Drinking from a fire hose

Our group started work with an intensive briefing from wide assortment of agricultural experts assembled by the Vice Chancellor of TERI University and Research institute. We could have spent the entire day just talking with the people of TERI. They are involved so many cutting edge agricultural technologies that I cannot list them all. For example, they developed an organism that will eat oil from an oil spill. They also have an extensive department dedicated to global warming.

The individuals they collected were also very impressive. There representatives from commercial firms, banks, universities, and NGOs (Non-Governmental Organization). The central impressions I came away with were those of passionate concern and of creativity. No one can accuse these guys of sitting on the sidelines. There were at least a dozen ideas that I thought could transform India's agricultural environment. The obvious question is why agriculture is still troubled. While some projects may in fact not work as well in the field as they do on paper, one cannot discount the massive size of India's population. Even reaching hundreds of thousands of farmers is not enough in a country with over a billion people.

One of the themes I thought to be most promising was that of market information. In India the prices a farmer receives from his crop can fluctuate greatly based on the market prices of that day and also due to spoilage. Somewhere around 30% of India's farm output is lost to spoilage or other related issues. If farmers did not lose a large chuck of their crops and got paid the optimal amount, the farmers would have at least 30% money in their pockets and perhaps significantly more. Many of the presentations discussed how market information could be distributed via cell phones and Internet-connected kiosks. Some firms, such as Pepsico, actually create partnerships with the local farmers. Pepsico gets better quality for their potato chips at a low price. The farmer gets better seeds and thus more output. The result is that he may get less money but he also has much more product. Everyone wins.


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