My textbooks definitely did not prepare me for this: India 2013

Written by Becca Harrison

As a winter session course in Cornell University’s International Agriculture and Rural Development department, I had the opportunity to travel to India during the month of January 2013 to study their agricultural system. My particular group project was related to value addition of crops in India’s agricultural economy, and we had the opportunity to see such first-hand. I documented a variety of reflections through this trip on my personal blog — as the Internet allowed — and am now repurposing them for the Biofortified blog. 
January 4
I have read and analyzed countless case studies and testimonies from Indian farmers, watched documentaries: but nothing prepared me for what poverty actually looks like. I expected it; I knew I was naïve, I knew it was coming, but the smell, sound, and even taste of this place is nothing what I expected. I’ve never felt more humbled, grateful, and motivated to work in agriculture.
Today our trip saw our arrival in Mumbai, and a domestic flight to Aurangabad. Our flight in Aurangabad landed in what seemed like a runway in the middle of a field — actually, it was. We took a tourist bus from the airport to the hotel. When I traveled to Italy last year to study agriculture, I dreaded the bus rides; they were long, smooth, and aside from the gorgeous mountains, we really did not see much; however, in India, the bus rides are my favorite part. We drove a few kilometers, passing more roaming cattle, dogs, and people I had seen in all of 2012. They were living, working, and raising families in tents and businesses along side the road.
Initially, my heart was broken at the thought that the cash I brought in my pocket from the United States was enough to feed a meal to a huge number of these people we passed. To make me feel even more guilty, we then pulled into a ritzy, gated hotel that rose up out of nowhere off of the road. These were the type of accommodations Mr. Frank N. Foode and I would be staying in for the next few weeks.
With no sleep for what felt like days, our Cornell group quickly met up with students from Indian BHU University, SVPUA&T, Tuskegee, and UC Davis. In all, the group totaled more than 70 students and faculty from the various universities. We broke into three focus groups: Rural Infrastructure, Value Addition, and Agricultural Systems.
We bonded over a culturally immersing orientation that saw singing, dancing, and introductions. Then, with the aid of our Indian peers, we broke off and went shopping in downtown Aurangabad. We rode the Rickshaws, learned how to cross the street (very daunting task), and learned what it is like to be stared at and asked for pictures while donning blonde hair in the middle of India.
One of the most eye-opening concepts is how far a US dollar travels in this country. Our Indian peers helped us bargain with street vendors for authentic clothing, and did not easily understand our lack of frugality. They would not allow my friend Laura to purchase a particular dress she liked — because it was the equivalent of $12.

Written by Guest Expert

Becca Harrison is currently pursuing her PhD in science & technology studies at Cornell University. She is particularly interested in how consumers view, communicate, and respond to technology used in food agriculture, and how such study can be used to influence effective policy, increasing accessibility of such food domestically and internationally.


  1. Wow, a blast of nostalgia here. I took IntAg602, traveled to Costa Rica, and did a study on the prevalence of food-borne illness there. I dragged out my ‘old school *paper*’ diary and read what I wrote in 1988… it sounded hauntingly similar to what I just read above. My experiences with IntAg & Rural Sociology in Central America put an indelible mark on my life and changed me as a person for the better. Thanks for the memories. Good luck in your future endeavors.

  2. Thank you! It was a great experience, and I’m glad to have given you a trip down memory lane! It has changed me so much simply in the last six months that I can only imagine how the experience will guide and motivate me through the future.

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