India’s population has been growing at an annual rate of 1.13%.
It is expected to become the first country to be home to more than 1.5 billion people by 2030, and its population is set to reach 1.7 billion by 2050.
With the increasing population, is an increasing demand for food. And while the demand for food is increasing, the land resource remains constant.
With this situation, arises the need to have an efficient research and development process set up for our food production- that is, agriculture.
India has a rich history in agricultural research, both in the pre and post-colonial periods.
In this article, we are mainly going to discuss post-colonial research and the plans of India in this sector.
India’s agricultural research system has contributed in a large way to increasing agriculture production and productivity. The development of high-yielding and disease-resistant varieties has been its achievement.
India has one of the largest Public Agricultural Research Establishments in the world. With the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) at the top, we have 30 State Agriculture Universities, 46 Institutes including 4 Deemed Universities, 4 National Bureau, 9 Project Directorates, 31 National Research Centres, 158 Regional Stations and 80 All India Coordinated Research Projects.
Need of agricultural research in India-
- Agriculture is the backbone of the Indian economy which plays the most decisive role in the socio-economic development of the country. The agricultural research system in India includes some 27,500 scientists and more than one lakh supporting staff actively engaged in agricultural research, which makes it probably the largest research system in the world.
- The resilience of India’s agriculture production has been an outcome of the synergy between the scientific fraternity in the National Agricultural Research System (NARS), comprising the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), state agricultural universities (SAUs), etc., and farmers to promote ‘green methods’.
- How has this synergy helped in increasing agricultural production? Constant technological improvements have led to a four times increase in food grain production, six times in horticultural crops, nine times in fish, and 27 times in eggs since 1951.
- More than 5,000 ecologically sustainable crop varieties and hundreds of animal breeds have been developed for maintaining a resilient food system by ICAR institutions.
- With the advancement in mobile technologies, the reach of disease and pest surveillance mechanisms to farms has effectively reduced crop losses. To address malnutrition, several bio-fortified crop varieties have been released recently.
- The strength of agricultural research in India is highlighted by the fact that in the last decade, the compound annual growth rate of patents filed in the agricultural sectors in India was 12.5% — higher than the global growth rate of 11%.
- The need for an increased budget for R&D in agriculture is immediate as about 80% of R&D funding goes to paying salaries and other expenditures, leaving little to conduct comprehensive mission-mode research ventures. Such minuscule levels of investment in R&D impedes the ability of science and technology (S&T) research to tackle multiple challenges that include yield gaps, changing consumer preferences, declining resources capacity, the geopolitical situation, and the adverse impact of climate change leading to farm distress.
- What is needed now is a long-term strategy precisely focussed on food systems within each agro-climatic region per se, instead of generalizing strategy as a whole. The cornerstone of success in bringing about a more vibrant agricultural sector lies in upping agricultural R&D spending to at least 1% of agricultural GDP, thereby charting a trajectory of higher and inclusive growth, and making the national plan of doubling farmers’ income in the near future possible.
- Research is also required to find out ways to efficiently market agricultural products. There should be an improvement in the methods of marketing agricultural produce, especially in developing countries. Proper marketing is important for the efficient use of the product.
- Spending on agricultural R&D in India still hovers around 0.40% of agricultural GDP (about Rs 8,000 crores only in 2019-20), while most other countries spend more than 1%. So, there needs to be a push from the root of the solution. Removing budgetary constraints should be the topmost priority of the Government to improve the agricultural situation.
India has set up a lot of quality agricultural research institutes but it still has a long way to go, moving away from ‘business as usual’ activities. It needs to develop an end-to-end package of interventions and strategic policy support, tailored to the local needs of particular crops and agro-ecologies. This calls for invigorating the scientific temper, focusing on problem-solving as part of the human resources capacity, and fostering R&D funding.