Another go-rural message

Another go-rural message

The book is a drab rendering of an exciting story, says Shamni Pande.

No, India is not largely an agrarian country. Yet another report drives home this point at a time when the rural economy is exploding on the collective consciousness. State of India's Livelihoods Report 2010: The 4P Report is a collection of topical essays, edited by Sankar Datta and Vipin Sharma.

The report, which may have otherwise been dismissed as a drab document, will be possibly picked up by those seeking to marshal their arguments to go rural today. The share of agriculture in the rural economy has dropped from 74 per cent in the 1970s to just around 40 per cent in 2007-08. There are many facets to the shift: Indian agriculture itself is changing, new-age interventions have led to a change in the choice of crops, companies are linking up with farmers, and supply chain management and the role of the middleman are evolving. Running alongside the farm story is the fact that the services and manufacturing sectors have continued to invest in the rural segment. "This is generating alternative sources of incomes for the rural economy and we have seen less of the volatility that used to be associated with the weatherdependent agriculture sector," observes Mahesh Vyas, Managing Director & CEO of the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy or CMIE.

Government expenditure, of course, has played a large role in the resurgence as Rs 53,500 crore was allocated for rural development in 2009-10 and, at last count, there were nearly 90,000 non-government institutions or NGOs working towards rural uplift. Many large conglomerates such as South Korea steelmaker Posco and London-based non-ferrous metals giant Vedanta are focused on the hinterland, where the minerals are. Along with business process outsourcing organisations or BPOs, they will open up opportunities for locals.

"Urban India is also gobbling up rural towns as there is spreading urbanisation. Many real estate companies are focusing on the fringe towns," notes Prasun Basu, Vice President & Executive Director for BASES & Consumer Research at The Nielsen Company. According to him, the 2011 Census will reveal that what many have been considering as rural growth is actually urban growth, as many small towns have changed their character in the interim years.

But, then, the Livelihoods Report is not only about rural markets, it takes into account the impact of government and NGO schemes on the livelihoods of disadvantaged people in general. There is ample evidence of how the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act or MGNREGA has worked.

Although this collection tends to read like a handout of the government, it could be useful for those looking for the multiple influences working at the bottom of the pyramid - which is what many marketers are targeting.

The report also takes into account the impact of government and NGO schemes on livelihoods of the poor

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