January 30 2009
Student travels to India
ILR's Blair Lapres '09, travels with CALS on a journey across the globe
I originally took an International Agriculture and Rural Development (IARD 4020) class last Fall in order to get a rounded approach to the issues that are plaguing the international working person in the non-industrial sector, but my experiences with the course took me much further as I was given a scholarship to journey across the globe!
This past winter break I was given the pleasure of traveling across the states of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh with 71 Cornell and Indian Partner University students and faculty. My classmates and I first met the Indian students when they were on their fieldwork excursion to Cornell in September and we reunited with them in Chennai on January 2nd where they acted as our guides along with the agricultural consultancy company Sathguru.
Over the course of the trip we all got very close as we spent two full weeks with one another. Indian and Cornell students fast became friends and Faculty and Students made meaningful relationships. We even happened to stir up a lot of buzz in the local and national media by our visit.
On arriving in India, I had expected many things; lots of security due to the Mumbai attacks, lacking infrastructure and especially rampant poverty.
But what shocked me the most was not simply the poverty, but the juxtaposition of the rich and poor, abundance and famine, the global North and South. Hindus melted in amongst Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs and Christians and everywhere we went there was some really nice new industrial building amidst slums.
On the first day in Chennai (formerly known as Madras) I remember driving past this fancy BMW dealer, while on the sidewalk right outside the dealership, there was a settlement of daintily constructed shacks. People so destitute that they had almost nothing were squatting in front of this bastion of capitalist wealth!
Whether this is a testament to India's extraordinary economic growth in the past few decades or to a considerable amount of income inequality, I cannot say. But this same juxtaposition was recurrent in every city, village, and farm I visited: Chennai, Coimbatore, Ooty and Hyderabad. Nonetheless, the poverty was much more frequently visible than those BMW dealers and the like.
Considering such a large and rapidly growing population, it is apparent to any visitor that India faces many challenges; feeding its people, ensuring suitable employment, and bringing the country to the helm of the world political and economic system in the next generation just to name a few.
What I experienced in India in my tours of the agricultural extension and research offices seemed to indicate that India was taking on these challenges steadfast. But still, with a population over a billion and a country as vast as India, I wondered about all the impediments to progress I may have been overlooking. We had all heard rampant reports of farmer suicides due to extreme marginalization.
Also at the forefront of our attention were the deformed and malnourished children and beggars incessantly beckoning. This made me realize that India still has a long way to go. Even with the efforts of the various rural self-help groups, agricultural extension offices and Grameen style banks such great poverty was abound. It got me thinking, if poverty exists to such a degree, will there ever be a way out?
It is perhaps too sad to be pessimistic, but with a little hope I can have faith that the noble NGOs, agricultural researchers and government agencies I met with can carry through to see that these resilient and friendly people will have a better tomorrow.