With visit to India, CFAES looks to expand research and industry linkages with Indian partners

June 8, 2016

As a country that is incredibly diverse geographically, socially, and economically - not to mention one that is undergoing transformative change at the moment -  India is in a unique position to offer compelling international opportunities to faculty and students in Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).

So says Dr. Mark Erbaugh, Director of the Office of International Programs in Agriculture. He, along with Dr. Scott Shearer, Chair and Professor of the Department of Food, Agricultural, and Biological Engineering (FABE), recently traveled to India on behalf of the college to explore collaborative opportunities with Indian businesses and higher education institutions, most notably in the area of agricultural engineering. The visit, which was facilitated by Ohio State’s India Gateway Office in Mumbai – specifically Ratnesh Bhattacharya, Director, India Gateway Office, and Priya Vasant Kurle - and included visits to six cities and meetings with representatives from seven different organizations.

India, currently the world’s fastest-growing large economy, finds itself heavily and strategically investing in education, technical training, and research and development across all sectors in order to meet the labor demands of the nation’s rising population and to position itself as a major global exporter of major commodities. Opportunities for growth are especially pronounced in India’s agricultural sector, which has been lagging recently, but is now receiving more deserved attention due to the percentage of the population engaged in agriculture (approximately 50%) and the inevitable reality of feeding the nation’s projected 1.6 billion people by 2030.

The visit from CFAES aligns nicely with this narrative, as many public organizations and private firms in India are looking internationally for partnerships to leverage that will build the country’s capacity to face these challenges head-on. While traveling throughout India, Dr. Erbaugh and Dr. Shearer met with leaders from businesses like TATA, Mahindra, Jain Irrigation, and Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services (IL&FS), all of which have worked intensely to expand and diversify their agricultural product and service lines.

Such expansion in the agricultural sector has incredible potential. Dr. Shearer believes that the next “Green Revolution” – a term used commonly to refer to the substantial growth in food production in the developing world during the mid-20th century as a result of new agricultural technologies – will come about through digital agriculture, a major component of precision agricultural technology.

FABE has been heavily focused in precision agriculture, which involves using sophisticated monitoring tools and practices to dramatically improve crop performance, resource management, and farm operations. This focus is part of the larger Translational Data Analytics project, one of eight focus areas of the university’s Discovery Themes initiative.

Though many new connections were made during the course of the visit, other meetings focused on renewing and strengthening existing partnerships. Dr. Erbaugh and Dr. Shearer visited one of CFAES’ longtime international partners – Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) in Ludhiana, India – of which Ohio State was instrumental in the creation in 1962 through an effort funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Ohio State and PAU have collaborated for decades and most recently have worked together on several major projects, including the Innovative Agricultural Research Initiative (iAGRI) in Tanzania and the Tri-lateral Project for Food Security in Kenya.

“PAU has been a key partner in CFAES’ internationalization efforts”, says Dr. Erbaugh, who has worked with a number of PAU faculty in East Africa on capacity building and food security projects. “They are an institution that is well respected internationally, and have many distinguished faculty making important scholarly contributions to the agricultural and environmental sciences.”  

The Vice Chancellor of PAU, Dr. Baldev Singh Dillon, as well as Dr. J.S. Mahal, Dean of the College of Agricultural Engineering and Technology, both welcomed the opportunity to continue working with Ohio State and to expand their cooperation in new areas of student exchanges and joint research. One of the potential opportunities discussed was an Education Abroad program at PAU for Ohio State undergraduate students studying agricultural engineering. Professors who have worked closely with CFAES faculty in the past were also present, including Dr. Sandeep Kapur, Director at School of Business Studies, and Dr. Vishal Bector, Associate Professor in the Department of Farm Machinery and Power Engineering.

The visit also included a brief meeting at the U.S. embassy to meet with U.S. Department of Agriculture – Foreign Agricultural Service and USAID representatives. Ohio State-CFAES, through the Office of International Programs in Agriculture, continues to work closely with USDA-FAS through the agency’s scientific exchange programs, such as the Borlaug International Agricultural Science and Technology Fellowship Program and the Cochran Fellowship Program.