1. What paradigm changes are required in agricultural research and development strategy to cope up with the new challenges?
The discussion emphasized the need to shift from commodity/inputs based R&D approach to one centred on production systems mode. This thrust under the NATP (National Agricultural Technology Programme) initiative of the ICAR was strongly endorsed. It would necessitate a decentralized, location and client specific research agenda. A consensus was arrived to intensify research on rainfed and drought prone areas. It was argued that lack of effective technological research, inadequate economic and social infrastructure have resulted in poor performance of agriculture in these areas.
2. How to harness science to ensure sustained income generation, social equity and ecological conservation in agricultural sector?
The uncommon opportunities and challenges thrown open by the new liberalization regime need to be exploited gainfully. The role of indigenous knowledge (say Kudimaramat) and of modern information technology as vehicle for technology transfer was also recognized as crucial for sustainable natural resource management.
The subject of agricultural sustainability was actively debated. The most dominant viewpoint was on achieving higher level of production to meet the growing demand without harming the natural resource environment in the long run. There was consensus on shifting the emphasis from crop productivity based research to integrated land (resource) productivity based approach including the development of grassland, forestland and cropland, which not only ensures sustainability of natural resources but also generates higher income for the poor. This would require natural resources planning and instruments to enforce the policy effectively. The role of effective education and peoples' involvement was repeatedly underscored.
3. What interventions are necessary to make Indian agriculture more effective?
The participants argued that lack of integration of socio economic considerations with agro-biological factors has been a critical factor constraining effective dissemination and adoption of technological innovations in agriculture. This also undermined efficient technology management. The group emphasized that along with agro-ecological factors, socio economic variables must also be integrated in R&D programmes. This will help in directing research towards both poverty and sustainability.
infrastructure and institutional investments in this context would play a major
role in future. Institutional development was particularly important, and
innovative ideas were needed in this regard. The role of NGOs, private sector
and farmers' organizations need to be emphasized. The poverty considerations
reinforce the need to strengthen agricultural research in eastern
4. Should the agricultural development initiatives, including R&D, be eco-regionally oriented?
The discussions strongly endorsed the natural advantages of eco-regional approach and appreciated ICAR's initiatives to adopt the concept to tailor research programmes under NARP and now NATP. The new R&D system become more focussed. The initiative also provides more transparent evaluation and effective accountability. This also helps in the explicit consideration of region-specific ecological parameters in R&D and other developmental programmes. All these notwithstanding, it was recognized that political and administrative regions continue to be the basis of planning and there is very little analytical capability at lower levels. This then constrains effective articulation of local needs. The KVKs (Krishi Vigyan Kendra) and zonal research stations must play a pivotal role in association with Panchayati Raj institutions and NGOs.
1) How to obtain accurate projections of the demand for and supply of food, and to develop mechanism to update the projections periodically?
Various estimates of demand for and supply of commodities in general, and foodgrains in particular, show wide variations. For example, demand projections for 2020 A.D, range from 250 million tons to approximately 400 million tons. On the supply side also estimates show considerable variations. This variation poses problems in planning. Underscoring the need for an authoritative study to be conducted by the I CAR, the group argued that as rapid changes are taking place on both demand and supply sides. The projections based exclusively on past trends were not satisfactory. It will be necessary to develop alternative scenarios based on technically informed assumptions about different parameters. Most demand projections, for example, simulate for income, income distributions and population growth, but not the changing consumption patterns. Likewise, supply projections must incorporate technical constraints and efficiency gains.
2) What is the role of incentive structure?
The participants recognized that efficient incentive structure-price and subsidy policies and farmer-friendly terms of trade, as critical determinants of production efficiency as well as environmental sustainability. The participants also stressed the role of safety standards and fixation of rational user-cost (e.g. taxation) policy to counter specific environmental problems. The view was articulated that an improved incentive framework for accelerated production growth and. combating negative environmental impacts could be possible side by side.
Concerns were also expressed regarding the potential backlash of new economic reforms, particularly on the poorer sections of the population. There were apprehensions whether the agricultural sector has the resilience to cope with world market volatility. The need to reconcile basic food security with open trade regime was emphasized.
3) How to improve the role of human capital as an agent of developmental process?
Investment in human capital is perhaps more crucial for greater efficiency and environmental sustainability than anything else. Historically, general education and other social sector extension activities have been emphasized, which neglected rural sector, weaker sections, women, tribals and resource-poor people. Thus, scientific temper of the people was ignored and remained untapped. This has affected the quality of our human resources and has constrained human productivity. A host of population-induced maladies can be attributed to this factor. In agriculture, the conventional agricultural extension system does not accommodate the needs of the people and innovative ideas based on involvement of groups. The group thus, expressed that the use of information technology in a farmer friendly manner could enhance the adoption of scientific and sustainable practices. It was suggested that there should be policy interventions to improve the quality of the population so that it becomes a valuable resource. The ICAR's pilot efforts in this area (KVK, IVLP) were favorably commented upon and it was suggested that mobilizing peoples' participation through cooperation with farmers and other groups, NGOs and panchayats would further enrich this effort.
4) What backup support services are essential to promote technology-led sustainable agricultural growth?
The paramount need to reverse the traditional urban bias in investments in infrastructure, markets, supplies (social as well economic) and institutions was emphasized repeatedly. This has undermined the potential as well as encouraged non-sustainable agricultural practices and out-migration. Concentration of investments generates vicious cycle of poverty, under-investment and backwardness. An aggressive set of policies and programmes for promotion of non-farm activities including rural industrialization are necessary to boost the economic environment in the countryside. Such reorientation requires a catalytic role for the state and for local democratic institutions.
5) What initiatives are needed to promote frontier technologies to address food and environmental problems?
Apart from education and other social sector investments, information technology also offer enormous opportunities. Mass media and electronic communication networks must be made available at the panchayat level. Then professional rural-oriented programming to reach the rural communities should follow this up. In areas where bio-technological inputs (seeds, planting material, organisms, etc.) need an aggressive supply push involving private and public delivery systems.
6) How to promote the involvement of the stakeholders as guardians of the environmental resources?
People, being important stakeholders, their participation could play significant role in the environmental programmes. The natural resources management technologies depend critically on this initiative. Policies regarding effective decentralization, regulations governing exploitation of natural resources and de-bureaucratization of rural programmes along with the elements of good governance, are most critical.