The Noah Project

Rebuilding a sustainable world.


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The Cooperative Movement

Although this article is about the case for establishing energy cooperatives in rural Pakistan, it has a lot of great information about cooperatives in general. Mr. Ali was kind enough to give me permission to post his article in full. You can read more of his articles at The News.

 February 1, 2020

The cooperative movement was founded when people felt that they were not getting a fair deal in terms of products’ or services’ availability or pricing. Long before communism, in 1761, the Fenwick Weaver Society was formed to sell discounted oatmeal to local workers.

The most visible examples today are fair price shops run by students and labour unions – both of which do not exist in Pakistan, though. There are consumers’ and producers’ cooperatives and credit unions. There are workers’ cooperatives to manage and share businesses etc. There are building and housing societies which promote affordable housing. Sometimes, governments encourage the formation of cooperatives to be able to distribute and develop land for housing, the likes of which have been a success example in Pakistan. Keeping in view the extractive role of middlemen in agriculture, it appears that cooperatives in agriculture may improve the lives of farmers and boost the agriculture sector. However, our focus in this space is on the possible role of cooperatives in the utility/energy sector.

There are three million cooperatives in the world serving more than one billion members and employing 12.6 million persons. All cooperatives combined have a turnover of $2.9 trillion; assets of $19.5 trillion; half of the world cooperatives are in the agri/grocery sector; and two-third cooperatives are located in Asia. The dominant sectors are banking, insurance, agriculture, grocery, education, health, housing, utilities and workers. There are 1714 cooperatives in the utility sector. Robobank of The Netherlands and Agricole France are two major cooperatives engaged in banking in Europe. Amul and IFFCO in India have a large presence in the milk and fertilizer sectors.

By 1936 in the US, 90 percent of urban areas had electricity and 90 percent of rural areas had no electricity. The Rural Electrification Act of 1936 allowed establishing electric cooperatives to provide electricity in rural areas which hitherto did not have electricity .Later on telephone and water services were added. The 1936 Act allowed groups of people to buy or generate and distribute electricity in their communities and areas. Long-term loans (35 years) at low interest rates were provided.

Cooperatives played a great role in improving rural life in the US. At present, there are 900 electric cooperatives, spread over 47 states and serving 40 million people. Electrical cooperatives in the US have a market share of 12 percent serving 19 million customers. The median number of customers per cooperative is 13000 vs 400,000 for normal utilities. The initial cooperative size was much smaller.

We may require much smaller cooperatives. For identical reasons, some other countries in Europe and Asia have also adopted cooperatives in rural areas; Spain and the Philippines are noteworthy in this respect. In India, Microgrids are being organized for rural electrification, although not under cooperative framework. It does provide a technical model, however.

Rural areas in Pakistan stand at a comparable situation of 1936 of America. Overall access to electricity in Pakistan is 67 percent. Twenty percent of the urban population has access to gas, while the rural population has no piped gas. Many rural areas have the physical and organizational, if not financial, resources to generate their own electricity (solar, wind and small hydro) and biogas resources. Their scale, volume and distance do not allow the organized main utility sector to serve them. They can organize small and micro grids, install biogas plants and lay gas pipes to distribute biogas produced out of crop and animal waste. Some may already be doing it. Cooperatives are great organizational instruments to organize people on a self-help basis.

Why cooperatives? Off grid areas, both in gas and electricity, remain un-serviced and may remain so for quite a while. Eighty percent people are off network in case of gas. Neither utilities nor NGOs would be able to mobilize local resources. It would also be expensive. There are abundant opportunities to install solar-based systems. Not much activity is visible in that respect. Biogas resources are abundant. Pakistan is an agricultural country with a large cattle population and milk production. Enthusiasm, autonomy, participation and organization seem to be lacking; these may be provided by cooperatives. Cooperatives are more stable and sustainable than a private corporation.

Energy cooperatives ala USA may be of great help. First of all, the licensing and legal lacunae may be removed by awarding licensing exemptions (or dilutions) to cooperatives, and soft financial resources may be funnelled through them. Cooperatives may be organized on the democratic principles of one-member, one-vote and may thus be saved from exploitation by the local powerful. Cooperatives may or may not be non-profit, depending on the local circumstances. Rates may be approved by local governments or administration in case of profit seeking cooperatives. Government funds may also be diverted through non-profit cooperatives.

It is quite conceivable that these cooperatives may develop the technical and organizational capabilities to install solar panels, local grid, and water pump thru supplier’s market channels. Otherwise district administrations or development organization bodies like the NRSP/RSPN may be able to assist. Similarly, gas supplies and crop and animal waste resources are widely and freely available in most areas. Individual biogas plants have been installed, even in very small numbers as compared to the regional numbers. Community biogas plants are not there, except for some politicized and expensive LPG-Air-Mix Plants which have been found highly unsustainable. Community biogas plants are much more affordable as these are built by the community based on local raw material resources.

A cooperative framework is required not only for financial reasons but also for operational and management purposes. While electricity networks may not require much of an O&M effort, biogas would require considerable O&M cooperation from waste collection to running the biogas plant. Biogas need and potential is very high. Only 20 percent of the population has access to gas under the existing utility based gas system. If 10 percent of the population gets biogas under the proposed scheme, it may not be a bad idea. And, it would be perpetual and sustainable, while conventional gas fields tend to expire within a decade.

Are cooperatives for the poor? That is a difficult question. Pakistan’s energy sector, both electricity and gas, are subsidized by government and cross subsidies. The poor pay Rs5.0 per unit as against Rs25 by the rich, and similarly for gas. On the other hand, cooperatives would not be burdened by the high T&D losses, leakages and over-heads etc and may be able to offer electricity at an average price of Rs10 per unit or lower – based on solar and other renewables. It may also have tax exemption. Similar is the case of gas.

Cooperatives may be able to mobilize cheaper biogas. However, it would be difficult to cater for the low price regime for the poor. Some kind of subsidy, in cash or kind, in addition to no-taxation would be required. Existing utilities may offer only high cost difficult areas out of their franchise areas. Small cooperatives (100-500 members) appear to be more feasible than the larger ones on the lines of the US. A pilot project scheme is recommended which may provide a firm basis to evolve the requisite policy.

The writer is a former member of the Energy Planning Commission and author of ‘Pakistan’s Energy Issues: Success and Challenges’.

Syed Akhtar Ali


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Sunday Prayer – Mast Qalandar!

Nicholas Schmidle relates his experience at the annual three-day festival marking the death of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar at Smithsonian.com.  Every year, a few hundred thousand Sufis converge in Seh- wan, a town in Pakistan’s southeastern Sindh province for the festival.

In the desert swelter of southern Pakistan, the scent of rose­water mixed with a waft of hashish smoke. Drummers pounded away as celebrants swathed in red pushed a camel bedecked with garlands, tinsel and multihued scarfs through the heaving crowd. A man skirted past, grinning and dancing, his face glistening like the golden dome of a shrine nearby. “Mast Qalandar!” he cried. “The ecstasy of Qalandar!” for the saint buried inside the shrine. The men threw rose petals at a dozen women who danced in what seemed like a mosh pit near the shrine’s entrance. Enraptured, one woman placed her hands on her knees and threw her head back and forth; another bounced and jiggled as if she were astride a trotting horse. The drumming and dancing never stopped, not even for the call to prayer. Continue reading


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Reshma R.I.P.

Reshma, a well-loved singer in India and Pakistan, died in November of this year in Lahore.

Subhash Ghai used her voice in the film Hero, which featured one of her most famous songs, “Lambi Judai”.

During her career she was invited to meet Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

In October 2002, Reshma performed at the Brunei Gallery in London to a house packed full with Pakistani expatriates. 

In 2004, she recorded “Ashkan Di Gali Vich Mukaam De Gaya”, which was used in the Bollywood film Woh Tera Naam Tha, and was also a hit record in India.

Reshma championed the cause of Indo-Pakistani Friendship. In January 2006, she was one of the passengers on the inaugural Lahore-Amritsar bus, the first such service linking both parts of the Punjab since 1947. The bus had 26 passengers in total of whom 15 were Pakistani officials, and Reshma had booked seven seats for herself and her family.


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Poetry in Afghanistan: New York Times Profiles Matiullah Turab

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The New York Times features the life and writing of Matiullah Turab. Mr. Turab is a popular poet who performs throughout Afghanistan and works during the day as a metalsmith.

With his unflinching words, Mr. Turab, 44, offers a voice for Afghans grown cynical about the war and its perpetrators: the Americans, the Taliban, the Afghan government, Pakistan.
War has turned into a trade
Heads have been sold
as if they weigh like cotton,
and at the scale sit such judges
who taste the blood, then decide the price
Though poetry is loved, it seldom pays. Some writers have taken government jobs, finding the steady paycheck and modest responsibilities conducive to their work. Mr. Turab, for his part, has stuck to his dingy garage on the outskirts of Khost City.
“This is my life, what you see here: banging iron, cutting it short, making it long,” he said. “I still don’t call myself a poet.” Continue reading


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Action Alert

I personally can’t understand how these heartless…I won’t even say corporations, because at the end of the day it’s people who make these decisions, can simply come in and steal people’s water with no regard for the damage they are inflicting on the local community.  It’s outrageous. Yes, governments should do something, but we enable this behavior by buying their stupid water.  How about, in addition to signing on-line petitions we eliminate the market for their bottled water by not purchasing it?  We have a tremendous amount of power as consumers.  Let’s use it.

Nestlé is draining developing countries’ groundwater to make its Pure Life bottled water, destroying countries’ natural resources before forcing its people to buy their own water back.
Now Nestlé is moving into Pakistan and sucking up the local water supply, rendering entire areas uninhabitable in order to sell mineral-enriched water to the upper class as well as people in the US and EU. Meanwhile the poor watch their wells run dry and their children fall ill from dirty water.Tell Nestlé to stop making Pakistan’s villages uninhabitable by stealing their water.
Continue reading


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Sunday’s Poem

Portrait photo of Noshi GillaniNoshi Gillani

Is a poet from Pakistan who writes in Urdu.

Noshi Gillani was born in Pakistan in 1964. Her fifth collection of poems: Ay Meeray Shureek-E-Risal-E-JaanHum Tera Intezaar Kurtay Rahey (O My Beloved, I Kept Waiting for You) was published in Pakistan in 2008.

Can Someone Bring Me My Entire Being?

My arms, my eyes, my face?

I am a river flowing into the wrong sea
If only someone could restore me to the desert

Life goes on but I want no more from it
Than my childhood, my firefly, my doll

My vision does not admit this new season
Take me back to my old dream

Of finding one face among the many in my city
Whose eyes can read deep into me

My life has been a boat in a whirlpool for so long
O god, please let it sink or drift back to the desert

 


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Malala Yousafzai Addresses United Nations

Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai addresses the United Nations as part of her campaign to ensure free compulsory education for every child. “I am here to speak up for the right of education of every child,” she said.  She also invokes the names of Gandhi, Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King while advocating for peace and non-violence.

She marked her 16th birthday by delivering the speech on Friday at the UN headquarters in New York.