My Nuffield experience has been filled with sights, sounds and smells that can overwhelm anyones senses. Without a doubt, the first few minutes of India provided insight into this country that straddles the boarders of extreme poverty and significant wealth. The basics of life, including access to clean water and sewers, employment and continuity of an orderly life were not easily recognizable to me, a simple guy from Canada. But what is clear, the Indian population has evolved with a social and economic structure that relies heavily on local communities, villages, simply trade among local people to make this enormous country of 1.3 Billion people function.
I am not going to lie, my very first images were people, congestion and the public filth and garbage was shocking, something that I can’t still wrap my head around. My initial reaction was one of ‘it’s not my problem’, however in contrast it is their lives and I am a visitor, but it begs the question of respect of others and property.
As an outsider visiting the country interested in farming practices, production and marketing systems for 11 days, gathering highlights from the south in Hyderabad and Mumbai to the north in Punjab has been a whirlwind task. There have been several key visits and hosts that graciously gave us a taste of India. Perhaps above all, my key learnings have focussed around the culture and sorting through the hierarchy of how agriculture business is done here in India.
The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) was an excellent place to begin our study in India because they got us into a local village to meet farmers and see first hand the extension projects being done. Hosted by Dr. Peter Carberry, the first words out of their mouths was ‘water’, a theme that followed us all through India. Situated on 3500 acres, donated by the Indian government in the 1970’s, the program provides research focussed on seed development around their core crops of millet, peanut, sorghum & chickpea. The institute maintains their core genetic seed material used in Asia, but also in semi arid regions of Africa, thus their global reach of developing nations is significant.
The village of Kothapalli has been a model project where ICRISAT invested in the village to develop water dams, reservoirs, wells and channels to better utilize the high rainfall during the monsoon season to offset requirements throughout the years through irrigation. As simple and life changing as providing water can be, it wasn’t without challenge as these farmer villages needed buy in, long term support before change was accepted. A fascinating look into village life made us all realize women do much of the work, but the men like to handle the money. Going back to ICRISAT, they have strived to empower women as key agents of change to ensure social and economic value is shared. Remember, these farmers have only a few acres of land, trade through ‘infamous middlemen’ and rely heavily on the social mechanisms of cooperative farming. It was a fascinating glimpse at this local business where people seemed quite content.
Research is one area at home that is highly disputed with anecdotal and non factual information through social media clouding reality; to me here in India, research at the basic level is about feeding the hungry. I gained a new appreciation their work because it is aimed a vast populations to improve the fundamentals of life. Fortunately, the Indian government has identified core food staples like rice and wheat as crops that protect access to food for all. The ideas of developing crops outside of widespread commercialism will continue to be necessary, particularly given the limitations on certain technologies like genetic engineered seeds.
Understanding the local food trade was eye opening as well at the vegetable market in Hyderabad where wholesales sell good to locals who peddle the food down city streets to their 10 million residents. The people, produce and those making a Rubee along the way highlights the importance of trade and this developing economy where as much as 70% of food is sold in this unorganized way. A local farmer and consultant Ashok Jalagam toured us to the main market as well as his organic mango farm. Ashok suffered significant drought last year because unauthorized residential and commercial development are drilling wells and using the water, that and a theme park was randomly built and dropped the natural water table; a sign of corruption.
With food itself, I can honestly say I ate as the locals do, or at least I tried. Not being one to have an adventurous pallet, I’ve enjoyed the food, short of the minor case of a gastro bug. By local, it consisted of curry for breakfast, lunch and dinner! But remember, eat you’re your right hand, clean with your left, if you know what I mean. Fortunately, our ‘Team India’ has faired very well and we are enjoying the gracious hospitality.