India: Food Innovation Lab (Summer)

India: Food Innovation Lab (Summer)

Analyze current trends and long-term prospects for local food production and nutritional security in the Himalaya, one of the most fragile, important, and biodiverse ecological systems in the world.

Through excursions, site visits, and discussions with experts in the field, all of which are complemented by hands-on projects, you will develop new skills and diverse perspectives necessary for analyzing the sustainability of food production and nutritional security within integrated and rapidly changing Himalayan agricultural systems. On this program, you will study Sikkim’s dynamic genetic pool of agro-biological resources developed by mountain communities through generations of diverse cultivation and conservation practices. You will learn about and analyze how climate change, globalization, and state government policies impact food production and nutritional security in mountain communities. This course culminates in collaborative group projects related to food, designed by you and innovation lab co-participants in conjunction with local communities.

  • Get firsthand exposure to agricultural systems, agro-biodiversity conservation, and food culture.
  • Develop a collaborative project focused on various aspects of food and agriculture systems, which is immediately relevant to the local farming communities and of mutual interest.
  • Analyze conservation and management of food production systems through the lenses of society and gender.
  • Study the role and impact of government agricultural policies on food production, diversity, and nutritional security in Sikkim.
  • Engage in hands-on activities such as working on farms, making agro-based products, and processing ethnic food varieties.

Discover Sikkim’s importance in food production issues.

Transplanting Rice in Sikkim
Transplanting rice

Sikkim, a stunning mountainous state and an ecological hotspot, stands at the forefront of national and regional food politics. Sikkim’s traditional agricultural systems maintain rich agro-biodiversity critical in ensuring nutritional security among mountain communities, yet those historically sustainable practices are facing new challenges even while the state of Sikkim was the first in India, in 2003, to legislate the 100% adoption of organic food production practices.

The summer lab in Sikkim is designed to expose you to a variety of agro-ecosystems and agricultural issues. Therefore, you will divide your time between Gangtok, the state capital in the east district (two days at the beginning of the lab and three days at the end of the lab), and Lingee Payong village (15 days) and Sumbuk Village (three days), both in Sikkim’s south district. Four days will also be required to travel roundtrip between Delhi and Sikkim with one night halt in Delhi. During the program, you will engage in facilitated discussions and debriefing sessions in the following areas:

  • Sikkim: people, livelihood, culture, and society
  • Traditional and integrated agriculture systems in Sikkim
  • Agro-biodiversity: food culture and habits
  • Gender and local agro-biodiversity: production and nutrition
  • Globalization and food production in mountain communities
  • Climate change and agricultural biodiversity
  • Government policies on rural development and its implication on food production and nutrition

Prior to the execution of the collaborative project, you will attend a culminating half-day workshop with experts and local community members to understand sustainability in relation to food and nutrition security in the context of globalization, climate change, and government policies.

Gain hands-on experience through a collaborative lab project.

By the end of the first week you will be living with homestay families in the village of Lingee Payong. Throughout the food lab, you engage with experts — local practitioners, academics, community activists, professionals, independent scholars, and community residents — to gain a more nuanced understanding of issues relating to food from a multitude of unique perspectives. Rural homestay immersion with farming families means that you will also take part in daily chores and engage in hands-on agricultural activities.

Throughout weeks one and two, the threads of potential ideas for collaborative lab projects, grounded in mutual interests, emerge from immersive experience, facilitated community dialogue, and frequent critical reflection sessions supported by academic literature. These embryonic ideas, in turn, provide the basis for further conversations with community members on the project type and its design by the end of week two. Week three focuses on project execution and preliminary implementation, while the final week (week four) focuses on the realization, assessment, and trouble-shooting of the proposed project or, depending upon scale and feasibility given the remaining time available, the completion of the project proposal for implementation and completion of the project at a later date. 

Engagement in hands-on projects will equip you to understand and analyze the current trends and long-term prospects for local food production and nutritional security in the Himalayas.


None. Previous college-level coursework or other significant preparation in environmental studies, agriculture, policy studies, sociology, or related fields recommended.

Access virtual library guide.

The syllabus linked below is from the forthcoming course offered on this program. Because courses develop and change over time to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, actual course content will vary from term to term.

The syllabus can be useful for students, faculty, and study abroad offices in assessing credit transfer. Read more about credit transfer.

Food – syllabus
(ILAB 3010 / 4 credits / 60 class hours)
An interdisciplinary hands-on course focused on integrated Himalayan agricultural systems and nutritional security in the context of globalization, climate change, and government policies in local communities. Emphasizing the practical aspects of local agro-biodiversity, food production, and food culture, students engage in hands-on learning on local agricultural community practices and develop a collaborative, food-focused project.

Please note that in order to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, program excursions may occasionally vary.

The Food: Sikkim program immerses you in the agricultural life of the state of Sikkim. While the village of Lingee Payong will be the site of your primary homestay, you will also visit Sumbuk, a village in south Sikkim. The three-day site visit to Sumbuk is scheduled during the end of the second week to link key theoretical concepts and policy questions with lived experiences in Sumbuk and to provide a comparative site for food and nutritional security questions in the state of Sikkim. The Sumbuk site visit takes place prior to the formal start of your collaborative lab project and provides context and preparation for your work on the lab project you develop. (For more information on the collaborative lab project, please see the Key Features tab.)

milking cow in SikkimExtended and Culturally Immersive Lab in Lingee Payong Village

The extended and culturally immersive stay in Lingee Payong village in Sikkim’s south district exposes you to farming systems and integrated, sustainable farming practices that respect biodiversity, traditional knowledge, and Mother Earth. You will learn about in-situ conservation of agricultural biodiversity and the role of gender in food production and processing and in ensuring nutritional security of the family. In addition, you will actively participate in agricultural practices such as sowing, transplanting, harvesting, making hay mats, and processing food with village families.

Site Visit to Sumbuk Village

Sumbuk Village, in the west district, is witnessing obvious changes in agriculture due to climate change impacts on water resources and various government policies. The three-day site visit to Sumbuk Village gives you insight into the direct impact of climate change and government policies on agricultural production, new patterns in crop and land use, changes in food culture and nutrition as a result of globalization (e.g., the import of packaged foods), and livelihood transitions from farming to industry.


Tara Devi Dhakal, Academic Director


Tara Devi Dhakal holds a master's degree from the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, where she specialized in social and economic development and organizational management. She did her undergraduate studies in agriculture and earned a postgraduate certificate in women’s studies in India and is currently pursuing a PhD. Her studies focus on rural sociology and socioeconomic development in the eastern Himalayas, with a special interest in agro-based livelihood security and resilience in farming households in Sikkim.

Tara comes from a rural farming community of south Sikkim in northeast India and has grown up doing farming and associated activities. Before joining World Learning, she worked as a researcher and development consultant with NGOs and international development organizations in India and Nepal. She has worked in a tribal district of Maharashtra as eco-health researcher with BAIF Development Research Foundation; gender and social inclusion consultant with The World Conservation Union, Nepal; intern and consultant with International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) on a regional program on access and benefit sharing (ABS) from genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge (TK) in the Eastern Himalayan countries; consultant on community development with JPS Consultants Delhi/IC Net-JICA Japan on a preparatory study on an integrated project for sustainable development of forest resource in Sikkim. She has conducted an in-depth literature review of the eastern Himalayas on agro-biodiversity conservation from a gender perspective and executed field studies on gender-based traditional knowledge of medicinal plants and conservation of local agro-biodiversity in the region. Her areas of interest are community development with a focus on urban and rural farming, rural livelihood, agro-biodiversity, and gender issues. Tara is strongly influenced by social justice and equity and is deeply connected to sustainability and practices of environmental and humanitarian spirituality. 

AwadheshAwadhesh Aadhar, Program Coordinator

Mr. Awadhesh Aadhar has worked for SIT for more than 17 years. He has a bachelor’s degree in law, sociology, and management. He has traveled to mountainous terrains on several occasions and assisted in SIT’s summer program of Himalayan Art and Architecture and traveled with students to mountain-specific sites. He is the key person responsible for financial accounting and organizing and coordinating program logistics. Outside of work, he enjoys reading poems and playing cricket and badminton.

ManojManoj Sain, Student Health Services Coordinator

Mr. Manoj Sain has a bachelor’s degree in humanities from the University of Rajasthan. He has worked with SIT for more than eight years and is a key person for student health-related services and program logistics. Before joining SIT, he managed his own pharmaceuticals business and worked as a tutor for more than three years. He has traveled to mountainous terrains with students during academic field trips. He loves photography and dance and enjoys playing cricket and badminton.

TrilochanTrilochan Pandey, Academic and Homestay Coordinator

Mr. Trilochan Pandey received a bachelor’s degree in economics and political science from the University of Delhi and studied sustainable development from the Indian Institute of Ecology and Environment. Before joining SIT, he worked with The Mountain Institute-India (TMI), Right to Food Campaign-India, Oxfam GB- Control Arms Foundation (CAFI), and Greenpeace-India in New Delhi. He has keen interest in right to food policies and system, organic farming, family farming in mountains, and the solidarity economy within. He has recently done a case study of organic farming in Sikkim for FAO, and is continuing his interest in the labor economy in the traditional agricultural systems of the eastern Himalayas. He assists students in their academic and the field components of the program, and facilitates their overall learning experience in the classroom as well as in the field. He enjoys photography, reading books, and playing badminton.

Durga Prasad Sharma, Academic and Field Coordinator

Mr. Durga Prasad is primarily a villager from South Sikkim in the Himalayas of northeast India. He has an undergraduate degree in English. He has worked with nonprofit and intergovernmental organizations in Sikkim and Darjeeling, India. His interest areas and professional work experiences are in sustainable development with a focus on rural water security and livelihood and biodiversity issues. He has done research and has several publications. He is currently working with government agencies on Rural Water Security Planning for the drought-prone areas in Sikkim. In addition, he is also working on the NBA (National Biodiversity Authority) UNEP-GEF-MoEF–funded Bio-resources Documentation and Access and Benefit Sharing Project in Sikkim. He likes traveling and trekking and loves to visit the ancient monuments and museums to relish ancient art and architecture.

Key expert facilitators for the program include:

Gautam Maila

Gautam Maila is a farmer in the village whose wisdom on agriculture is immense. He manages his farms with his wife and has conserved traditional varieties of food crops and vegetables. He has learnt through trial and error. He loves to be in nature.

Sandeep Tambe

Sandeep Tambe is a member of the Indian Forest Service. He graduated from IIT Mumbai, received his MSc from the Indira Gandhi National Forest Academy (FRI), and has a PhD from the Wildlife Institute of India. Currently, he is working at the Rural Development Department of the government of Sikkim. He has been working in water sources rejuvenation in drought-prone areas of the state, which has contributed to rural water security. Before this, during his stint in the Forest Department and The Mountain Institute, Tambe was instrumental in initiating participatory protection of the biodiversity-rich protected areas of Sikkim. This initiative, taken up in partnership with eco-development committees and local NGOs, has resulted in a measurable reduction of the threats to forests and wildlife. He is a photography, alpine flowers, and trekking enthusiast.

Ghanashyam Sharma

Ghanashyam Sharma has more than 15 years of professional experience in the fields of biodiversity conservation and agro-ecology, ecosystem services, climate change, traditional farming systems, traditional knowledge systems, community development, environmental governance, mountain culture, and livelihoods in the eastern Himalayas. He is currently involved in CBD’s access and benefit sharing of traditional knowledge (TK) associated with genetic resources, constitution of biodiversity management committees, genetic resources and TK documentation process, community organization, capacity development, sensitization, and awareness. Dr. Sharma’s research area currently also includes traditional agroforestry systems, climate change adaptation, mountain agricultural biodiversity and production systems, trans-Himalayan agro-postoralism, habitat ecology, and mountain spring revival initiatives.

During his postdoctoral research at United Nations University (UNU) in Tokyo, Dr. Sharma carried out comparative research on traditional farming systems, and mountain agro-biodiversity in the Eastern Himalayas Region, Northern Thailand, China’s Yunnan Province, and tanada and satoyama areas in the Northern Mountainous Region of Japan. Dr. Sharma is passionate about working with local and indigenous communities and their TK and wisdom. He enjoys mountain trekking.

seed saving

You will experience 13 days of immersive rural homestay in Lingee Payong village and three days of homestay during the site visit to Sumbuk village.

Program Dates: Summer 2017

Program Arrival Date:  Jun 12, 2017

Program Departure Date:    Jul 10, 2017

The dates listed above are subject to change. Please note that travel to and from the program site may span a period of more than one day.

Student applications to this program will be reviewed on a rolling basis between the opening date and the deadline.

Application Deadline:   Apr 1, 2017

SIT Pell Grant Match Award. SIT Study Abroad provides matching grants to all students receiving Federal Pell Grant funding; this award can be applied to any SIT semester program. View all SIT Study Abroad scholarships.

Tuition: $4,750

The tuition fee covers the following program components:

Cost of all lecturers / local farmer experts who provide instruction to students in:

  • Sikkim: people, livelihood, culture, and society
  • Traditional and integrated agriculture systems in Sikkim
  • Agro-biodiversity: food culture and habits
  • Gender and local agro-biodiversity: production and nutrition
  • Globalization and food production in mountain communities
  • Climate change and agricultural biodiversity
  • Government policies on rural development and its implication on food production and nutrition
  • Half-day workshop with experts and local community members
  • All educational excursions
  • Health insurance throughout the entire program period

Room & Board: $1,225

The room and board fee covers the following program components:

  • All accommodations during the entire program period. This includes during orientation, time in New Delhi (two nights), hotels (six nights in Gangtok) and homestays (two nights in Sumbuk during a site visit and 15 days in Lingee Payong for an immersive homestay and during the collaborative lab project), and costs during the evaluation period.
  • All meals for the entire program period. Meals are covered by SIT Study Abroad directly or through an appropriate stipend or homestays.
  • Travel fare from New Delhi to Gangtok and back, excursion travel in Sikkim. 

Estimated Additional Costs:

International Airfare to Program Launch Site

International airline pricing can vary greatly due to the volatility of airline industry pricing, flight availability, and specific flexibility/restrictions on the type of ticket purchased. Students may choose to take advantage of frequent flyer or other airline awards available to them, which could significantly lower their travel costs.

Visa Expenses: $ 125

Immunizations: Varies

International Phone: Each student must have a phone in each country. Cost varies according to personal preferences, phone plans, data plans, etc.

Discretionary Expenses

Personal expenses during the program vary based on individual spending habits and budgets. While all meals and accommodations are covered in the room and board fee, incidentals and personal transportation costs differ depending on the non-program-related interests and pursuits of each student. To learn more about personal budgeting, we recommend speaking with alumni who participated in a program in your region. See a full list of our alumni contacts. Please note that free time to pursue non-program-related activities is limited.

Please Note: Fees and additional expenses are based on all known circumstances at the time of calculation. Due to the unique nature of our programs and the economics of host countries, SIT reserves the right to change its fees or additional expenses without notice.


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