Space scientist U.R. Rao on Thursday called upon agricultural universities to set up remote sensing departments on their campuses for the development of the agriculture sector as well as villages through application of remote sensing technology in farming.

Addressing the inaugural session of a two-day national symposium on “Transforming Indian villages into knowledge hub” organised by the University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore, and the Indian Agricultural Universities’ Association (IAUA) here, Prof. Rao expressed concern that several agricultural universities did not have remote sensing departments. “If you do not have remote sensing departments, which is vital for agriculture, how can you call yourselves agricultural universities?” he wondered.

He narrated an incident in which a U.S. farmer had told him that he was making use of the remote sensing technology developed by the Bangalore-based ISRO, even as there was not much awareness regarding the applications of this technology in farming in India itself.

The former ISRO Chairman said rural economy will improve only when villages are developed as knowledge hubs. To achieve this, there was a dire need to help farmers adopt modern technologies in addition to becoming entrepreneurs.

He suggested that people in rural areas should be given training in vocational trades so that they could support themselves during off-season, when there is not much agricultural activity. For that to happen, the country should reverse its inverted pyramid structure of technical education wherein the number of engineering colleges were in multiples of lower level technical institutions such as polytechnic colleges and ITIs, he said. It is better to ensure that the number of ITIs and polytechnic colleges is more than engineering colleges so that there is enough availability of those specialised in different technical trades, he observed.

Pointing out that the country’s food production had remained stagnant for a long time, he said there was a dire need to increase the productivity as the country’s food requirement was increasing sharply in tune with the population growth. The country’s average farm productivity which stood around two tonnes per hectare was the lowest in the world as the global average was about 2.6 tonnes.

His other suggestions included setting up agro processing units in villages to make value addition to crops, providing market information to farmers and encouraging contract farming.

IAUA president Anwar Alam and executive secretary R P. Singh, UAS-B Vice-chancellor P.G. Chengappa and Dean K. Narayana Gowda spoke.