Making agricultural progress possible

Tags: Op-ed
Making agricultural progress possible
AP
SEED SOWING: All our investment in new institutions will bear fruit only if we ensure both the quality of education and the opportunities for practical training preferably in farmers’ fields
Union budget for 2014-15 places considerable emphasis on strengthening the agricultural research and education sector in our country. For this purpose, it is proposed to establish new agricultural universities or institutes of agriculture in Assam, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan. In addition, horticulture universities will be established in Telangana and Haryana in order to take advantage of the vast opportunities available in our country for the production of a wide range of fruits, vegetables and flowers. It is also proposed to set up a national centre for Himalayan studies since this will help in creating awareness of the rich biodiversity wealth in the Himalayas. Further, the agri-biotech clusters in Mohali in Punjab will be expanded. A national rural internet and technology mission will be started to bridge the rural-urban digital divide.

With increase in investment in infrastructure, the time has come for examining carefully the status of scientific manpower availability for occupying all the new positions which will become available. It is in this context, that I wish to emphasise the need for stepping up our efforts to breed brains for agricultural progress.

One of the first tasks I wanted to accomplish when I became the director general of Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and secretary to government in January 1972 was to revamp and restructure the personnel policies for scientists and technical workers. I conducted a detailed malady-remedy analysis to identify the deficiencies in the then prevailing system and proposed remedial measures. The first thing I noticed was that the previous system was post-centred with recurrent unhealthy competition among fellow scientists for the same position. I wanted to replace it with a scientist-centred system where there will be no mutual competition for posts among fellow scientists. The aim is to provide every scientist with an opportunity for both professional growth and financial advancement. The scientist-centred system would also help in directing attention from purely physical infrastructure to the intellectual infrastructure. In other words, the emphasis on bricks gave way to an emphasis on brains.

In order to accomplish such a radical change in the personnel policies, I went to every ICAR institution and held staff meetings. I requested the staff themselves to identify and articulate the strengths and weaknesses of the then prevailing system. It is on the basis of such extensive consultations, I prepared the structure for an agricultural research service (ARS) of ICAR. It was however not easy to get the cabinet approval for such a radical restructuring of the administrative and recruitment policies of ICAR. There was opposition on various grounds such as the need to get the approval of state governments before starting ARS. Also there was a feeling that ARS would tend to promote generalists than specialists. All these apprehensions were addressed and thanks to the support of Indira Gandhi, the then prime minister, the ARS proposal was approved by the cabinet. I am aware that through the years some changes have been made which sometimes tend to undermine the basic philosophy and purpose of ARS. The ARS was designed to allow every scientist to grow professionally and get higher emoluments whether or not there were vacancies. Our aim should be to provide a personnel policy which will promote the growth of a dedicated and capable band of scientists in various fields of agriculture, all committed to the cause of sustainable food security and agrarian prosperity.

Recently, I had the opportunity to address the Agricultural Scientists’ Recruitment Board (ASRB), which is one of the vital organs of the restructured personnel policies. I suggested them to consider introducing sub-cadres in ARS. The first is for dealing with the special requirement of the northeastern part of our country. The second is for introducing a cadre for international service. ICAR is being increasingly called upon to help other developing countries. For example, our government is helping the government of Afghanistan to organise an agricultural university at the Tarnak Farm in Kandahar. Our government is also assisting in setting up a genetic garden of Afghanistan at Kandahar. Similarly, it is helping the government of Myanmar in establishing an advanced centre for agricultural research and education as well as a rice bioPark at Ney Pei Taw. All this requires specially qualified scientists who will be able to help effectively other developing countries. The time has come for ICAR to establish an international agricultural research service sub-cadre of the ARS.

The agricultural university system was born in the US over 150 years ago when Abraham Lincoln initiated the Land Gant College principle. We adopted it starting with the Pant Nagar University. New universities are being created at a fast rate, but it is important to ensure that the scholars joining agricultural universities have ample opportunities for practical work. They must remain close to the farms and farmers and remember what Dwight D Eisenhower said when he was president of the US: “Farming looks mighty easy when your plough is a pencil, and you are a thousand miles from the corn field”.

All our investment in new institutions will bear fruit only if we ensure both the quality of education and the opportunities for practical training preferably in farmers’ fields.

(M S Swaminathan is an agricultural scientist who led India’s green revolution)

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