Up for sale

There should be open bidding for India's agriculture universities

Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015

-- when us president George Bush visited Hyderabad in March as part of the Indo- us Agriculture Knowledge Initiative, the Andhra Pradesh state agriculture university put up an exhibition. There, one stall was to exhibit how Punukula village cut its cultivation costs dramatically by adopting non-pesticidal management (npm) of crops. The university said no to the stall because the system Punukula swore by was 'unscientific' to it.

August 2005 saw a lot of heat and dust over the Mashelkar committee report to restructure the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (icar). Agriculture scientists were livid at the severe indictment of their performance. They questioned the criteria used, arguing they served 60 per cent of India's population that cultivate small farms. They tried to differentiate themselves from scientists doing industry-specific science.

They were lying.

Agriculture scientists in India have completely lost their link with farmers. There is the odd scientist, quietly innovating to create solutions for farmers and going unrecognised. But a majority of scientists have no interest in the most pressing problems facing Indian farmers. Their research priorities come from whoever can throw some research funds their way.

It has been obvious for a long time that the agrarian crisis in India has a lot to do with the high costs of cultivation. Pesticides are a major reason for those high costs. Yet public sector scientists have done no serious rethinking on why Indian agriculture has got into this rut, and what's the way out. But the scientists don't miss an opportunity to decry somebody who makes a serious effort to address this problem. The first year of npm upscaling has dramatically improved the lot of small and marginal farmers (see pp22-31). This, at a time when there is very little good news in Indian agriculture. But the state agriculture university runs it down. It refuses to research it, even if it is to show that it hasn't worked as per claims.

If industry comes up with a product or a system, the scientists sitting in universities fall head over heels to get a chance to validate it. Because this brings in funds. If small voluntary groups develop a system, the scientists spurn it. If industry is what they gravitate towards, they should give up the pretence of serving the small farmers. Right now, icar is actually having its cake and eating it too.

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