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J-term India trip enlightens both students and professors

March 3, 2011

A J-term study abroad trip to India provided the opportunity for students in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Science to experience the agricultural process in India.

“This trip resulted from a visit to India through the administrative level about five years ago,” said Professor and Chair of Agricultural Engineering Technology Dr. Dean Olson. “They were looking to establish ties through India and through that trip they identified a few universities that deal primarily in agriculture. So this has been the second time that we have brought students over to visit and work with these universities.”

During the two-week trip, students learned about the production and postproduction of agriculture and how farmers in India work.

“They are very available and they offer so much help to farmers. They are so helpful, and they led us around on tours. They showed us some of the demonstration plots where they teach farmers the best ways to grow different crops. They have a very good system there,” said Assistant Professor of Agricultural Engineering Technology Dr. Joseph Shakal. “And they do everything by hand. Out in the countryside, you see a few tractors driving around. But most farms have at least two Indian cows with the big horns to hitch on a plow or a trailer.”

The first half of the trip they toured and worked with the agriculture program of the University of Bangalore.

“It’s very similar to River Falls College of Ag and Environmental Science,” Olson said about the University of Agriculture Sciences in Bangalore. “They have similar type programs, there are also huge differences in how they do things. But primarily it’s their version of CAFES. And so our students got to experience intervarsity life in India that would be comparable to what we do over here.”

For the second half of the trip they went to the Central Food Technology Research Institute in Mysore, India.

“That is a government entity over there, kind of comparable to the USDA here in the United States,” Olson said. “And their mission is to research food and process food. And all of those areas are typical careers in which my students will be in. So it was a great way to give them global exposure to what they will be doing someday.”

This was Olson’s first time going on the India trip, and according to him it was as much of a learning experience for the students as it was for him.

“We got to see an India that a tour guide or company wouldn’t show you. A typical farm over there is about two and a half acres, which supports a family of four. But almost every square inch of that farm is producing something,” Olson said. “They are very diversified in crops and vegetables and animals. Everything is used sustainably; the manure from the dairy cows is used as methane to cook in the house, the manure then goes to a vermin culture for raising worms, which feeds the chickens, and then the compost goes out onto the fields as fertilizer. So everything is contained and sustainable. And they do it as a necessity. So that was very neat for students to see.”

Students who went on the trip experienced a culture shock while studying and observing India’s agricultural processes.

“It was an interesting cultural experience. Nothing can prepare you for India. The smells, sights, sounds that surround you at every moment have you constantly wondering what’s coming next,” said Agriculture Engineering student Andy Moravec. “Never before have I been more outside my comfort zone, while at the same time feeling so safe and welcomed by the people there.”

Shakal encourages students to go to India to get a good perspective of the world.

“You see things there that you just cant see anywhere else, and you experience things that you can’t experience anywhere else,” Shakal said. “It’s very fun.”