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Agricultural universities ignore sustainable farming
By Devinder Sharma

It is business as usual for the agricultural universities. Established under the land grant system of education borrowed from the United States, agricultural universities in India are actually the biggest stumbling block in the regeneration of agriculture, in resurrecting the badly devastated natural resource base so as to restore sustainability in agriculture.

There are more than 45 agricultural universities in India, including five deemed universities and two central universities. In addition, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) has over 75 national institutes and specialised centres.

At a time when a new India is emerging globally, everything else is changing but for the agricultural universities. These centres of research, education and farm extension continue to be mired in inefficiency and suffer from a terrible lack of vision. They remain frozen in time, still thinking they can piggy back on American research. Except for entering into collaborative research under the Indo-US knowledge Initiative in Agriculture, Development and Marketing, which provides scientists an opportunity to travel abroad, nothing tangible is happening in these premier centres of agricultural research.

Agricultural universities are in a state of decay.

A dying institution tries its best to survive on artificial respiration. For the agricultural universities, genetic engineering has come as a shot in arm. Let us face it, it is GM research that is keeping these institutes alive. There is a new found excitement in the corridors of the agricultural research centres. Private sector is pumping in money for research, and scientists find research projects being doled out by the biotech companies essential for their livelihood security. What happens to farmers is not their concern, in fact it never was. Agricultural scientists were always working for the input companies -- seed, fertiliser, pesticides and implement manufacturing units -- the farmer just happens to be incidental, someone who came in handy to promote these technologies.

When I read news reports like: GM crops make headway despite protests over economic, safety issues (Financial Express, April 10, 2009) stating categorically that In spite of huge opposition to the environmental release of GM (genetically modified) foods, Indian scientific and agricultural research institutions, universities and private sector seed companies are working on developing pest and virus resistant crops for human consumption using the tools of biotechnology and genetic modification, I am not surprised. I am not surprised simply because I know these farm scientists are not capable of anything else. They don't have the capacity to think out of the box, they will only do what these companies are telling them now or had been telling them earlier.

I had written an article on ICAR in Sept 2002. I am pasting it below. I am sure you will agree that the situation now within ICAR is no better, it is in fact much worse. ICAR has now turned into an outsourcing centre for the biotech companies. Punjab Agricultural University has has turned its facilities and research agenda completely in the hand of the biotech giants Monsanto and Syngenta. Other universities are no better. In fact, these universities are under such strong influence (and surveillance) of the biotech companies that you cannot aspire to become a vice-chancellor unless you sing praises for the risky and unwanted technology. You cannot become a deputy Director General (DDG) and of course the director general (DG) unless you endorse genetic engineering.

There is a terror psychosis that prevails. When I look at the agricultural scientists I feel sorry for them. At the time of the nazi occupation of Germany, whether you liked it or not, you had to say: Hail Hitler. These scientists, and believe me quite a majority is unhappy with the way the research agenda is prescribed, too have to hail GM technology if they have to survive in the university. Don't forget, it is a question of their livelihood security, their own survival.

The views expressed above are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of d-sector editorial team.

Devinder Sharma  |  hunger55@gmail.com

Devinder Sharma is an award-winning journalist, writer, and researcher globally recognised for his analysis on food, agriculture and trade policy. 

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 Other Articles by Devinder Sharma in
Socio-Economic Development  > Indian Economy > Agriculture

Saving Punjab farmer
Tuesday, October 04, 2011

To overcome the adverse long term impacts of intensive farming, Punjab needs to make its agriculture more sustainable and farmer centric.

Distressed farmers declare crop-holiday
Thursday, September 15, 2011

To revive agriculture and to make farmers debt-free, government must bring in a Farmers Income Guarantee Act to determine the monthly income package a farm family must receive.

Corruption behind farm-crisis
Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Corruption has not only hindered development of India but its role in creating and aggravating farm crisis is no less critical. Corrupt scientists, bank officials and policy makers have pushed farmers to the brink.

UP goes the Punjab way
Friday, March 25, 2011

Considering the role of mandis in making Punjab food bowl of country, it is urgently required to set up a nationwide network of mandis in India. Though late, but UP government has taken a right decision to increase their number.
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An interesting debate in UK's House of Commons delved on future of development assistance by the British Government. While prioritizing limited resources has been a concern, there has been no denying the fact that development aid must be guided towards tangible gains over a short period of time to start with. There are difficult choices for elected governments to make - should they invest in long-term primary education or in short-term university scholarships? Which of these will bring gains and trigger long-term transformation in the society. As politicians continue to be divided on the matter, poverty persists!!   

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