Building bridges with agricultural science and entrepreneurship
Foundation Day lecture at Gujarat Agricultural University, Dantiwada on May 1, 2009 [which is also the day when Gujarat state came into existence and the labourers all around the world celebrate Labour Day] was a reminder of the way Honey Bee Network began more than 20 years ago. Khedut Anubhav Vani, the Gujarati version of Honey Bee was started with the help of Dr.B.T.Patel, Dr.Kalyansundaram and Dr.G.M.Patel, Dean, College of Agricultural Sciences. The very first article was about the learning scientists made on the farmers. What we had done was to request aforesaid scientists to put together their learning made at the time of setting up of National Agricultural Research Project Centres [NARP]. Farmers’ names were missing but a point was made that there were scientists who were sensitive towards the knowledge and creativity of farmers.
North Gujarat is a spice region with predominantly rainfed agriculture. The university has made outstanding contributions in the field of castor and mustard varieties and hybrids. In addition, the university has been able to establish the uniqueness of bunni, buffalo as an independent breed. I shared the work done on patents on the products based on psylium and castor till last year. In two commodities where India had a very significant market share, there were hardly two-three patents by Indians. Rest of the entire value addition was being done by large companies and independent inventors in the western countries. It was not surprising that farmers had to depend on them about the prices they got. If Indian farmers had to remain at the lowest end of the value chain, then they would not get much incentive in the future. This was an area where university has to play an important role. I also referred to the sustainability agenda in agriculture research and extension. One of my oft-repeated examples was of an advertisement issued by an international company in Newsweek some years ago viz., “A case where prevention is not better than cure”. This was an advertisement for need based spray instead of schedule based spray of pesticide. A sensible advice except that it was never issued by the same company in India. The need for conserving agrobiodivesity was highlighted.
Another issue was the characterization of germplasm so that the quality traits of local varieties could become the driver of consumer and producer demand. It was suggested that the Food Science Department should take up an extensive exercise to document women’s knowledge about germplasm and its uses so as to validate it. Later, that knowledge can be used for generating consumer demand in SATTVIK: the traditional food festival organized by SRISTI every year at IIMA. The students of agriculture management, food science and other faculty could join hand and have the stall in SATTVIK.
The testing of products developed by SRISTI and NIF by pooling the traditional knowledge of the farmers was proposed as another area of fruitful cooperation in the coming months. One of the important needs of the farmers is reduction of costs and herbal pesticides, veterinary drugs and other growth promoters based on their knowledge could be very helpful in achieving this goal. The role of non-monetary technologies was also highlighted. Over the years, the extension agencies have begun to neglect the role of non-monetary technologies such as growing lady’s finger around cotton fields to trap the cotton pests.
There were many other areas where Honey Bee Network and the university could cooperate in giving recognition, respect and reward to the farmers innovators of the state. The Network could also help in mobilizing technologies developed in other states but helpful in Gujarat such as manual milking machines, tree climbers and other technologies such as gel extractor for aloe vera and biomass based energy generating equipments. It was mentioned that four farmers from Gujarat could obtain patents in US proving their genius though they had hardly received much education. Dr. Maheshwari, the Vice Chancellor of the University has made enormous efforts to modernize the University and expand the opportunities for higher learning among students, faculty and also the farmers. There is a possibility of agriculture technology incubator along with a venture capital fund for agriculture coming up at the campus. Probably, the first education center on agriculture tourism might also come up at the campus in the near future. The distinctive aspect of this facility would be the incorporation of farmers’ wisdom as a driver of agriculture tourism faculties.
Anil K Gupta