IHP Rethinking Food Security Spring 2017 – India

Namaste friends and family! We’re just wrapping up our five weeks in India, here’s a bit of an update on what we’ve been doing out here!

The People

RFS Photo 4Our team of coordinators inspire us with their activism efforts and social justice accomplishments, their patience and eagerness to answer our questions, and their extensive knowledge of food security in India. Sonal Mehta and Persis Ginwalla head our country team and have done extensive work for marginalized and disadvantaged communities.

We greatly appreciate of all of the site visit hosts that have given us time and perspective. These people have taken us into their homes and workplaces in order to show us what a little bit of their life is like, and have been open to answering our many questions. Everywhere we’ve gone we also are offered delicious Masala Chai or black tea.

Our Ahmedabad homestay hosts welcomed us into their homes and families for the time we spent in the city. These hosts became our families and it was always nice to head home at the end of a long day in the classroom or in the field.

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Katie (Travelling Faculty) and Jessie (Trustee’s Fellow) keep the program running smoothly, our spirits high, and help us make connections between our academics, experiences, and the other places to which we have travelled.

A nice gift half way through the month: our program director, Joe, and US country coordinator, Alyshia, joined us for about a week to check in on us, see our growth, and get feedback on the program. It was so great to see them both and spend time with them again.

The Places

While in India we stayed in the western state of Gujarat. The thing about India is that it’s so big and diverse, it’s simply not possible to see RFS Photo 3more than just a little bit, especially in just a month. We were based out of Ahmedabad, the cultural capital city of Gujarat. It is one of the most rapidly developing cities in the country, with a population of around six million. We had our classes at World Learning India, the SIT headquarters, sitting in a bunch of bamboo chairs. While in the city we had visits to grain, oil, spice, and vegetable markets, and had personal visits in pairs to a number of specific food vendors. Ahmedabad is definitely a city, with intense traffic, crowded streets that we zipped through in rickshaws, and a never-ending chorus of horns. We spent a night doing a street food market tour, which while delicious, may have been the source of many of us getting sick, but maybe not.

We spend a couple days in Anand, a small city known for the AMUL Dairy Plant. AMUL is a cooperative that collects dairy from small villages in Gujarat, and ensures that the local producers are treated fairly. We got a tour of the whole processing plant, which produces dried milk powder and butter, and we also got to see an AMUL chocolate plant, where we saw the whole process of chocolate being made. It was an effort to not stick our hands in the machines and get fresh chocolate, but we were given lots of samples after the tour. So delicious. We visited a village to see the nightly milking of the cows (and some of us helped with the milking) and see how the dairy coop worked at the village level. Another highlight was a visit to a women’s vegetable cooperative under the SEWA union, and the delicious meal we shared with them.

RFS Photo 7Our last field trip was north to the region of Kutch, where we spent the last ten days. In the Little Rann of Kutch, we saw salt miners in the saline flatlands, a pastoral community, and a wheat and cotton farm. The last one welcomed us into their home for lunch and discussion afterwards, a number of very inspirational women farmers in the area had lead a successful movement against the development plans in the area that would’ve taken away their livelihoods.

In the Greater Rann of Kutch we stayed near the city of Bhuj. We visited a master cloth RFS Photo 6
craftsman who made beautiful goods which we saw being dyed and weaved. We went to the coastal city of Mundra, which has seen much development by the government and private corporations as part of industrial schemes. We went further north to the White Salt Desert, where salt stretched as far as you could see and we watched a beautiful sunset. Attempts were made to make salt angels. We also spent a day at the Gujarat Institute of Desert Ecology (GUIDE), where we had several lectures on grassland restoration, threats to coastal ecosystems, and ginger diversity.

Finally, in our last week in India, we had our spring vacation, which spread our group around the country, north to Manali and Rishikesh in the Himalayas, south to beachside Goa and Mumbai, to New Delhi, and even sticking around Ahmedabad.

The Classroom

Our home base in Ahmedabad took the form of a classroom space owned by IHP/SIT, warmly referred to everyone as “school” or “the RFS Photo 5office”. While many classes, guest-lectures, and discussions look place in that space, we also enjoyed unconventional classrooms all over Gujarat. From buffalo grazing pastures to milk processing factories to the kitchen floors of local families to urban grain markets. We learned equally from our IHP faculty (Katie, Joe, Richa, and Vasanthi), and local activists, farmers, pastoralists, and vendors.

Something we had to keep in mind while studying in India was the fact that anything one might say about India is true, and that generalizations simply don’t apply. Therefore, our studies centered around many things — narratives of globalization, legacies of the caste system, the politics of vegetarianism and Hindu nationalism, gender issues in food security and pastoralism, questions of land ownership and land grabbing, the power of cooperatives, urban and rural food insecurity, the politics of Special Economic Zones and Special Investment Regions in Gujarat, challenges of food policy implementation, water politics in the Kutch desert, and the power of foreign and national corporations. Many of these academic discussions centered around issues of food security, infrastructural, and agricultural development. We questioned whose knowledge is valued in the creation of these types of development, and whom these types of development truly benefit.

Beyond the Classroom

RFS Photo 1While in India, we had the opportunity to immerse ourselves in Ahmedabad culture outside of the classroom through interactions with our host families, shopping among markets and vendors, and exploring the old city of Ahmedabad and its many step-wells and temples. To get to our classroom many chose to travel via rickshaws, or else the bus, or calling a cab or uber. These were terrific ways to see the city, and there was always something to learn from talking with our drivers.

Whilst in our homestays, we had the opportunity to enjoy traditional Gujarati dishes as well as learn about the rich history of the state through conversations over meals, and free days spent with our host family exploring various landmarks and local markets.

On days when we had free time, people went around exploring old Ahmedabad and its sixteen gates, scaled the walls of majestic age-old step-wells, and admired the beauty and significance of temples and monasteries.

The Future

Our week of vacation is over and we’re all returning to Ahmedabad to regroup and prepare for our next journey. We’ll be flying out Monday morning to head to Italy, and the last month of our amazing semester. The last two (and some) months have been amazing and transformative for all of us, we’re very excited to see what Italy has for us, and to see where we will go from here!

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