Posted by: Rebecca Kline | November 24, 2009

Raw Rant for Breakfast. Free.

I’m about to rant.

I actually just sent what was essentially a sucker-punch to my family and friends on this topic, and immediately came here to get articulate.

Maybe everyone already knows; it’s entirely possible that my little bubble was not punctured by the following information:

ETHIOPIA, where 27 million out of its 52 million, are scraping-the-barrel-poor.

ETHIOPIA, where land is dusty-dry, crusty-dry, desperately-dry.

ETHIOPIA, ranking #171 out of 174 countries in the Human Development Index.


commercial agricultural development by china, india, saudi arabia


Maybe I’ll write it again, to make sure we’re clear.


commercial agricultural development by china, india, saudi arabia


I know what you might say: after 15 years of relative political peace but without much increase in GDP per capita, why NOT try something new? I mean, current aid efforts are obviously not quite working.

Well here’s WHY:

You sell your land to foreign commercial agriculture, you make all your locals laborers. You make all your locals laborers, you displace self-respect and self-confidence. You displace self-respect and self-confidence, you loose local knowledge and skill.

You sell your land to commercial agriculture, you displace all your wildlife. You displace all your wildlife, you become a mono-culture. You become a monoculture, and you are vulnerable to ANY drop in market price and ANY pest who decides that corn, or soy, or whatever they are going to mono-crop is their favorite breakfast, lunch, and dinner choice.

You sell your land to commercial agriculture, you divert all your groundwater. You divert all your groundwater, and your land is no longer productive. Period.

And tell me this: what happens to all those now unskilled-laborers and degraded lands when Zimbabwe decides to sell 6 million hectares for half Ethiopia’s price? Yeah, you know exactly what happens then.


Alright. Here’s a plea. Here’s a game plan, a project plan, a pipe-dream:

Let’s get Ethiopian farmers growing sustainably, lucratively.

Let’s keep the land in their hands.

Let’s keep the water in their hands.

Let’s make it happen.

Who’s with me.



To be fair, there are some big people in big places (besides myself:) who are considering my concerns:

Posted by: Rebecca Kline | October 30, 2009


I know I have been out of the loop lately; I’ve been getting my Brooklyn-legs back on. So here is a short update, and an exciting link below to a talk I did at Columbia University’s Water Center.

By some combination of luck, love, and audacity, I currently have the privilege of interning for two extraordinary NGOs: Slow Food USA, and Ecoagriculture Partners. They fulfill two equally dominant sides of me – the unbridled romantic, and empirical pimp. At Slow Food USA, I work very closely with two of the leaders of the US food & agriculture scene – Josh Viertel and Nikki Henderson – to ensure the timely preparation of materials and conversations. With Ecoagriculture Partners I read and review academics’, practitioners’, and policy makers’ opinions about how agriculture, food security, environmentalism, and climate change-related concerns should be addressed in December at Copenhagen. Phew.

Now, about a month ago I was asked to speak at Columbia about the work I did in India. If you’ve been reading my blog all along (and bless those of you who did – to have made it this far), you know that the farmers I was working with were bad ass. I mean, they were actually pulling themselves out of poverty by their own boot straps (and great farming system – WADI). I am committed to scaling up their strategy; and speaking at Columbia was in service of that commitment. If you want to see the talk, you can go to these links (about 10 mins each):

Part I:

Part II:

Part III:

It’s great to be back, communicating with you now from this side of the spectrum.



Posted by: Rebecca Kline | May 26, 2009


My people,

It’s true – it really did happen – I’m home.

I tell you, falling in love with people and places is one thing, but there is nothing like sitting in my own kitchen, the kitchen I grew up sitting in, sipping on tea and juice. My parents still bicker, and I think they’re getting better at it. The squirrels still try to eat the bird feed, and it’s still super cold on spring mornings. Part of me is still in India, though, as evidenced by the SMALL ANIMAL in my stomach (amoebae? parasite? only Cipro knows), and henna on my two hands.  I was in an article recently on the fellowship that I thought I’d share with you below.

Issue Date:  May 16-31, 2009, Posted On: 5/15/2009

Sandbox Fellowship Grants Opportunities in India


In July, eight education professionals and post-graduate researchers will get the chance to visit India’s northwestern state of Karnataka for a year-long fellowship focusing on development and social entrepreneurship.

The fellowships are funded by the Deshpande Foundation, a Stoneham-based nonprofit with offices in India. The foundation is dedicated to assisting projects in both the United States and India that foster innovation and entrepreneurship that drive social change. The Sandbox Fellowship program is now in its second year, and already the program has forged close relationships with several non-governmental organizations in India that work with the fellows to make their experiences overseas rich and meaningful.

The Sandbox is an area area in India located in the northwest corner of the state of Karnataka. Though the Sandbox centers around the twin cities of Hubli and Dharwad, it is comprised of five districts. The area is diverse, with both urban and agricultural settings.  Desh and Jaishree Deshpande are both originally from the Hubli-Dharwad area. As a result, the foundation centers its efforts on their hometown as a development lab for social innovation.

Meenakshi Verma Agrawal, the foundation’s program officer of global exchange programs, said that the selection process for the fellows is rigorous. Applicants must go through three rounds of interviews both in Boston and in India.

“We’re looking for people with experience working abroad who are flexible, adaptable and who can really jump in and approach a program that already exists and that needs help taking it up to the next level,” she said.

Agrawal said the fellowship seeks applicants with “soft” skills, such as strong communications, as much as “hard” skills such as math or science training. Past fellows have worked with Indian NGOs in areas such as agriculture, health and education.

One of the first fellows chosen by the Deshpande Foundation is still in India finishing up her work. Rebecca Kline, 29, who started her fellowship last year after receiving a master’s degree from Columbia University in Public Administration and Environmental Science and Policy. Kline works for the BAIF Institute for Rural Development, a small NGO that works to provide better livelihoods for inhabitants of rural communities, and to make rural living more equitable in general. Kline said the work she’s been able to do because of her fellowship experience would have been impossible without the support of the Deshpande Foundation.

“I’ve gotten the chance to work on several different rural farming initiatives as part of my fellowship experience,” Kline said. “The initiatives are all about rural development and rural empowerment, which I love. I was originally brought here to improve the training center for the local farmers.”

Kline said that the small staff of approximately 10 people sees up to 100 farmers a week that come in for training in their facilities.

“After I started working more and more on the ground with actual farmers I realized they didn’t really have an actual evaluation system to follow through with their training. So I created a monitoring and evaluation system to get feedback. Once we did that, we started working on the training program.” Kline said.

Kline even devised a model training workshop with the staff to see if pieces of it could be replicated in training with the farmers. The workshop turned out to be a huge hit and became institutionalized – Kline now holds the training once a month with the staff, and is currently in the process of training a handful of other staff to take over her position when she leaves.

“I really appreciate that the foundation made it financially possible for me as an American to come in here and work with an NGO that could never afford to hire an American at the price they pay me,” she said. All fellows are paid an undisclosed stipend and have benefits, subsidized housing and language instruction.

“And with an NGO that was small enough and hands-on and grassroots enough where I could make a big difference, that’s not just volunteering. Even if you worked for the U.N. or some [larger group], you still probably wouldn’t work with people directly on the ground – it would most likely be delegated to places like us.”

Giselle Aris and Cameron Campbell have already been selected to be among the second group of Sandbox fellows starting this summer. Aris, 23, is finishing up her master’s degree in International Development at the University of Oxford in England. She is currently working on her dissertation on the role of producer organizations like farms and co-ops in alleviating rural poverty. With previous field work in the Philippines, Aris said she has always been interested in agriculture and development.

“This fellowship in particular really excited me because of, frankly, the way they address the problems in India in an innovative manner,” said Aris, who will be working with the microfinance NGO Nazach Etana. She said she has wanted to work in microfinance for the last two years because it is generally a for-profit form of development rather than a nonprofit, and she feels that the forms of development that ultimately are truly sustainable are for-profit models. Her plan going into the fellowship is to help with Nazach Etana’s marketing campaign to better publicize the NGO and to chronicle the individual experiences and success stories of borrowers. She’ll also help with general administrative tasks like making their productivity and general strategy more efficient overall.

Campbell, 25, is also planning to start his fellowship in July. He already has experience working for an NGO in India, having previously done a range of things for the development group BASIX, another microfinance institution dedicated to alleviating poverty and promoting livelihoods, with a focus on farmers and women. Though he is back now in the United States doing construction work, Campbell said the main appeal of the Deshpande Fellowship was that it will provide him an opportunity to be involved in grassroots development in India.

“The Deshpande Foundation had the elements that I believe make a good development institution,” he said. “It is wide in scope and its mission is focused on a collaborative approach bringing together the private, government and nonprofit sectors in order to try to alleviate inequity. The Sandbox Fellowship in particular interested me because … I like the idea of a developmental sandbox in which people can experiment with various ways of building and implementing programs and policies that help inspire change and innovation in a socially and environmentally conscious way. It’s very important for people to experience the reality of rural life in India in a direct and visceral way. The Deshpande Sandbox Fellowship requires a certain sacrifice of personal culture, because it requires that the fellow stay in an environment that does not have all the convenience and infrastructural reliability as the United States or Europe.”

Campbell is planning to work internally with the Deshpande Foundation in the Deshpande Center for Social Entrepreneurship, helping to organize their fellowship and other programs and opening dialogues that bring local people into the arena of social entrepreneurship to connect them with institutions that already exist. And after having grown up in New Delhi and worked for BASIX, Campbell is itching to go back to India.

“The connections I make while organizing dialogues and trainings will give me other work opportunities for the future,” he said. “Someday I hope to start my own non-governmental organization in India, after I spend some time in various organizations, similar to Deshpande. This experience with Deshpande will provide me with the strategic, administrative and organizational skills that are central to running and working in an institution.”

Students selected as Sandbox Fellows so far this year are Giselle Aris, Cameron Campbell, Sarah Sukumaran, Xanthine Basnet, Suzanne Rizzo, Lena Thompson and Mari Hickmann.

To read about what Sandbox Fellows are doing in India, visit

Posted by: Rebecca Kline | May 14, 2009

I’ve had this Add New Post page up for, no kidding, a full week. I think it’s the title that’s got me stumped, for starters. Then, there’s the problem of a human being who feels more comfortable doing most anything than writing about things that move her. But alas, with a jar of almond butter close by, and a soothing girl-singer too loud in my ear, here I am, determined.

I am so sad to leave India. Because I fell for India. I resisted resisted resisted, and then, when I gave up, I woke up, and now I’m a fumbling idiot. I mean, really, where else can you go jogging and get bombarded with farmers pawning their freshly-harvested peanuts from unseen pockets? Or where do you learn how to navigate the buffaloes as part of your motorcycle lesson (while admiring peacocks to the left)? What about the saris? I mean, who takes a cloth and wraps it just so, and then farms all day, looking like a freshly bathed queen?

What I think is cute is that I, once upon a time, dropped out of college to learn how to be a farmer – and people here are dropping out of farms to learn how to become college students right and left. I know I’m nothing but a big cliche, but it does make me feel as though there’s just nothing RIGHT about any decision or way of life. It seems like in the end, the only thing that matters, the only real guide, is what you want; what you’re committed to.

Now if only I could help people get clear about what they were committed to…and ballsy enough to take that commitment by the balls.

Which reminds me: I wanted to say, publicly, that I think I made a difference here. As my fellowship completes, I am remembering back to my hardest moments. You know what they were? When I thought I was not doing shit with my time, their time, my commitment, their commitment. Those were terrible times. And somehow, whether by sheer grit or Owen’s undying capacity to listen, I didn’t stop.  And now, I can say to you, my people, that I think I made a difference here. There is nothing that is as deeply gratifying as that, and I feel too privileged to have been given the opportunity (and be quiet – I did just say gratifying, privelaged, and opportunity in the same sentence). This is not my last posting, but you know how the future goes – always sticking its ass into my present.

So for now, I love you and thank you for listening.

Posted by: Rebecca Kline | May 6, 2009

The Coconut Adventure

The Goal - Where I'm Headed
The Goal – Where I’m Headed
The Demo
The Demo
Oh My Gosh
Oh My Gosh
Really Happening
Really Happening

Posted by: Rebecca Kline | May 4, 2009

PaperSilenceFeetLedgers…Indian Work Culture

As I sit to write this blog post, I can’t seem to shake this sinking feeling. I have spent an entire year here, missing home, resisting those things that were difficult, determined to make a difference despite all kinds of drama – and now that my departure is imminent, I find myself sad, and surprised to be so. On top of that, I am struggling with the usual question of how to talk about my work and life here in a way that is true, and at the same time reflects what started as pure shock, and is now, frankly, a deep appreciation for, and amazement of, India.

Basuanapa teaching his agro-forestry model to other farmers

My backyard.

I will therefore do what I always do when I’m feeling super stuck – I’m going to make a ‘things I love about ___________’ list.

Things I love about working in India:

The newspaper. Like it was their calling in life, they read the paper here. How it goes: the first person in the office punches a staple through the upper left corner to keep the pages together. Then, for anywhere between 10-40 minutes, a staff member does their reading. The best part, the part that just makes me melt, is when the farmers shuffle into the office on the way to their fields, and find and empty chair like they own the place. They then, seriously – regally – crack the paper against the wind, and begin to read. When they are finished, and without a word, they exit the premises. Makes me melt every time.

BAIF colleagues enjoying fresh roasted peanuts

My crew, eating roasted peanuts after business hours. They were a gift from the farmer next door. Yum.

The silence. I think this is an Indian thing, not just a work-in-India thing, but it is amazing to witness in a professional setting. It doesn’t matter who it is, or on what business they are visiting, the scene is always the same – the business person removes their shoes at the door, shyly greets the staff, and takes a seat. Sometimes they seek out the paper, but mostly they just sit in silence, shooting casual glances out the window, shuffling their feet (silently), scratch their stubble (not so silently), taking in the landscape. This goes on for anywhere from 10-40 minutes. Eventually, some kind of conversation launches. Launching is not the word at all – it’s more like a creeping in of communication. The business transaction has officially begun. You have to watch carefully, though, because not five minutes later in most cases, after some friendly smiling and nodding, the visitor will abruptly stand up and take his leave. I don’t understand it at all, and often just stare, with the glories of peripheral vision, at the operation. I am going to go out on a thin branch here and share with you my actual, honest to jesus theory: I think they build trust by sitting in silence across from each other before they do business. But really, who knows.

BAIF office

This is Basuanappa, one of my favorite farmers. He teaches other farmers.

Bare feet. We work barefoot here. The effect is stunning and total. It humbles and powerfully, inescapably, levels the playing field. You just can’t be too serious, too business, too anything when your colleague, chai-valla, boss, everyone is barefoot at the desks next to you.

The ledgers. Although I arrogantly, westernly, bash them in my mind all too often, there is a certain (embarrassingly obvious) brilliance about using paper accounting books when electricity is as unreliable as my (stomach in India).

Posted by: Rebecca Kline | April 10, 2009

Hospital stint

I find myself in a bind – on one hand, loving India is as natural as brother to sister. But similarly, I find myself wanting to pull its hair, tease it into submission and understanding. All that is to say that this weekend I was admitted, for the first time, into a hospital. It’s anybody’s guess why, but after 12 hours of fever and other not so pleasant details, and another 2 hours waiting in the heat and dense company of other seriously ill patients in a waiting room resembling a bus terminal, I was like shoved into the doctor’s office. His completely endearing, in retrospect, diagnosis was that I looked ‘really ill.’ 20 minutes later I was IV’ed, and straightened out in a bed I wouldn’t leave for the next 24 hours. I tell you, I couldn’t get the image of sick children out of my mind – it took 7 saline bottles, two courses of antibiotics, and who knows what else, to get me back again; so simple, right? But fuck, man, how many people just get messed up, and don’t have the families, friends, ngos, doctors, nurses, administrators, and whoever else helped me to work themselves out. Too many people. When the first bottle of sodium/glucose kicked in, after I became somewhat conscious again, I became all too conscious of how infuriatingly simple health-related solutions often are. Infuriatingly. Simple.

Posted by: Rebecca Kline | March 30, 2009

Cultural Assimilation, recreated

Hey my people.
I write for another blog these days, re the fellowship:
Anyway, I thought I would post some of my posts here from time to time.
This one was about…cultural assimilation.

Cultural Assimilation.

Not knowing what that really meant, I looked it up:

Cultural: of or relating to the ideas, customs, and social behavior of a society.

Assimilation: to take in (information, ideas, culture) and understand fully.

Well, isn’t that a mouthful. So perhaps the question here is whether I have ‘taken in’ or ‘understood fully’ the ‘information, ideas, culture’ of this place. No pressure or anything.

The answer to that question is I have no idea. I mean, there are times when I feel super zen; we are all one, we all shit, eat, cry, laugh. There are other times, though, and I am resisting comparing the periods spent in each state, when I feel like a different species altogether. Sometimes I think my people here are doing more cultural assimilation to me, than I am to them. Like when I make Yelawa sweep my entire room if I spot just one lousy ant; or the way I ruthlessly skip the chapattis and go for the rice, or go for the chapattis and skip the rice – but never, god forbid, indulge in both at once; or the way I throw on my jeans when I’m feeling rebellious; and I know the moments when they peek in on me standing on my head, music in my ears, imagining myself in a capoeira game, surely throw them into a cultural assimilation frenzy of their own.

I’m tempted here to list some of the most shocking differences – some of the things I actually had to work at to ‘take in’ or ‘understand fully’. But for some reason, and perhaps totally unnecessarily, I don’t feel skilled or savvy enough to divulge those cultural differences in a way that won’t in the end leave someone looking stupid. Let me give a relatively innocent example, in defense of my incumbent pleading of the 5th: in India, people do not say God Bless You! after a sneeze. I, having been raised the good old American liberal style household, was familiar with at least a little bit of social protocol. In other words, even Iknew that saying God Bless You! is the decent thing to do after a biological eruption of that kind. So this is how it went for the first month or so: I sneeze, and that small piece of attention from strangers and non-strangers alike, was wholly withheld from me. SILENCE ENSUED. Bulging, awkward, stunning SILENCE, which I soon began to see was only noticed by my mutinous mucus and me. Pencils continued to scratch, business continued to exchange, tea continued to slurp – the nerve! You will be relieved to hear, no doubt, that I have culturally assimilated considerably since that first month. I have inquired, discreetly, into the origins of this cultural difference, like any good, sensible fellow would. But despite my ‘taking in’ and my ‘understanding fully’, to this day, after I let one rip, I swear I actually have to REMEMBER that they don’t God Bless You! here, that it’s not PERSONAL or anything, GEEZ Rebecca.

And maybe that is the most we can hope for in the realm of cultural assimilation – you know, being our own dopey homemade selves, and at the same time knowing that the whole thing is just a little funny. In the end, we really like each other here – and every day we do just that, assimilate by either laughing outright, or working out privately, our differences.

Posted by: Rebecca Kline | March 28, 2009

My parents in India – the scene

Dad and one of our old farmers

Dad and one of our old farmers

Dad, doing his thing

Dad, doing his thing



Super cool

Super cool

The scene

The scene

My staff, honoring my parents

My staff, honoring my parents

Dad explaining his karate days with Swamiji

Dad explaining his karate days with Swamiji

Mom and I, practicing our Indian Kung Fu

Mom and I, practicing our Indian Kung Fu

Elephant Love

Elephant Love

Dad and I, Kerala

Dad and I, Kerala

Posted by: Rebecca Kline | March 23, 2009

On my parents, and a picture of happiness

My parents were just here, in India. It’s hard to describe the experience, it being still so fresh and dripping from my lips…but I’m going to make an attempt, in the name of EXPRESSION and TIME.

They landed in Hubli, the armpit of cities, my city, this city of marketable cottonseed and the industrial watermelon. As we putt-putted our way through its slapstick streets, India’s farmland breeze seemed to pull us towards it. When we arrived on my farm, my parents were both soundly, appropriately, asleep.

As soon as the jet lag was ready for a break, we planned our assault on the cataracts, the glaucomas and impositions of blurry vision that plagued our local farmers.  My NGO staff had traveled from village to village the week before, inviting only those Self Help Group members whose eyes were desperate for attention. The final list contained 50 farmers and 50 NGO staff members, the maximum for a one-doctor, one-day eye camp. When the day of the examinations arrived, however, no less than 200 showed up.

We set up in stations. Stage left near vision testing, swiftly followed by far, after which the patient would either shuffle themselves, or be sort of fork-lifted to my father’s table for the real deal. By then, dizzy by the WHICH IS BETTER, LENS ONE OR TWO questions, the jeans tight on my (and my mother’s) asses, and the heat’s constant need to OPPRESS, our slouching ladies, wide-eyed men, and scared children would get fitted for glasses. Sometimes the glasses were perfect, but more often than not, we knew that the patients were just happy to see the BIG E instead of NO E AT ALL.

The thing I learned from this altogether riveting experience, is that happiness (which always seems so annoyingly ready to stick its tongue into everything) likes difference-making. I mean either for myself, via rose-pedaled baths or dark chocolate, or for someone else, via a pair of glasses or smiling or whatever. I mean, not like it’s a recipe, but I think they definitely like each other.
OK I cannot help but interrupt myself here for one moment, to express a damp doubt I have about the statement I just made (and I will spare you an altogether new paragraph).  Is it possible that I’m so happy after doing something nice because it looks super hot to have been nice? Is it possible that that gooey feeling I get inside is not happiness at all, but rather some watered-down form of self-congratulation? I am tempted to make peace with my own doubts here, and compromise (I am sorry that you have to witness this small internal battle in order to hear the end of my story. I truly am.).  Maybe it’s a little both – a little bit of damn girl, that was hot, and wow, wow wow wowowowowowowowow that was kind of amazing. Excuse me, my people, but now that we are slightly deeper into this inquiry than I originally intended us to be, I feel compelled to just go ahead and eat the last bite. Stay with me, though. I swear this post will work itself out in the end, which is rapidly, if not fast enough, approaching.

Towards the end of our vacation, my family and I visited an ashram founded by my parents’ spiritual heroes, Swamis Sivananda and Vishnu Devananda. Anyway, there we chilled with a wonderful man of the robe, Swami ShivaSwaroopananda. He was teaching a group of 100 new yogis, and I voyered the lecture for not more than 30 minutes. In that time he said something that I think might slosh around my brain for the next few years. He asked the crew why they were there – why yoga. Many replied with obvious answers – self-realization, peace, bliss, etc etc – you know, the DREAM of something. At the end, however, he spoke of happiness.
He said that happiness was everywhere, in a good ice cream sundae, a lover, and a refreshing swim. The thing that was distinct, however, about the kind of happiness derived from those KINDS of activities was that it was FLEETING. That’s right, folks. FLIGHTY. Yoga, however, activates that special kind of happiness – the kind that LASTS. It grows and spreads and everything, like algae (my animation).
In any case, the moment was groundbreaking, in the sense that my world sort of shifted on its access. See, as a child of those kinds of lectures and sun salutations, I always felt slightly gypped by happiness. I just KNEW that it wasn’t real happiness that I was experiencing – I just KNEW it was some kind of rip-off happiness, like JC Penny chains of happiness. I KNEW that REAL happiness was somewhere else, and I was just being a jerk with all my short skirts and sunglasses. ANYWAY, the man, the Swami, he said, in not so many words, that it was ALL HAPPINESS! All of it! My delight in a good wave or warm bath was, indeed, the real deal. My love of glasses-fitting and monitoring and evaluation really is happiness. I really am happy when I drink tea, make love, and write letters to Pule. This is not fake happiness.
It’s just not LASTING.
I can deal with that, I thought. Really. I can! And the good news, I told the Swami later, is that if I in the end start looking for LASTING happiness, well hot-damn, I sure as hell know where to find it.
Since then, the olive oil has tasted oiler, and the namastes have felt more, well, namaste.

But look, the point really is that I think my parents, holstered with blood pressure cuffs and contact lenses, some extra cash in the bank, and plenty of family all around, are dippers in it all – in the lasting happiness practices, and the couldn’t-get-more-superficial-kind. And, I think I want to be like them and give what I’ve got, taste what looks tasty, thank everyone more than I you’re welcome them, and look for where else I can be of use.

So this post is dedicated to Dr. Larry and Mrs. Nancy Kline, two wild, thrilling, pictures of peoplehood.

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