They have come all the way from the United States to get a feel of Indian agricultural practices. As many as 36 students pursuing undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral programmes in Cornell University started their two-week exploration of Indian agriculture at Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) here on Thursday.

It is a component of the International Agricultural and Rural Development programme that is part of any agricultural course they pursue. The objective of the visit is to know the agricultural systems, rural infrastructure, and value-addition capabilities in developing countries.

The visits to various departments and trial fields at TNAU had them engrossed. They tried their hand with a shovel used by farm workers in weeding on a millet farm. It was all different and exciting for the foreigners.

James Keach, a Ph.D. scholar in plant breeding, says that the evident difference between the two countries is that in the U.S. there are large farms managed by a few people, mostly the family members, while in India it is the reverse.

He also points out that the variety in cropping pattern is high in India when compared to the limited crops that are cultivated in the U.S.

Jessica Rutkoshi, a student, says that while farmers in the U.S. concentrated on food processing and cultivating for animal feed, Indians concentrated more on feeding humans and also on fresh food.

The group will visit the R.S. Puram Uzhavar Sandhai on Friday to witness the farmers selling their produce. They will compare the market to the farmers' markets in the U.S. that mostly sell organic fruits and vegetables at ‘expensive' prices.

They will then form smaller groups. The group that is involved in rural infrastructure and agricultural systems will head towards Udhagamandalam, while the one involved in value-addition will travel to Kochi.

Later, they will meet up in Hyderabad to visit ICRISAT, Pochampalli weaving units, and the dry land agriculture patterns there, before returning home.

Some students have chosen to stay back and work with non-Governmental organisations (NGO), even though it is not part of the curriculum.

Amy Joy Nichols, a master's student, is among those who will stay back. She says she will apply the knowledge she has gained in her course of study working for an NGO.

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