Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Saturday the agricultural growth rate must be doubled to 4 per cent to ensure food security for the growing population.

“We must endeavour to raise our agricultural growth rate from around 2 per cent per annum to 4 per cent. I have no doubt that we can overcome challenges, given sustained efforts and an approach different from business as usual,” he said at the convocation of the Govind Ballabh Pant University of Agriculture and technology at Pant Nagar. The university is celebrating its golden jubilee this year.

Agriculture growth rate in 2009-10 was 0.2 per cent owing to drought in 399 districts during last year's kharif. As against this, the government set a target of 4 per cent agriculture growth per annum in the 11th Five-Year Plan (2007-12).

“To increase production we must increase farm yields because the scope for increasing the area under cultivation and under irrigation is rather limited. Yields must go up, particularly in those parts of India where they have lagged behind compared to other parts of the country,” he said.

Asking agriculture scientists to lend “solid support” to achieve production targets, Dr. Singh rued there had not been any major breakthrough in agriculture technologies since the green revolution in the late 1960's. This was the real challenge for the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR), farm universities and scientists, the Prime Minister said.

“India commands about 2.3 per cent of the world's land area and about 4 per cent of the earth's fresh water resources, but feeds 17 per cent of the world population. This puts tremendous pressure on our resources and makes the need for newer and better technologies even more critical.”

Agriculture extension

Identifying agriculture extension as the “weakest link” in the chain of transfer of technology from the research lab to farmers' land, the Prime Minister called for innovations in extension models and urged agricultural universities and the ICAR system to develop successful public-private-partnership models in extension of farm-related services, which could later be replicated by the public and private systems. “Just pouring in more resources in public research and development without commensurate institutional reforms is not likely to make the existing system deliver efficiently.”

Noting that the country's growth processes had put huge pressure on our resources, particularly natural resources, Dr Singh said policy makers and scientists must develop sustainable technologies that could produce more from less, particularly in the background of the new challenges of global warming and climate change. “Ecological and agricultural sustainability go hand in hand and we must follow the three fundamental principles of sustainable agriculture; a live soil, protection of biodiversity, and precision farming and nutrient cycle.”

Expressing concern over the “low number of students from rural families who join agriculture universities because students with rural education were at a disadvantage,” the Minister urged farm universities to impart more knowledge and skills on post-harvest technologies to the students so that there was higher value addition and better diversification in agriculture. “This would help in the shift of our work force from agriculture to non-agriculture activities.”

Appreciating the picturesque setting of Pant University, the Prime Minister observed that agricultural development in the mountains required a special approach. It should be sensitive to the need for preserving the ecosystem and should respect the social and cultural traditions of the people. The Himalayas needed to be saved from the invasion of exotic species. Their biodiversity, most of which was endemic, should be allowed to flourish in its original habitats.