September 16, 2012

India! Fieldwork in Bihar.

Here I am on a 2-week exploratory research trip in India! I have begun collaborating with Bioversity International who will graciously host me at their office in New Delhi, and I spent the past week travelling with some of their researchers and staff. Bioversity is currently working with CCAFS and other groups to investigate how farmers in the Indo-Gangetic Plains of India are adapting to climate change. Here's an interesting article on CCAFS's work in Africa, which of course interests me due to the talk of farmer innovation, and also of using flood/drought/etc. tolerant crop varieties as an adaptation (two things my research will address). The particular interest of Bioversity is the conservation of plant genetic material, and how that might be an adaptation strategy for farmers. It's an interesting project, to be sure! But my own research will focus more on the science policy of agriculture in northwest India.

The past week has been a whirlwind of adventure across India. Just one day after I arrived in Delhi, we boarded a plane to Bihar, a poor, crowded state in northeastern India. We went there because Bioversity/CCAFS has a field site there, where farmers were given a selection of wheat and rice seeds to grow and compare. The idea is that farmers could more effectively manage climate change and risk if they have more options of plant varieties. The farmers that we talked to were all landholders, which is likely a bias of working through our local contacts. They told us that this year was an especially bad drought. Thus it will be difficult for them to judge the different varieties of rice being grown right now.

The photo above shows one of the field sites we visited, where the local research staff from Pusa works closely with farmers to monitor the progress of the crops (rice, in this season). We stayed at the Pusa agricultural research campus, which was actually the first agricultural research station in India, started over 100 years ago! For this reason, the agricultural center in New Delhi, where I'll be working, is named the "Pusa Institute."

Bihar itself was similar to what I experienced in Bangladesh. Very rural, and as Ed Carr would put it, on "globalization's shoreline." There were few cars on the road but plenty of people, motorcycles, and goats. It was quite difficult to find places to eat or stay during the day (and I miraculously managed to avoid using the latrine all day...), the power at our guest house went out regularly (and was likely lacking in most villages), and even in the intense heat, there is of course no A/C but plenty of insects. The roads seemed better than in Bangladesh, but the traffic comparable (and the general madness of it, though like I said less cars or buses in Bihar). There is a recent NYTimes piece about Bihar, and how it suffers from structural poverty.

Overall, I'm glad I had the experience of visiting Bihar, but I have realized that I'm really not cut out for this sort of intense field work. I'm much, much happier back in Delhi, where I can be more independent and have small luxuries such as coffee and a clean room.

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