From the Pen of Guest Editor

Professional Agriculture : The Indian Scenario

With 1 billion people sleeping hungry every night and the world population, estimated to cross 9 Billion by 2050, the world is looking on agriculture to produce more food and improve the livelihood of a booming population. Farming as a profession provides opportunities to contribute in the mission of eradicating hunger and enabling food security. Dr. Norman Borlaug, a well known scientist and Nobel Leaurate said, “You cannot make a peaceful world on empty stomachs and human misery”. What could be more meaningful than being part of a proven solution to such a critical challenge?

 

Randa Filfili, a young entrepreneur from Senegal being the first Senegalese producer who saw value in the fruit of cashew trees and turned it into jam products for export. Through agribusiness, Randa has not only carved out a successful career of her own, but also helped local farmers reach global markets, and create jobs for other young people — especially women. So can we not also start up a business in agriculture to help both ourselves and the rural poor ?

 

In Uganda, a young team with the World Bank and UNICEF used a mobile and web-based app called “U-Report” to swiftly help 190,000 farmers save their bananas — a staple food for Ugandans — from a vicious disease. Countries like Kenya and Rwanda are also eager to boost productivity through information and communication technologies and other creative solutions. Agriculture in the developing world has become a field vibrant with effective innovations. Thanks goes to a growing number of young techie minds that make it happen.

 

Today, more than before, climate change and a growing demand for nutritious food are for fresh ideas and renewed knowledge to explore ICT in agriculture, foster climate-smart agriculture and innovate in the sector to power future growth.
Attitudes toward agriculture are already changing.
In India, however, farming did not get the attention it deserved immediately after freedom. Experts quote it as one the major reasons of China surpassing India in growth. Better late than never, a major shift in the economic thinking took place in 2002 when Agriculture was made the Prime Moving Force of Indian economy. It is noteworthy that the 65% of the Indian population (farmers) yield just 13.5% of the GDP. India is presented as a typical example of market failure. There are defects/problems of Indian agricultural marketing such as too many intermediates, defective weights and scales, illiteracy and lack of unity among farmers, lack of financial resources, lack of organised marketing system, lack of transport facilities, lack of store houses, lack of standardization. lack of market information etc.

 

Indian agriculture needs huge investment in infrastructure if it has to remain globally competitive. A recent report by Ficci-KPMG has estimated that loss of primary produce before reaching the market due to lack of proper handling, cleaning, sorting, grading and packaging, cold storage facilities and poor roads at the village level is about 30 to 40%. Our farmer receives only 10-23% of the price Indian consumer pays for the same produce. In comparison to it, the farmers in Europe and America receive 64-81%. According to World Trade Organization, India’s total farm subsidy amounts to $56 billion catering 120 million farmers. U.S. pays $20 billion to just 2 million farmers! Money alone cannot solve issues. Farming professionals must come up with ways and means to cope up with the problems.

 

There are certain practical constraints in farming which must be addressed. Farming, as a profession, is still an option, not a priority. The best human resource should be diverted to this profession as it addresses the most basic need of the society. Pumping more money into research and development can give sustainable and long term results. For long, the agricultural sector has been neglected in India. Though 80-90 per cent of students studying agriculture belong to the farming community, most of them prefer to choose a different career of which between 70-80 percent join banking sector as their career.

 

We need to stop this agro brain drain. There are many ways to enhance job opportunities for students of agriculture. For instance, the government needs to come up with schemes so that students are given a licence to market and supply fertilisers and pesticides. In doing so, farmers can get correct advice regarding the amount to be used for a particular crop. It is a pity that management students, and not students of agriculture, are recruited by institutions like the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD).

 

Both the government and the corporate sector must increase the number of scholarships for agriculture students to enhance research and development. This will help them become better professionals and improve their earning capacities. The government must also enhance their professional status so that more youth take up jobs in this sector. It is common knowledge that students of agriculture rarely utilise their knowledge in practical farming. This must change. We must emulate the success stories in Maharashtra and the Punjab, where agriculture students have taken up farming and are using proper seeds, machinery and agro management techniques.

Agriculture is the biggest sector in India, yet the sector and its workforce are not valued. This, too, must change. The youth are not attracted to this profession as there is neither guarantee of income nor enough institutions that provide jobs. At present, only a few crops get a Minimum Support Price (MSP) guarantee from the government. This has created a vicious cycle. Farmers are growing the same crops every season to sustain their livelihoods. It is time to break this cycle and think beyond this stunted vision. The government must assure MSP for other crops as well. This will encourage the youth to take up farming without bothering about the market risks.

 

The youth should also be taught about profitable farming techniques and systems so that less land and resources are used. They should not only be taught about integrated farming, but also about latest techniques in mushroom farming, freshwater aquaculture and dairy farming. They should also be given subsidy or loans to start food processing units. For instance, in the Punjab, the processing units of Kinnow produce are located in distant areas. By helping the youth to establish processing units, we can decrease transportation costs as well as provide jobs.

 

Cutting edge agricultural machine technologies are expensive. Government agencies should enable the farmer to rent such equipment so that they save money in investment and increase productivity. Farmers need handholding to embrace digitalization. The digital revolution must be used to inform the farmer about weather forecasts, time of sowing and the exact amount of fertilisers and pesticides to be used for each crop, depending on the soil health.

 

Attractive loan schemes will go a long way in strengthening the hands of the farmer. Farmers must also be provided with proper insurance policies as we are already in the middle of a climate change era.
Ironically, the youth of this country have high energy levels—we comprise 65 per cent of the population. The youth must be made aware of the prevailing conditions—soil health, rainfall patterns and cropping cultures. They must also be apprised of the severity of the water crisis and taught the ancient art of water harvesting. They must be trained to incorporate the latest technological breakthroughs in agriculture. The solutions lie in precision agriculture and organic farming. Agricultural institutions must hold training programmes to teach young farmers about post-harvest management and value additions. There is also a need to integrate the agro-economy through value chains and market linkages using cold storage systems. They must be also trained to be market savvy and produce foodstuff that use less land, water and inputs.

 

Higher level agricultural universities must make themselves relevant by inspiring students to become entrepreneurs—teaching them to practice new agro innovations and techniques, generating awareness about the existing banking schemes and market mechanisms. Agribusiness Professionals can start offering farm management services to put to use such land on a pilot basis . The fixed cost will be borne by landowners, while the operational expenses will be taken care by agri-professionals. The profit will be shared with the client. In our country, there are huge acres of farm lands with industrialists and institutions, who are not farming themselves and neither given out on lease to other farmers.

 

There are many seed varieties that have the potential to secure huge profits, but are in the hands of the private sector. The government has not made any effort to produce these high-yielding varieties and make them available to the poor farmer. At a time when we are facing drought almost every year, the government should invest in high-yielding drought- resistant crop varieties and popularise them. Only then will India’s youth gain confidence to take up farming as a profession. The government should also come up with initiatives to encourage organic farming as clean crops are gaining ground worldwide and are highly profitable. They are also ecologically sustainable. Banks too must provide subsidised loans without collateral security.

 

Besides, there is an immediate need to start a separate Indian Agriculture Service, on the lines of the Indian Administrative Service and the Indian Forest Service. This will not only make the agro- regulatory mechanism more robust but also generate jobs for students pursuing agriculture. Agriculture as a subject should be taught from the school level itself. It is time to bring little cheer to the farming community.

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~ Dr Paran Baruah, Formerly Chief Scientist,
CSIR-North East Institute of Science and Technology (NEIST),
previously known as RRL, Jorhat

[Dr Paran Barua is a socially active person since his student days and well-known as the persistent promoter of science and technology among the mass people,through the platform of National Children Science Congress, Assam Academic Centre, Assam Science Society etc ~Editor.]

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