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Faculty, students work with UN to study sustainable watershed management

Faculty, students work with UN to study sustainable watershed management

Providing safe, nutritious food for growing world populations can take its toll on natural resources, especially in developing countries.

Led by Shreeram Inamdar, associate professor of bioresources engineering, three faculty members and four students in UD's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) are using the U.S. and India to look at ways in which sustainable management practices can help boost agricultural production with the environment in mind.

Over the summer, the team embarked on a 10-day study visit to India as part of a project funded by the International Science and Education program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

UD is working in collaboration with the United Nations (UN) International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), with headquarters near Hyderabad, India.

“The intent of the project is to enhance and enrich the knowledge of students and faculty in the U.S. about sustainable management practices being adopted in developing countries, such as India, and spawn new international research collaborations,” says Inamdar.

The students, all from the CANR, included Rachael Vaicunas, Kathryn Zook, Alison Kiliszek and Jennifer Popkin. They were accompanied by Inamdar and Titus Awokuse, associate professor of food and resource economics; David Hansen, associate professor of plant and soil sciences; and Tom Sims, professor of plant and soil sciences and deputy dean of the college.

ICRISAT has established a number of benchmark watersheds in India, China and Southeast Asia and has implemented a suite of management practices to demonstrate the value of sustainable watershed and agricultural management.

Implementation of these conservation practices has had a significant impact on the crop yields, agricultural revenues, soil fertility and carbon storage, soil moisture and groundwater yields, runoff water quality, wildlife habitat, and socioeconomic conditions of the watershed communities.

Through a summer internship program funded by the project in 2009, the four students conducted extensive research into the various sustainable management practices implemented by ICRISAT and the impacts these practices had on water and environmental quality, crop productivity, ecology and socio-economic conditions in the targeted watersheds.

The students also evaluated the policy and international trade implications of these agricultural practices. In addition, they looked at how the watershed conditions and agricultural practices in India and other developing countries were similar or different from the conditions in the US.

As a part of this internship, the students and professors developed “teaching modules” that are now being used to enrich the curriculum of eight existing UD courses with international content -- one of the key objectives of the project.

An online, stand-alone course on “Sustainable Watershed Management in Developing Countries” is also currently being developed using the teaching and information modules developed by the students.

“The visit to India was the second part of the project and was intended to provide the students and faculty a first-hand experience of the agricultural conditions and watershed practices in India,” says Inamdar. “The timing of the visit during the Monsoon season in India was intentional so that the students and faculty could see the watersheds, rainfall and runoff processes, and agricultural practices in action.”

During their time at ISCRISAT headquarters the group visited with various research teams and laboratories at ICRISAT and explored the on-campus experimental watershed and agricultural conservation practices.

“We traveled to a remote village not too far from headquarters to see the impact of the conservation practices on agricultural communities and got to meet the farmers,” says Vaicunas. “It was great to be able to connect all of our research and the topics that we included in our teaching modules to on-the-ground projects.”

Following their stay in Hyderabad, the UD group travelled to New Delhi to visit with scientists and faculty at The Energy Resources Institute (TERI) Center and the TERI University and discuss potential graduate study programs, research opportunities, exchange of students, and joint study courses between the two institutions in the areas of natural resource management, biotechnology and plant biology, and environmental policy and international economics.

Follow-up visits by ICRISAT and TERI scientists are now being planned to further their collaborations and partnerships with UD.

“The sustainable watershed project meshes well with the principles of UD's Path to ProminenceTM -- strengthening global and University-wide partnerships, expanding the cultural and social perspectives of our students, looking towards the future of the planet, and promoting the professional development of our faculty and staff,” says Sims. He adds, “It is an exciting time for us to embark on such projects.”

Additional information on the project including teaching modules, online course, pictures and experiences from the India study visit are available on the project website.