Vice-Chancellor's Desk
Is it time to overhaul agricultural education system?
Change is the mood today. Everything is changing. Whether the change is for good or bad has become irrelevant. In this changing environment, everybody is trying to fit in to explore a better and brighter self, society, science and business. The key driver of this change is the Information Technology and the techo-savy mindset of the young and older generations alike. Should therefore, the way we do and teach agriculture in our universities and fields also change? The answer will definitely be in affirmative.

In this changing environment, innovation has become the budge word - agri-innovation in our case. Agri Start Ups have brought in commerce and business into agriculture and allied sectors necessitating thereby a paradigm shift in our knowledge delivery and agri-skill injection processes. When, for example, we have perfected quality bio-fertilizer production technology, company like California Safe Soil transformed the wasted food from supermarkets into low cost liquid fertilizer with a claim that the process is 720 times more efficient than composting which normally takes 2-3 months time.  Europe and China have launched a project named iSQAPER ( Integrated Soil Quality Assessment for Agricultural Productivity and Environment resilience) to develop a Soil Quality APP (SQAPP) linking soil and agricultural Management practices to soil quality indicators. This tool is expected to provide a direct and convenient way to advise the farmers on the best management practices to be followed by them region-wise. EIO Dynamic is a company helping dairy farmers to diagnose undetected udder infections using multispectral imaging on iPad like devices which can be mounted on a milking machine. Farmer Edge Start Up is using satellite imagery and precision technology to help growers identify, map and manage farm land variability. Similarly, Indigo Agriculture has developed a database linking machine learning and data analytics that can detect which type of microbe is best to promote yield and is now selling seeds coated with those microbes to farmers to enhance plant growth and yield.  Plenty company is utilizing machine learning, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and crop science to optimize yield, freshness and taste. Israel based start up - Taranis, a precision agriculture company is using data science and learning algorithm to help farmers manage crops in millions of acres. TL BioLab is providing genomic testing of beef and dairy cattle using microarray technique and is offering cloud based herd management software.  Trace - Genomics is a machine learning start up that uses genomic sequencing technology to work with farmers to identify pathogens in the soil to prevent crop diseases and optimize yield. There are several others in India who are using technology to make a difference in farming attracting the farmers and other stakeholders to embrace technology in what is called Future Farming. What has caught my attention is that almost none of these companies have agriculturists in the starting team. The question is why? Is agriculture slipping away from agriculturists? If yes, why again?

In the backdrop of the above, has not a time to not only revisit but also completely overhaul our agri-education system come? Yes, it has indeed come. The kind of knowledge and information we disseminate to our pupils through the existing course curriculum and the very method of lecture delivery have to change and change from technology embracing point of view. Our system will have to open up its door to IT professionals, mathematicians, engineers, MBA personnel and the likes over and above the core faculties to teach agriculture. In this era of gradual but almost steady corporatisation of agriculture, research linkage with corporate bodies will be a must. A must shall also be a change over in the mindset of the faculties to accept the surfacing changes and mould themselves accordingly if agriculture is not to confront jeopardy. 

We pursue a course-heavy semester system of education. Could we lighten the courses deleting the outlived ones and replacing them with the ones that our students have to master up for their survival and sustainability of agriculture in this changing world. We now have to have disciplines like  Artificial Intelligence, strengthened bioinformatics and data analytical discipline, discipline for precision farming and scaling up resource productivity, agri-veterinary-fishery start up incubator facilities and the likes and accordingly the courses and skilling facilities for them. Our ELP units were conceptualised keeping the changes in view and they are now to be further value added and little recast to accommodate the upcoming trends. A time has come to convene the VI Dean's Committee meeting at the earliest to deliberate and discuss the issues emanating from the current mode of innovative agriculture and to orient our course curriculum accordingly so that the country can produce the expected kind of agri-human resources from its agricultural universities. It is good to know that Indian Agricultural Universities Association (IAUA) is organising a global conference on agricultural education at New Delhi from November 23rd, 2018 with the objective of sharing global experience in agri-education. We may take certain carry home threads from there and use the same to suit our environment and system.

K M Bujarbaruah