Murtugudde sustains work with Leopold Leadership Program and student program in India

Raghu Murtugudde is already accomplished in the field of sustainable water management and agriculture, but this past year, he added a few more achievements to his record after he was selected as a 2011 Leopold Leadership Fellow and lead a student program in India that sought to teach the basics of sustainability while looking at life and climate in the country.

Murtugudde explained part of the reason he was chosen for the fellowship in the first place had to do with the work that he has done both in the United States and India involving trying to communicate to people exactly what is going on with climate change.

“They select based on your work, your interests, your community involvement and your desire to go outside of your work and actually try to make a change in the environment,” said Murtugudde.

Part of what the Leopold Leadership Program actually does is train those chosen in things like leadership techniques and outreach skills so they are able to work with other fellows, as well as those in their field and the general public, to share their knowledge.

Aldo Leopold was one of the more famous environmental scientists from the United States, explained Murtugudde. Leopold was responsible for establishing many regulations on landholdings in the United States around the 1940s and 1950s, and the fellowship program has now expanded to include nearly 200 fellows.

In addition to completing the training involved with the fellowship program during the year, Murtugudde traveled to India during the summer to lead a group of students and teach them about both climate sustainability and the basics of what life in an Indian village is like.

Murtugudde explained he’s been involved with sustainable water management and agriculture for more than ten years, and though he has visited India many times with his work, this was still an important milestone for him. For Murtugudde, this trip was the first time that he was actually taking and leading students from the United States to India.

The group chosen to work with Murtugudde consisted of 14 students from the University of New Mexico.

“It depends on the funding,” said Murtugudde, explaining how the number of students in the program was decided and what the future of the program will hold. “This funding came out of private foundations and industries from New Mexico, and I have to pursue that again with new funding.”

However, he noted that in the future he hopes to broaden the appeal to other universities and students worldwide.

The University of New Mexico was the first choice as a collaborator because of the funding and because, with a similar climate to India, there was interest to see if the methods implemented in India could be used in the United States as well, said Murtugudde.

Murtugudde initially left for India with a set plan over the summer, but quickly realized they would have to adapt because of elements beyond their control.

“It was a learning experience in the sense that we couldn’t do what we had planned to do in terms of planting trees,” said Murtugudde, who explained that a serious drought had immense impact both on the program’s initial plan and on the basic way that life and culture works in India. “We ended up learning how things change when it doesn’t rain, including what men do and what women do to save money.”

Part of Murtugudde’s program involved helping the local population in the Indian village by examining their water sources.

Murtugudde explained part of his past research involved studying groundwater and installing filters, and this also fed into his work with the students over the summer.

“One filter is not enough to supply drinking water to all of them,” said Murtugudde, talking about a filter installed in the village to control excess fluoride.

It is important to make sure the water is also not being wasted, said Murtugudde.

Not only did Murtugudde recognize the need for some of these advancements, but he also stressed the importance of actually teaching the villagers how to use some of the help that was being provided.

Though one of the main goals was for Murtugudde and his students to be able to help these villagers, it was also a learning experience for those involved in the program. They learned about the way that these men, women and children go about collecting water and fuel in their everyday lives and also how far they have to go to get these daily essentials.

“It was a learning experience for all of us,” said Murtugudde, who admitted that there are a few adjustments he plans to make in the future, but continues to work hard to maintain his connection in the country.

Murtugudde recently returning from a trip to India where he was checking up on his work and to make sure that he and his team’s instillation were working correctly.

(Related: See ESSIC News Highlight on the Leopold Fellowship and India program.)