As a winter session course in Cornell’s International Agriculture & Rural Development department, I have had the opportunity to travel to India during the month of January to study their agricultural system. My particular group project is related to value addition of crops in India’s agricultural economy, and we have/will have the opportunity to see such first-hand. I plan to document a variety of reflections throughout the trip, as Internet access allows.
I have read and analyzed countless case studies, testimonies from Indian farmers, watched documentaries: but nothing prepared me for what poverty actually looks like. I expected it; I knew I was naïve, I knew it was coming, but the smell, sound, and even taste of this place is nothing what I expected. I’ve never felt more humbled, grateful, and motivated to work in agriculture.
Today our trip saw our arrival in Mumbai, and a domestic flight to Aurangabad. Our flight in Aurangabad landed in what seemed like a runway in the middle of a field — actually, it was. We took a tourist bus from the airport to the hotel. When I traveled to Italy last year to study agriculture, I dreaded the bus rides; they were long, smooth, and aside from the gorgeous mountains, we really did not see much; however, in India, the bus rides are my favorite part. We drove a few kilometers, passing more roaming cattle, dogs, and people I had seen in all of 2012. They were living, working, and raising families in tents and businesses along side the road.
Initially, my heart was broken at the thought that the amount of cash I brought in my pocket from the United States was likely enough to feed a meal to a huge number of these people we passed. To make me feel even more guilty, we then pulled into a ritzy, gated hotel that rose up out of nowhere off of the road.
With no sleep for what felt like days, our Cornell group quickly met up with students from Indian BHU University, SVPUA&T, Tuskegee, and UC Davis. In all, the group totaled more than 70 students and faculty from the various universities. We broke into three focus groups, including Rural Infrastructure, Value Addition, and Agricultural Systems.
We bonded over a culturally immersing orientation that saw singing, dancing, and introductions. Then, with the aid of our Indian peers, we broke off and went shopping in downtown Aurangabad. We rode the Rickshaws, learned how to cross the street (very daunting task), and learned what it is like to be stared at and asked for pictures while donning blonde hair in the middle of India.
One of the most eye-opening concepts is how far a US dollar travels in this country. Our Indian peers helped us bargain with street vendors for authentic clothing, and did not easily understand our lack of frugality. They would not allow my friend Laura to purchase a particular dress she liked — because it was the equivalent of $12.