Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Illinois varsity looking for IT, agriculture partnerships

‘Opportunity to work with Indian scientists, IT sector focused on marginal farmers'

The Ohio State's ban on the outsourcing of software jobs to India notwithstanding, the Chancellor and Provost (Interim) of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Professor Robert A. Easter, arrived here on Monday, looking for bilateral partnerships with IT companies such as Infosys, Wipro and Tata Consultancy Services, as also with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and the G.B. Pant University of Agriculture and Technology. 

Dr. Easter termed his visit, ahead of United States President Barack Obama's in November, as a coincidence, but outlined an agenda that fits into the Obama-Singh 21st Century Initiative for building partnerships in various sectors. 

His visit will pave the way for the University signing two crucial Memoranda of Understanding. One will be with the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology for setting up an Information Technology Research Academy (ITRA) in New Delhi and another with ICAR for “mutually beneficial research programme.” The nature of partnership would be in terms of visits by faculty, exchange of students and capacity-building with each side bearing its own cost. 

Dr. Easter, who is a professor of animal and nutrition sciences, said that the areas identified by the U.S. side for collaboration with the ICAR are in animal husbandry, product agriculture, food technology, agriculture engineering, IT, agribusiness, agri-finance, agri-marketing and biotechnology. 

“These are the broad areas for partnership and two-way areas of learning,” he said, adding that IT and technology could help small and marginal farmers in marketing, pricing, water management, irrigation and managing the logistics of the food supply chain, including storage and post-harvest preservation techniques. 

The professor said his University was a public-funded one with $500 million invested in research in agriculture, computer sciences, chemical and electronic engineering, but admitted that more and more universities have to look for private support for income, as technologies developed with federal dollars “were not moving into practice.” He was fascinated by the plant breeding system in India and the fact that technology and varieties were distributed to farmers.

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