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Out of Power? Political Capture of the Indian Electricity Sector -- Guest post by Meera Mahadevan

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In 2012, 700 million people in India suddenly found themselves without power for over 10 hours. At the time of the incident, political parties blamed each other for mismanagement and failing infrastructure. Such incidents reflect the extensive dysfunction in the sector, with technical problems and billing leakages that are among the worst in the world, amounting to 20% of electricity generated. The poor quality of electricity supply imposes major costs on the Indian economy; electricity shortages, for example, reduce manufacturing plant revenues by 5-10%. Why do these problems persist despite exponentially growing power generation? My job market paper shows that political corruption is one of the root causes behind unreliable electricity supply.

What is the link between political corruption and poor electricity supply? In democracies, incumbent politicians may consolidate power by favoring their voters with better access or lower prices. In India’s electricity sector, where politicians do not have direct control over electricity pricing, they may resort to illicit means in order to do this. Lower prices may actually benefit targeted consumers.  But such patronage is costly: it hurts the revenues of electricity providers, inhibiting their ability to invest in infrastructure, and lowering electricity reliability for all consumers. While subsidies and increased access benefit consumers in targeted constituencies, the resulting underinvestment by providers may lead to unreliable supply.

Estimating the often-ambiguous welfare implications of corruption is, therefore, a challenge. Especially since detecting corruption is hard: corruption is frequently concealed, complicating the task of making causal inferences and identifying mechanisms of corruption. In this research, I develop novel methods to address these challenges, and find that political corruption in the electricity sector leads to large revenue losses for electricity providers, worsening their ability to reliably provide electricity.

Is GovTech the missing ingredient to curb corruption?

Renaud Seligmann's picture



Along with other leaders from the World Bank Group, I am traveling back from a trip to Silicon Valley where we explored the links between technology and government, or GovTech, and their impact on developing countries and curbing corruption.

Good Fathers & Lemon Sons: Why Political Dynasties Cause “Reversals of Fortune” -- Guest post by Siddharth George

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Aquinos, Bhuttos, Trudeaus, Yudhoyonos, Gandhis, Lees, Fujimoris: political dynasties remain ubiquitous in democratic countries.  Though many societies democratised to end hereditary rule, nearly half of democratic countries have elected multiple heads of state from a single family.  Politics is significantly more dynastic than other occupations in democratic societies.  Individuals are, on average, five times more likely to enter an occupation their father was in.  But having a politician father raises one's odds of entering politics by 110 times, more than double the dynastic bias of other elite occupations like medicine and law.  Despite their prevalence and influence, we know little about the economic effects of political dynasties.

Effects of dynastic politics are theoretically ambiguous

Economic theory makes ambiguous predictions about how dynastic politics affects development.  On the one hand, bequest motives might lengthen politicians’ time horizons  and encourage them to make long-term investments. These founder effects could be good for economic development.  However, if some political capital is heritable (e.g., a prominent name or a powerful network), dynastic politics may render elections less effective at selecting good leaders and disciplining them in office.  These descendant effects are likely bad for development.  The overall impact of dynastic politics is ambiguous, because it is the net result of founder and descendant effects.

Reclaiming India's wastelands to fight climate change

Abel Lufafa's picture
 Abel Lufafa
Indian farmers showing off former wasteland that now produces crops. India's agriculture is highly vulnerable to climate threats. Reclaiming and bringing into production some of India’s wastelands could partially offset some of the projected crop production declines expected because of climate change. Credit: Abel Lufafa

About 15 minutes after we turn off the highway at Fatehpur, a roadside trading center located 120 km from Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, a mild haze blankets the sky.

As we drive deeper into the increasingly bare and desolate landscape, the wind blows stronger, and the haze thickens into dust plumes.

I lower the car window and find the source of the dust:  patches of abandoned land, coated with very fine powder in various shades of white and grey.

We are in a village with salt-affected soils, part of the millions of hectares of India’s wastelands.

Characterized by dense, impermeable surface crusts and accumulation of certain elements at levels that are toxic to plants, these sodic wastelands no longer support crop growth – they have been abandoned by farmers.

Our journey continues for another 30 minutes, the wind still blows strong, but dust plumes have given way to clearer skies.

We have reached Mainpuri, where, with World Bank support, sodic wastelands have been reclaimed and brought back to life, rolling back the unsavory spectacle of ecological destruction that once was the hallmark of the village.

Now in its third phase, the Uttar Pradesh Sodic Lands Reclamation Project (UPSLRP) has supported the reclamation of over 400,000 ha of such sodic wastelands and 25,000 ha of ravinous wasteland.

Milk fortification in India: The journey so far

Edward W. Bresnyan's picture
 NDDB
In India alone, 185 million people don’t get enough nutrients. This hidden hunger is especially pervasive among children. as more than 70 percent of India’s children under five are deficient in Vitamin D, and 57 percent of all children in the country lack adequate levels of Vitamin A. Credit: NDDB
Globally, more than two billion people are deficient in key micronutrients, which are essential to their good health.
 
In India alone, 185 million people don’t get enough nutrients.
 
This hidden hunger is especially pervasive among children. More than 70 percent of India’s children under five are deficient in Vitamin D, and 57 percent of all children in the country lack adequate levels of Vitamin A. 
 
These deficiencies have contributed to high levels of stunting, wasting and underweight children.
 UNICEF 
Global micronutrient deficiency (as a percentage of the population). Two billion people in the world lack key micronutrients such as Vitamin A or iron. South Asia has the most critical malnutrition levels. Source: UNICEF 


Micronutrient availability can make or break a balanced diet
 
If accessible and affordable, nutritional supplements taken in the form of capsules or tablets can mitigate the symptoms of hidden hunger. But they can become toxic if consumed in large amounts.  
 
Unlike supplements, food fortification is a simple, preventive and low-cost approach to curb micronutrient deficiencies.
 
But except for mandatory iodine fortification of salt, India lags in adopting food fortification as a scalable public health intervention.  
 
This is a missed opportunity as a glass of fortified milk (320g) can provide approximately 34 percent of the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin A and 47 percent of Vitamin D.
 
In 2016, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India released standards for the fortification of five staple food items: rice, wheat, salt, oil, and milk. Further to that, regulations are now in place to fortify milk variants such as low fat, skimmed, and whole milk with Vitamin A and D.   
 
But despite its significant health benefits, and while established for more than three decades by companies such as Mother Dairy, a subsidiary of the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB), milk fortification is not yet common practice across the Indian milk industry.
 
To fill that gap, NDDB partnered in 2017 with the South Asia Food and Nutrition Security Initiative (SAFANSI), the World Bank, and The India Nutrition Initiative, Tata Trusts to explore the possibilities of large-scale milk fortification in India.
 
Over the last twelve months, this collaboration has enabled ten milk federations, dairy producer companies, and milk unions across the country to pilot milk fortification for their consumers. Fifteen others have initiated the process.

Game-changing technology empowers India’s women farmers

Paramveer Singh's picture
 World Bank
Since it started a decade ago, JEEVIKA, a World Bank program that supports Bihar’s rural communities, has mobilized more than nine million women into self-help and producers groups. Joining forces has helped lower costs and boost agricultural production. Credit: World Bank

It’s a dusty September morning, and Kiran Devi is finishing her chores at lightning speed.

 “Wouldn’t it be nice to keep 5,000 women waiting, especially when it’s a celebration,” she says with a touch of gushing pride and makes her way to the annual general meeting of the women-owned Aaranyak Agri producer company.

Located in Purnea district in Bihar—one of India’s poorest states—the company is made up of small local women small farmers and producers and lies in the most fertile corn regions in eastern India.

But until recently, small farmers did not fully reap the benefits of this productive land.

Local traders and intermediaries dominated the unregulated market. Archaic and unfair trading practices like manual weighing, unscientific quality testing, and irregular payments made it difficult for small farmers to get the best value for their produce.

 “The trader would come, put some grains under his teeth and pronounce the quality and pricing. For every quintal of maize [corn], 5-10 kilos additional grains were taken, sometimes through faulty scales and sometimes simply by brazenly asking for it,” says Lal Devi, one member of the company. “We had the choice between getting less or getting nothing.”
 

Kanchan Rani Devi bringing her corn to Sameli
Kanchan Rani Devi bringing her corn to Sameli. Credit: World Bank

Such practices stirred local women farmers into action, and they formed the Aaranyak Agri Producer Company Limited (AAPC) to access markets directly and improve their bargaining power.  

The company established a farmer-centric model and received funding and technical assistance through JEEViKA (livelihoods in Hindi), a World Bank program that supports the Government of Bihar and has achieved life-changing results for Bihar’s rural communities.

Since it started a decade ago, JEEVIKA has mobilized more than nine million women into self-help and producers groups. Joining forces helped lower costs and boost production. Together, the groups saved $120 million and leveraged more than $800 million in bank loans.

Further, digital technologies have been introduced as an innovative way to improve the production, marketing, and sale of small-farmers’ produce.

For example, women farmers receive regular periodic updates on their mobile phones to learn best practices to grow corn as well as weather information to inform farming decisions.

During harvest season, farmers receive daily pricing information from major nearby markets to help them stay abreast of the latest variations in prices.

Rural electrification and structural transformation: A guar(anteed) bet? Guest post by Faraz Usmani

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This is the sixth in this year's series of posts by PhD students on the job market.
What connects smallholder farmers in the semi-arid tracts of northwest India to the oil and gas barons of Texas and Oklahoma? A little green bean called guar! The seeds of this humble legume yield a potent thickening agent that greatly enhances the effectiveness of fracking fluid. As the fracking boom started in the United States, demand for guar skyrocketed, resulting in windfall gains for farmers across northwest India, the epicenter of global guar cultivation. Nearly simultaneously, India began rolling out its massive national rural electrification scheme, which prioritized certain villages based on a strict population-based eligibility criterion. In my job market paper, my coauthor Rob Fetter and I combine these two “natural experiments” to show that large-scale grid electrification can dramatically increase non-agricultural employment in rural economies when economic opportunity complements infrastructure—but if these complementary economic conditions are lacking, the grid may scarcely make a dent.

Brazil’s small farmers offer lessons to India

Priti Kumar's picture
Angela, on the far left and dressed in red, is a small-holder farmer and entrepreneur in Brazil. She started a banana business that expanded to packed lunches for truckers, college students, and travelers. Credit Priti Kumar/World Bank

“Once, it was a rodeo day here and my son asked for money to go. But I didn’t have the money and told him to sell our farm’s bananas on the road instead. So, he took 50 bunches of bananas and sold them all in a few hours. Soon I started a banana business. The sales enabled me to expand my business to packed lunches for truckers. Over time, with the help of my family, the road administration, and my own investments, I started receiving invitations to make meals for college students and travelers.”

Angela, small-holder farmer and entrepreneur, São Paolo, Brazil.

 
Angela told us her story one afternoon as we ate the delicious lunch she had prepared for us at her rather humble roadside eatery in rural São Paulo, Brazil.

Her story was not only touching but also summed up the importance of entrepreneurial foresight and the power that collaboration holds in opening new doors for poor farming communities.
 
India and Brazil have much in common. Both have smallholder farmers - called family farmers in Brazil - (although these farmers make up a much smaller proportion of Brazil’s overall farming community and have a different landholding structure).

Yet Brazil, like many other Latin American countries, has been able to promote commercial agriculture and raise farmers’ incomes by creating collectives, comprised mainly of family farmers.
 
Even though family farmers represent a small slice of Brazil’s cooperatives, the impact of their collectives is considerable.

Often referred to as the “breadbasket of the world”, half of Brazil’s food comes from its 1,500 plus agricultural co-operatives, which employ more than 360,000 people.

The productivity of Brazil’s agriculture is evident.

With only 15% of Brazil’s population living in rural areas, more than 20% of its GDP comes from the agriculture sector.

 In India, on the other hand, 66% of the people live in rural areas while just 15% of GDP comes from agriculture.
 
Brazil’s success in making agriculture more market-oriented and raising farmer incomes holds many lessons for India.

For many years now, India has recorded a surplus in most critical agricultural commodities. 

Yet, farmers’ incomes continue to be subdued.

To help farmers earn more from the land and move onto a higher trajectory of growth, India has gradually shifted its policy focus to linking farmers to markets, as well as enabling them to diversify their production and add value to their produce.
 
So how do Brazil’s farmer collectives work?

Here comes the sun(set): it puts children to sleep and affects global educational outcomes: Guest post by Maulik Jagnani

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This is the second in this year's series of posts by PhD students on the job market.

Each evening the sun sets more than 90 minutes later in west India than in the east of the country. This is because time on clocks across India are set to Indian Standard Time, regardless of location. In China all clocks are set to Beijing Time, which means in western part of the country the sun sets 3 hours later than the east of the country. The sun sets at least an hour later in Madrid than in Munich because Franco’s Spain switched clocks ahead one hour to be in sync with Nazi Germany in 1940, even though Spain is geographically in line with Britain, not Germany. Similarly, for a range of historical reasons, clocks in large parts of the planet – e.g., France, Algeria, Senegal, South Sudan, Russia, and Argentina – are set to be ahead of their (solar) time. Therefore, these places see the sun set later in the day. In my job market paper, I show that these arbitrary clock conventions -- by generating large discrepancies in when the sun sets across locations -- help determine the geographic distribution of educational attainment levels.

Commitment to reforms improves business climate in South Asia

Hartwig Schafer's picture
 
Rikweda, an Afghan fruit processing company in the Kabul Province is well on its way to restoring Afghanistan as a raisin exporting powerhouse—a status the country held until the 1970s when it claimed about 20 percent of the global market. Credit World Bank


Imagine a state-of-the-art processing plant that harnesses laser-sorting technology to produce a whopping 15,000 tons of raisins a year, linking up thousands of local farmers to international markets and providing job opportunities to women.
 
To find such a world-class facility, look no further than Rikweda, an Afghan fruit processing company in the Kabul Province that’s well on its way to restoring Afghanistan as a raisin exporting powerhouse—a status the country held until the 1970s when it claimed about 20 percent of the global market.
 
In Afghanistan’s volatile business environment, let alone its deteriorating security, Rikweda’s story is an inspiration for budding entrepreneurs and investors.
 
It also is an illustration of the government’s reform efforts to create more opportunities for Afghan businesses to open and grow, which were reflected in the country’s record advancement in the Doing Business 2019 index, launched today by the World Bank.
 
Despite the increasing conflicts and growing fragility, and thanks to a record five reforms that have moved Afghanistan up to the rank of 167th from 183rd last year, the country became a top improver for the first time in the report’s history.
 
And Afghanistan is not the only South Asian country this year that took a prominent place among top 10 improvers globally.
 
India – which holds the title for the second consecutive year – is a striking example of how persistence pays off, and the high-level ownership and championship of reforms are critical for success. Its ranking has improved by 23 places this year and puts India ahead of all other countries in South Asia. This year, India is ranked 77th, up from 100th last year. 


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