Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Building a better rat trap

The San Francisco Chronicle reports on a low-tech innovation that has helped improve the standard of living for some of the poorest people in India.

In this impoverished tribal belt in southern Tamil Nadu state, catching rats has been a primary job for members of Chinnapayan's Irula tribe - an impoverished community of 3 million people at the bottom rung of the Hindu caste hierarchy who have often found themselves teetering on the brink of starvation.

But the introduction of innovative rat traps has remarkably reversed the Irulas' plight. By curbing the amount of rodents that have long menaced Indian farmers, the tribe has seen its income triple in the past three years, while bringing them new respect. The Irulas, who were once jeered by many locals as "rodent assassins," are now being touted as saviors by many farmers.

Low-tech innovation probably makes as much a difference as a high-tech innovation considering the larger population in developing countries who are most likely untouched by the high tech innovations.

With increased income, Irulas are now sending their children to school in hopes of improving the current literacy rate from an abysmal 1 percent. More importantly, the rural innovation has brought a sense of pride to a community that has long been derided as lower caste Hindus.

Prof. Anil Gupta, professor at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad runs the Honey Bee Network, an online database of rural innovations which has been cataloging these since 1988. This not only targets the segment that most big corporations ignore, it also aggregates the innovations arising from the Bottom of the Pyramid.

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