India has major problems associated with population. At the last census, the population of India was estimated to be around 1.2 billion people, however speaking to government officials, it was suggested the actual population could be more like 1.6 billion. In Chennai alone there is an estimated 23 million people floating through the city daily.
Poverty was evident, as we travelled throughout southern India. We travelled for over a thousand kilometres on roads across the country, travelling through rural communities, and saw people on the roads the whole time. There was at no stage, a point when we didn’t see someone. People and dogs roam the countryside and lie on the ground and rest from the heat wherever possible. It was hard to comprehend why they would just sleep in the doorways of shops and houses, but once you get your head around they don’t have anywhere to be or anything to do, you start to understand.
Electricity is another problem throughout India. Supply is limited to eight hours a day and it is not guaranteed. Most western hotels and big industries have back up generators to supply constant power, however there are still flickers as the supply changes over. On our first experience of a power outage, we stopped conversations as we worked out what was going on. The second time it happened and from then on, we wouldn’t even break sentence, as it happened regularly.
Standards of living in Southern India are not high. Wages range from 5-7 Australian dollars a day. 80% of the average wage is spent on food, leaving only 20% for discretionary spending. Food is a necessity and people can’t afford to purchase luxury items. Most food is fresh, however due to logistics and no refrigeration quality isn’t guaranteed. Rice is the staple food source along with curries.
We were lucky to be invited into local’s housing and found them to be open plan living houses with little clutter in the house. Most people live with their parents and some siblings as well as their children. The Indians we met were very generous and hospitable, providing us with cups of tea everywhere we went.
Our hosts, Mark Jackson and Ramesh, over four days showed us around cultural and typical Indian sites. We visited temples, markets and tourist areas. We rode elephants, visited a spice farm, a banana plantation, dairy farms, a milk factory, tea plantations, an apparel park (where garments are made for JC Penny and Target Australia.), an agribusiness store and an egg farm.
The average farm size in Southern India is an acre. Ground water was the main source of water, with Southern India being in drought for the last two years. Major rivers, wider than the Murray River in Australia, were completely dry and had been for some time. Ground water, soil health and fertiliser and chemical use are major problems facing Indian agriculture at the moment. Current farm practices are unsustainable but they are conducting world class innovation to solve some of these issues.
In terms of Australian agriculture, there seems to be great opportunities to provide intellectual property to the Indians. Southern India is about fifty to sixty years behind Australia, in development and infrastructure, and until I travelled to India, I didn’t fully understand what a large population was. But this is where the opportunities lie for Australia.