Agricultural R&D in India Greater Commitment yet Challenges Persist

India has one of the largest and most complex agricultural research systems in the world. It is has an experience of organised application of science to agriculture for more than a century (Pal Suresh and Byerlee Derek, 2006). In the early 19th century, agricultural development in India started with the establishment of the Department of Revenue, Agriculture and Commerce in the imperial and provincial governments, together with a bacteriological laboratory and five veterinary colleges. The Green Revolution in India, which started in the 1960s and 1970s, led to the growth and enhancement of research systems in the field of agriculture. Due to this revolution and enhancement in this area, the country has become self-sufficient in food and has a strong position in world markets for some commodities.

According to K Kasturirangan, Member, Planning Commission, Government of India, technology is one of the prime movers of agricultural productivity and growth (Express News Service, 2014). India is currently spending about 0.7 percent of the agricultural GDP on agricultural research and development (R&D), while it is widely believed by experts that India needs to raise it to one percent of the GDP if it has to raise the agricultural production and make it sustainable (K Kasturirangan, Express News Service, 2014).

According to Kasturirangan, the national mission on agricultural extension and technology management will be focussed on various aspects like dissemination of technology, availability of seeds and planting material, with farm mechanisation. As India is known largely for its agriculture worldwide, crop production is central to the country’s agricultural development and it constitutes about 70 percent to the total output of the sector. As performance is vital for farming and food security, there is a need to develop farming tools, in collaboration with agricultural research universities and farmers’ organisations, in order to increase production. There should be a close linkage with agricultural universities, farmers’ associations and self-help groups which can be helpful in promoting quality planting material with high-tech horticulture.

Historical Evolution

India pursued a socialistic development path after independence emphasising more on heavy industry, high levels of protection of domestic industry, import substitution, public-sector regulation, and public investment. During those days, allocation of capital and foreign exchange was controlled through ‘Licence Raj’ (Das 2006), a highly bureaucratic system of licences and permits. It was found that the above strategy helped in creating the industrial base but it was able to generate only 3.5 percent economic growth rate after independence.

After globalisation, during 1990s, there were drastic reforms throughout the economy with the help of Government. Reforms during that period came with various advantages like reduced tariffs, reduced fiscal deficit, deregulation of most of the industries, and open solicitation of private investment (including foreign direct investment). The economic growth had grown over six percent annually during 1990s, and as a result it became more export-oriented. The irony was that the economic reforms were not targeted toward agriculture, and in fact liberalisation of agricultural sector has lagged behind. However, agricultural exports increased significantly, and there was greater participation by the private sector in agricultural input industries like the seed industry.

Establishment of R&D in India

Agricultural R&D in India is being managed under a three tier system, viz (i) Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) at the apex level, (ii) State Agricultural Universities (SAUs) at the state level, and (iii) Private sector at both sector and commodity levels (Pal Suresh and Derek Byerlee, 2006). An important institutional innovation in the post-independence period was the establishment of All India Coordinated Research Projects (AICRPs), initiated in 1957 under ICAR to promote multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional research. ICAR was mandated to coordinate in 1965, to direct and promote agricultural research in India by overseeing all the research stations which had been controlled earlier by commodity committees and various government departments.

To facilitate linkages between ICAR (with the central and state governments) and foreign research organisations, the Department of Agricultural Research and Education (DARE) was created in the Ministry of Agriculture. During the 1960s, state agricultural universities (SAUs) were established which were autonomous and funded by the government of respective states. They took the responsibility of integrating research with education. The US agencies for International Development have played an active role in the establishment of State Agriculture Universities and training of staff through partnerships with US land-grant universities (Lele and Goldsmith, 1989). ICAR has established special project directorates with their own research infrastructure, under ICAR administrative control, that consist of teams of multi-disciplinary scientists.

In addition, ICAR established 261 krishi vigyan kendras (agricultural science centres or KVKs) at the district level that are responsible for transfer of new technologies and for training farmers. Though facing various challenges like development of human capital, modernisation of research infrastructure and strong linkages with clients, ICAR/SAU is trying to fulfil the needs (Mruthyunjaya and Ranjitha 1998).

Different technology has recently come up, which has enhanced the quality of seed and produce, for example, biotechnology which has brought a revolution in agricultural research. The Department of Biotechnology (DBT) was created in 1986 under the ministry of science and technology to support research and human resources (Qaim, 2005). Now, several genetically modified products are moving into field testing and commercial release. The government is currently focussing on establishing a framework to regulate biotechnology research and the testing and release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Importance

• Improvement of crops, specifically hybrid crops (Kumar Sant and Mittal Rashi, 2009);
• Improved crop management: Integrated water management for better yield;
• Diversified farming (consisting of crops, horticulture, livestock and fisheries): Opportunity for increasing employment, income and nutritional security;
• Resource conservation: Zero-tillage saves water by 11.3 percent, and increases wheat yield marginally over the conventional sowing technique. The drip system improves overall profitability of the system;
• Improved livestock methods: Artificial Insemination (AI) improves conceptions in cattle and buffaloes by 20-25 percent;
• Improved machines: Rotavator saves time (30-35%), water (30%), and the cost of operation (20-25%), as compared to tillage by cultivator and harrow (Source: ICAR 2007).

Challenges

There are a few critical challenges that our country is facing such as lack of public investment in agriculture sector, particularly in irrigation, power, rural roads, market and mechanisation (Kumar Vikas and Sinha Kunal, 2014). Along with this, the government has decreased subsidies on fertilisers which have enhanced the cost of production. We need to have an increased number of research laboratories at a localised level so that farmers can have easy access to it and get an overall idea of agricultural related problems. Research must include soil study, and surveys should be made popular among common masses. India needs to generate opportunities of employment for the poor to earn livelihoods. However, at the same time, economic growth has been accelerated and due to rapid urbanisation, the demand for high value commodities as well as livestock and horticulture products has increased. Agricultural growth needs to be much more diversified. There is a vast decline in public investment in agriculture which has serious implications on agricultural growth and poverty reduction (Roy 2001). Fan, Hazell, and Thorat (1999) found that investment in agricultural research provides a high marginal return relative to other investments in terms of both growth and poverty reduction.

Conclusion

Due to lack of provision of agricultural R&D, there’s a negative effect on the agricultural production in developing countries. There is a need to increase funding in agricultural R&D throughout the developing world. There is a technological gap between developed and developing countries in the prevailing market-driven international economic environment. Agricultural R&D must be improved in the third world. Major reforms are required in agricultural research to be re-enlivened and re-invigorated. Without sharing the technological efforts in the field of agriculture globally, we cannot lessen down the food scarcity (Chadha GK, Ramasundaram P and Sendhil, 2013). Agricultural R&D has enormous potential to provide solutions to the persisting problems. To meet the social goals and reaching the unreached, a strong public R&D system is needed.

Anju Bharti is Assistant Professor at Maharaja Agrasen Institute of Management Studies, New Delhi.