India's agriculture extension system has not worked to enhance farmers' knowledge-base
It only doles out subsidies
Large-scale poverty among farmers and the spurt of suicides by agriculturists in various parts of the country indicates that our agriculture is in crisis. But this crisis is different compared to similar situations, earlier. In the 1960s, when India passed though great famines or food shortages, the country was not prepared to meet the difficulties. We had little in terms of infrastructure, technology or policy support. But today, there is a large national agricultural research system that works in all parts of the country, developing and transferring technology to farmers.
But this system -- which played a critical role during the Green Revolution--now faces criticism from all quarters. India's agricultural extension system, which was created to be a link between researchers and farmers, has lost the confidence of both. The research system never took any feedback from the extension system and farmers only expected subsidies from it.
There were no major innovations, except some new hybrids. Much energy was spent on recommending 'appropriate' doses of different chemicals--fertilisers, pesticides or growth promoters. During the Green Revolution, when chemical fertilisers were opposed by farmers (who feared it would spoil their lands), the extension staff tried to convince doubters by all means. There were even instances where these officials administered urea to fields secretly--only to tell farmers when lush crops bloomed in their fields. There was never any serious attempt to enhance the knowledge base of farmers.
Many times, the extension staff did not have the training to understand the situation at the field level and give recommendations. Instead, they relied on pesticide and chemical companies for information on their products.
Such disdain for recommendations of the extension staff extends to other areas as well. Let's take the case of chemical fertilisers. In 1997, when there were large-scale suicides by cotton farmers in Andhra Pradesh, the extension system was the first to be blamed. But the fact remains that many reports of the extension staff did talk of crops developing resistance to chemicals.
G V Ramanjaneyulu is executive director, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Secunderabad, Andhra Pradesh
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