Leading economist to head India health initiative

Prabhu Pingali

A former World Bank economist and deputy director of agricultural development at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will be spearheading a Cornell effort to help reduce poverty and malnutrition in India.

Prabhu Pingali has been appointed director of the Tata-Cornell Initiative in Agriculture and Nutrition (TACO-AN), a long-term project established through a $25 million endowment from the Tata Trusts, chaired by Ratan Tata ’59, B.Arch. ’62, who is also chairman emeritus of Tata Sons.

Pingali, whose tenure begins June 1, will oversee a research, development and education program focused on the design and evaluation of innovative interventions that link agriculture, food systems and human nutrition, including the impacts of nutrition and agriculture policies on poverty and nutritional status.

“The TACO-AN initiative comes at a time when agriculture and nutrition are at the top of the policy agenda in India and across the developing world. TACO-AN can play an important leadership role both in research and policy advocacy,” Pingali said. “I am extremely honored to have been chosen to lead this very important and exciting program.”

“Through TACO-AN, Cornell faculty, staff and students will engage those in India whose lives are affected to address the multifaceted problems related to the food system and rural development,” said Cornell President David J. Skorton. “Dr. Pingali’s broad experience as a scholar, statesman and practitioner will propel the program forward and further enhance Cornell’s status as land-grant university to the world.”

The goal of the initiative is to reduce poverty and malnutrition in rural India while protecting environmental, economic and human health, said Alice Pell, vice provost for international relations. Cornell researchers will collaborate with their peers in Indian universities, as well as governmental and nongovernmental organizations in an effort to enhance individual and institutional capacity in the areas of agriculture, nutrition and rural development.

“There is substantial evidence that failures of food systems are both the cause and consequence of persistent poverty,” Pell said. “Until communities and countries make scientific and institutional advances to meet nutritional needs reliably through improved production, processing and functional markets, improvements in economic and physical health will be hampered.”

Research conducted at the center will draw from the cross-disciplinary expertise found across Cornell, according to Kathryn Boor, the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. This may include improved animal and plant germplasm, environmental management, food processing technologies, food safety and supply, water availability, and governmental policies.

Noting the long-term nature of the initiative, Boor said: “It will be possible to measure the effects of nutrition in children at several stages throughout their lives, or to evaluate the results of policy decisions across a generation, for instance. We are very grateful for the Tata Trusts’ investment and excited to have Dr. Pingali at the helm of this important international initiative.”

Pingali, an Indian national with more than 30 years of experience as an agricultural development researcher and practitioner, previously served as director of the Agricultural and Development Economics Division of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. He was also director of the economics program at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico; agricultural economist at the International Rice Research Institute at Los Baños, Philippines; economist at the World Bank’s Agriculture and Rural Development Department; visiting scholar at Stanford University’s Food Research Institute; and affiliate professor at the University of the Philippines at Los Baños.

The author of 10 books and more than 100 refereed journal articles and book chapters, Pingali was elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences as a foreign associate in May 2007 and as a fellow of the American Agricultural Economics Association in 2006. He was president of the International Association of Agricultural Economists from 2003-06. He has also received several international awards for his work, including two from the American Agricultural Economics Association. His academic home at Cornell will be at the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, with a joint appointment in the Division of Nutritional Sciences.

Stacey Shackford is a staff writer in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

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