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India set for public-private partnership in agri-research

Feb 18, 2013

Addressing the annual general meeting of the Indian Council for Agricultural Research today, agriculture minister Sharad Pawar unveiled a strategy to rope private players in the area of agricultural research.

India's Agriculture minister, Sharad Pawar today called upon the country's state or provincial governments to “ensure that the respective State Agricultural Universities are adequately funded and staffed so that the efforts to improve the quality of (agricultural) education are synergized." Further, urging his counterparts in the state governments to open the doors for private players, he said, "We feel that participation of the private sector is also essential to raise the level of investments in agricultural research and education.” The Minister said, “The vast network of Agricultural Universities and Colleges can play a leading role in cultivating self-confidence and capabilities in the students required for taking up agriculture as a profession.”

Pawar was addressing the annual general body of the Indian Council for Agriculture Research (ICAR).

Calling for greater technical thrust in agricultural sector, the minister said “The twelfth plan accepts the proposition that a greater technical thrust is needed, and the strategy for agriculture should take this into account." Identifying frontier areas in scientific research, he announced the government's intention to explore public-private consortiums for research. "In order to provide scientific focus to some of the critical areas, research consortia platforms are to be launched in Seed, Diagnostics and vaccines, Nanotechnology, Bio-fortification, Agri-incubators, Water, Natural Fibers, Health Foods, Hybrids, Secondary Agriculture, Farm Mechanization, Precision Farming & Energy, Genomics, Molecular breeding and Agro-biodiversity,” he said.

Though it is not clear how the government would like to involve the private players, minister's emphasis for a role for the private sector might not find much favour with some segments of civil society.

It is not clear either, if the consortium the minister suggests follows on the lines of the CGIAR - a world bank administered umbilical chord for the FAO's research institutions, ostensibly to carry ahead the results of years of painstaking research by the premier research organisation. Many feel that in actuality, the World Bank's solution has only helped private seed corporations make money from research results they obtain for free.

The Union Minister further added, “I must flag some of the potential areas where we need to concentrate more. Tapping rich potential of North East Region is one such important agenda on which there have been more talks but less action. I expect that this ICAR may give special attention towards North East region. Equipping the farmer to tackle the climate change and erratic behaviour of monsoon should be an important agenda. The production of pulses and oilseeds are well below the demand and major thrust needs to be given on this front. Availability of fodder has become a major hindrance in growth of our animal husbandry sector. The labour cost has become major component of the production cost; however, our track record in introducing appropriate farm mechanization is not up to the mark. A lot is also required to be done in post harvest management.”

On the occasion, ICAR announced the establishment of two new research institutes -- the National Institute for Biotic Stress Management at Raipur in Chhattisgarh and the Indian Institute of Agricultural Biotechnology at Ranchi in Jharkhand. Besides these, it also announced the setting up of a Regional Research Station of Central Arid Zone Research Institute (CAZRI) for cold arid agriculture in Leh. The ICAR has also added 19 new Experimental Learning Units to the existing 264 units in 51 State Agricultural Universities and created a centralized Statistical and Computational Genomics Lab Facility.

The Minister expressed his confidence that the proactive initiatives taken by ICAR will help ensure food, nutritional and livelihood security and assured of the government's support to its efforts through adequate resources and sufficient autonomy.

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