Experts at Indian Science Congress mull over Maharashtra's agricultural issues

State administrators and members of the scientific community addressed the challenges of agriculture.

Despite the focus on industrialisation, agriculture remains a dominant sector of the Indian economy both in terms of contribution to Gross Domestic Product as well as a source of employment to millions across the country. To discuss how technology and innovation can help boost agriculture in Maharashtra and also the rest of the country, a session called ‘Science and Technology for Inclusive Development – A Case Study – Maharashtra’ was held at the Indian Science Congress, convened at the University of Mumbai campus, Fort.

Anil Kakodkar, eminent nuclear scientist who convened the session emphasised that the risk factor associated with agriculture has increased. “Since risk factor rises due to a number of reasons, the key to address the situation is to diversify portfolios so that one problem does not have too much impact on the entire sector,” he said.

The spate of farmer suicides is a major fallout of the deterioration of the agriculture sector in Maharashtra. Brajamohan Misra, principal adviser, department of economic and policy research, Reserve Bank of India discussed this multidimensional and multinational phenomenon and indicated various factors responsible for it. According to him, indebtedness as a result of loans from the informal sector is the main reason for the suicides. “We’ve observed that higher penetration of formal credit is associated with lower occurrence of suicides. So we need to strengthen the formal credit system,” he said. However, indebtedness is not the only reason. “Around 98 percent of the cropped area in Punjab is irrigated while the number is just 20.2 percent in Maharashtra. Not surprisingly, the number of farmer suicides is negligible in Punjab as compared to Maharashtra,” said Misra.

According to Swadheen Kshatriya, chief secretary, Government of Maharashtra, more than 80 per cent of the agriculture in the State is rain fed and a large number of small and marginal farmers suffer as a result. That’s where Science needs to step in. “More than 50 percent of our workforce is engaged in agricultural activities. Thus, scientists must give top most priority to agriculture in Maharashtra,” he said. However, Kshatriya adds that often practices coming out of research are not accepted by farmers because they are either too complex or not remunerative enough. He encouraged the development of an IT platform at the state as well as national level so that the best technology could reach farmers through simple mobile applications.

Erratic climate patterns and frequent draughts have plagued Maharashtra consistently. “This is the third successive year of draught for the State. This year, the number is approximately 90,000 hectares of deficient crops,” said Kshatriya. Since weather prediction technology has significantly improved, the government believes that scientists should be able to predict climate patterns in accurately.

“Though weather forecasting has almost become a perfect science in some parts of the world, we have not yet made significant progress in this regard,” he added. In addition to agriculture technology, the chief secretary also urged the scientific community to help curb the menace of malnutrition, which in his words remains the biggest challenge in tribal areas.

Charudatta Mayee from the Indian Agricultural Research Institute discussed the shortage of water and land resources in comparison to the considerable percentage of human and livestock population of the country. Commenting on the genetic innovations that have been undertaken in the State, he said, “While production has increased, it has not been supplemented with an increase in income of farmers.” 

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