Millennium Post

New age agricultural revolution

Feeding the teeming millions in the face of stagnating agricultural productivity, decreasing cultivable land, and increasing degradation of natural resources is a challenge the country can hardly afford to overlook. The country has an uphill task at hand because of the increasing threats to agricultural practices due to climate change.

In recent years what has enabled the Indian agricultural sector to stay afloat and relevant is high quality basic and strategic research and innovation to enhance profitability and competitiveness. And triggering this shift from input-based to knowledge-based growth of agriculture is the National Agricultural Innovation Project (NAIP) of the ICAR. A World Bank aided NAIP launched in 2007 to actualise the vast untapped growth potential of agriculture to break the yield and quality barriers and generate income and rural employment opportunities, envisaged in the National Policy on Agriculture, will help the country.

The highlight of the NAIP has been on blue skies research to improve the quality and effectiveness of agricultural knowledge, science and technology for reducing hunger and poverty as well as in improvement of nutrition, health, and farm-based livelihoods.

The project has managed to position the country at the forefront of agricultural research garnering some remarkable technological results in its kitty ranging from tolerant crop varieties to effective biopesticides, instant dry idly mix and millet dhokla to web-based decision support system for pest management and smart phone based agricultural information dissemination system. More than 50 high-ticket modern equipments, each costing between Rs 40 lakh to 5 crore, with a cumulative value of over $100 million have been added to the research system.

Research in molecular biotechnology revealed several varieties of crops and animals tolerant to various natural factors and pests, for instance, water-logging tolerant maise plants. It led to the identification of micronutrient efficient varieties of rice, wheat, maize, pigeon pea and chickpea, which can then be grown in micronutrient deficient soils without affecting their yield levels.

Another success of commercial worth was achieved in terms of temperature and multiple chemical insecticide tolerant biopesticides for sugarcane and vegetable-based (Trichogramma chilonis) and cotton-based ecosystems. In fact, a strain of Trichogramma chilonis with tolerance to both multiple insecticides and high temperature has been shown to save the farmers Rs. 5.5 lakh by switching from chemical pesticides to these biopesticides.

Similarly, tolerant biopest strain in sugarcane crop resulted in 50-80 per cent reduction in insecticide application and yield increase by 15-20 per cent. In tomato, this application reduced fruit damage by almost 85 per cent resulting in additional revenue to farmers up to Rs 14.6 lakh per acre.

Another remarkable output of research has been the deployment of Paclobutrazol, a hormone that promotes off-season production of mangoes in the southern states of India. The hormone helps mangoes grow at low temperatures, 14 degrees centigrade.  Lower temperatures are a limiting factor for producing off-season mangoes. In Andhra Pradesh, almost 1,000 growers reaped benefits of early harvest of totapari mango of Rs 10-15 for every kilogramme and Rupees 40 for every kilogramme in the case of Alphonso mangoes. Support to strategic agricultural research in the realm of nanotechnology led to the development of technology for incorporating nanocellulose in composite films for packaging of perishables or mulching of agricultural fields, nanofertilisers and biopesticides. The zinc and iron nano particles increased the tolerance capacity of plants to fight drought. Also, application of nano particles for fertiliser use in barley, mungbean, mothbean and pearlmillet enhanced nutrient absorption by 48-61 per cent and increased the yield by 20-48 per cent. An improvised high-clearance multi-utility vehicle has been developed for fertiliser application in rice crop with satellite navigator guided fertiliser spreader, which had 1.37 times more productivity than spreader without navigator.

A web-enabled decision support system, ‘Crop Pest DSS’, has been developed with predefined pest forecast models for rice and cotton pests. Another decision support system for rice leaf folder, a predominant pest in rice ecosystems, has been developed for prediction of pest spread to help in timely and effective management of the pest.

An integrated ICT model involving toll-free IVRS, Smart Phone Application and Web-based agri-advisory system developed to address farmers’ information needs on important aspects for various specific locations is under field validation with 600 farmers in six villages in Andhra Pradesh. NAIP-supported research led to the birth of ‘Mahima’, a female calf, from a cloned buffalo ‘Garima-II’ that had been produced by hand-guided cloning using embryonic stem cells as donor cells. This is the first calf in the world to be born to a cloned buffalo.  

The key aim of the NAIP was to promote collaborative development to trigger innovations in agriculture. The success of the project is visible through the multitudes of processes and techniques developed high quality of products and technologies marketed, and several patents and publication in frontier areas of agricultural research.

The author is a communication consultant
Sat Pal

Sat Pal

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