February 28, 2011

C.U. Leads Agricultural Project, Promotes Food Security in India

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Cornell received a $9.6 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development to improve agricultural education in Indian state agricultural universities and increase farmers’ access to information technology in rural India.

The grant will fund the Agricultural Innovation Partnership, a food security initiative that launched Feb. 3 in Varanasi, India. Cornell will lead the partnership.

The project will initially focus on the Indo-Gangetic Plain in northern India, where farmers lack the commercialization technologies required to fully take advantage of available market opportunities. The local population faces malnutrition, poverty and poor integration of public and private sector resources.

India’s current agricultural education programs do not address these problems, according to Ronnie Coffman, director of International Programs for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

“The agricultural curricula of Indian state universities are narrowly configured,” Coffman said. “Undergraduate students do not emerge prepared for modern challenges.”

“The question is what the main problems are in the supply chain from the farm to the market, and how we can address these issues in agricultural curricula,” said K.V. Raman, associate director of International Programs and Agricultural Innovation Partnership program coordinator.

Raman said that in today’s market-based system, public extension programs — which are based primarily on subsistence farming — are out of date.

“New tools must be developed, new teaching methods used, in order to connect public and private sector technology,” Raman said.

The consortium, which is led by Cornell, includes Banaras Hindu University, Indian state agricultural universities and private Indian enterprises, such as Sathguru Management Consultants and Tata Chemicals.

Established in the early 1990s with Sathguru Managing Consultants, Cornell-in-India is the largest Indian food security initiative of any U.S. land grant institution.  Cornell-in-India features a semester at Cornell and a semester in India, allowing students to work jointly with Indian students, interact with farmers and forge connections within the Indian agricultural industry. Cornell also offers a dual-degree program in Food Science and Technology with Tamil Nadu Agricultural University.

AIP will create opportunities for Cornellians as well, according to Paul Marcotte, the new resident program director of AIP at Cornell. Marcotte said that Cornell programs in India can “help students get jobs after graduation, both abroad and at home.”

AIP will make extended research collaboration available to faculty and provide more internships for graduate and undergraduate students.

“Cornell has had a relationship with India since independence in 1947,” Raman said. “All of this is building on what Cornell has been doing in India for a long time.”

Original Author: Rebecca Harris