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Reflections from ICRISAT: Science with a human face

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TCi Intern Dora Heng recently graduated from Cornell University with a B.A. in Economics and minors in International Relations and Information Science. This summer, her internship is based at ICRISAT where she has been conducting household surveys on dietary diversity and eating out behavior for the Minimum Nutrition Dataset for Agriculture (MNDA). (Photo taken at Golconda Fort in Hyderabad. (Photo by J. Ames))

For the past 7 weeks, the TCi team has been working closely with our partner organization ICRISAT to study household and individual dietary diversity.  Finishing a research project within 7 weeks is no easy feat. Aside from the two back to back weeks of data collection spent immersed in the villages, we also had a period of data collection and analysis before presenting our findings and publishing our report. It is a bittersweet feeling as this project draws to a close, and I have come to learn a lot from working with an organization whose motto is “Science with a human face.”

Aside from leading the way in fields of agricultural research such as genetic and crop improvement research that are integral to improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers, ICRISAT also plays a pivotal role in the fields of economics, nutrition, and other related developmental policy issues. One of the key contributions of ICRISAT is the longitudinal Village Dynamic Studies in South Asia dataset. This dataset is a culmination of over three decades of data collection in ICRISAT villages, which “enable[s] decision making based on evidence on impacts on the poor.”

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The people behind the numbers: Villagers from Kanzara (Photo Credit Dora Heng)

As a graduate with a background in Economics, data and numbers excite me greatly. Distilling empirical data to inform on abstract theories, and analyzing numbers to draw out key insights are useful skills for an economist. On one hand, it is useful to know that more than 3 billion people live on less than $2.50 a day. However, often times, these numbers lack context, and stand alone in a vacuum. Individuals simply become mere statistics.

Working with ICRISAT has allowed me to have a greater appreciation of the human narrative behind the numbers. Two weeks of data collection, 30 household surveyed and endless cups of Chai offered helped to provide context behind the data. Now when I look at the dietary diversity score of the household surveyed, this number on a 12 point scale is more than just a number, but rather, I have a better understanding on the household dynamics and their eating habits. Complementing our primary data collected on household dietary diversity with the comprehensive Village Dynamic Studies in South Asia dataset, the narrative on agriculture and nutrition becomes richer and more colorful.