Challenges and Opportunities in Agriculture Research and Development

*Inputs from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, New Delhi

Agriculture has been and will continue to be the lifeline of Indian Economy. Agriculture is the most important sector of Indian economy from the perspective of poverty alleviation and employment generation. Despite the shrinking share (20%) of agricultural sector in the economy, a majority of the labour force (nearly 60%) continues to depend on agriculture. About 75% of India’s poor people with low purchasing power live in the rural areas and nearly 60% of the cultivated areas is under the rainfed farming. The green revolution in wheat and rice, white revolution in milk, yellow revolution in oilseed and the blue revolution in fisheries have augmented the food basket of the country but many challenges still remain. Complex problem of increasing productivity and production, food and nutritional security, higher income of the farmers and conserving agro-ecosystems need immediate attention.

Challenges
As a result of large population depending on agriculture, land holdings are fragmented leading to falling of crop production. The per capita arable land decreased from 0.34 ha in 1950-51 to 0.15 ha in 2000-01 and is expected to shrink to 0.08 ha in 2025. The net sown area since 1970 remained practically static, around 140 million ha. There is no possibility of increase in area under cultivation. Diversion of crop land into non-agricultural use is growing which is cause of concern.

Natural resource base of agriculture is shrinking and there are signs of degradation of land and overexploitation of water in the country. The water and its management pose a major challenge to Indian Agriculture in 21st Century. The adverse impacts of climate changes in the form of rising temperature, altered water cycle, melting of glacier in the Himalayas are posing threat to agriculture growth and it has to be insulated against the vulnerability.

Sustainability of both production and productivity is one of the major issues facing Indian Agriculture today, as the factor productivity is declining. The cost of production is going up and a mechanism has to be put in place to reduce this cost so as to increase the profitability and farmers income. One of the emerging issues in modern agriculture is the adverse effects due to the abiotic & biotic stresses. There also exists a knowledge gap and the farmers are not fully aware about the modern package of production technologies, consequences of unbalanced fertilizers use, benefits of micro-nutrient application and optimal nutrient requirement etc. Quality of food, fertilizers and insecticides/ pesticides is a major concern of farmers. All these factors are threatening food security of the country.

Inter-regional variations in agriculture productivity are high and have been rising. There are gaps in the yields between states and regions. There are gaps between actual yields and technologically-feasible yields. These yield increase potentials vary from 40-100%. Increased production can only come from bridging this massive yield gap.

Opportunities
The present day agricultural crisis can be converted into an opportunity for not only reversing the decline, but for taking the agricultural revolution forward by helping farm families to bridge the gap between potential and actual yields in all major farming systems. There is lot of potential to raise agricultural output in the country.
The goal of attaining 4% agriculture growth rate during XI Five Year Plan needs concerted efforts by developing high yielding, short duration, biotic and abiotic resistant varieties/hybrids of various crops, improving soil quality and water management, diversification of agriculture into high value crops, promoting horticulture, animal husbandry and fishery, effective extension and improving marketing systems.
In order to achieve Ever-Green Revolution, emphasis is laid on rainfed agriculture so as to make these gray areas green. This is critical for sustainability, improved livelihood and income of resource poor farmers.

Crops for Higher Productivity
The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) has developed and released over 3,300 high yielding varieties / hybrids of field crops including ninety six varieties/ hybrids of important crops and 21 improved varieties of fruits, vegetables, tuber crops during 2007-08 for different agro-climatic regions to raise agricultural production and productivity. As a result food grain production at 230.67 million tonnes has been achieved during 2007-08 which is an all time high. Cutting edge research in field of hybrid technology and biotechnology are likely to pay dividends in crop improvement.
Productivity of horticultural crops are being improved by growing high yielding and disease resistant varieties and hi-tech farming including high density/ close-spacing plantation, canopy management, protected cultivation, integrated nutrient and water management and Integrated Pest Management (IPM).

Seeds and Planting Material
Availability of quality seeds is an important input for increasing the production and productivity. Project launched in recent past on “Quality seed production in agricultural crops and fisheries” has paid rich dividends as the production of quality seed, saplings and fingerlings has more than doubled within an year of launch.

Efficient Use of Land, Water, and Nutrients Resources
Oilseeds, pulses and coarse cereal are often grown under rainfed conditions. Their yield can be substantially enhanced if one protective irrigation is given. Hence, emphasis is laid on water harvesting and efficient utilization of water to enhance water productivity and consequently, increased yields.
The application of fertilizers have played an important role in improving crop productivity and would continue to do so in future as well. However, there is a growing concern about the low use efficiency of nutrients which ranges for 2 to 50 per cent. Such a low efficiency increases the cost of production and leads to severe environmental consequences. It is estimated that just by raising the nutrient use efficiency by ten per cent, the country can save almost 20 million ha of land at the current level of productivity. The impaired soil health and the declined productivity is primarily due to imbalanced fertilizer use coupled with low use of organic manures. The deficiency of micro nutrients like copper, sulphur, zinc and boron in major cropping systems is rampant. Therefore, the site-specific integrated nutrient management encompassing conjunctive use of inorganic fertilizer and organic manure is the most ideal system for maintaining soil health, enhancing nutrient-use efficiency and productivity.

Agricultural Diversification
For making Indian agriculture profitable, sustainable and competitive, agricultural diversification is to be intensively promoted. Attention towards precision farming, small farm mechanization, resource conservation technologies, use of sprinkler and drip irrigation systems, fertigation, productive cultivation of flowers and vegetables, and adoption of high-value and low-volume crops are given priority which is likely to yield dividends.

Livestock and Fisheries Production
The livestock and fisheries sectors are emerging as important “Sunrise Sectors” in the country. Since, most livestock is owned by small and marginal farmers and landless rural people specially in dryland areas, this sector’s rapid growth benefits the poorer households. Focused attention to genetic upgradation, nutrition management, disease surveillance and control, diagnostic kits and vaccines, post-harvest handling and processing and marketing of livestock and aquaculture produce is given which is paying dividends. This needs further strengthening.

Dissemination of Technologies
The ICAR has documented State specific Technological Interventions to address the location specific technology dissemination, which is being implemented. In order to provide the latest knowledge to the farmers for the development of national agriculture, 561 Krishi Vigyan Kendra’s (KVKs’) have been opened in rural districts of the country to bridge the gaps of technological transfer.

The ICAR has launched several new projects/programmes to address emerging issues and concerns to support farming and farmers in the country:
National Agricultural Innovation Project (NAIP)
National Agricultural Innovation Project (NAIP) was launched in July, 2006 with the support of the World Bank with a total outlay of Rs. 1190 crore for a period of six years. The overall objective of NAIP is to facilitate the accelerated and sustainable transformation of Indian agriculture in support of poverty alleviation and income generation through collaborative development and application of agricultural innovations by the public organisations in partnership with farmers groups, the private sector and other stakeholders.

The Indo-US Agricultural Knowledge Initiative
The Indo-US Agricultural Knowledge Initiative (AKI) was launched during the year 2006-07 to address new challenges and opportunities of modern day agriculture. The key areas of AKI include (i) Human Resource and Institutional Building, (ii) Food Processing and Marketing, (iii) Biotechnology and (iv) Water Resource Management.

The major thrust of activities are on collaborative research projects in the four focus areas of AKI which include functional genomics, virus resistance, drought and salinity tolerance, disease diagnosis, vaccine development, food processing, use of waste water and poor quality water, water conservation and harvesting, ground water management, modern irrigation systems for small holdings, enhancing resource and input use efficiency etc.

Basic and Strategic Research in Agriculture
The ICAR has given a high importance to basic and strategic research. The National Fund for Basic and Strategic Research in Agriculture has identified the thrust areas in genetic enhancement, resource management, value addition, diagnostics and vaccines, energy management, climate change and stress management. These are the areas in which basic scientific knowledge is vital for agricultural development.
The project addresses the problems in holistic way in a multi institutional and multi disciplinary set up. So far 30 projects under NAIP and 21 under National Fund with an outlay of Rs. 143.63 crores and 31.61 crores, respectively for basic and strategic research addressing the important problems have been supported and implemented.

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