Summer In(dia)ternship

Chaos under stately minarets.

One week ago, I arrived after a long but problem free two-day journey at ICRISAT, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid-Tropics. ICRISAT is part of CGIAR, formerly known as the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, which is comprised of 15 agriculture and rural technology research centers around the world. ICRISAT is one center of a global network of passionate scholars and professionals working on the issues of poverty, malnutrition, environment, and agriculture.

I am here as an intern for the Tata-Cornell Agriculture and Nutrition Initiative, or TCi (blog here). TCi is a long term program established through a $25 million endowment from the Tata Trusts, established by the same prominent Indian family as Tata Group and Tata Motors, ubiquitous throughout the developing world. The main goal of this program is the exploration of the links between agriculture and nutrition, and the use of these findings in poverty and malnutrition alleviation. TCi works through partnerships with various organizations, universities, and government entities throughout India. And thus, I find myself on the campus of ICRISAT, one of these partners. (For information on future internships with TCi, check out this page).

What we will be doing is collecting dietary diversity data several households in a variety of villages as well as the diversity available at the market in order to establish household access and use of a diverse diet, which has been shown over and over to be linked to better nutrition. This is part of a larger TCi project called the Minimum Nutrition Dataset for Agriculture, or MNDA, which seeks to identify the key components of a nutrition survey, and then establish a method to easily measure these components during agricultural surveys. The dietary diversity component is just one aspect. Other indicators of nutrition will include biological measurements such as blood spot tests and anthropomorphic indicators such as arm circumference. Eventually, these short modules can be added to agricultural surveys as an addendum. By collecting indicators for agriculture and nutrition concurrently, it is hoped that the link between these two aspects will become more evident.

This past week has been full of preliminary research and preparation. The first tasks we had to complete over this week were the design of our survey instruments. This is a challenging and vital aspect of the project, as not only do the results of our surveys hinge on the efficacy of these surveys, but also they must be obtained using a short, concise questionnaire to be administered in a minimum amount of time. Hence, the Minimum Nutrition Dataset… what indicators are most crucial in order to gain a reasonably accurate idea of the nutrition in a village, amongst individuals and families? It is a fantastic opportunity to work on a project as real and important as this, and to do so amongst the talented staff at ICRISAT and my fellow Cornell colleagues. We have begun to really develop into a team, and I look forward to getting out into the field, collecting survey responses, and contributing to the efforts to find the links between agriculture and nutrition.

Stay tuned for a lighter post on all the fun we had in Hyderabad this weekend and the ICRISAT lifestyle we’re living!