or collapse of secular government, Kerala's planners and
villagers are attempting to create genuine participation, empower-
ment, equality, reasonable self-reliance, and enough concern for
the environment to create conditions for sustainable development.
Kerala is not the only place where alternatives to a dismal future
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