Reminiscences of IARD 6020
Dr. O. P. Mishra, Banaras Hindu University

With the world shrinking around us at a rapid pace, classrooms are changing as well. Classrooms are no longer limited to the four walls but involve other countries and businesses; diverse students; cross-cultural and cross-border study groups. Experiential learning is now an accepted and essential part of many curricula around the world.

As part of Cornell’s IARD program (an experiential learning program), which is partly supported by AIP, the India Field Trip was organized in collaboration with Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU), Cornell University, Banaras Hindu University (BHU), Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel University of Agriculture and Technology (SVPUA&T) and Sathguru Management Consultants. The trip took place in January 2012 and as a BHU faculty member, I managed the rural infrastructure group during the course along with fellow faculty members. Along with my students, I arrived at Chennai on 2nd January. After the introductory session, group formation and orientation, we visited the famous Marina Beach in Chennai the next day.

We attended the graduation ceremony of the dual degree program of TNAU on 4th January. The program is one of its kinds. A lecture on precision farming was delivered by Dr. Vadivel of TNAU and later we were briefed on the concept of Producers’ Company implemented by the state of Tamil Nadu. We visited TNAU extension centre, DEMIC cell and farmers’ call center and interacted with the women SHG members that enlightened us on group field-level activities. Experts at TNAU explained their e-extension and m-extension activities.

The farmers’ market initiative of the Tamil Nadu government is a pro-farmer approach, where farmers get good returns on their produce. We moved to Ooty on 7th January to visit the Horticultural Research station at TNAU and learnt about the age-old practice of organic farming in India. The concepts of Doctor Cow and Panchagavya were awe-inspiring for the group. The bee museum visit was a novel experience. In the Nilgiris – the South Indian hot spot of biodiversity – we were briefed on the livelihood issues of Toda, the native tribe of the Nilgiris. We got hands-on experience in tea manufacturing techniques and tea estate management.

During our visit to villages in Ooty the students participated in several cultural programs organized by the villagers. The floricultural farmers boast of notable entrepreneurial skills, which make the village unique. While the Earth Trust Organic Farm (an NGO) that uses the concept of bio-dynamic farming promotes organic farming practices among school children, Keystone Foundation (another NGO) works for the tribal populace that collects honey for livelihood.

The team next visited the model village Ramchandrapuram; Akshayapatra; Kothapally water shed area; NIRD; Shilparamam and Pochampally Handloom Park in Hyderabad and witnessed several agriculture and rural development initiatives.

On 14th January this unique and remarkable trip that had broken the rigidity of academic life came to an end. Both US and Indian students witnessed rural Indian setup, something that they aren’t accustomed to seeing. It would be enriching to be associated with such programs and I see it as a stepping stone to new levels of learning.

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