New Delhi: Ruing that despite advancements Indian agriculture is yet to be completely out of the "clutches of weather", President Pranab Mukherjee on Friday expressed "grave concern" over likely decline in farm output for the second-straight year due to deficient rains. With majority of the cultivatable area under severe climatic conditions like drought, floods and cyclones, he called for serious efforts to overcome the challenge and make Indian agriculture sector resilient to weather fluctuations.
President asked the Indian Agriculture Research Institute (IARI) to develop climate resilient technological solutions by leveraging opportunities from frontier science like biotechnology and nano-technology.
Mukherjee also spoke about import dependence on pulses and edible oils.
Addressing the 54th convocation of IARI, he said: "Despite the advancements made, Indian agriculture is yet to be completely get out of the clutches of weather."
President also pointed out that the country's foodgrain production fell to 253 million tonnes in 2014-15 crop year (July-June) from a record 265 million tonnes in 2013-14 on account of 12 per cent deficit in rainfall.
"Nature has not been kind to us this year as well. A deficient monsoon followed by a further dry spell is likely to affect agricultural production for the second year in a row. This is an area of grave concern.
"The time is ripe for some serious efforts as 80 per cent of the area under cultivation in India is in the grip of severe climatic conditions like drought, floods and cyclones," he said.
Stating that global climate change could aggravate these problems, Mukherjee said the IARI must leverage opportunities from frontier sciences such as biotechnology, synthetic biology, nano-technology, computational biology, sensor technology and geo-spatial technology to develop climate- resilient technological solutions.
"Innovation in agricultural techniques and practices must be supported through infusion of funds, mentoring of ideas, and technical assistance. The risk-taking ability of farmers must be boosted. The newly-launched crop insurance scheme will leverage technology to provide risk cover to the farmers," he said.
Speaking about India's dependency on pulses and edible oils, Mukherjee said the demand for these items is expected to increase in future substantially while expressing confidence that the new technologies of IARI will address the problem.
"IARI has developed mustard varieties suitable for unconventional areas that can boost oil seed production. The institute has also initiated the development of synchronous-maturity pigeon-pea hybrids and varieties, apart from chickpea. I am confident these technologies will enhance the productivity of pulses and edible oils to meet our domestic requirements fully," he said.
Concerned over high malnutrition in children, Mukherjee said: "45 per cent of children below the age of three years are under-nourished in India. A large number also suffer from Vitamin-A deficiency. To address malnutrition in children, foodgrains must be bio-fortified with quality protein and micro-nutrients."
IARI has developed quality protein maize, and iron and zinc rich wheat, pearl millet and lentil varieties through molecular breeding, and genetically modified 'Golden rice' enriched with pro-vitamin A, he said, adding that these technologies should reach the farmers immediately.
Emphaising on attracting youth to agriculture, president said that there is a need develop technologies that can make the farm sector profitable.
"Research in agricultural institutes should focus on minimising production cost, enhancing profitability in the entire "field-to-plate" food chain, and introducing greater automation to reduce drudgery," he said.
Urging farmers and agri-preneurs make full use of prospects in food processing sector, Mukherjee said, "Increase in investment for agriculture technology development, rural agri-infrastructure, on-farm processing and value addition, and storage facilities are needed." Agriculturists must be trained to transform their farms into production-cum-processing centres.
Also, agri-research must address the critical issues that hinder the development of rural agri-businesses, he said.
"Proliferation of the recently-launched "Start-up India" to the rural sector could provide fillip to the setting up of agro-based enterprises. The "Mera Gaon Mera Gaurav" programme of IARI, under which each scientist will adopt a village, should aim at changing agriculture from subsistence farming to commercial farm industry," he added.
President also stressed that the country's agricultural education must conform to global standards by creating a a large pool of competent faculty empowered with state of the art research infrastructure.
The IARI, set up in 1905, has played a key role in providing human resource to the national agricultural research system. Over eight thousand students of IARI have been awarded post-graduate or PhD degrees so far.
Mukherjee also released 13 new varieties of crops like wheat and mustard developed by IARI. Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh was also present besides senior officials of IARI and Indian Councial of Agriculture Research.