We've Created A Roadmap For NEP In Agri-education: Dr Trilochan Mohapatra, ICAR

Dr Trilochan Mohapatra, Director General, Indian Council of Agricultural Research, describes the benefit of agricultural research to the farm sector

The Green Revolution was a definitive moment in post-Independent India when the country emerged from import dependence to feed the population. With the help of technological interventions, the country has had surplus grain production for decades. Enabling the technological advancement in agriculture is the vast education, research, training and extension activities system of agriculture universities, overseen by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). In an exclusive interview, Dr Trilochan Mohapatra, DG, ICAR, describes the initiatives of his organisation, especially in training and knowledge dissemination. Excerpts:

What is the vision for agriculture in the 21st century India?

A country’s vision is based on its history, its geography, population and demography, and also the vision for the overall economy. Of course, food and nutrition security are a big part of that.

Looking back at the food and nutrition security situation just after independence, we have come a long way. We have attained self-sufficiency with regard to food grains and we are also exporting. But there are challenges, which have to be kept in mind while defining the future pathway. Based on these, we have defined the agenda for agriculture education and research.

Enumerating our future agenda, one leading priority is that we have to have nature-positive agriculture. We witnessed Green Revolution starting from late 1960s. It was a big success and brought in self-sufficiency in food grains. But the technology that was deployed those days due to various reasons led to soil degradation and groundwater depletion. Environmental concerns were also raised. So, today our focus in this century is nature-positive agriculture.

Some facets of this are:

• Reduce chemical footprints in agriculture.

• Reduce water footprints in agriculture.

• Take care of the health of the overall ecosystem, especially agro-ecosystem.

• But at the same time keep in mind the growing population and their increasing needs

So this is our top priority in the 21st century. Climate is changing and we do not want to actually contribute to increasing the greenhouse gas emissions, in the process contributing to temperature rise, which is a serious threat. So we are defining and redesigning our strategies. One important initiative is carbon sequestering. We absorb as much carbon dioxide as possible from the environment, by way of harvesting that. Carbon is the core of soil fertility and it is in the interest of agriculture. So, this legacy we have to leave behind.

Another facet of nature-positive agriculture is deploying plant-based preparations, bio pesticides and microbial-based preparations to control the new pests and diseases which are on the increase due to climate change. It also means use of microbial resource-based nutrition management in soils. In this manner, more and more of atmospheric nitrogen is fixed so that chemical nitrogen use is reduced.

We are also working in the direction of creating crops for malnutrition- free India. And that is our vision in line with what the Prime Minister has been guiding the nation. Malnutrition-free India is a very big challenge given the diversity in food system, agro-ecology and in our socio-economic situation. But it can be achieved through bio-fortified food system and mainstreaming nutrition-rich food. It starts with nutrition literacy starting from school education so that good food habits develop at the very early stage.

At the same time, challenges of this century and are very complex. Who is going to produce food for future? Small and marginal landholdings today do not encourage use of modern tools and technologies. So, we are strategising, attracting youth to agriculture, devising technologies for mechanisation of small farms, automation, and also cooperative method of operation so that the 21st century and beyond meets the challenges of food and nutrition adequately.

At the same time, we are also conscious of the new developments in the technology sphere. So our focus is on developing new technologies, digital platforms in particular — sensor-based platforms, nano-based platforms and use of ICT as much as possible — so that the 21st century agriculture Is precision agriculture.

We strongly believe that not only is there a scope for feeding this country adequately but also building agriculture in a way in the country so that we meet the demands of the global communities.

How are you reaching out to the grassroots?

The farmers are our focus, our targets, our partners. We have continued along this pathway to strengthen our partnership. During the Green Revolution we started with fundamentals of agricultural extension. We started by demonstrating use of technology to the farmers on their own fields. Seeing is believing and they believed what was good, what was not so good. And that led to adoption of technologies, management practices and marketing mechanisms. All the agricultural mandis that you see, so they are product of those kind of innovations.

But we have come quite far. Our focus today is not just farmer. We target the youth, women, entrepreneurs, agro industries and also international organisations.

To reach out to our target groups, we have a network of 730 krishi vigyan kendras — farm science centres — of which we have at least one in every rural district. These are the one stop shop for the farmers, providing all technology-related information and advisory related to the district, including also animal husbandry, fishery agro-forestry, horticulture. The krishi vigyan kendras are linked to the 3.5 lakh common service centres and farmers can receive advisory from scientists sitting there at the common service centre.

And we are trying to connect as many farmers as possible through the activities of these centres. We are training 14 to 15 lakh farmers every year on various aspects of agriculture technology. We are able to produce 40 to 50 crore kind of planting material and then supplying to farmers through these centres.

Very importantly, the frontline demonstration, which was the fundamental activity during Green Revolution, continues and lakhs of demonstrations are conducted on farmers’ field. We work in partnership with state governments for rapid transmission of technology.

We are also increasing the digital reach of farmers. More and more WhatsApp groups are being formed so that farmers, in addition to communicating with the experts, are able to communicate with each other and learn from each other’s experience. Technology transfer also happens faster in this way.

Very importantly, we have a programme called Attracting and Retaining Youth in Agriculture. We have trained more than 50,000 of them, and more than 7,000 of them have now their own enterprises. Entrepreneurship is being developed. And the reach is being expanded. The PM has suggested that we should build a digital platform for two-way communication. Instead of we giving advisory and imposing sometimes, now we have built a platform called Kisan Sarathi, in partnership with

Digital India Corporation. This platform, already implemented in six states so far ,is query driven. The farmer asks a question and posts photograph to show the problem. And there are experts to help them out.

Other digital platforms are being developed for information related to the mandis and where they can get better price, details of farmer producer organisations, information regarding farm machinery, availability of transport to take the produce to mandis, location of processing units and different government schemes like the Agri Infrastructure Fund, Animal Husbandry Development Infrastructure Fund or Fishery or Aquaculture Development Fund. Similarly, land records are being digitised and linked to Aadhaar, facilitating farmers’ access to various schemes.

What are the thrust areas in agriculture education now?

Our aim is to enhance the quality of teaching. We are doing this by way of financial support to universities for infrastructure improvement — good hostel facilities for girl students for instance because the number of girl students is increasing, good library facility and digital platforms for students.

During Covid, we worked to provide online courses for students. We have introduced virtual reality and augmented reality-based teaching so that the students get maximum advantage of new technologies. Smart classrooms are being established in universities so that they are all enabled adequately.

We also have a system of accreditation for universities, including private ones, so that their students become eligible to study in government universities and colleges. Every five years we renew accreditation, depending on whether the quality has been maintained or not.

We have created national professor and national fellow schemes so that the university professors and scientists faculty are encouraged to take research programmes. Centres of excellence are also being set up to promote research. Similarly, Advance Centres of Teaching and Training are being created for training of faculty.

We are also sending our agriculture students to foreign universities, including at undergraduate level, for exposure to new sciences and to get them to think how they can also generate intellectual property and protect it.

And now the emphasis is the implementation of the National Education Policy. We constituted a committee to examine the policy and prepared a road map for implementation of the policy in agricultural universities. This road map has been released and sent to governors of all the states, by the Agriculture Minister. It deals with questions like how to have multiple entry and exit points in agricultural universities as recommended by the NEP and how to have certificate, diploma and degree courses.

Can you tell us about what international collaborations you are working on?

Starting from Green Revolution, we have been into international collaborations. Back then, we received high yielding varieties of wheat from CIMMYT in Mexico. For increasing rice production we collaborated with International Rice Research Institute, Philippines. We have long-standing memorandum of understanding with 12 of the 15 constituent organisations of CGIAR (Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research), a grouping funded by Rockefeller Foundation, Ford Foundation and by private organisations like Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Besides that, we have partnerships with several universities, wherein we send our faculty and students for training and guidance from international experts. Our human resources are also working in international centres and contributing immensely to global agriculture.

Can you share a success story or success stories in agricultural innovation in India over the last decade?

We have several success stories to describe. The brightest example is the basmati rice — we earn about Rs 30,000 crore by exporting it. And four of our varieties contribute 95 per cent to this — especially Pusa Basmati 1121, which earns the country annually Rs 15,000 to 16,000 crore from export. Consumers prefer it because the grain elongates when cooked.

Similarly, a few years ago we introduced a new variety of sugarcane called CO0238. And that gave 20 tonnes more yield per hectare. The sugar production in the country went up by 6 to 7 million tonnes, to about 34-35 million tonnes. We are not only exporting but diverting sugarcane juice for production of bioethanol.

There has also been a revolution in pulses. New varieties have reached the farmers by way of large-scale demonstration and seed hubs have been created. That has led to an increase of 60 to 80 lakh tonnes of pulse production.

We have created a new variety of pomegranate with biofortification to address malnutrition and to contribute to farmers' income and exports too. These are all examples of disruptive technology.

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