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Thursday, October 21, 2021
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Agriculture needs new solutions

The problems facing Indian agriculture are all too well documented – too dependent on the vagaries of the weather and lack of storage facilities post-harvesting being just a couple of them. What is required now is a fresh approach to solve these problems and increase not just productivity but also agriculture’s share in the GDP, says Dr Sanjeev Kumar Balyan, MoS (Agriculture) in an interview to Smart AgriPost:

What are the key challenges for growth of agriculture in India and how do you intend to tackle them?

The growth of agriculture sector is faced with several diverse challenges in form of depletion and degradation of natural resources mainly, water and soil; high dependence of monsoon; climatic risks; inadequate availability of quality inputs to the farmers; increasing cost of inputs; sub-optimal productivity of crops and animals; gaps in technology dissemination; large number of marginal and small farmers; increasing fragmentation of land holdings; mountain population pressure; to being less remunerative. It may be mentioned that these challenges are not new but our response keeps changing as we find new solutions be it through research, development or policy and our Government has taken several initiatives on the research as well as development fronts to address these issues

Does your government have any plan to boost research and innovation in agriculture? What is the scope of investment in this area?

The Green Revolution during the early 1970s and subsequent development in other sectors of agriculture owes much to the contributions of our research institutions. Our government is fully aware of the fact that there cannot be any development unless it is based on continuous generation and infusion of new technologies and innovations. We have established need based new institutions of agricultural research and education and have recently brought about major change in our approach towards technology dissemination by Krishi Vigyan Kendras.

The National Agricultural Science fund, earlier known as National Fund for Basic Strategic and Frontier Application Research in Agriculture- (NFBSFARA), was established for basic, strategic and cutting-edge application research in agriculture. It has so far funded 102 projects, mostly in a consortium mode, and during the year, the NFBSFARA has initiated the processing of 50 concept notes. India follows a policy of public investment in science and technology for economic development. This is because of strategic nature of science, amount of resources needed and dealings with international organizations on scientific matters. India spends just about 0.6 to 0.7% of the national Agricultural GDP (AgGDP) towards agricultural research and education. This is far below the desirable levels. We shall try to raise this at least to 1% in the short run and gradually bring to 2% of the AgGDP. In this endeavour, private sector should be encouraged to support public research through funding of research consortium of mutual interest and creation of chair professorship in the reputed public institutions. This is essential considering that the agriculture is becoming increasingly competitive, technology and knowledge driven occupation.

What is the status of cold chain facilities in the country? How you plan to fill this gap?

The country also is a major producer of marine, meat & poultry products. However, the post-harvest management, preservation, transportation and value addition are not adequate in the Indian farm sector. This results in huge wastage at each stage of the supply chain. The ministry of Food Processing Industries has been implementing the Scheme of Infrastructure development with Integrated Cold Chain as a major component. To encourage setting up of backward and forward linkages in the agricultural supply chain in the country, to minimise the post-harvest losses and to enhance the value addition in the agricultural produce, the ministry has launched the Scheme of Cold Chain, Value Addition and Preservation Infrastructure. In India, we have 112 cold chain projects and 6891 cold stores with a capacity of 31.8 million tones. With a view to encourage investment in cold chain logistics, income tax benefits are extended for attracting private investment to the sector. Post-harvest losses can be minimised to a greater extent by creation of uninterrupted cold infrastructure linking the farm gate to the retail outlet.

How do you intend to reduce the risk of weather, especially monsoon in agriculture?

In our country only about 45% percent of the cultivated area is under irrigation and 55% is rainfed. Agricultural Performance presently is strongly linked to the behaviour of monsoon. Since climatic risks are high, we therefore need to develop techniques/technologies that make our agriculture resilient towards the climatic aberrations. The Indian Council of agricultural research (ICAR) has launched a National Initiative on Climate Resilient Agriculture (NICRA) with aim to enhance resilience of Indian agriculture to climate change and climate vulnerability through strategic research and technology demonstration. The research on adaptation and mitigation covers crops, livestock, fisheries and natural resource management. The project consists of four components viz. strategic research, Technology Demonstration, capacity building and sponsored/competitive grants. The technology demonstration will be carried out in 100 districts of 27 states.

A major objective of AICRPAM-NICRA project is the customization of micro-level agromet advisories and their affective dissemination through Information Communication Technologies (ICTs). The cooperating centers have started value addition to the block-level weather forecast issued by IMD since September 2014. The ultimate aim of weather based Agro-Advisory services (AAS) is to help the farmers in enhancing the economic benefit by suggesting management practice suiting the anticipated weather conditions. The advisories resulted in an economic benefit ranging from Rs 400 to Rs. 7,500 per acre.

What steps are being taken to increase milk production to meet the growing demands?

Livestock production and agriculture are intrinsically linked, each being dependent on the other, and both crucial for overall food security. India continues to be the largest producer of milk in world. Several measures have been initiated by the Government to increase the productivity of 102.6 million tonnes at the end of the Tenth Plan (2006-07) to 127.9 million tonnes at the end of the Eleventh plan (2011-12). Milk production during 2012-13 and 2013-14 is 132.4 million tonnes and 137.7 million tonnes respectively with an annual growth rate 3.54% and 3.97% availability of milk is around 307 grams per day in 2013-14, which is more than the world average of 294 grams per day. Actual implementation of National Programme for bovine breeding and dairy development has been initiated from 2014-15. The Rashtriya Gokul mission is a focused project under National Programme for bovine breeding and dairy development, with an outlay of Rs.500 crore during the last three years of Twelfth Five Year Plan. The Rashtriya Gokul Mission is aimed at improvement with the objectives of Development and conservation of indigenous breeds as well as breed improvement programme for indigenous cattle breeds to improve their genetic makeup and increase the stock. It will also help in enhancement of milk production and productivity in addition to up-gradation of non-descript cattle using elite indigenous breeds like Gir, Sahiwal, Rathi, Deoni, Tharparkar, Red Sindhi and distribution of disease free high genetic merit bulls for natural service. A National Livestock Mission has been launched in 2014-15 with an approved outlay of Rs. 2, 800 crore during the Twelfth Plan. This Mission is formulated with the objectives of sustainable development of livestock sector, focusing on improving availability of quality feed and fodder, risk coverage, effective extension, improved flow of credit and Organization of livestock farmers. At National Dairy Research Institute (NDRI), Karnal, our research efforts in this direction resulted in birth of female cloned buffalo calm named `Lalima` through `Hand-guided Cloning ‘ using the donor cell from the ear of a high-yielding murrah buffalo. A male cloned calf named `Rajat’ was also produced through cloning using the donor cell from the frozen semen of a highly ranked progeny-tested murrah buffalo bull. This is the first ever experiment in which frozen semen was used for cloning of any farm animal. The technology will enable us to produce progeny with desired traits. Collection of semen from champion Murrah bulls, available with Haryana’s progressive farmers, was initiated, which become immensely popular among them.

What’s your government’s vision for fisheries sector?

Constituting about 5.68% of the global fish production, India today is the second largest fish producing nation in the world. India is also a major producer of fish through aquaculture and ranks second in the world after China. The total fish production during 2013-14 was at 9.58 million tonnes with a contribution of 6.14 million tonnes from inland sector and 3.44 MT from marine sector respectively. The sector contributed about 0.92% to the overall Gross Value Added (GVD) and 5.58% of the agricultural GVA at current prices for the year 2013-14. Exports aggregated to 9,83,756 tonnes in volume, valued at Rs. 30,213 crore, which marked an increase of 5.98% in quantity and 60.23% in value. National Fisheries Development Board will implement “Blue Revolution –Inland Fisheries” which aims to enhance fish production in the country. There are several central schemes for the development of fisheries as well as a National Scheme of Welfare of Fisherman to provide basic amenities such as housing, drinking water, construction of community hall and tube wells are provided for fisherman in their fishing village. Responsible aquaculture as well as prevention and management of aquatic diseases, organic farming, and induced breeding are some of the other challenges to be addressed in this sector for improving productivity.

Are you planning any big ticket reforms in agriculture?

The ICAR is a judicious mix of commodity as well as discipline-oriented institute, along with an eco-regional approach. The system aims at basic and strategic research on one hand and applied adaptive research on the other, that provide for planning and maintaining a research continuum. This approach is further supported with research-extension-farmer linkages for transfer of technologies. In the era of globalization of agriculture, there should be a centre to monitor the global trends. Therefore, a centre of “Agriculture Technology Foresight” to track recent developments in agriculture and science globally and to analyse their implications for the NARS is being established. The existing collaborating mechanisms of NARS with International Research Organizations need to be strengthened. The potential partners, apart from the CGIAR centre, include universities in the developed countries such as ASEAN, BRICS, IBSA, SAARC and AU as also donor agencies at the global level. The multinational agriculture systems are undergoing significant changes and there is increasing evidence of trans-boundary flow of research products and technologies. It is also important that the research programmes of the system duly consider the global developments in addressing the R&D needs of the country. Regulatory issues have become important in the context of international agreements relating to intellectual property, biodiversity and transgenic research.

What kind of support are you providing to small and marginalised farmers?

Our country has about 85% farmers who are classified as marginal and small i.e with a cultivable landholding of not more than 2.0 ha. The ICAR institutions and the agricultural Universities are engaged in generation of technologies that are scale neutral. Research thrust is being given to improve the remuneration and livelihood security of small farms. Technologies on integrated farming incorporating crops, livestock, poultry specially backyard and fisheries are being developed and popularized. Technologies have also been developed to encourage farm cooperatives and self help groups. Development of small farm mechanization is being undertaken to enable the farmers to complete the farming operations in shortest possible time, reduce drudgery and promote small scale processing, product development and value addition.