Convocation address by Dr Mangala Rai, Secretary, DARE & Director General, ICAR at Marathwada Agricultural University, Parbhani

25 February 2009, Parbhani, Mharashtra

         His Excellency, the Governor of Maharashtra and Chancellor, Shri S.C. Jamir ji; Minister of Agriculture, Government of Maharashtra and Pro-Chancellor, Shri Balasahebji Thorat ji; Vice-Chairman, MCAER, Shri Vijayraoji Kolte ji; distinguished Vice-Chancellor, Dr S.S. Kadam; members of Executive and Academic Councils; learned faculty members; officials and staff of the University, esteemed guests; representatives of press and electronic media; dear students; ladies and gentlemen !

2.         I deem it to be an honour for being invited to the Convocation of the Marathwada Agricultural University, Parbhani.  I congratulate the students on being conferred with the richly deserved degrees and awards for their academic accomplishments.  I also congratulate the faculty members who also worked hard to impart quality education, knowledge, skills and human values. Today is certainly an historic  moment for the University and especially in the lives of all the students who would receiving heir hard earned degrees and awards. This is also an occasion for us to introspect the course of our journey, what have we achieved ? what were the failures ? what lessons have we learnt for the journey ahead to shape the careers and prove to be responsible citizens capable of serving both, science and the society.   

3.         Marathwada Agricultural University, one of the four agricultural universities in the state,   since establishment in 1972 has been consistently involved in research for development of technologies suitable for the prevalent agroclimatic conditions of the region and needs of the farmers.  The famous Gaorani desi cotton was the result of the research on cotton, and local sorghum cultivars were improved by selection in this University.  With about nine colleges including those on Food Technology and Biotechnology, ever since its establishment MAU Parbhani, remains an important hub of educational, research and extension activities in Marathwada .  The University has released number of varieties of crops - sorghum, pearl millet, paddy, wheat, maize, cotton, sunflower, groundnut, safflower, mungbean, Pigeopea, gram (chickpea), pea marking nut, ber, mango, kaghzi lime, fig, tamarind, chilly, tomato, brinjal and okra.  Recognizing the importance of Maharashtra as an agriculturally important state the ICAR has also established number of research institutes dealing with cotton, citrus, onion, garlic, pomegranate, grape, cotton technology, land use planning and fisheries  education with a deemed university status.

4.         Among the major constraints, drought is among the most serious factor affecting agriculture production in the country.  Thirteen states in India face drought and other abiotic stresses during one time or the other part of the year.  In India, irrigation is available for only 40% of the cultivated area and the remaining 60% depends on scanty rains.  Even a large state like  Maharashtra, several districts lack infrastructure for assured irrigation.  Moderate drought conditions are observed in the State 1-2 times in 5 years and severe drought conditions occur once in 8-9 years.  During drought not only agriculture crops suffer but also results in shortage of fodder for livestock.  The frequency of extreme rainfall events, long droughts, heat wave, cold wave, cyclones, floods is increasing seriously affecting agriculture and animal husbandry.

5.         Besides droughts, now many other abiotic stresses like temperature extremes, floods, salinity, mineral toxicity and nutrient deficiency are  threatening agricultural production posing challenges even to sustain the current productivity levels, let alone further enhancement. The climate changes are likely to aggravate the adverse impacts further.

6.         Climate change is transboundary in nature but it is more important for countries like India where more than half the population depends on agriculture which inter alia depends heavily on monsoon rains.  The situation, therefore, warrants technological interventions of advanced nature and highly competent human resource to counteract the impact of abiotic stresses on agriculture. A National Network Project entitled 'Impact, Adaptation and Vulnerability of Indian Agriculture to Climate Change' has been launched with a focus on impacts of climate change on different sectors of agricultural production such as crops, fish and livestock. The programme is being implemented in 21 research institutions.

7.         A series of projects in network mode have also been initiated - converting C3 to C4 photosynthetic system in rice; adaptation and facilitation of livestock to impending climatic changes through shelter management; identification of salt-tolerant genes in marine tiger shrimp; methane emission; gene-based genetic maps and molecular markers for biotic and abiotic stress tolerance, molecular diagnostics of avian diseases, gene discovery and allele mining etc.

8.         The Council has recently, in February 2009, established a National Institute of Abiotic Stress Management, deemed to be university in the state of Maharashtra itself. The important research programs of National Institute of Abiotic Stress Management would be in a matrix mode and conducted through four multi-disciplinary schools. on Drought Stress Management having  primary focus on research for enhancement of abiotic stress tolerance in major food crops;  Atmospheric Stress Management to study the impact of extreme weather events like elevated CO2, heat wave, cold wave, freezing injury etc on major crops, livestock and fisheries and developing decision support system (DSS) for mitigating the effect of extreme weather events; Edaphic Stress Management will undertake studies of genetic and molecular basis of tolerance and ion homeostasis under situations of abiotic stress; and Policy Support Research for promoting the adoption of mitigation/adaptation strategies for abiotic stresses.

9.         The World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg (2002) declared water as the most critical resource in the twenty-first century with increasing demands and diminishing supplies. In India, per capita availability of water is declining progressively over the years owing to increasing demands of burgeoning human and animal populations. And also because of irrigation needs of crop-plants, that would continue to be the major consumer of water; though its share would reduce by 10-15% by 2025 due to competing demands from domestic, industrial and energy sectors.

10.       Realizing the importance of this resource, the Government has contemplated to bring 10 million hectares additional area under irrigation as a component of Bharat Nirman initiative. Even after achieving full irrigation potential, more than 40% of the total cultivated area of the country would remain rainfed. Studies indicate that if rainwater is suitably stored, about 30% of it is likely to be available for rabi crops. An additional yield of about one tonne per hectare could be realized through supplemental irrigation under multi-locational projects undertaken by the ICAR Institutes. Thus, additional foodgrains production of over 50 million tonnes can be easily realized through water harvesting and recycling techniques. For the success of water-harvesting programme, concerted efforts are needed. Flagship programmes like National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and Bharat Nirman have already included water-harvesting as one of the key activities under their fold. What is urgently needed is an effective utilization of scarce resources to ensure creation of an asset in a harmonized manner.

11.       Conjunctive use of water will also play an important role to control water-logging and salinity in canal commands. Sinking tubewells along the canal after taking into account requirement for their spacing and capacity, will provide necessary drainage relief and lower water-table. Strengthening of knowledge base on geology and aquifer characteristics, hydrology of surface and groundwater, and existing surface and groundwater facilities is required to develop appropriate conjunctive-use system.

12.       Along with improving use-efficiency of existing water resources will be crucial to relax supply-side constraints. Available estimates indicate that by 10% increase in water-use efficiency, country can gain more than 50 million tonnes of foodgrains from the existing irrigated area. And additional 14 million hectares can be brought under irrigation with the existing irrigation facilities.

13.       Wherever drought-like situations occur, livestock can provide much needed sustenance to the rural people. Hence, in our country, we essentially need to have a feed and fodder bank policy.  As feed-fodder compaction and fortification technologies are available, enriched feed blocks can be made and stored to manage such contingent situations in years to come; such a situation is likely to arise not only due to drought but due to floods as well.  This calls for investment at least on the regional basis to ensure feed and fodder security to livestock, which is 11% of the total livestock population of the world.

14.       A mini-revolution is essential to tune up technology of prediction of diseases and pests before overt symptoms appear. Quantifying pestilence-based risk to crop and metabolism that threatens anticipated crop yields is essential for suitable diagnostics and mitigation. Mitigation demands unconventional approaches in the present time and context. Advances in biology, including molecular aspects, in physical sciences having developed cutting-edge knowledge initiatives in nanotechnology, and many other areas in material science provoke intense thoughts for inter-disciplinary interactive research programmes in addressing various applications in protection research. New forms of therapy for plant-health management such as RNAi-derived products, vaccines, novel delivery systems of agro-chemicals and targeted biological processes could be looked upon.   Developments in novel bio-materials have offered benefits of targeted delivery and controlled release in human and animal therapeutics. Nano-scale structured materials and devices also hold a great promise for advancement of diagnostics and biosensors. Advances in biosensors and gene amplification are in the offing to enable real-time cure of phytomaladies. 

15.       The role of extension services especially in the technology is most crucial for the farmer to realise the gains from technological innovations. From scientists point of view, it is important to see that the technology reaches the  end user in right manner. The extension mechanisms also provides an opportunity for the researchers to assess and refine the technologies. Extension has been put to serve production oriented programmes, area development initiatives, target group based service schemes, and, largely, as a technology delivery mechanism. In the process, simple purpose for which it is designed, namely “helping people to help themselves” by relating technologies to the needs and opportunities of the farmers have not been emphasized much.

16.       Technology specific extension models based on agro-ecosystem need to be developed. Demand driven approach is to be emphasised instead of supply driven approach. Quality extension services like ISO certification, HACCUP, EUREPGAP for both public and private service providers are to be encouraged. Feedback should be strengthened and its effective use for improving the quality of extension services at the grass root level must be ensured. Participation of front line extension scientist/subject matter specialist in technology generation, assessment, refinement and transfer can play a greater role. Cost economics of technologies are to focussed, accountability of the extension service providers are to be ensured through proper monitoring and involvement of farmers and other stakeholders. Village knowledge centres and Agri-clinics may be linked and integrated with public extension system (SAU, ICAR, line departments) for providing farm advisory services and quality inputs as well.

17.       University’s agricultural education system requires keeping pace with the rapid technological, economic and social developments taking place nationally and globally.  Falling productivity, expanding natural resource degradation, rising unemployment and surfacing of market forces due to phenomenon on globalization and opening of world economies necessitate that henceforth agricultural graduates should not be mere degree holders.  They, instead, must be professionals who can envision and interpret problems and devise remedial solutions so that human resource developed by agricultural education suits present-day needs. 

18.       The change in agricultural education must produce graduates with entrepreneurial skills who can generate employment and not exclusively depend on public-sector jobs.  Priority emphasis should be on supporting needs of self-employment scheme on Agribusiness and Agri-clinics, which is envisaged to bring extension services to farmers’ doors.  Besides including subjects on entrepreneurship, courses would also need to be developed to meet demands of diversified agriculture and emerging global markets.

19. To ensure efficiency, effectiveness and sustainability in agricultural production, a paradigm shift in educational learning system, technology, curricula and infrastructure is essential.  Rapid change in life styles, social values and work ethos in every walk of life exerts enormous pressure on our colleges and universities.  To meet this requirement, Distance Education has become important.  It is high time to take advantage of this system of education and make use of multi-media, e-journals, e-books for quality mass education and e-governance.  Component of hands on-training at selected study centres and face-to-face interaction through counseling, open and distance education will become most effective tool of imparting education to large section of society, more especially to marginalized regions and to marginalized societies especially rural men and women.  The present system of agricultural education and extension requires drastic re-orientation to suit present scenario. To evolve in tune with this fast changing national and international scenario and recognizing the need, the ICAR has embarked upon an arduous task of restructuring post-graduate course curricula and syllabi of agriculture and allied sciences.

20.       Agricultural education has to evolve in tune with fast changing national and international scenario mainly owing to (i) new areas of specialization such as IPRs, other WTO-related areas, techno-legal specialties etc., (ii) stakeholders’ expectations esp. for utilitarian mode, (iii) new cutting edge technologies: biosensors, genomics and biotechnology, alternative sources of energy, nanotechnology, etc., (iv) improved tools of content delivery including ICTs, (v) globalization of education, etc. Recognizing this necessity, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) embarked upon the task of restructuring the post-graduate course curricula and syllabi of agriculture and allied sciences at the national level. The Council constituted a National Core Group of 12 academicians functioning through 18 Broad Subject Matter Area Committees of experts from all over the country, in July 2007. The Committees consulted about 1000 academicians in the exercise and took about 20 months to finalize the report.  The report has since been submitted and discussed in the vice-chancellors’ conference, unanimously accepted and put to effective implementation this year in many universities.

21.       Rising unemployment among agricultural graduates, degradation of natural resources, falling productivity and rising cost of cultivation, regional imbalances, lack of storage facilities, post-harvest losses, limited value-addition and poor marketing infrastructure are focal points in view of globalization of agriculture.  Professionals and paraprofessionals who disseminate and help in application of knowledge and technology to practising farmers are in great demand.  And it is high time that technical and management skills of scientists and teachers are revamped to suit needs.

22.       Forging close relationship between agricultural education programmes, extension system and farming community is considered necessary for maintaining relevance of agricultural education.  To boost agriculture business we need students who are capable of dealing with economic and environmental aspects of modern husbandry, dairy technology, fisheries, horticulture, vegetables and flowers cultivation, primary processing, loss-free storage and food preservation, sericulture, maintenance and custom-hiring of farm machinery and seed and nursery propagation.  High-tech agriculture including precision agriculture and organic farming are seen to offer a vast potential to create productive, profitable and stable employment in agriculture. 

23.       Rapid growth of information and communication technologies (ICT) in the past decade and use of knowledge as a basic power to deal with global competitiveness have revolutionized all higher education.   Need for using modern ICT tools in the formal educational process and non-formal lifelong learning of farmers are necessary to emphasize innovation and development of new technologies and building capability and competence of rural communities.  Cultivating electronically mediated knowledge and skill revolution is a highly potent strategy to reach with speed goals of productive, profitable, stable and competitive agriculture.  Need is for a well-developed dynamic information infrastructure and effective agriculture innovation system.  Both high-end technology and innovation are fundamental to build knowledge economy, which means creation, acquisition, adoption and effective and efficient application of knowledge for bridging divide between know-hows (researchers/extension agents) and do-hows (farmers and landless workers).

24.       Further, to enable our institutions of higher agricultural education to become globally competitive, the ICAR has launched a programme to promote Niche Area of Excellence.  Under this programme, research and development support in the area of proven capabilities is provided on the subject of topical relevance.  Some important Niche Areas of Excellence include Hi-tech horticulture, Resource conservation technology Soil and Water management, Biofuels, Buffalo genomics, Arsenic management in soils, Acid soil management, Integrated pest management, Fin-fish farming, Immunodiagnostics, Tropical home gardens and Agro-based nutraceuticals. 

25.       As agricultural education is a state subject, it is essential that there should be an adequate and desirably a distinct budget-line for agricultural research and education at the state level. A minimum, if not adequate, strength of faculty should be ensured on war-footing in each discipline/faculty.  State funding to AUs needs to be enhanced substantially, lest required agricultural growth would remain a far cry.

26.       In Taittriya Upanisad in the first chapter in Siksa Valli, there is valedictory address and convocation message delivered to students when they return from the ancient gurukula universities.

The meaning of it is speak the truth, do your duty, never swerve from the study of the Vedas, do not cut off the line of descendants in your family, after giving the preceptor the fee he desires.  Never err from truth, never fall from duty, never overlook your own welfare, never neglect your prosperity, never neglect the study and the propagation of Vedas.

Dear students, from now on you would be starting a new life and surely you would be opting for diverse careers.  I have no doubt that with the wealth of knowledge and understanding values and competence that you have acquired here will help you to perform well in your life.  But do remember that the degrees and awards that have been conferred on you are the fruits of your hard work, and are only stepping stones for future journey, and not an end. I wish you all the best in your future endeavours.

I express my sincere thanks to the authorities of this esteemed University for inviting me to the Convocation function.