Kerala Agricultural University (Thrissur), January 8th
Today there were trade union strikes across Kerala but this did not delay our scheduled activities- with a police escort from the Joys Palace Hotel we reached Kerala Agricultural University (KAU) before mid-morning. Upon our arrival we were greeted with introductory remarks by the Vice Chancellor Dr. Chandra Babu, and it was immediately clear that KAU is a premier agricultural institution whose improved crop varieties and extension trainees can be found across Kerala. From developing the world’s first coconut hybrid with dwarfing genes that reduce the tree height for easier harvests, to introducing the use of biodegradable plastics, KAU is looked upon as a source of agricultural information and technology across India, and internationally.
The KAU Thrissur campus is sprawling and houses many diverse research stations, which are funded publicly through the state and the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR). The hot and tropical climate of Kerala and ban on genetic modification of food crops across India pose unique challenges for plant breeders that we do not face across much of the United States. I was particularly struck by one breeder’s grafting of tomatoes, otherwise susceptible to wilting disease in Kerala, to brinjal (eggplant) rootstocks that confer disease resistance (see photo). KAU also helps run multiple Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVK, Hindi for “Agricultural Dissemination Center”) across Kerala, which conduct frontline demonstrations of proven agricultural technologies and train farmers and self-help-groups (SHG). We had the opportunity to meet representatives of a women’s SHG, who have received innovative trainings on topics such as integrative farming and formulating biocontrol agents. Integrative farming, which incorporates crop and livestock production in a complimentary and sustainable manor, is not common in the United States but across India is gaining popularity thanks to KVK trainings.
We concluded our visit to KAU sharing tea and snacks with current undergraduate and graduate students. It is encouraging to meet fellow young adults eager to pursue careers in agriculture and make connections across our universities.
- Ellie Taagen, Cornell Plant Breeding and Genetics PhD student