Leaving on a Jet Plane

In a few short hours, I start my journey to India by way of the European Union.  Unlike my fellow CASI fellows, I’m a professional student, in the School of Veterinary Medicine.  Before I discuss my project, I must thank several people.
Thank you to my parents and brother for providing me a life in which I can achieve my goals; to CASI and Penn Vet for supporting my research financially; to Mr. Sudhir Ambekar for running a Sunday Marathi school that gave me the language skills this project demands; to my faculty mentor, Dr. David Galligan, for working with me to create a reasonable research plan; to Dean Joan Hendricks, Dr. Narayan Avadhani, and Dr. Dipti Pitta of the School of Veterinary Medicine for their help and encouragement; to Dr. Harvey Rubin and Dr. Aravind Menon of the Perelman School of Medicine & Energize the Chain for their inspirational work and faith in my ability to contribute; to Dr. Narayan Hegde, Dr. Jayant Khadse, and Dr. Ashok Pande of BAIF who have graciously opened their doors to a novice scientist; and finally, my fellow veterinary students for continually inspiring me with their aptitude and motivation.

My project seeks to achieve two distinct goals:
1. Improve production in rural Maharashtrian dairy farms through as-is nutritional, medical, and land-use analysis; and describe best practices in these areas.
2. Understand vaccine use and distribution for veterinary purposes, to establish whether cold-chains are a limiting factor in vaccination of production animals.

Global food security in the 21st century has been recognized universally as an important issue worth solving.  According to the BBC, India’s population, which is growing by 1.4% annually, is set to overtake China’s as the world’s largest by 2025.  Providing enough food to feed over a billion human beings is an incredibly challenging task.  Indeed, the World Bank reports that more than 70% of Indians live in rural villages, many of which do not have reliable access to adequate sources of nutrition.

The United States Centers for Disease Control has established that adults over the age of 18 require approximately 50 grams of protein per day.  In a country where meat consumption may not be affordable or culturally sanctioned for many people, dairy supplementation is essential — especially for the rural Indian population — to reach target levels of protein (as well as dietary fat and calcium).  According to Meeta Punjabi Mehta of Creative Agri Solutions Pvt. Ltd., while milk production in 2010-2011 was 121 million tons, with 4% growth annually, demand is growing at double this rate.  Demand in 2020 estimated to reach 200 million tons.

My project this summer seeks to increase productivity among small dairy producers in rural Maharashtra to help meet the rising demand for protein.  Dairy production in rural areas is crucial for India to provide its rural population with adequate nutrition.  Compared with their counterparts in Pennsylvania, Indian cows tend to produce far less milk.  This is thought to be due to the lack of appropriate nutrition, or an unfavorable climate.  A dearth of infrastructure compounds matters: milk delivery requires a rapid, cold supply chain in order to limit spoilage.  Rural Indians, lacking paved roadways, require productive local dairies.

I will be based at the Bharatiya Agro-Industrial Foundation (BAIF) near Pune, Maharashtra. Leveraging the expertise of David Galligan, professor of animal health economics at Penn’s School of Veterinary Medicine, I have crafted a survey that will quantitatively illustrate the economic realities of dairy production in Maharashtra.  I aim to administer the survey to dairy farmers in the Pune area with the assistance of BAIF staff.  Examining the as-is practices and processes of these farmers will yield insight into areas in which cow health and dairy productivity can be improved.  These insights will improve the populace’s access to dairy products, increase profits for farmers, and have a positive effect on the health of the cows themselves.

Further, I have joined the team at Energize the Chain as an ambassador for the veterinary profession.  I had the privilege of attending a lecture given by Dr. Harvey Rubin this Spring, and was immediately enamored with his idea to increase vaccine availability by leveraging existing cell phone tower electrical supply for vaccine refrigerators.  The idea has been put into action to improve cold chains in India already, but only on the human side.  I will examine the possibility of extending the capability into the veterinary sphere.  With foot and mouth disease and pestes des petits ruminants vaccines requiring reliably chilled supply chains, there is great potential in Energize the Chain’s work in promoting India’s food security.

I will arrive in India on the 12th of June, and begin work on the 17th.  I am certain the weeks ahead pose a significant challenge, and will be sure to update this blog regularly and candidly.  I welcome your comments and questions.

India_Maharashtra_locator_map.svg
India, with Maharashtra highlighted

7 thoughts on “Leaving on a Jet Plane

  1. Wow! I’m very curious about the survey you designed and your sampling approach – it must have taken a good deal of careful thought and planning. I Hope you learn valuable information and have a wonderful experience, Nikhil.

  2. Best wishes on your research. It will benefit dairy farms in Maharashtra and beyond. Have a great trip to India.
    Thank you for the kinds words about the Marathi School. It was merely a catalyst. The credit for your language skills goes to you and your family.
    Sudhir Ambekar

  3. Good luck with your project. Hope things will work very well for you. A brief description of dairy animals (both cows and buffaloes) could be added along with the type of nutrition they recieve. How long do you plan on staying there?

  4. Your blog posts are incredibly well-written and insightful. However, whenever I read about the growing demands for protein (and countless other fundamental nutrients and resources), I can’t help but wonder why no one is addressing the problem at the most basic level: the out-of-control growth of the human population. This is a problem in every nation, but it seems even more dire in these developing countries such as India and China which currently already have unsustainable populations.

    So, are there any programs out there which are addressing population control in these places?

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