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  • Department of Global Development
  • Nutritional Sciences
  • Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management
  • Food
  • Global Development
  • Health + Nutrition
Having witnessed the impacts of the Green Revolution in India in his youth, Prabhu Pingali has spent his career promoting agriculture-led growth in developing countries. After decades applying his economics background with some of the most influential development institutes in the world as director of agricultural development programs at both the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), he founded the Tata-Cornell Institute for Agriculture and Nutrition in 2013.

An expert in international development and economics policy, Professor Pingali is jointly appointed by the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics & Management, the Division of Nutritional Sciences, and as of 2020, the Department of Global Development. Currently serving as the director for the Tata-Cornell Institute for Agriculture and Nutrition he manages research conducted by the institution on food system development and orchestrates research projects for university students.

He responded to questions about his motivations and the impact of his recent work.

What path led you to where you are today? What factors have motivated your work?

I come from a small rice growing village in South India and saw firsthand the impact the Green Revolution had on poor farming communities. The transformative role of agricultural productivity in improving incomes and reducing poverty was something I observed personally while growing up. I have taken that lesson to heart and have spent the last four decades promoting agriculture-led growth in developing countries through my research, writing and policy advocacy. I worked in the CGIAR, the UN/FAO, and the Gates Foundation before joining Cornell in 2013 as a professor of applied economics and the founding director of the Tata-Cornell Institute.

What research has the Tata-Cornell Institute been focusing on and what has come out of it? 

The Tata-Cornell Institute’s primary focus is on addressing the chronic problems of malnutrition by promoting a more diversified and nutritious food system that is accessible to the poor in developing countries. We take a multi-disciplinary approach to addressing the agriculture-nutrition nexus, our students come from a wide array of departments across CALS and the College of Business. Our primary focus is on India, but we hope to gradually expand our reach to other parts of South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. 

How can students interested in the work TCI does get involved?

We have a very active summer internship program that has been popular among IARD students. We also have numerous opportunities for involving undergraduate and graduate students in our field-based research projects.

Your book ‘Transforming Food Systems for a Rising India,’ which you and your colleagues published last year details how Indian agriculture is transforming in the twenty-first century. What led you to write this book, and what impact do you hope will come out of it?

India has made enormous progress in reducing hunger and rural poverty by investing in Green Revolution technologies for rice and wheat in the late 1960s and 1970s. As a result of that early investment, India is self-sufficient in staple grains, but that success has come at the cost of regional disparities in productivity and farm incomes, and a food system that is deficient in nutritious food such as fruit, vegetables, dairy and livestock products. Our book examines the pathways for transforming food systems in India to make them more nutrition-sensitive and to reignite the role of agriculture as an engine of small farm income growth and poverty reduction.

What advice would you like to pass on to IARD students?

Take every opportunity you get to spend time in developing countries. Field-based research and first-hand learning reveals the myriad complexities of promoting agricultural and rural development.

Professor Pingali and the Tata-Cornell Institute for Agriculture and Nutrition are located on the third floor of Warren Hall. His book, ‘Transforming Food Systems for a Rising India,’ can be found online.

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