MANHATTAN, Kan. – An award ceremony on Tuesday, Aug. 13, will cap off a summer visit to Kansas State University by 30 students from India’s leading agricultural university.
The ceremony begins at noon in the Wildcat Chamber (formerly the Little Theater) of the K-State Student Union.
The students represent about half of the visiting undergraduates from the Acharya N. G. Ranga Agricultural University (ANGRAU), located in Guntur City, in the state of Andhra Pradesh, one of 29 Indian states. Andhra Pradesh is along the southeast coast of the nation. The other group of students visited Oklahoma State University.
“It’s been a nice 360-degree turn for me, welcoming these students from my alma mater,” said Vara Prasad, a university distinguished professor of crop ecophysiology in the department of agronomy and the director of the K-State-hosted Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Sustainable Intensification (SIIL). Prasad earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Andhra Pradesh Agricultural University (the original name of ANGRAU).
The students arrived at K-State during the last week of June and have spent the last eight weeks observing and learning from various departments in the College of Agriculture, often working with professors and researchers that matched their chosen fields of study. The students enjoyed tours and cultural events on the weekends.
“This was completely unexpected,” said Niharika Vullaganti, an aspiring plant geneticist, and one of the 24 young women who dominate the group of 30. “We never expected to visit another country, but here we are! This is my first visit to the United States – it was even my first flight on an airplane.”
Niharika’s father, a veteran of the Indian Air Force, works in the banking sector, and her mother is a teacher. The family has some land that is used for agricultural purposes, but it wasn’t until her late teens that she saw how important agriculture is.
“Slowly, I developed an interest in agriculture, and discovered that it is the backbone of the Indian economy,” she said. “After that, I tried to engage more with farmers near my home, visit with them about what they do. I became interested in genetics, because it seems like a really creative area of study.”
“This is not just about this group,” added Prasad. “If you look at the total enrollment at ANGRAU, maybe 60% of the undergraduates are women. I would guess that percentage is true at the other agricultural universities in India. One reason for this is that as India becomes more urbanized, the young men are moving to the cities for work, leaving the women behind to care for the land.
“India’s women have a long tradition in agriculture; now they are really stepping up, and becoming the leaders and managers of the agricultural economy of India,” he said.
One compelling reason for this visit to K-State: to expose the students to a more comprehensive approach to agricultural education — something that India still struggles with, Prasad said.
“There is not much coordination beyond agriculture,” he explained. “Food production is not just ‘agriculture.’ We need engineers, we need machinery, we need processing, and it’s a business. That multidisciplinary nature is not there at ANGRAU, and that’s what we wanted to instill in these new, emerging scholars and scientists.
“This has been a great opportunity for them to see how Kansas State University works, and how we work together, across different departments, to address the issues of global food security and nutritional security.”
“Engaging with ANGRAU students has been extremely valuable experience for both universities through our cross-cultural and multidisciplinary connections throughout our program activities,” said SIIL associate director Jan Middendorf. “It is very encouraging to witness the students’ inquisitive nature and passion for learning as they prepare to become our future problem-solvers to tackle issues related to food and nutrition security.”
Suresh Kumar Mudda, professor of agricultural extension at ANGRAU and coordinator of this program said that “it has been a great experience for these students to be exposed to cutting-edge research at KSU, and it has enhanced their critical-thinking, and they have gained practical and hand-on experience conducting innovative research. It is a life-changing opportunity for our students and will certainly encourage them to continue their career in aspects related to agriculture and food production.
After Tuesday afternoon’s graduation ceremony, the students will begin the long trip home later in the week.
Sidebar: When K-State planted a school
India has a network of more than 50 universities devoted to agriculture, horticulture and animal science, thanks in part to Kansas State University.
Land-grant universities were pioneered in the United States after the Civil War (Kansas State University was the first). Congress granted federally controlled land to states to establish public institutions that would make education and information available to all people. Land-grant institutions, through academics, research and extension, have ensured that practical, relevant knowledge would be passed to people of all backgrounds. They are responsible for the spread of agricultural and technical knowledge that, among other successes, built the U.S. into a global food provider.
“Beginning in the 1950s, the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID, had an interest in establishing universities around the world, particularly in south Asia,” said Vara Prasad, a university distinguished professor of crop ecophysiology at K-State and director of the USAID-funded SIIL.
According to Prasad, K-State was tapped to help establish an agricultural university in south India, using America’s flourishing land-grant system as a model. That school was officially opened as Andhra Pradesh Agricultural University in 1964. “During the 1960s, USAID sent approximately 500 faculty members from several American campuses, to nine different universities in India. There were several other American universities involved in the process, but K-State’s focus was the ‘planting’ of the land-grant model” and led this effort.
“What was originally a seedling has become a whole crop of land grant universities across India,” he said.
The timing couldn’t have been better. Norman Borlaug’s Green Revolution was in full swing, and India was struggling to grow enough food to feed its citizens.
“The improved wheat and rice varieties were in place, but once in the ground, the seeds needed the right cultural and management practices for them to thrive. The eventual success of those efforts would not have happened without the land-grant model in place, in India.”
“Because of the land-grant system,” Prasad explained, “we were able to reach out to the millions of farmers with the right information and the right practices. The seeds that Borlaug helped develop – the Green Revolution seeds – needed proper cultivation for the actual Green Revolution to sprout and continue for the next two or three decades.”
Originally one university in each of India’s 29 states, the institutions eventually split into schools devoted to different disciplines: agriculture, horticulture and animal sciences.
“Most of them still have the basic three components of the land-grant system: teaching, research and extension,” Prasad said.
(K-State Research and Extension)