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CU aims to bolster food security in India with $9.6M grant

Cornell will play a lead role in a consortium of Indian and U.S. universities and agribusinesses that will work together to boost agricultural production and food security in northern India. Rural populations on the Indo-Gangetic Plain typically live on less than $1.25 a day and face hunger, poverty and child malnutrition.

The new Agricultural Innovation Partnership (AIP), launched by India and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) under "Feed the Future," the U.S. government's global hunger and food security initiative, is funded with a $9.6 million grant from USAID (India).

"Cornell will work closely with Banaras Hindu University (BHU) to promote agricultural knowledge, innovation and technology transfer in the region," said Ronnie Coffman, director of international programs in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS), at the AIP launch Feb. 3 in Varanasi, India. He highlighted India's position as an emerging global power on the forefront of the fight against hunger, and noted that Cornell's long-standing relationships with state agricultural universities in India will make collaboration easier.

In addition to Cornell and BHU, the Indo-U.S. Consortium for Agriculture includes five other land-grant universities -- Illinois, Georgia, Ohio State, Tuskegee and University of California-Davis -- as well as John Deere, Tata Chemicals Ltd. and Sathguru Management Consultants.

"As part of the strategic partnership between the United States and India, both countries have agreed to intensify our collaboration to increase agricultural production, develop efficient marketing systems and reduce malnutrition for a sustainable and inclusive 'evergreen revolution,'" said Gary Robbins, director of food security, USAID (India), who added that AIP was part of President Barack Obama's initiative to end global hunger and poverty.

The consortium will strengthen the capacity of state agricultural universities by revising university curricula to include important issues such as market-led demand and the potential impact of climate change on agriculture. The consortium will also develop and pilot innovative extension models to improve the management and agri-technology expertise of agricultural graduates to support farmers as they move from subsistence farming.

"A multidisciplinary approach is required to address the challenges facing the agricultural sector today such as stagnating productivity, environmental degradation, inefficient market linkages and rural poverty," said Professor D.P. Singh, vice chancellor of BHU. "Agricultural institutions in India must become incubators of new ideas and enterprises, building entrepreneurial and analytical skills."

The AIP builds on an April 2010 visit to Cornell by Singh and his colleagues to finalize a memorandum of understanding for collaboration in research, teaching and education with CALS.

The AIP strengthens CALS work in India by providing opportunities for Cornell and India faculty and students to work in cross-cutting areas that have the potential to improve and sustain agriculture in the Indo-Gangetic Plain.

"Vulnerability to climate change, water and sanitation, governance, gender and equity, innovative education programs, leveraging private sector resources, and information and communication technology are just some of the many areas where we hope to make a difference," said K.V. Raman, Cornell international professor of plant breeding and the project's coordinator.

The Cornell-in-India program, established in the early 1990s in collaboration with Sathguru Management Consultants, implements agricultural and food security programs in India and the subcontinent and is the largest among U.S. land-grant institutions. Sathguru will help establish an office of technology transfer and commercialization at BHU, as well as market intelligence centers that adopt electronic and mobile extension models.

"Farm produce price realization in the Indo-Gangetic Plain is one of the lowest," said Vijayaraghavan Kannan, Sathguru's chairman. "Sathguru has two decades of engagement in India for sourcing academic technologies for commercialization. The market centers will explore the untapped market opportunities of the farmers."

John Bakum is a communications specialist with international programs.

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