Agriculture, once considered the noblest profession in this agrarian country, today finds itself amidst the doldrums and marred with plethora of problems in terms of climate change impacts, productivity stagnation, environmental degradation, and depleting water and other natural resources. Even after six decades, we take the privilege to call ourselves an agrarian economy, as still today, not less than 60 per cent populace directly or indirectly derive their daily bread and butter from the sector and practice the avocation with the least economic sense.
After the establishment of Imperial Agricultural Research Institute in 1905 at Pusa, Bihar, and later its relocation to
Agricultural colleges and universities were initially assigned to disseminating scientific knowledge and skills to the farming community and to train them to use such skills for better output. During the initial period, career in the agriculture sector was most sought after, mainly due to the heavy manpower crunch in the newly established varsities and agriculture departments across the country. Over time, vacancies got saturated and so did the opportunities. This discouraged the students tremendously to take up agricultural science as their career option. Meanwhile, the Information Technology (IT) boom during the 90’s has taken another toll on employability in the sector and, except ARS (Agricultural Research Services), there were a few options left for the masters and doctorates in the area. Majority of students, particularly the top slots, have either opted or shifted their base to the IT based industry in the lurk of early and better opportunities. Later, there was a spurt of investment with the modest entry of MNCs and desi corporates as the result of liberalization policy, particularly in the seed industry and, to a smaller extent, in other areas like chemicals, pesticides, and other agri inputs. The private sector achievements substantiated growth in agricultural research as seed companies also employed scientists, thus, adding to the battery of scientists.
Although the agriculture sector has attracted attention from the government as well as the private sector, not much attention has been paid to improve the agri education system. When the reforms are talked about in education sector, it stops short by engineering and medical sciences. While the significance of agriculture is widely acknowledged, agriculture education has never been of any interest to the ruling parties. The future of
“Agriculture has become the last resort for the students, who fail to secure a Medical/ Engineering seat. Thus, at the seeding stage itself, they come frustrated with failed and lost hopes with a high disinterest for the subject and a major chunk of them just join the degree for furthering it to the Management/ MBA, which has become almost a dream career for the students at present.”
Pioneers in the field like MS Swaminathan, KL Chadha, CD Mayee, and others also agree that nowadays we are not getting quality students like what we had earlier and it is only the last lots that opt for agriculture. Even after announcement of a good sum of fellowship by ICAR at the Graduate, Master, and Doctorate level, the charm is yet to come to make the sector more alluring for the younger lots.
Today, we witness circumstances wherein not even a single farmer’s son or daughter would like to opt for farming as full time profession, unlike the case of an engineer, doctor, or any other professionals’ children. Our society has never given the acceptability, social status, and recognition to them, who toiled hard day and night for bringing the turnaround of the nation’s food security scenario from a begging bowl to the surplus ones. There is not only a decline in the students opting for agricultural sciences, but also a conspicuous exodus of agriculture and more importantly agribusiness graduates to other field as consumer industries. The current mode of education should take into account various factors like employability, farmers’ aspirations, market demands, industry needs, modern realities, challenges, and opportunities.
What Can Be done…
The agricultural education system needs to be redefined so as to equip the new graduates with subject competency, self motivation, positive attitude, agri-business skills, knowledge of computer and information technology, and communication skills in both English and regional languages. Several new courses must be added into the curriculum such as climate change, precision farming, protected production, micro-irrigation, farm management, agricultural marketing, International trade, post harvest technology, value addition, project management, GIS, meteorology, remote sensing, disaster management, sustainable agriculture, natural resource management, ICT, IPR ,etc. to make agri students more competent and confident enough on par with any professional.
However, the only visible change that has taken place is the emergence of Agribusiness management as a sought after discipline. Corporation process has fuelled the growth of this domain. MBA mania loomed large over the intellect and career option of the agri graduates and, since 2005, not less than 25-30 per cent students shifted to the field of management and marketing in the hope of early and better remunerative and less tiring career opportunity. But sooner or later, the boom will burst as all the pass outs are hardly getting employed with their choicest company/ organisation and at the respectful perks, except the crème-de-la-crème of top ranking institutes such as MANAGE, NIAM, IIMA, IIML, CABM- GBPUAT, IABM- RAU, etc in agribusiness, which provide desirable placements to students. But for namesake, almost all the SAU’s have started their own agribusiness management programme.
Catch them young…
Make Agricultural Education an independent subject at School level. It can be further integrated with the higher education system. Some states like UP and Haryana have provisions for opting Agriculture at the higher secondary stage itself, thus, opening an early opportunity for the young talents.
More theory based curricula and less practical exposure makes the subject not much interesting to the younger generation. Lack of practical knowledge fail to instill raring confidence and entrepreneurship zeal. This is where the engineers and other technical professional overshadow the agri students. Too much water tight compartmentalization within the agri education hardly allows students to shift for even the interdisciplinary courses at the higher levels of education. Some niche areas like protected production, food processing, marketing interventions, etc. have attracted the attention of entrepreneurs from other areas like engineering/ management, etc. to milk the existing and yet to be tapped opportunities.
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Every year, around 15,000 graduates pass out of Agri Universities, but with not much confidence and zeal to venture into an entrepreneurship. Alas, they turn into job seekers; some even remain so! Unemployment is prevalent among agri graduates and whatever opportunities come forward have been hogged by the students adorned with masters and agribusiness. So, in the agricultural arena, it becomes a virtual necessity to go for masters, as graduates have limited employment avenues on account of their low level of competency. The sector has not been able to attract and retain quality students. The low level of absorption and not so remunerative packages are to be blamed. Looking into the unemployment scene, NABARD had long back started Agriclinic and AgriBusiness schemes, backed with limited soft financial provisions for agri graduates, but nothing much came out of them even after many years. Very few success stories of entrepreneurship could be found.
And to the least of amazement, even the scientists and mentors never enthuse their heirs to go for exploring the existing opportunities in their own area. There are hardly any research scientist/ staffs from the field whose son and daughter/ any relatives opt to go for a career with this not-so-lucrative option. Following the uneconomic agriculture and dwindling number of farmers, people with rural background and those engaged in traditional agriculture, are reluctant to let their children and younger generation pursue agriculture as a full time profession. And those with rural background and genuine interest in agriculture do not have the basic education to go in for higher education in agriculture. This has prompted the rural youth to go in for non-agricultural courses. The urban based agriculture graduates can be seen with a lack of practical knowledge of agriculture. Making Agricultural education more practical and rural realities oriented is the need of the hour.
Agriculture and allied field is the single most area where the highest number of PhDs/ doctorates are churned out every year but of little help to the sector, as majority settles for bank or some other sort of job for which they are over-qualified and, thus, makes no sense of being a doctorate other than going for academic/ research career. The brain drain of the agricultural graduates is more towards the banks and other less-related private sectors, wherein their farm knowledge is almost of no use, rather than disbursal/ recovery of farm loans, selling seeds/ pesticides, financing a project, which the banks are still not open in many parts of the country. Few times back, an NSSO survey reported that 40% of farmer households in India would prefer to pursue some other vocation for a living, if given a choice. The very reasons given for the declining interest was that 27% farmer households thought farming was unprofitable, 8% felt it risky, and 5% disliked it because of lack of social status and other reasons.
Getting entry into premier institutes like IARI is thought to be the key to success to the Public Services Exam. More than half of the students absolve themselves into the strenuous preparation mode rather than concentrate on the academia and research project. Least awards, achievements, and minimum incentives also make the sector unattractive to the researchers and youngsters. Prevalent feudalism and rampant corruption in the state level recruitments has made the scene more discouraging for the freshers in this field. Agri officers and other departmental seats are still lying vacant even after a substantial period in many of the states, but government takes little notice of that and, thus, shows the ominous callousness of the respective government towards the sector, adding to the unemployment scenario.
Rural students need to be encouraged to study in agricultural universities, as they only constitute the potential substantive candidate to stand over the rugged environment of the rural sides in either the private industry or, the government jobs. Steps may be taken to promote such admissions, as urban-based agricultural graduates are not much comfortable in rural environment, thus, at least 50 per cent seats in all the agri varsities and even the deemed institutes must be reserved for the students belonging to the rural areas.
Agricultural Education should be made innovative to absorb futuristic trends and skill orientation, rather than based on note-memorisation of new knowledge. Agriculture sector should attract and produce professionals, and for that, the system has to balance between classroom teaching and practical sessions and experiential learning based on actual work-based experience. Agriculture graduates have plenty of opportunities in different areas, but the only need is to attract quality students and foster them accordingly to make them feel proud of being an agriculturist.