48th Annual Convocation of IARI
13-02-2010 Smt. Pratibha Devisingh Patil
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am happy to be participating in the Convocation of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, a flagship institute for Agricultural Research and Education of the country, for more than a century. I extend my greetings to all those associated with this Institute, for their role in bringing about many transformations in our agriculture sector. I would also like to congratulate those who have received their degrees today. I am confident that they will carry on with the tradition of contributing to the national objective of agricultural growth.
At the time of the establishment of this institute in 1905, it was hoped that it would contribute to agriculture, which was then described as the greatest living industry of India. Indeed, agriculture continues to be a way of life in our country. It provides employment to around 60 per cent of the workforce and contributes almost 18 per cent to our Gross Domestic Product. With more than 6 lakh villages, home to millions of farmers and farm workers, it is difficult to visualize a prosperous India without rural development. Empowerment of our farmers is important for our progress, for inclusive growth and for food security. In what scenario is this task to be accomplished?
Facts are telling. India supports about 18 percent of global population and over 15 percent of livestock, on less than 5 percent of the world's water resources and about 3 percent of global land. About 82 percent of total land holders are small and marginal. 60 percent sown-area is rain-fed and there is also extensive land degradation. Water has become the scarcest input for agriculture. Moreover, food production cost has been increasing. Faced with the situation, we need to look at agricultural strategies that maximize productivity and generate income and employment for the rural population.
The next question is on what basis do we move ahead? We have achieved much since independence. Wheat and rice production have gone up due to the Green Revolution. Milk production has increased on account of the White Revolution. This has contributed to the augmentation of the food basket of the country. Yet, there is much to be accomplished. Taking the example of rice - our average crop yield in 2008 was 3.3 tons per hectare, roughly double the average that our farmers were getting in 1960, but half of the yield in China and also less than that of Vietnam, Indonesia and Bangladesh. In wheat productivity, gains have also been impressive. It is 2.8 tons per hectare, triple of that we had in 1960, but half of what is produced in the European Union countries. We need to bridge these productivity gaps.
With availability of land and water limited, growth in agriculture can be achieved by increasing productivity per unit through effective use of improved technology. Our need, therefore, is for a critical mass of agricultural scientists who work towards an agricultural renaissance. I believe that there is enough intellectual capacity in our country to meet scientific challenges as they have done, time and again, in the past. Apart from commodity based research, we could also look at a systems approach. Areas like efficient and sustainable use of soil nutrients and water, location specific farming systems with a proper mix of crops and livestock, especially for rain-fed areas are important. India has a rich base of indigenous knowledge which has been developed over a long period of time. It should be a combination of traditional knowledge, as well as new and frontier technologies that can be used for agriculture in India.
Institutions of research like IARI are knowledge generators and innovators. They should continuously strive for excellence, constantly review their own performance through self appraisal and, if necessary, through peer reviews. They should also see how to involve organizations like the National Innovation Foundation, who are doing work to support grassroots innovation and traditional knowledge in research activities. Our research institutions should also develop linkages with international organizations for knowledge sharing. I am glad that a number of foreign students are receiving their degrees from this renowned Institute. I hope that as they work in their countries, they will maintain contacts with their alma mater.
Knowledge is, indeed power, but knowledge can be of limited utility, unless it is effectively channelised in a positive and responsible manner. It is seen that successes in the laboratory are often missing on the field. The pace of technology dissemination from the lab to land is slow. The extension machinery which is weak needs to be strengthened. Research institutions should also develop partnerships with the farming communities, for the effective transfer of technology.
Agriculture research must focus on priorities that meet national priorities. This message was summed-up very aptly by Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi in 1968, at a function on the wheat revolution. She said that synergy between science and public policy is necessary for the health and the progress of agriculture. Apart from the very critical inputs for scientific management of land, resources and agriculture production, the nation today seeks to uplift the farming communities. All must work collectively for this work.
The economic limitation of small-sized land operations is the main challenge of the 21st Century, for sustained increase in production. This calls for structural and organizational changes in managing the farm sector in India. The important issue is how to develop institutional mechanisms, so that farmers get higher incomes by realizing the advantages of beneficial technologies, aggregation of inputs and outputs, value addition and marketing. Agencies closely linked with agricultural development, like the National Rainfed Area Authority and other stakeholders, could consider evolving a basic "model" to bring farmers into partnership arrangements. Voluntary formation, autonomous functioning and democratic control, would be essential principles. It should be a transparent process, where farmers see such arrangements as a measure to empower them and are confident about the ownership of their land.
I believe that farming is the biggest private enterprise in our country. Therefore, there are many benefits of agriculture and the corporate sectors working together. Industry - agriculture joint enterprises can be complementary to each other. Agriculture requires substantial inputs, in terms of seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and implements, among others. Once agricultural produce is ready, there is the aspect of marketing and food processing. Thus, there exists an array of activities, where industry can involve the agriculturist as a stakeholder. I am glad that some work and thinking on this has begun, in which agricultural bodies as well as industrial and business associations are participating. Women farmers, whose number and contributions are significant in Indian agriculture, must be involved, including through the Self Help Group mechanism as well.
I believe that individual advancement and being partners in the national growth process should be the purpose of our lives. History has taught us the value of being together and in sharing responsibilities in development. Those who have received their degrees today, must not remain only degree holders. Explore the problems of the farmers and help in generating solutions and innovative ways to improve agriculture. Agriculture has the potential strength of bringing all round socio-economic development of our country.
I once again congratulate all those who have received their well deserved degrees today. You are the hope of tomorrow. I am confident that you will all become important partners in the nation building process. I wish you all a bright future and fruitful careers.