Prime Minister’s address at the Golden Jubilee Convocation of Punjab Agricultural University

Following is the text of the Prime Minister’s address at the Golden Jubilee Convocation of Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana today:

“I am delighted to be with you on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee Convocation of the Punjab Agricultural University.

Convocations are primarily occasions to celebrate the success of graduating students. I congratulate all the students who have received degrees today and I offer special congratulations to those who have received medals and awards. I am confident that all the new graduates will use the knowledge and skills they have acquired in this institution of excellence for the benefit of our society and our country as a whole.

I also thank the University for the Degree that has been conferred on me today.

The Punjab Agricultural University has contributed enormously to the development of Indian agriculture, right from the early years when the country was food deficit. The University has been 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 that made the original Green Revolution possible, and gave the country food security.

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.

I compliment all those who have been associated with the Punjab Agricultural University for these 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.

Just as a Golden Jubilee is an occasion to celebrate the past, it should also be an occasion to look ahead to the future. 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 – some of them have been highlighted by the Hon. Chief Minister, Sardar Prakash Singh Badal – so as to help the state to scale new heights.

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 emerging future and start working right now to meet those challenges. It is evident that several stress points have emerged in Punjab’s agriculture which need to be addressed.

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 that 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 to follow.

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 pattern, which at present covers more than 80 percent of cropped area. It is, of course, a profitable cropping cycle, even though there are strains there as well, as pointed out by Sardar Prakash Singh, for the farmer only because the cost of over exploiting ground water is not part of private profitability calculations.

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 today the overall food security of the country because there are good prospects of rice production in the Eastern and Central parts of our country going up and it can be made to increase more rapidly in years to come. The gap between potential and actual productivity at the farm level for rice is over 100% in Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh.

The National Food Security Mission that our 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 states other than Punjab.

Punjab’s agricultural strategy must evolve a workable diversification plan which causes the least economic hardship to farmers and at the same time 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, as the Chief Minister has mentioned, maize, cotton, sugarcane, pulses, oilseeds – particularly soyabean, fruits and vegetables. Agricultural research can play a major role in improving productivity of these crops to enhance their profitability for the farmer.

Some of these crops are perishable and therefore pose very 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 or the farmers. The development of efficient and vertically integrated supply chains in agriculture can, therefore, take care of some of these issues which I have highlighted.

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. Punjab, I suggest, should take the lead in encouraging best practices in crop management and improving food safety and hygiene. Investment in marketing linkages would be greatly facilitated by supporting changes in the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee Act which would allow private markets also to develop in the state.

Our decision to allow Foreign Direct Investment in retail, which was approved by Parliament only yesterday, was strongly supported by farmer organisations in Punjab. It will, I suggest, introduce new technology and investment in marketing agricultural produce. India, I sincerely feel, must take full advantage of modern technology and the operational and management experience of big supply chains in the food retail business to make this happen. I am confident that it will benefit our farmers, and the consumers of our country.

Looking ahead, the Punjab Agricultural University must look to find research solutions for dealing with new marketing challenges. Research can play a major role in developing varieties more suitable to different market tastes and with longer shelf life. As we move beyond staple foods, there is need for our research effort to link up more effectively with the private sector which will be responsible for market arrangements so that market demands can guide the future direction of research as well.

This great University and indeed, all our agricultural universities must also gear up to face the potential threat to agriculture from processes of climate change. Climate change can have serious implications for our food security and the livelihood security of our farmers, particularly the small and marginal farmers. Greater frequency of drought and deficient precipitation significantly reduces agricultural production in un-irrigated areas by reducing the area under crops and also lowering productivity thereof. Rising temperatures will also have negative effects on the agricultural productivity including particularly the productivity of current varieties of wheat. We must deploy our research capabilities to help in mitigating these adverse impacts by developing varieties resistant to adverse climatic conditions. Considering the long time lag between initiating research and being able to release tested varieties, we must act now to deal with expected threats that now appear on the horizon. The Punjab Agricultural University should be a leader in this field.

Modern biotechnology, as the Hon. Governor Shri Shivraj Patil ji has mentioned, which enables identification and implantation of genes imparting resistance and tolerance to moisture and temperature extremes, can play a very important role in future. Safety concerns are often raised in the context of Bt technology, and these need to be addressed in a scientifically defensible manner. However, I am confident that all legitimate health security concerns can be met, and should be met, and we are working to put in place an improved regulatory framework that will allow our research scientists to push ahead in their endeavour to develop technologies that can deliver positive results for farmers.

The role of agricultural research has special significance for the country as a whole and for Punjab in particular. We aim to increase our expenditure on agriculture research to 1 percent of agricultural GDP in the 12th Five-Year Plan from the level of 0.65 percent in the 11th Five-Year Plan.

Thus far, I have spoken only about what Punjab Agricultural University can do, and should do, to strengthen agriculture in this state. However we must recognise that even as Punjab leads in agriculture, it cannot afford to neglect the development of the non-agricultural sector, particularly the manufacturing sector. The youth of Punjab will increasingly look for productive employment opportunities outside agriculture and it is necessary to ensure that there are enough employment opportunities for them. One way of doing this is for Punjab’s agriculture to develop post farm agro-processing linkages.

Punjab has a well established reputation in small scale industry, a hard working labour force and a reputation for evolving innovative solutions adapting existing technologies to our local circumstances. The Central Government has taken many steps to liberalise investment decisions, opening the way for state governments to compete with each other to attract investments from the rest of the country and from abroad. I hope the Punjab Government will rise to the occasion and show that Punjab is second to none in this national endeavour.

Punjab has many advantages in this respect. It is extremely well connected with major national rail and road links. The East-West-North-South dedicated freight corridors will extend into Punjab, improving freight connectivity enormously. Punjab has excellent road connectivity and the National Highways Development Programme is improving this further. It has always been well positioned as far as power supply is concerned. Two areas that need special attention are education and skill development. Punjab’s youth, if given proper education and skills, would provide investors with a very productive and efficient work force.

The Twelfth Plan has targeted for the country as a whole an average of 8.2 percent growth in GDP and 4 percent growth in agriculture. I sincerely hope Punjab will try to do better on both counts. The state government, its farmers, agricultural scientists and entrepreneurs, I suggest, must pool their knowledge, wisdom and experience to make this happen. I extend my best wishes to the faculty, staff and students of the Punjab Agricultural University for playing a still more dynamic role in transforming the state`s economy in the years to come.”

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