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Climate change is going to impact Indian agriculture in multitude of ways: Dr AK Singh, VC, RVSKVV

In an interview Dr Anil Kumar Singh, Vice Chancellor, Rajmata Vijayaraje Scindia Krishi Vishwavidyalaya discuses with R&M about the varsity's works in the agriculture sector


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In an interview Dr Anil Kumar Singh, Vice Chancellor, Rajmata Vijayaraje Scindia Krishi Vishwavidyalaya (RVSKVV) discuses with Mohd Mustaquim about the varsity's works in the agriculture sector, agricultural education, impact of climatic change and its way-outs, soil management, role of Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVKs), cooperative farming and various other issues related to Indian agriculture

Excerpts

Please shed some light on the status of Agricultural Education and Research in India?
The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) is the apex body in the country, dealing with Agricultural Research and Education & Extension. The National Agricultural Research and Education System (NARS) consists of 100 institutes under the ICAR, 59 State Agricultural Universities which includes (horticulture, animal sciences and fisheries), 2 Central Agricultural Universities, 5 Deemed Agricultural Universities (four of which are under ICAR) and 4 universities providing Faculty of Agriculture Education. It is one of the largest systems available in a single platform to address all issues related to agriculture. However, there has been acute shortage of manpower in most state-supported institutions and the financial condition needs to be strengthened to meet the challenges in the agricultural sector, today.

Mounting pressure from increasing population, what measures should we take to make the country food secure? And how would agri education play its role in food security?
It’s a matter of great pride that India not only has attained self-sufficiency in food grain production but, is also exporting significant quantity of foodgrains to other needy countries. India has successfully overcome the drought proofing situation to a considerable extent which was evident by food shortages in 2009-10 when the country faced a serious drought. However, to feed the ever-growing population, which is estimated to touch 1.6 billion in 2050, is a formidable challenge in view of the increasing scarcity of water and continuously degrading of natural resources.

Agricultural Education plays an important key role in producing human resources; that will develop technologies-enabling-productivity-enhancement for ensuring food and nutrition security. It will also help in capacity building of concerned stakeholders so that the modern technologies are developed and disseminated quickly and adopted correctly for its potential to comes into practice.

What challenges do you see in front of agriculture sector in India and how can these be tackled?
Challenges in Indian Agricultural Production System have always been very formidable. At global level, India shares 4 percent of the water resources, 2.4 percent of the land in which it is obliged to feed 17.5 percent of the human populations and 15 percent of the livestocks. The major challenge is the declining of water availability. And on the other hand fertile agricultural lands are being consumed for Industrialisation, urbanisation and other developmental related activities.

Further, global warming associated with climate change and variability is compounding the problems. A multi pronged approach is required which will integrate the use of modern tools, i.e remote sensing, geographic information system, biotechnology along with resource efficient technologies combined with appropriate primary and secondary processing interventions.

Being little more specific, can you please brief about the impact of climate change on Agriculture in India. Ways to handle it?
Climate change is going to impact Indian agriculture in a multitude of ways. Increase in temperature, greater variability and large uncertainty associated with both intensity and quantum of rainfall result in long duration of dry spells, enhanced run off causing floods, higher incedence of pests and diseases are all going to impact agriculture adversely.

The impact of climate change can be controlled by following both short and long term approaches. In the short term, there is a need to identify climate smart technologies from the huge cafeteria of technologies/varieties/breeds available. Ensure that they are disseminated and up scaled using Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and institutional interventions.

Long term approach focus on developing products that are multiple stress tolerant -both abiotic and biotic- using modern tools, technologies and varieties that are water nutrient and energy efficient and having more location specific, precise weather based agro-advisories.

Implementable contingency plans should be in place along with the necessary back up arrangements like seed banks, fodder banks, easy and immediately availability of credit/relief to farmers in times of adversity.

When we talk about soil erosion, what problems crop up and can you suggest a few measures to control it?
Soil erosion has a very significant impact in crop productivity. It is estimated that annually 5.3 billion tonnes of soil is lost resulting in washing away 6 million tonnes of nutrients. The estimated loss to productivity is colossal (> Rs. 11,000 crores) every year. Through siltation, it reduces the storage capacity as well as the life of reservoirs.

The Government of India has launched several programmes over the years focusing on watershed development which included treatment of catchment areas. Watershed development is an integrated approach which takes care of conservation of natural resources as well as socio- economic upliftment of the people inhabiting the watershed. Regular monitoring and evaluation of deliverables of such projects is essential to ensure the returns are commensurate with the investments made.

The excessive application of chemical fertilisers and pesticides has harmed the soil health, further spoiling the agricultural productivity and environment. How can we overcome this challenge?
The Green revolution transformed the country from ‘ship to mouth’ to self-sufficiency. The Revolution was brought about by providing inputs in terms of water (irrigation), nutrients (fertilisers) and protection against pest and diseases (agro chemicals) so that the high yielding varieties could perform to their potential. A record production of more than 264 million tonnes in 2013-14 is a testimony to that fact. However, the injudicious and unbalanced use of chemical fertilisers along with indiscriminate use of pesticides has resulted in most of the post green revolution problems.

Integrated nutrient and pest management approaches appear to be the most appropriate solutions to enhance productivity in a sustainable manner. Wherever feasible, organic farming needs to be encouraged. Adequate facilities must be created for precise soil and water sample analyses so that balanced nutrient application, both inorganic and organic is done. Building up soil health is the key to sustainable agriculture production. Recommendations should consider soil-crop-agro-climatic conditions for maximising production.

Please shed some light on the role of KVKs. What potential they have which are yet to be explored?
KVKs have their presence virtually in every district in the country. They are the resource centres having information about all the latest technological developments. One of their important tasks is to evaluate and refine the technology developed by the scientists. The KVK personnel are aware of the ground level realities, the socio-economic conditions of the farms and have linkages with all the relevant line departments. They are ideally located to ensure through convergence of all existing government schemes, maximum benefits should be passed to the farming community.

The KVK personnel need more mobility, filling up all posts and trained in the use of ICT for faster dissemination and interactions with the stakeholders. They need to be strengthened by having trained manpower in soil science, agrometrology, processing engineers and good facilities for soil, plant, water testing and secondary agriculture.

What technological transformation we can expect in agriculture sector in the future and what role does RVSKVV play for this?
As stated earlier, Agriculture Production System has to produce more and more per unit quantity of water per unit nutrient applied per unit time. Intensification of agricultural activities in an eco-friendly manner is the only solution. Conservation agriculture, multiple stress tolerant varieties, breeds, eco-friendly energy efficient inputs, mechanisation, processing and value addition, all have to be a part of the strategy.

RVSKVV, Gwalior was established in August 2008 and mandated to serve as a centre of higher education, conduct basic, strategic, applied and anticipatory research as well as disseminate technologies to farmers, extension personnel and other related organisations involved in development and extension activities. It has developed several varieties of chickpea, mustard, soybean, wheat, hybrid pigeon pea, lentil and ground nut.

Popularisation of management practices like seed treatment, land configuration, efficient water and nutrient use techniques; exploring systems of crop intensification for crops other than rice are on the top of the agenda.

Skill development of farmers, state officials and use of ICTs are on the priority list of the university. Refining of contingency plans for extreme weather conditions is a continuing exercise. In spite of producing 19 million tonnes of pulses, India has to import 3 million tonnes. The situation is even worse when it come to oilseeds production. RVSKVV has a special focus on pulses and oilseeds.

How would ravine development help people in Madhya Pradesh? Would it have any negative impact on environment?
Out of the estimated 3.97 million ha of ravines in India, Madhya Pradesh has 0.68 million ha of ravine lands second after Uttar Pradesh - 1.23 million ha. Ravine development is vital for socio-economic considerations as well as need to convert degraded lands into agriculturally productive lands.

It is a common knowledge that existing agricultural land is being gobbled up by industries and urbanisation. India has to produce its own food to ensure food security to its population and therefore, bringing degraded lands including ravine lands under cultivation will be essential for meeting the targets. If no action is taken, the area under ravines is likely to increase resulting into abandoning, translocation of villages with several attendant problems. If done scientifically, ravines can be rejuvenated with a mix of agri-horti-silvi-forestry–livestock interventions tailor-made for specific locations. Different technological options have to be adopted for shallow, medium and deep ravines.

Chambal ravines in particular need a different approach as their formation process is different. A scientific approach of ravine reclamation and rehabilitation will minimise any detrimental effect on the environment. In fact, the greening of ravines will have a positive impact on the environment.

80 percent of Indian farmers are marginal or small, in this context how do you envisage the cooperative farming?
More than 80 percent of the farmers in India fall into the small and marginal category and their numbers are increasing every passing generation. They are also resource poor. Cooperative farming, contract farming or modified versions of these approaches have to institutionalised after taking the farmers into confidence. Cost and availability of labour for agricultural activities has become a serious constraint. Therefore, agriculture mechanisation is one certain way of increasing efficiency and reducing cost of cultivation. Custom hiring is one the very cost effective means of making technology available to the farmers. It is essential to involve them in primary processing and value addition.

How do you foresee the Indian agriculture?
Indian agriculture is certainly at the crossroads. Given a choice, many farmers would opt out of farming. To retain farmers and attract rural youth to farming, agriculture must be better understood as a commercial activity with a clear focus on income generation and livelihood enhancement. In addition to the use of modern tools, focus has to be on precision farming, value addition and processing with strong market linkages so that the farmer gets a better deal. There is a need to have a weather – based insurance scheme with relief delivered to the farmers who are affected by natural calamities as an immediate aid. 

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