'PAU has contributed enormously to development of Indian agriculture': PM

Ludhiana, Dec 8 (ANI): The Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, on Saturday said the Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) has contributed enormously to the development of Indian agriculture, right from the early years when we were food deficit.

"The University was at the forefront of developing new agricultural technologies and practices. It was Punjab Agricultural University's pioneering work, combined with the receptivity and hard work of the progressive farmers of Punjab and other states that made the original Green Revolution possible, and gave the country food security," said Dr. Singh in his address at the Golden Jubilee Convocation of Punjab Agricultural University here.

"The establishment of the Punjab Agricultural University owes a great deal to the visionary leadership provided by Sardar Pratap Singh Kairon, the then Chief Minister of Punjab. I pay tribute to that great son of Punjab who laid the foundation for the agricultural and industrial development of the state," he added.

The Prime Minister complimented all those associated with the Punjab Agricultural University for the achievements and the high standards the institution has continued to set.

"It was the first institution to win the best institution award of the Indian Council for Agricultural Research. Several of its scientists have been honoured with prestigious awards, including the Padma awards and the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar award," he said.

Dr. Singh said the Punjab Agricultural University has played a leading role in making Punjab's agriculture a matter of pride for the entire nation.

"It must now gear up to help Punjab's agriculture to meet the challenges of the future, and to help the state to scale new heights," said Dr. Singh.

"The future is rarely a linear extrapolation of the past. Circumstances change and new challenges arise. It is therefore important to identify the challenges of the future and start working now to meet them. It is evident that several stress points have emerged in Punjab's agriculture which need to be addressed," he added.

The Prime Minister pointed out that the sustainability of water use in agriculture has emerged as a major problem in Punjab.

"Exploitation of ground water far exceeds the rate of recharge and is leading to a steady decline in the water table. This is clearly not sustainable. Similar problems exist in other parts of the country, but they are most severe in Punjab, where 80 percent of the development blocks are now categorised as over-exploited. By addressing this problem, Punjab will once again prove to be a leader in this area, and its lead will point the way for several other states," said Dr. Singh.

"The challenge is how to maximise farm income while adopting a more sustainable strategy for water use. This definitely calls for a change in the rice-wheat cropping system, which at present covers more than 80 percent of cropped area. It is a profitable cropping cycle for the farmer only because the cost of over exploiting ground water is not part of private profitability calculations," he added.

Dr. Singh further said 'Punjab cannot and should not continue over-exploiting its ground water to support rice cultivation'.

"Diversification out of rice is therefore essential. Fortunately a gradual phasing out will not affect the overall food security of the country because there are good prospects of rice production in the Eastern and Central parts of our country increasing and it can be made to increase more rapidly in the future," said Dr. Singh.

"The gap between potential and actual productivity at the farm level for rice is over 100 percent in Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh," he added.

Dr. Singh said the National Food Security Mission that the Government launched in the year 2007 aimed at increasing production of wheat, rice and pulses by providing better access to high quality seeds and other inputs at subsidized prices as well as creating awareness about improved production practices.

"These efforts are yielding positive results. Increasingly therefore, the burden of foodgrain production can be borne by other states," he added.

Dr. Singh said Punjab's agricultural strategy must evolve a workable diversification plan, which causes the least economic hardship to farmers and provides them with alternative crops, which can yield a high enough income.

"There are alternative crops that can be competitive with respect to paddy. These include maize, cotton, sugarcane, pulses, oilseeds, fruits and vegetables. Agricultural research can play a major role in improving productivity of these crops to enhance their profitability for the farmer," he added.

Dr. Singh also called for development of efficient and vertically integrated supply chains in agriculture.

"Some of these crops are perishable and therefore pose special post-harvest handling and marketing problems which affect farm incomes. Agricultural supply chains in India are highly fragmented and inefficient, leading to losses to both producers and consumers. Consumers pay high prices but the benefit of these high prices do not reach the producers. The development of efficient and vertically integrated supply chains in agriculture can take care of these issues," said Dr. Singh.

"The scope for building such supply chains is especially large in the more advanced agricultural states and Punjab can be a torch bearer in this shift. Investment in back-end infrastructure has the potential of minimizing wastage, especially of perishable fresh foods and vegetables, and increasing the income of farmers," he added.

Stating that Punjab should take the lead in encouraging best practices in crop management and improving food safety and hygiene, Dr. Singh said: " Investment in marketing linkages would be greatly facilitated by supporting changes in the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee Act which would allow private markets to develop." (ANI)

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