THE FUTURE REFORM OF AGRICULTURE EXTENSION IN INDIA

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With 41.49% of total workforce of India employed in agriculture and contribution of the sector by 14.65% to GVA the role of agriculture in growth of Indian economy and overall development hardly needs any elaboration. However, this role needs to be re-oriented to meet the new challenges and to harness new opportunities which would require a shift in our approach and thinking towards agriculture from “pushing for incremental change” to “transformational change”. Agriculture has to meet three of the greatest challenges of the 21st century – sustaining food and nutrition security, adaptation and mitigation of climate change, and sustainable use of critical resources such as water, energy and land. While the nation wants higher agricultural growth and production, the farmers want higher profitability with minimum risk. Profitability is a function of higher productivity, reduction of cost of production, high value of produce and marketability.

India transitioned from a food deficit nation to a surplus one, the focus of policy has rightly shifted to surplus management from deficit management. To this end, successive government committees, task forces, reports have all made the same recommendations. Reforms in marketing have been complemented by a commitment to developing rural infrastructure. Government of India is committed to double the farmers’ income by 2022-23 over the base period of 2015-16 for which a 16-point action plan has been developed.

MISSING LINKS :

Farmers are viewed only as job seekers and not as job makers even though agriculture as a sector remains the largest employer in the economy. Government’s key action points for agriculture covered aspects such as markets, credit, insurance, power, inputs, transport and logistics, infrastructure and investments. With the linking of agriculture with rural development one might even hope that closer integration of key schemes like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) and the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) with agricultural programmes would be more productive. Historically, rural India has always been more than agriculture, and agrarian India has always gone beyond the rural to extend into commercial, social and political networks of exchange with urban centres of trade and administration. However, it is all too common for us to characterise the agrarian and rural as an exporter of bulk produce, unskilled bodies with little acknowledgement of the diverse ways in which agricultural surplus has also shaped industrial and urban trajectories across Indian regions.

Indian agriculture continues to be dominated by low-tech farm practices, low level of mechanisation and relatively lower yielding cultivars compared to global level. Upgrading farming from low tech to high-tech (green house cultivation, poly houses, tissue culture, precision farming) will reduce average cost, raise farmers income and address some scale disabilities. At the same time knowledge intensive practices like organic farming, ZBNF and sustainable agricultural farming practices would adapt to climate change and ensure resource conservation.

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FUTURE REFORM NEEDED:

It is true that there are significant reforms, especially in the domain of agricultural marketing and trade regulation that do not depend on the union budgetary outlays to gather momentum. But as long as our dominant assumptions about agriculture remain, Indian agriculture will not be able to mobilise the public vision, investment, knowledge resources, institutional capacities and partnerships it so deeply needs. All interventions like input and subsidy, infrastructure development, marketing reform will not achieve desired results unless they are supported by a robust extension and advisory system along with tenancy reform. The present extension systems have become pluralistic and the participation of the private sector  in the provision of extension services  has been increasing  during  the  reform process  as  the  extension  systems  become  more  demand-driven.  The concentration  of  the  new  players  in  the  extension  provision  has  been  primarily  within  the commercialized portion of  the agriculture sector. 

In  the  context  of  Indian  agricultural  production  systems,  role  of  agricultural  extension  is provision  of  relevant  knowledge  to  meet  the information needs of the farmers and ensuring such information reaches them in a timely manner lies at the crux of the reform efforts in Indian extension reform efforts  The orientation of the  extension  system  in  India  is  still  largely  centred  on  the  production technology-related  knowledge  sharing.  Yet  there  is  great  need  for  a  holistic approach to sustainably develop  the  food systems that goes beyond production technologies.  These sources of  information  tend to compete  and  create confusion  among  the  farmers  about  the  knowledge  most  appropriate  in  their context in  their enterprises. In addition, the reforms that have been put in place have not been fully evaluated for their performance and have possible impacts on the income and livelihoods of the farmers. 

Agriculture Technology Management Agency (ATMA) is the extension platform at the district level which started with introduction of NATP. It was thought that the major pitfalls of T&V System of Extension implemented for 20 years from 1977 to 1997 would be addressed by ATMA system of extension. But various studies on performance assessment of ATMA suggest that further extension reform is needed. ATMA alone cannot be counted on to fully meet the demands for information and  advisory  services  of  the  marginal,  smallholders,  women  farmers,  and farmers in remote areas as it has not  been able to attract private sector and NGOs to work together to achieve common goals. Extension workers are still seen as technology transferring group that do not go beyond the problems of technology.  Investments in developing their skills are needed to help them provide wide range of activities that can provide holistic set of advisory services.  The REF linkage is still weak. Agri-clinics, wherever established,   have not been fully successful  in  sustaining  their  roles.  Most  of  them  will  require  additional support  for  enabling  them  to  function  as  financially  viable  units. Extension  reforms  have  done  little  to  improve  the  quality  of  services provided by the  private  dealers. Farmers group in ATMA could play this role to keep them more accountable. ATMA approach has an opportunity to bring out  farm  level  innovations  and problems  solving  to  benefit  large groups of farmers  in  the  districts and the state.  However, ATMA remains  top-down  to  take  advantages  of  such innovations and many programmes are given as additional burden to ATMA which requires unproductive paper works.  There is a need for a relook at the multiple schemes implemented by various line departments and to integrate them in a way to provide one-stop solution to farmer’s challenges at the village level. The State Agricultural Management, Extension and Training Institute (SAMEI) needs to be held accountable for their contribution to capacity building for extension reforms. But now they are overloaded with other activities as State Nodal Agency. Digital literacy in agriculture can provide much of the solutions. Finally  the  development  of  future  reforms  measures  and  implementation crucially  depend  on  the  innovations  in  extension  education  curriculum.  A revamp  of  the  agricultural  education  both  in  terms  of  curriculum  and methods of learning is badly needed with digital literacy.

  • Bidyadhar Maharana, Consultant, Agriculture, NRM and Livelihoods

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