The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) conducts agricultural research for dryland farming in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Covering 55 countries, ICRISAT helps empower 2 billion people to overcome poverty. DR WILLIAM D DAR, Director General, ICRISAT talks to MOHD MUSTAQUIM about the integration of science and technology with agriculture and empowering farmers
First of all, Rural & Marketing congratulates you on the Agricultural Leadership Award you have been conferred recently.
Thank you, Mustaquim. I am dedicating this award to the small holder and poor farmers of India.
How has been the journey of ICRISAT, especially in India?
Since I started 15 years ago, it has been very successful. Many transformations we have witnessed during the period. Minimum support of funding for ICRISAT in 2000 was US$ 300,000. Now, we are getting an annual support of 8 million dollars from across India, including from Government of India as well as private sector. We work together with them and develop dryland farming and sync it with small farmers’ benefit from across the world. We are working together with the Government of India on increasing yield, profitability and enhancing sustainability.
How do you see the Indian agriculture sector?
Indian agriculture has played very successfully in the past. The country produced 264 million tonnes of foodgrains during 2013-14 compared to 258 million tonnes of last year. This was unprecedented in the Indian history. At the same time the population of India is growing, so we have to keep pace with the increasing pressure of population growth, also the pressure coming from the degrading land resources and environment. But the good thing is that the science and technology can handle these challenges.
There has been a record harvest of 20 million tonnes pulses last year. However, India still imports more than three million tonnes. And thus, in partnership with the Government and the private sector, we are looking at increasing production of pulses. In between, dryland cereals like sorghum and millet, including hybrids have been developed to enhance productivity in India.
Having one of the largest arable land, Indian farm production, for various essential commodities like pulses and oil seeds, is still not up to the mark. What are the measures India should take to be self-dependent?
India is still importing pulses, so a mission mode has to be put in place for pulse production. The Prime Minister has declared a protein revolution for people who cannot buy meat. Pulses are a major source of protein. We have hybrid and other varieties of pulses to increase and meet the requirement in India.
India witnessed a Green Revolution in the late 60s, do you think another one is possible in the future?
Today everyone is talking about second Green Revolution, including the Government. We are looking at a mission mode approach to have a second Green Revolution. The second Green Revolution must not only be in the irrigated areas. This is the time to give long policy support and investment so that these areas of the country can also witness Green Revolution.
What co-relation do you see between science and agriculture?
No country can prosper without science and technology. Western countries have invested heavily in agricultural science and technology. In terms of productivity and profitability, their farmers have prospered. Now, the challenge for India is to have more investment in agriculture. In India, the investment in rice, wheat and corn production is higher, but there is a negligence of investment in fruits and vegetables, legumes, livestock and fisheries. If you want to really meet nutritional and food requirement of the country, then there should be a good investment on mission mode way in these neglected areas.
Indian agriculture is largely dependent on Monsoon, what are the measures the country needs to take so that the agriculture be unaffected?
Through science and technology, which we have been doing for last 42 years in India, we have improved practices and improved varieties. The rain-fed areas dependent on Monsoon, so every drop which falls we have to harvest. So water harvesting is a necessary mission. It will help agriculture in India. At the same time, we need soil health mapping in the country, so that we can have much better management practices. We also need to work with the farmers.
Another aspect is to highlight the crop insurance scheme. The scheme is highly scientific. If it is properly formed, it will spell the difference in making it possible to sustain higher levels of production, especially in the dryland areas.
How do you envisage the future of Indian agriculture and its growth rate?
There is a combination of strong policy support to empower Indian farmers, make it more resilient, productive and more prosperous. This is my vision for India. We need to design programmes to bring farmers to the levels of human dignity. That is possible to be translated, and ideally government has to make it possible by supporting small farmers.
In northern parts of India, groundwater depletion is going down sharply. But farmers of these regions have been harvesting rice for many years which needs round-the-clock water in the field. Your suggestions on this.
Rice needs a lot of water. If you have enough water supply, then you can grow it. Otherwise, you should have other crops that require lesser water. With water availability and mapping soil health, you can figure out what crop should be growing.