22 December, 2010
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted to participate in the 5th National Conference of Krishi Vigyan Kendras, the KVKs. I take this opportunity to greet all of you on this occasion in the lake city of Udaipur and also to pay tribute to the memory of a son of the soil, Late Shri Mohan Singh Mehta. He headed the ICAR Committee in 1973, which recommended the opening of agricultural polytechnics, later named Krishi Vigyan Kendras. Today, there are 589 KVKs in the country with the mandate to function as knowledge and resource centres of agricultural technology at the district level. It is a task that is critical for improving the performance of our agriculture sector, as we seek to build a "food secure future", and to bring the fruits of prosperity to the most important stakeholder in agriculture - the farmer. I congratulate all farm innovators and award winning KVKs, and also all others who have participated in the exhibition with their best practices and innovations.
Agriculture has played a very important role in the growth of human civilisation and of nations, particularly in our country, which basically evolved as an agricultural society. There can also be no two opinions that in the future too, the continued existence of our nation will depend on the capacity and ability of our agriculture to meet the growing nutritional needs of an expanding population. According to FAO estimates, with global population expected to reach more than nine billion by 2050, agricultural production will need to grow by 70 percent, to keep the world's population fed and healthy. The projections are that, by then the population of India will be around 1.6 billion, making it imperative for us to urgently focus on our agriculture. Past experiences will be very helpful but along with it, we would need to think of new approaches and new innovations, pull in every resource and maximise its benefit, being conscious at the same time of maintaining sustainability and welfare of those engaged in the sector.
In the over 60 years as a free nation, India has made major strides in agriculture. The First Green Revolution made India largely self-sufficient in food grains. As a result, the per capita availability of important food items increased even as our population increased. However, the share of agriculture in national GDP has reduced from 51 percent to 18 percent during 1951 to 2008. The ratio of agricultural land to agricultural population has shrunk to 0.3 hectares per person in India, as compared to over 11 hectares per person in the developed countries. Due to demographic reasons, per capita availability of land, water and other natural resources will continue to decline. This highlights that holdings already small are likely to further decrease in size; making economic viability of farming the big issue. We must evolve strategies that can make small-holders more productive and efficient in their farming operations. They require better quality seeds, fertilizer inputs, new techniques of farming and equipment. Moreover, a farmer is a stakeholder in every aspect related to agriculture whether it is cultivation related activities, research and development, innovative methodologies or marketing. Farmers therefore, must be involved in these various activities, with a sensitivity that safeguards their rights in their land and its produce. Assured and remunerative markets hold the key to retaining the interest of farmers in farming. Post harvest management and agro-processing should be given a major thrust. Farmers should be looked at as agri-prenuers who interact with corporate entrepreneurs to work out win-win options. Development of an appropriate Business Model by the corporate sector is a challenge as well as the need of the hour.
Agriculture is faced with limited availability of land and water, both stressed on account of the impacts of climate change. Our approach to agriculture, therefore, needs to be redefined in the context of this changing scenario. Increased production will require enhancing productivity levels of existing resources. It is for this reason that there is growing consensus for launching a Second Green Revolution in the country. The First Green Revolution was almost confined to irrigated areas, and now we should also focus on the rain fed areas, which constitute about 60 percent of the cultivated areas in the country. 40 percent of the total food production is from dry land farming, which also supports about 40 percent of the population, mostly belonging to the poorer sections of society. Rainfed area covers the extensive Thar Desert and vast areas in the Central, Western and Southern plateaus of our country. Dry land farming could be the cradle for a Second Green Revolution.
The creation of rural infrastructure, timely availability of quality inputs, credit, marketing and other institutional support will hasten overall development of the agricultural sector. To make farmers particularly in rainfed areas more productive, would require crop diversification, better management of water and land resources, and new techniques of farming along with awareness campaigns. We need to look at technological breakthroughs in the use of bio-technology to strengthen conventional breeding methodology by evolving plant varieties resistant to pest and diseases, tolerant to adverse weather conditions, better nutritional value and enhanced durability of products.
During my recent overseas visit to Syria, I had the occasion to visit the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), where there is ongoing agricultural research on crop improvement as well as on integrated land and resource management. Wheat varieties have been developed from dried blades of some herbal grass like shrub, and through research it was found that it was difficult for pests to destroy the crop. I discussed that the Centre can try to take up India specific research, and suggest innovative measures of production and practices suitable to Indian conditions. National institutions and all Agricultural Universities should also work for the comprehensive improvement in dry land farming in India. I believe that the farmer in the dry land area needs to be moved to a situation where production and productivity are certain and higher. There should be criteria evolved for regular assessment of these Universities, to know what contribution has been made by them.
In agriculture we need innovations more than ever before. The observance of this decade as the 'Decade of Innovation in India' is a recognition of this reality. Farm innovations should be cost-effective, location-specific and affordable. Innovation in the field of less expensive modern farm machinery needs to be taken up as a priority area, to substitute for traditional labour intensive jobs like transplanting, inter-cultural operations and harvesting. There should be equipment designs that take into account that a large number of women are engaged in agricultural operations.
I am glad to learn that the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) is giving priority to farm innovations through its National Agricultural Innovation Project, Farm Innovators' Meet last month and by holding this Conference. Farmers' grassroots innovations are no less important, as they have generations of experience behind them. Therefore, research institutions must include these innovations in their research agenda as well as work on the identification, validation and documentation of the vast available traditional knowledge reservoir we have in our country.
Farmers' access to new innovations is an integral aspect of success in this. There is an urgent need to bring about a radical change in the extension machinery, which should aim at integration of research-extension-farmers-market linkages. The extension system should be re-engineered with the active participation of government agencies, the corporate sector, NGOs, farmers' organizations and Self Help Groups. In other words, a new concept of Public-Private-People-Participation in extension needs to be evolved. Just as Aasha workers under the National Rural Health Mission, it is possible to enroll an army of trained "Kissan Bandhus" attached to the Krishi Vigyan Kendras across the country, who could help farmers through extension activities.
I call upon the KVK system to be a harbinger of the Second Green Revolution in the country. Efforts should be made to encourage each and every KVK to work actively in their respective areas and their genuine needs should also be looked into, to make them functionally effective. This is necessary to also revitalise our rural areas and as Gandhiji said, "If the village perishes, India will perish, too". We have to do everything to keep farmers in our villages productive, and make them progressive for the prosperity of our country.