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Dr. Rajendra Prasad Central Agricultural University (DRPCAU), Pusa, in Samastipur district, Bihar has been conducting agricultural research for past five decades. Since the share of agriculture is constantly being declining in the national GDP while over half of the population is dependent on it, the university is advocating for shifting at least 25 percent of farmers to other professions with increasing food productivity and production. Dr. RC Srivastava, Vice Chancellor, DRPCAU talks to Mohd Mustaquim on bringing reforms and technological disruptions in agriculture sector
What are the biggest challenges agriculture sector is going to face in the next decade and what are the way outs?
In next decade agriculture sector is going to face three major problems. The first one is decline in per capita availability of natural resources of land and water both in terms of quantity and quality. The second problem is climate change and the third one is post harvest management and waste utilisation. In 1971, the average size of operational land holdings was 2.28 hectare which has reduced to 1.16 hectare in 2010-11. Depleting ground water and poor water management is another cause of concern. Crop waste was earlier utilised for fuel purpose to cook food but in the future, the dependence on crop waste is going to be null and the residue will become a menace. In some of the states like Punjab and Haryana, the residue of paddy which is called ‘parali’ in local language is already creating environmental problem.
Agriculture research and education in India have played vital role in green revolution in the past. What further challenges do you see lying in front of agricultural research to mitigate the food security for the increasing population of the country?
Yes you are right, agriculture research and education played a pivotal role, to provide food security for the increasing population of country. The present challenge in agricultural research is to ensure quantum jump in productivity of foodgrains on suitable land and divert rest to horticulture, fodder, industry and infrastructure to take care of diversification and land availability for industry so that in next 10 years 25 percent population moves from agriculture to other sector. For this, we need to focus on increasing productivity on sector basis. Presently, we are growing about 280 million tonnes of foodgrain from 10 million hectare, 7.5 t/ha from next 20 Mha and 2t/ha from next 20 Mha. This will give us 375 million tonnes of foodgrains from 80 million hectare releasing 25 million hectare for diversification and other uses.
In RPCAU, we are utilising even the river banks for growing fodder and other suitable crops. The next challenge is to increase water use efficiency and water productivity, at present share of agriculture is around 84 percent, we will have to reduce it significantly. The major focus should be to increase efficiency of surface irrigation method in irrigated areas. Our target should be to eliminate open channel conveyance in next 5-10 years with shift to underground pipe lines. This will not only reduce water requirement but also release valuable land occupied by open channels. Efficient production system as mentioned above will also reduce water use in agriculture sector. Target should be to reduce it to 75 percent from present 84 percent so that our domestic requirements are met as well as industry gets water.
Many technological disruptions are coming into agriculture sector, particularly remote sensing and application of ICT, ITeS, Artificial Intelligence and Internet of Things (IoT). What are those specific technologies, do you see, are going to change the agricultural practices in next 10 years?
Information and communication technology has changed the world in few decades. In the next 10 years with the advancement in artificial intelligence and India’s dominance in space technology, agricultural technology will change significantly. With the help of artificial intelligence, your mobile or computer shall be able to understand the requirement of water, fertiliser and other nutrients in crops and plants. With the use of artificial intelligence, computers shall be able to automatically supply water and nutrients to the plants and remote sensing technology shall be able to provide real time data about weather, attack of insects and other diseases to the computer. Another change I feel, shall be to get crops from your rooftop or from your balcony. In next 10 to 20 years, you shall be able to get your vegetables from your balcony garden or from the rooftop farm. India and Israel has signed pacts for collaboration in agricultural research and some of these technologies are still available in Israel. I believe agriculture technology will become smart in next decade which will require new skill for farming.
Monsoon has constantly been erratic in last one decade. This year too monsoon has been delayed. What way outs does DRPCAU have to combat the adverse impact of constant deficient rainfall?
Yes. Monsoon rainfall in last few years has not been sufficient and ground water is depleting at alarming level. The way out is to go for artificial ground water recharge. RPCAU has developed a new unit for ground water recharge cum drainage. This technology is fit for rural as well as urban areas. In my opinion, a village, talluka or block should be treated as unit. Draft and natural recharge should be estimated. If draft is more than natural recharge, units should be instructed either to improve the efficiency of artificial recharge or to stop their quota of withdrawal of ground water to the limit of natural recharge.
Many states in India are fighting for water like enemy countries. Where did we fail in water management? And what should be future course of action?
We failed in water management because of various reasons which I do not want to discuss but now the government is very serious about water management. For proper water management, the future action should be interlinking the rivers, harvesting rainwater and artificial ground water recharge. Apart from this, we shall have to educate the public about proper utilisation of water.
How has agriculture research and education been different in DRPCAU, from a state agriculture university upgraded as central agricultural university?
After up gradation into a central university, the standard intake of the students as well as the faculty has diversified. Now we have 50 percent students from other states and faculty diversity has reached to 31 percent. The number of research projects funded by university has increased manifold. Now we have 57 research projects funded by university at the cost of over Rs 5 crore. Significantly all this money is coming from our own resources. Our seed sale has increased from Rs 1.2 crore in 2015-2016 to Rs 2.23 crore in 2018-2019. Similarly, the total revenue has increased from Rs 1.5 crore in 2015-16 to Rs 6.5 crore in 2018-19. The number of consultancy projects and licensing of technology have also increased. For the first time patents are being filed for different products and prototypes.
How has been the journey of the university in agricultural research and education and how has the varsity changed the farming landscape in Bihar?
The fifty years of university has significantly impacted farmers of Bihar. The output of the crops has raised manifold due to the introduction of new varieties and technology developed by the university. In the past fifty years, the university has trained farmers and local youth in the areas of dairy, farming, goatery and in various other fields related with agriculture which has changed the farming landscape of Bihar.
In an era when youth is inclined towards medical, engineering and management education, why should a student study agriculture and how would it be helpful for their professional growth?
Studying agriculture today is more lucrative. While there has been stagnation in job opportunity in the subjects of Medicines, Engineering and Management education, there has been upswing in the field of Agriculture and therefore students of the university have got better opportunities for jobs both in government sector as well as in private sector. This year the placement has reached to 25 percent and we hope to increase it further.
What are the areas of agricultural research DRPCAU is focusing on and how many students are currently studying in the varsity?
We are focusing on post harvest management, wealth from the waste and management of challenged ecologies. At present, the students’ strength in the university has reached to almost 1100 which will touch 2000 in 2020-2021 session and from this year we will be admitting foreign and industry sponsored students also. We have got good response from foreign students.
What makes DRPCAU different from other agriculture universities?
The difference lies in serene and peaceful atmosphere, cordial relation between students and teachers and opportunities for students and faculties to excel in different field.