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First Indian Fellow Studies Climate, Agriculture At SHSU

June 30, 2014
SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt
Story By: Amy Barnett

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Raju Mandall As a child growing up in the state of Assam, India, Raju Mandal experienced a simple, rural lifestyle where many families greatly depended on farming to make a living and put food on the table.

When Mandal completed high school, his family could not afford to send him to a respected university in a big city, so he attended a smaller, local college where academic success in his undergraduate studies helped him receive generous support from his teachers to go to a more prestigious institution for his graduate studies.

Mandal earned his master’s degree and doctorate from Gauhati University in India and is now an assistant professor of economics at Assam University, India.

While earning his doctorate, Mandal began studying a topic that has fascinated him for some time—how farmers respond to frequent incidences of flooding in Assam. Although Assam is known for getting a lot of rain, in recent years, rainfall has been more extreme and erratic, forcing farmers to adjust their cropping patterns.

“Farmers in Assam had to learn to hedge against the risk of frequent flooding by diversifying their cropping patterns,” Mandal said. “They’ve learned to allocate some of their resources to non-rainy season crops as well.”

Hoping to continue his research in the effects of climate variables such as temperature and rainfall on agricultural productivity in Assam, Mandal applied for the Raman Post-Doctoral Fellowship in 2012, awarded by the University Grants Commission of the Government of India as part of the Singh-Obama 21st Century Knowledge Initiative.

The fellowship, named after C.V. Raman, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist from India, allows young Indian scholars under the age of 40 to conduct collaborative research and to receive training in advanced techniques and technologies in an American University.

“Comparing when I was a child to now, I see a big difference. Now winters are getting shorter and summers are getting hotter, so there is some indication that there are some changes in the climatic conditions,” Mandal said. “Seeing this over the past 20 or 30 years, it could be these changes that are impacting the agricultural sector and thereby affecting the livelihood of so many people, that’s why I am interested in this topic.”

Mandal was one of 126 fellows selected to continue his research at a university in the United States. The initiative aims to strengthen collaboration and build partnerships between American and Indian institutions of higher education.

“The idea behind the fellowship is since we have limited resources back in India, why not send young researchers to the U.S. to get expert guidance, better resources and have collaborative research that they can continue on a regular basis,” said Mandal.

The fellowship teamed Mandal, one of only two fellows chosen in the field of economics, with Hiranya Nath, professor of economics at SHSU and also a native of Assam.

“Sam Houston has better facilities, better access to libraries and technologies we don’t have or know about in India. Dr. Nath is an expert,” Mandal said. “I thought since he is also from Assam and he is a very dedicated and hard-working researcher, he’d be the best person to guide me.”
Nath could not have been more excited to take part in the program, especially since it will offer direct benefit to his home state of Assam.

“This is a very good program for young researchers in India,” Nath said. “In the past I’ve had some post-doctoral scholars from China, but in India this is very new; the program just started last year.

“In India the higher education sector is relatively smaller than in the U.S. but it will probably grow very fast because in India the median age is about 26 years. That means out of 1.25 billion people, more than 600 million are under the age of 26,” Nath said. “Even if only 5 percent of that 600 million wants to pursue higher education, India needs to put focus on improving the quality of higher education. This fellowship is a small but good step in the right direction to improve the quality of higher education in India.”

Mandal arrived at SHSU last fall and will complete his fellowship at the end of summer. He spends his time conducting research in the library and learning from the leadership of Nath and other professors in economics and related fields of study.

“I am so happy to be able to come to the U.S. to meet experts from different fields like geography, economics and other disciplines to learn new ideas and also to learn about their values and work culture,” Mandal said.

Nath believes the collaboration is just as much a benefit for SHSU as it is for researchers like Mandal.

“Sam Houston is the best kept secret in Texas and maybe the U.S., so this is a way of letting people know not only in the U.S. but also out of the country about our university,” said Nath. “What we need is even more people coming from all different parts of the world to work with us; that’s my vision for Sam Houston.”

Mandal, who said the climate in Huntsville is very similar to that of his home state of Assam, has enjoyed his time at SHSU and said it feels like a “second home.” He is extremely grateful to the economics department and the College of Business Administration for making him feel at home.

His preliminary findings in his research reveal temperature is a significant factor in the economics of agriculture in Assam.

“The temperature is going up and the rainfall overall is the same, but the extreme rainfall is increasing. These are the things on the climate front, and regarding its impact on agriculture, we’ve found that rainfall doesn’t have a big impact on agricultural productivity but temperature does,” Mandal said.

After completing his research, Mandal will present his findings at Assam University and submit a report to the University Grants Commission.

SHSU will host two more Raman fellows starting in the fall, both of whom will be working under the guidance of Nath.

“It’s a win-win for Sam Houston and the universities back home,” Nath said. “I hope these fellowships and collaborations continue, not only with me but with other professors and departments at SHSU.”

 

 

 

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