Exhibits of Science at the International Crop Research Institute For Semi Arid Tropics

The visit to ICRISAT (International Crop Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics) was with a purpose to know and understand how research institutes validate their research and popularise it to the public. Since the institute is funded by international organisations and governments the explanation is in the form of a display of semi arid conditions. The approach followed by them was in the form of a publicity campaign to garner goodwill and get more allocation for funds. Though the institute was developed for the semi arid regions it does not reflect any real conditions faced by the people of those regions. The institute reminded me of a corporate boardroom rather than a research institute working for the betterment of very poor farmers. The achievements of the institute cannot be discounted in any way; they have developed new varieties or groundnut and sorghum which have made the lives of farmers a lot easier over the years.

The institutional and donor setup does not allow them to take a oppositional or critical stand when it comes to contentious issues like genetic engineering on crops or genetically modified foods. When questioned about the validity of such research the answer was a very well rehearsed and avoidance filled one expressing and reassuring the audience that there is nothing wrong with genetically modified foods or ever will be. Some other questions about patenting, intellectual property rights and loss of quality in hybrid foods were dealt with in an almost dismissive fashion.

The approach was quite promotional as the institute mainly depends on donations and does not patent its discoveries and inventions (which probably save the institute from total domination by the donors). This type of explanation is aimed at an informed audience who will publicise the findings and provide a justification for the research. Public Relations is everything for people dependent on donors and charity as it is harder to convince people to part with their money for no profit. The institute follows a typical top-down approach to the problems faced by farmers and offers solutions to them based on assumptions made by scientists. Since the institute depends on donations the approach of explanation is satisfactory though making them more inclusive by going to the grass roots instead of labs.

The science express was aimed at popularisation of science for school children and adults alike, the exhibit tried to follow a interactive and explanatory approach but missed the bus on both counts. The explanation written was too technical and needed a solid science background for any student to understand and since it was a joint initiative with the German Government it also took on a German research promotion activity. The facilitators had themselves not fully understood the nature of the exhibits which made their efforts a waste because they did not help the cause. The audience for the science express were science students from grades 10-12, though there were efforts to introduce school children to scientific experiments and thinking. The exhibition was too technical for someone without a background in science or one who is a science enthusiast. The exhibition needed simpler language and lot more interactive understanding. The exhibition had the necessary tools available but proper management was a problem and the facilitators did not help the cause.