Parched Grounds

Video by Anna Sumi and Maggie Kierstead

 
Backpacker, adventurer, researcher, Israeli, economist, irrigation expert; Professor Ram Fishman is more than meets the eye.

Finding A Passion

In our interview with the Professor, he revealed what drives his passion to address the ever-worsening water crisis in the northern state of Gujarat, India. Growing up, Fishman had a unique sensibility to sustainability. He forced his parents to buy organic food before anyone had heard of it and boycotted taking antibiotics. In the interview he told us:

“As a kid, I was a fanatic, I was pretty intense about some of these things... I had this emotional conviction. It was later as I got training in science that I learned to apply that kind of thinking to those issues, and that’s what led me to seek out academic opportunities to combine the analytic approach with issues I care about.” 

He was actually able to combine more than just one passion in his academic pursuits. After serving in the Israeli military, and falling in love with India during extended backpacking trips, Fishman began graduate school in the Sustainable Development program at Columbia University, and found himself right back in India a year later doing research around water and agriculture. That’s when he discovered the severity of the water crisis in India. 

- Maggie Kierstead

I never thought I would compare the environment to basic economics, but in the scenario of India, the correlation is strong. Everyone knows that you can’t spend more than you have: in that same way, with the environment, you can’t use more water than you have.

In some parts of India, that’s exactly the situation the farmers find themselves in. In other areas of the country there is an abundance of water, but the farmers can’t access it and don’t have the tools needed. So what are the suffering farmers to do?

That’s the problem Ram Fishman, Assistant Professor of Economics at the George Washington University, is attempting to solve. He has spent most of his professional career thinking about water in India, and focuses on finding ways for the farmers of India to use water sustainably.

After leaving Israel, Ram went to Columbia University for a PhD in Sustainable Development. With a background in math and physics, Ram said he was more interested in the environmental aspects of the Sustainable Development program than the economics side. He has always had an awareness of his environmental impact, even as a child he said he held strong convictions.

India is a perfect country for Ram to focus on. With a population set to overtake that of China’s by 2028, any solutions Ram and his team find could have ramifications throughout the developing world. The developing world’s economic systems rely so heavily on agriculture, and as they grow, it is crucial they develop sustainably. Not only that, but India’s dependence on the monsoon and having to deal with unreliable water could be close to what we in the US may experience if climate change persists.

As we get closer to 2050, and a population of nearly 10 billion, agriculture will prove to be extremely important in whether we successfully adapt and mitigate the effects of climate change in order to feed the massive population. India could be the place where the solution is found; Ram Fishman could be the one to find it. 

Ram on the Science

Interviewing Professor Fishman

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