Scaling up social innovations/technologies: cook in cast iron vessel to overcome anemia


The desire for  reforms and policy redesign at much faster pace than is the case just now is growing in society. The impatience with inertia is a good sign and public policy makers must take that as a positive sign. Without a set of demanding clients, no institution can pursue continuous innovation. How to institutionalise a culture of harnessing such impatience among those we wish to serve?

Diversity is at the heart of Indian delivery systems and yet there are common needs to which affect a very large number of people and yet remain unaddressed. Let me begin with the case of a problem I have raised many time, also elaborated in my book on “grassroots Innovations” being released this  month by Penguin Randomhouse. With sixty percent women being anaemic, why is the use of iron cooking vessel/ladel, not  being revived? Why cannot Railways announce this in trains as a mark of public service? Why should not all India radio intersperse such a message in its popular Vividh Bharti program? In combodia, an experiment was done to give a low cost cast iron fish to poor people to put it in curry while cooking. It will release sufficient iron for a family of five for five years. May be we shy away from disseminating low cost public health messages because it might hurt procurement of costly fortified biscuits or other costly means of achieving similar ends. In mid-day meal program, introducing a ladel or some vessels of iron could help our children, particularly girl child.

A school teacher, Dilip Bhalagamiya, Botad, Gujarat asked children to bring a handful of grains from their home. He sprouted these in school, gave to children and improved their nutritional status at no extra cost. How many schools practice such a practice in the country? How many even know about it?

Likewise, why should not we not let people know that washing vegetables after cutting leads to loss of nutrients, instead wash before cutting? There are a large number of public interest messages which have to be shared to democratise the science, technologies and innovations.

The agricultural season is at hand, there are a large number of non-monetary practices from Honey Bee Network database for pest control that need to be shared with farmers by every state government, why should there be any hesitation in sharing such information ( unless pressure from chemical  pesticide industry is so overwhelming that inertia on sustainable front is inevitable). Some years ago, Gujarat government had done it. May be the time has come to do it again and again.

It is well known that many livestock keepers give injection to cows to induce higher milk yield. This is not a healthy practice for animal or even consumer of milk. There are herbal galactogogues which can be shared either as low cost input through dairy coops or as DIY ( do it yourself) formulations. Let farmers make their own formulations. Or let there be distributed manufacturing in small enterprises in different regions.

Given the moist environment due to rains, storage of grains, pulses, seeds etc., poses a challenge for people in rural as well as urban regions. There are small booklets made by sristi costing 5Rs each which can provide answer to such problems. We need to persuade TRAI to use the fund they have for development in backward regions to disseminate socially useful messages, besides Postal, railway and radio network. Time has come to overcome inertia in our public mass reach media and share time-tested but often forgotten scientific practices for the larger social good.


Visiting Faculty, IIM Ahmedabad & IIT Bombay and an independent thinker, activist for the cause of creative communities and individuals at grassroots, tech institutions and any other walk of life committed to make this world a more creative, compassionate and collaborative place