Collaborating with Agricultural Academic Institutions in the United States: Opportunities for India
I, along with one of my colleagues, arrived at the University of Florida, Gainesville on February 3, 2022, and stayed until February 15, 2022. Our visit was sponsored by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) under the World Bank-funded National Agricultural Higher Education Project (NAHEP). We were placed at the Department of Agricultural Education and Communication to learn about the various programs of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS), including acquainting with the outreach activities by UF/IFAS Extension.
While there, we had an opportunity to learn about the innovative work being done at the Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences; the Natural Resources Leadership Institute (NRLI); the Southeastern Coastal Center for Agricultural Health and Safety (SCCAHS) and the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for the Livestock Systems. We also visited three counties — Sumter, Alachua and Osceola — to get acquainted with field extension activities being undertaken by the extension agents in these counties. We had the opportunity to get some useful insights to develop agricultural education, research and extension back home in India.
Thanks to a very effective learning program drawn by the faculty of the Department of Agricultural Education and Communication and UF/IFAS Extension, we received insights into extension program evaluation and impact assessment methodologies, tools and techniques of data collection and surveys. We also learned about various issues connected to the functioning of nonprofits globally, including in the United States and India, while interacting with the faculty of Family, Youth and Community Sciences. The discussion with the faculty of the NRLI helped us understand the issues leadership is concerned with in the environment and agricultural development. The interactions with the leadership, faculty, students and staff of the Evaluation Program and Outreach Core of the SCCAHS were very fruitful, as we gained insights on interdisciplinary research. We also benefitted much from the interactions with the faculty of the Innovation Lab for Livestock Systems. We learned about the various livestock development programs being implemented by the Innovation Lab for Livestock Systems in developing and underdeveloped countries across the world. We found there are ample opportunities to collaborate for livestock development, wherein, India can provide technical support to developing countries.
When interacting with county agents, we found 4-H to be one very effective program shaping the lives of youth within international development. On our visits to agricultural fairs, we saw many school children enthusiastically participating in 4-H activities, like handicrafts, raising crops and livestock rearing, caring competitions, etc. The 4-H used to be very popular when I was doing a graduate program at G B Pant University of Agriculture and Technology in the 1980s. This happens to be the first agricultural university established in India in 1960, modeled on a land-grant pattern with the assistance of the United States. Currently, there are 63 state agricultural universities in India established on a land-grant pattern. Over the years, many elements of land-grant patterned universities in India have lost shine, including the 4-H. I wonder if some of the features of land-grant pattern, like the 4-H, are still relevant to India. I have proposed to one of my colleagues, who has also been selected for a travel grant under NAHEP, to study the 4-H model closely.
It was fascinating to learn about the innovative work being done by the counties to create awareness, impart knowledge and build skills in the local communities. We understand the local problems, needs and priorities are different in different countries, yet we can learn and get inspired by the county agents through their values, such as innovativeness, professionalism and the spirit to excel. The programs like landscape gardening, management of water resources, master gardener and use of drones in agriculture were some unique programs we learned about during our visits to the counties. We were highly impressed to see the work the UF/IFAS Extension faculty was doing to improve the lives of Florida residents. The work being done by UF/IFAS Extension is similar to Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs) in India. We believe KVKs can be inspired by the work of extension agents working with counties in terms of the activities, infrastructure and innovative approaches used.
We gathered many innovative ideas to implement in our programs and share with our colleagues. We gratefully acknowledge the faculty, administrators, and county agents for facilitating the visit and sharing the ideas and experiences, which were very helpful. In particular, I wish to thank Sebastian Galindo and Norma Samuel for facilitating our visit. Also, we are grateful to the ICAR — Indian Veterinary Research Institute for the sponsorship and opportunity.
The U.S. land-grant universities have transformed much over the years. I believe Indian agricultural universities need to further explore the scope of learning from universities in the United States in the current context. This offers a scope of collaborations to cocreate developmental opportunities for academic, research excellence and outreach activities in agricultural sciences in particular. I do think there is high potential for meaningful collaboration with the universities in the United States and agricultural institutions in India over and above the existing collaborations underway in many different areas. The NAHEP also envisages that the faculty would benefit from increased collaboration among Indian agricultural universities and other universities globally to raise research quality and its linkage to educational quality and relevance. Also, faculty training and capacity-building is expected to improve the delivery of education and its learning outcomes.
Like us, many of our colleagues and students, including those from other agricultural universities in India, are visiting various universities in the United States and other developed nations, as well as CGIAR institutions for the duration of one week to three months under the NAHEP. One of my own doctoral students visited the University of Arizona from October to December 2021 and another one underwent training for two months at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi. Three of our junior colleagues are currently placed for one-month training at the College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Florida. Likewise, many students are currently placed in various other universities in the United States. The exposure and training received by all of us is expected to enhance our capacities toward improved delivery in an Indian context.
I see strong possibilities of collaboration and partnerships among the agricultural universities of India and the state universities in the United States.