India needs to raise agri-education standards to meet key challenges

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President Pranab Mukherjee addressing the 54th Convocation of Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), in New Delhi on February 05, 2016.

India needs to conform to global standards in agriculture education if it wants to bring in new technologies and attract the youth to a sector that still provides livelihood to half of the country population, President Pranab Mukherjee said.

“A strong network of teachers, learners and practitioners will facilitate lab-to-field dissemination of good agricultural practices. It will also provide feedback about farmers’ problems to trigger research and technology development in our institutions,” he said in an address at the Indian Agriculture Research Institute (IARI)

The President said the success of India’s struggling farm sector and the welfare of its millions depended on the quality of the products that emerge from agriculture institutes.

“Able, committed and industrious professionals from these institutions are required to spearhead the next farm revolution. Students and alumni of this reputed institution must seize the opportunity and contribute to the transformation in agriculture,” he said, adding institutes such as the IARI must leverage opportunities from frontier sciences such as bio-technology, synthetic biology, nano-technology, computational biology, sensor technology and geo-spatial technology to develop climate-resilient technology solutions.

Despite advancements, the Indian agri sector still mostly relies on the monsoon, and any shortfall in rain adds to farmer stress. Food grain production, which touched a record 265 million tonnes in 2013-14, fell to 253 million tonnes in the next year due to paucity of rains. A deficit monsoon this financial year is expected to further impact production and force India to import some of its requirements.

Mukherjee said the time is ripe for some serious efforts as 80 percent of the area under cultivation in India is in the grip of severe climatic conditions like drought, floods and cyclones. “Global climate change could aggravate these problems. Innovation in agricultural techniques and practices must be supported through infusion of funds, mentoring of ideas, and technical assistance. The risk-taking ability of farmers must be boosted. The newly-launched crop insurance scheme will leverage technology to provide risk cover to the farmers,” he said.

The President pointed out that the country’s youth was not keen to become a part of its agriculture sector. “To attract youth to agriculture, we need technologies that can make the farm sector profitable. Research in agricultural institutes should focus on minimising production cost, enhancing profitability in the entire“field-to-plate” food chain, and introducing greater automation to reduce drudgery,” Mukherjee said.

Globalization of agriculture has increased the prospects for processed food commodities manifold, and the President said farmers and agri-preneurs must make full use of this opportunity. “India has only 3 percent of the world’s land resources and 5 percent of water resources. Yet, Indian agriculture system supports 18 percent of the world population. The transformation from a state of “ship-to-mouth” to a leading exporter of food grains has been made possible largely due to the scientific developments in premier institutes like IARI,” Mukherjee said.

IARI has recently developed several breakthrough technologies bringing prosperity to farmers. India’s basmati rice export has been revolutionised because of IARI’s short-duration high-yielding basmati rice varieties. Pusa basmati varieties accounted for more than 90 percent of the 30,000 crore rupees of export earnings this year. It gave profit in excess of two lakh rupees per hectare to the farmers. Likewise, IARI wheat varieties have resulted in an additional production of 3 million tonnes of wheat in the previous year, he added.

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