india 2013: initial reflection

As you drive down the streets in India, it does not take long to realize that the dogs on the side of the road are a microcosm for much of the country: An incomprehensible population density, they float in packs, and seem eternally happy despite what an average American may expect in sharing their living conditions.

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How do you feed a population this big? All of the cows, dogs, and other animals roaming the streets feed on the exorbitant waste this country creates. It may not provide the best nutrition, but it is enough to meet the requirements for reproduction of many. It almost seems that this is how many of the people in poverty-stricken communities here survive, as well.

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Prior to this visit to India, I had only ever read about developing countries in textbooks. I can recite statistics regarding global hunger, lack of food or infrastructure to distribute it, and I can argue for or against many of the platforms in the political and scientific debates over use of technology in agriculture; however, that is no where near as powerful as simply looking into the faces of people begging for money to feed their children.

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As I have come to realize, food is abundant here — but corruption and lack of infrastructure exists, making distribution difficult, if not impossible. In instances when distribution is available, there are so many middle-men charging commission on products that farmers still get very little profit on their crop. Through the experiences with producers and processing plants this course has provided me, I have been introduced to the concept of value addition, and the potential for economic growth — through increased price, increased jobs, etc. — such a direction in the industry can allow.

It seems that one of the few avenues for profit the agricultural industry can take, avoiding roadblocks from government corruption, is value addition. This was demonstrated in many of our visits, though, as an Animal Science major, I would like to go into further detail on our visits to Schreiber’s Dairy and Siddhivinayak Poultry Farm.

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In vast comparison to Katraj Dairy processing facility, which we visited earlier in the trip, Schreiber’s Dairy was a cooperative that had escaped government corruption by staying owned by an American-based company. Unlike the first dairy we visited, Schreiber’s does not receive its fluid milk from individual dairies in India, rather from cooperative societies — of which may have been government operated. The biggest intention of this company’s processing is to increase shelf life of their products, 79% of which are marketed internationally.

By processing fluid milk into products with higher shelf lives — such as cheese and yogurt — Schreiber’s was able to add value to the product. Schreiber’s may not be well known to the lay person, as its company is the middle-man processor behind the façade of big-name, international producers of cheese products, such as Nestlé, Kraft, Pizza Hut, McDonalds, Dominos, etc.

In the process of adding value to the product, and thus making more money, Schreiber’s is able to create over 700 jobs in the community, solely on their main processing site in Pune. This does not factor in the farmers that produced the milk, the transporters, the cooperative, even more middlemen, and the jobs (and safe food) created for distribution both domestically and abroad through big food corporations.

Schreiber’s has a similar processing system for other foods, including high temperature processing of fruit juice products.

At a much different scale, in a different niche market, Siddhivinayak Poultry Farm has found success by adding value to their commodity product — chicken.  They have vertically integrated their system: they produce and mill their own feed; raise their broiler chickens; breed within their own flock to restock and sell chicks; and market the fresh meat. One vast cultural difference between the US and India is that Indian’s are fanatic about their meat being fresh, and are more likely to purchase a live chicken, have it slaughtered, and eat it the same day than put their meat in the freezer (if they have one).

Siddhivinayak’s Poultry farm, however, has realized a niche market around Western India — some families do not have time to cut, marinade, and cook their chicken if everyone has a job, and are interested in purchasing pre-cleaned, pre-marinated, ready-to-cook chicken. This product goes at a higher price, yet has a substantial demand, and the farm has found significant added value for this market. They even produce and sell “chicken lollipops;” innovation at its best.

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While I have spent the past few months mentally preparing myself for the poverty, disparity, and hunger India is known for, one thing I did not prepare myself for was to reach the last few days feeling optimistic, rather than depressed. It is relatively obvious that a major issue with the rising disparity in India is because of government corruption; as an animal scientist and agriculturalist, there may not be much I, personally, can do to fix this. However, as an optimist, I realize how much technologies increasing feed efficiency in animals, capacities for adding value to animal (and plant)-based food products — whether it be through fortification, education, food processing, policy, etc. — there is something to be optimistic about and have hope for. I am leaving excited to continue studying, optimistic that I can make a difference, and humbled. Even my blonde hair put smiles on so many people’s faces in the last few weeks; imagine what increased food security would do.

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