From October this year, over 20,000 agriculture scientists in the country will be required to divide their attention between research and extension education to help Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “lab to land” dream succeed.
The new mandate has been extended to about 6,000 scientists functioning at the various centres and institutes of the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) and over 15,000 scientists working with state agricultural universities under a programme called Mera Gaon Mera Gaurav (MGMG) launched by Modi at Patna on July 25.
The scheme envisages scientists to “select villages as per their convenience and remain in touch with the selected villages and provide information to the farmers on technical and other related aspects in a time frame through personal visits or on telephone”.
Groups of four multidisciplinary scientists each will be constituted at these institutes and universities. Each group will “adopt” five villages within a radius of maximum 100 km. A benchmark report will have to be prepared by them about farming, climate, and social and economic conditions of the selected villages.
The scheme says the scientists may perform the functions (see box) with the help of Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs) and Agriculture Technology Management Agency (ATMA), both already mandated with extension of technology.
At national level, assistant director general (agricultural extension)/principal scientist, Division of Agricultural Extension, ICAR, will be the nodal officer.
The scheme, however, has disquieted the scientific community. “The ICAR scientists’ mandate is only to do fundamental research, inventions and discoveries, not extensions. If they are supposed to shoulder this additional responsibility, the first casualty will be research. So, even if the scheme succeeds in extending the research to these 20,000 select villages, could we be having enough of research in our hands to extend for the future challenges in agriculture,” asked a senior scientist, adding, “the research activity will virtually come to a standstill.”
“I also suspect and fear that many scientists would happily accept the work as they are hardly able to measure up to the challenges of quality research. For them, MGMG could prove to be an ideal escape,” he added.
C D Mayee, a leading agricultural scientist and former Chairman of Central Agriculture Recruitment Board, said, “Though ICAR has about 6,000 scientists, only about 3,000 of them are actually available for research. And if they too are involved in extension work, who will do the research?” Mayee pointed out that of the 70-odd farm universities in the country, only 10-odd are in good shape. “All of the rest, including Maharashtra’s Punjabrao Deshmukh Krishi Vidyapith (PDKV), are in a bad shape, suffering from acute shortage of staff and facilities.
They are barely able to carry out education (teaching), part of their three-fold mandate that also includes extension education. Instead of augmenting their research potential, if you are going to make them do what they are not supposed to, their condition will only worsen. And worldwide, research and extension are handled by two different set-ups. So let’s not try to do something like this presuming it to be some solution to our problems,” Mayee said.
“As it is, these centres are already doing extension to the extent possible by organising farm fares and undertaking demonstration farms in the region of their activity,” he added, giving the example of technologies such as fake Bt cotton identification kit and high density plantation system (HDPS) developed by Nagpur’s Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR).
Mayee also pointed out that even the universities’ responsibility regarding extension was to train the extension workers of the state government’s extension department and not do extension themselves.
The states have their own extension departments with thousands of ground-level workers. “Maharashtra, for example, has over 25,000 personnel, including 10,000 at the ground-level, in its extension machinery functioning under the commissioner of agriculture. But their work has got restricted to implementing government schemes only. Even farmers don’t fancy the idea of having lectures on technology. They want the government to roll out schemes.
So, over the years, only scheme implementation has got priority, with little extension work being done,” said a senior government official.
Mayee pointed out another flaw in the MGMG. “All ICAR centres have different crops under their mandate. Like, for example, Nagpur’s CICR scientists would have expertise only in cotton. How can you expect them to extend technologies and research on other crops to the farmers of the area,” he asked.
The 10 Tasks:
* Strengthen interface with farmers
* Update farmers on agro-practices
* Provide technology handout as per the agro-ecological conditions of the village
* Provide information on inputs, climate and markets
* Education through radio, newspapers
* Create awareness among farmers about the programmes being implemented by various organisations and institutions working at local level
* Spread awareness about Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan, climate change, water conservation, soil fertility, etc
* Organise farmers’ meets with institute specialists
* Identify technical problems at village level and make use of those in prospective research programmes
* Submit quarterly reports on technical, social and economic data generated