(The Gist of Kurukshetra) Prioritising Agriculture and its Research Needs
Prioritising Agriculture and its Research Needs
- Indian agriculture, supporting majority livelihoods, constantly needs knowledge inputs for addressing myriad problems. We have a robust agricultural research system catering to diverse research needs of the country. The research system plays an important role in generating knowledge, which is one of the factors of production in modern farming.
- The success of the agricultural sector, however, depends on how effectively the research system generates, acquires, utilises, and disseminates knowledge and solves the problems. Indian agricultural research system comprises Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) institutes, Central and State Agricultural Universities (SAUs) and Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs), CGIAR institutes, corporate/private research facilities. NABARD also conducts and supports research, besides building an empowered and financially inclusive rural India through its financial, developmental, and supervisory roles.
- This article, in this context, covers the role of the agricultural research system and NABARD in the growth of the sector and the way forward.
Importance of Agricultural Sector:
- The agricultural and allied sector carries immense importance for the Indian economy. It contributes about one-sixth to the national income (Chapter 7, Economic Survey Vol II, 2019-2020) and provides direct employment to nearly 50 percent of the workforce.
- It is fundamental for ensuring the food security of the nation and one of the major sources for foreign exchange earnings. In addition, it influences the growth of secondary and tertiary sectors of the economy through its forward and backward linkages.
- The performance of the agricultural sector greatly influences socio-economic outcomes as well. For instance, World Development Report 2008 released by World Bank emphasises that growth in agriculture is, on average, at least twice as effective in reducing poverty, compared to growth emanating outside agriculture.
- Agricultural growth reduces poverty directly, by raising farm incomes, and indirectly, through generating employment and reducing food prices.
Agricultural Sector for Economic Recovery:
- The economic implications of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic have brought the agricultural sector into sharp focus and heightened its responsibility to feed and employ thousands who might have lost livelihoods. At this time when most sectors of the economy are reported to be under significant stress, the agricultural sector continues to be promising and cushioning the economy. The area sown under all major kharif crops is expected to be higher than corresponding period during the last year. Since the agricultural sector continues to be one of the bright spots amidst this pandemic, we need to prioritise the agricultural sector during this time is essential to ensure speedy economic recovery of the country. It requires initiating measures to find solutions to many of the contemporary challenges through a differentiated focus on agricultural research.
Role of Agricultural Research:
- One of the most notable achievements of Indian agriculture over last few decades has been the expansion of food grain output from nearly 51 Million Tonnes (MT) in 1950-51 to over 295 MT in 2019-20 (Third Advance Estimate of Production of Food grains for 2019-20 released by MOA&FW, Gol), thereby obviating any fears of food security for the country. Similarly, production of horticultural crops has surpassed 300 MT.
- The Green Revolution proved instrumental in providing the much-needed stimulus to agricultural production in the country to overcome food-shortages by augmenting the yields of produce through the provision of MYV seeds, improved irrigation facilities and fertilisers. Development of infrastructure for agriculture, extension, irrigation and input supply and a supportive price policy played a crucial role in making of the Green Revolution.
Agricultural Research Structure:
- Agricultural research has been the key to technological development and increased productivity in agriculture. A brief background related to the agricultural research system in India is given below:
- Development of Agricultural Research System:
- The Famine Commission Report (released in 1880) was an important step for laying the foundation of agricultural research structure in India. It resulted in creation of the Departments of Agriculture at the Centre as well as in the Provinces which were assigned the primary role of undertaking agricultural research apart from famine relief.
- The next major step was the establishment of the Imperial (now Indian) Agricultural Research Institute at Pusa, Bihar along with other agricultural colleges. On the recommendation of the Royal Commission on Agriculture (1928), the Imperial Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) was established in 1929 which was renamed as Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) after independence.
Future of Agri Research:
- The system of agricultural research and extension in India has so far responded well to the challenges of the agriculture sector. To address the contemporary and future challenges, it is important to incorporate the following in agricultural research:
Higher Agri Research Spending:
- Considering the importance of the agricultural sector for achieving various desirable outcomes for the country, there is a need to increase the spending on agricultural research. The expenditure on agricultural research as a percentage of agriculture-GDP has been low at around 0.40 percent during 2012-14. Compared to India, the expenditure in other countries is much higher: 1.8 percent in Brazil and 0.5 per cent in China. In 2008, the same ratio was nearly 0.54 percent for developing countries together while developed countries, on average, spent around 3.07 percent of their agri-GDP on research.
Focus on Crop and Non-crop Sector:
- Research on the crop sector is still relevant for a country like India with a vast and increasing population, a large section of which is below the poverty line, considering that national food security faces many challenges in the coming decades such as those of climate change. However, non-crop sector too needs emphasis since it is expected to be the pillar of future growth of agricultural sector.
For Small Holders and Women:
- Two noteworthy trends in Indian agriculture have been the prevalence of small holders (86 percent of total farmers having 47.3 percent of land holding, as per Agriculture Census 2015-16) and increasing feminisation of agricultural sector with 73.6 percent of rural women workers being farmers with 12.6 percent of land holdings.
- With the formation of 10,000 FPOs being targeted for next 5 years, future research in the agricultural sector may look to develop low-cost effective solutions to address the challenges being faced by the small holders and women.
- For example, aggregating smallholders through Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs) is being considered an important step to allow them to reap the benefits of economies of scale. Continuous research to analyse the impact of farmers’ welfare as a result of being associated with an FPO as well as the addressing the challenges being faced in its effective functioning may prove instrumental in achieving inclusive growth.
Private Sector for Research-Extension:
- Collaborating with the private sector is essential to undertake agricultural research and taking the same from lab to the field. There Is a need to provide appropriate ecosystem to agri-preneurs
- to enable them to Innovate In the form of products, services or applications across the value chain for Improving competitiveness of the agriculture sector.
Role of NABARD:
- Realising the Importance of research and development for organisational as well as societal development, NABARD has established the Research and Development (R&D) Fund In accordance with the provisions of the NAIIARD Act 1981, with a corpus of Rs 50 crore replenished annually. It aims at acquiring new Insights Into the problems of agricultural and rural development through in-depth studies and applied research and trying out innovative approaches backed up by technical and economic studies.
- The R&D Fund is leveraged for formulating policies on matters of importance to agricultural operations and rural development, including facilities for training, dissemination of information and promotion of research by undertaking techno-economic studies and other surveys in the fields of agriculture, rural banking and rural development.
- Through R&D Fund, grant is provided for conducting research projects & studies, organising seminars/conferences/symposia, publishing Occasional Papers and other publications, supporting professors to conduct thematic research relevant to the domain of NABARD through NABARD Chair Units, etc. Over the last four decades, NABARD has supported over 350 studies and 2000 seminars and conferences on various topics.
- NABARD launched the ‘NABARD All India Rural Financial Inclusion Survey’ (NAFIS) in 2016-17 to gain deeper insights into the livelihood and financial inclusion aspects of households and bridge critical gaps in the understanding of the present rural financial inclusion scenario. With a sample of over 1.87 lakh members from 40,327 rural & semi-urban households from 29 states, 245 districts and 2016 villages/centres, NAFIS is expected to aid evidence-based policy making.
Water Productivity Mapping of Major Indian Crops:
- This study has been carried out by NABARD in association with Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER). It attempts to answer two primary questions (using 10 major crops under study, covering more than 60 percent of gross cropped area):
- Are the existing cropping patterns in India in line with the natural water resource endowments of various regions?
- Are these cropping patterns sustainable from a water-use perspective?
Other R&D Efforts:
- Socio-economic research in upcoming areas related to agriculture and rural prosperity viz. Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs), debt waiver schemes for farmers, climate smart agriculture,
- micro-finance, financial inclusion, etc. are also being carried out by NABARD on an ongoing basis.
- The Indian agricultural research system has so far responded well to the challenges facing the Indian economy, including enhancing agricultural growth, reducing poverty and making India self-sufficient in food grains. While continuing to address these key issues, the Indian agricultural research system needs to incorporate certain issues in future.
- There is a need to increase spending on agricultural research & extension to address challenges such as achieving inclusive growth, improving resistance of crops to climate change, improving nutritional quality of food and improving resource use efficiency. Bio-fortification methods must be used to develop high quality crop varieties having high protein, zinc, irons, etc. nutritional content.
- The plant breeders need to use the latest bio-technological methods in addition to traditional methods of farming. While emphasising on the need for ‘Smart Agriculture’, we need to go for a ‘technology revolution’ encompassing Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, Computing and BlockChain, Nanotechnology, etc. to accelerate growth in the agriculture sector.
- It may also require developing low-cost technologies that may be taken to the farms by agri-entrepreneurs, thereby allowing greater participation of the private sector in research-extension. There is a need for the multi-stakeholder approach in generating and sharing knowledge, including traditional knowledge, for addressing production constraints and harness growth opportunities in agriculture. NABARD will look forward to partner with different institutions to deliver maximum services to rural India to achieve its mission of promoting sustainable agriculture and rural development.