Sunday, August 23, 1998
Careers in the farm sector
LIVING as we do in an interconnected and interdependent world where international boundaries have diminished, most professions have undergone a sea change in not just their meaning and scope but also in the job opportunities they offer. Agriculture has been a core human activity everywhere on earth and is, therefore, dependent on sound management of global resources. No longer can ad hocism or pure luck determine a farmer's agricultural produce or a nation's agricultural output. Although India's reform process has taken us a long way forward, there remains a clear pending agenda. Agriculture, which constitutes 70 per cent of employment and 31.1 per cent of GDP, has yet to feel the effect of the reform process. The Green Revolution, we have been reading for decades, has helped us achieve a certain degree of self-sufficiency. But what we now need is it to look at the agriculture scene with a fresh perspective and ready ourselves for another revolution. New opportunities have come up. There are better trade links and the government machinery is turning more farmer friendly.
Which is why these last four-and-a-half decades have seen India make strides in agriculture. Foodgrain production has shot up from 50.8 million tonnes in 1950-51 to 190.4 million tonnes in 1995-96, while the area under cultivation rose from 97.3 million hectares in 1950-51 to 123.5 million hectares in 1994-95. Agriculture still employs more than two-thirds of the labour force and has an effective linkage between supply and demand vis-a-vis the manufacturing sector. Roles are clearly demarcated. If the farmer cultivates the land, raises livestock and grows plants, the industry processes, distributes and transports the cultivated produce. The scientist uses his knowledge of biochemistry, microbiology and genetics to develop new and high-yielding agricultural varieties. Agencies, organisations and cooperatives supply specialised services to farmers in the area of production, packaging, pricing, quality standards, distribution or network marketing. Then there are bodies associated with agricultural communication, research, publication and education. Nationalised banks and rural banks (NABARD) provide agricultural credit.
Farming has for long been a profession which one inherits. Your ancestors have done, so you must carry on the legacy. Many youngsters still do not fancy the idea of traditional farming. They would much rather innovate and diversify into floriculture, growing high-yield hybrid varieties, bee-keeping, seed cultivation or greenhouse production. Interestingly, many of them are voluntarily opting for farming by either equipping themselves with suitable degrees or just taking the plunge and learning through experience. Now although India accounts for a sizeable portion of world production of several principal crops like rice, wheat, pulses, groundnut, sugarcane, tea, cotton etc, their yield continues to be far lower than the world average. This in spite of accounting for 9.6 per cent of the world's fertiliser consumption!
Farming could be carried out in small, medium or large tracts of land. You could grow traditional food crops such as grains (wheat, rice, pulses, cereals) and vegetables; cash crops like cotton, tabacco and sugarcane; commercial crops; seeds; flowers or fruits (pomology). To be a skilled farmer you should have functional knowledge of chemistry, entomology, genetics, nutrition, plant pathology, economics, engineering and automation. Having managerial skills would be a bonus. However cash rich you may be, with ample farm hands at your disposal you will still have to sow harvest and market your produce. What has been a significant development in the post-World War II period is the shift from increasing physical areas for cultivation to increasing yields and developing HYV (high yielding varieties).
To study agriculture you can enrol in a B.Sc in agriculture and follow it up with an M.Sc. Rural Management is another option. Anand (of Dr Kurien and Amul fame) in Gujarat has the Institute of Rural Management and, Hisar in Haryana has the Chaudhary Charan Singh Agricultural University. Eligibility criteria is plus two with a minimum of 50 per cent marks in science and engineering. You will have to clear a written exam and an interview. The College of Horticulture and Forestry in Solan insists on your having 50 per cent at the high school level. Palampur has a college of agriculture. Ludhiana's Punjab Agricultural University is one of the finest in the country and so is Amritsar's Guru Nanak Dev University.
Once you have a degree, explore openings in the government and the private sector. By taking the state public service commission exam you can get a slot in the Department of Agriculture which functions in every state. Each department is headed by a Director who is responsible for all schemes relating to agricultural crops, seeds and yields. Many private companies which are into food processing also require trained agriculturists. Depending on the nature of the job, a generalist or specialist in agriculture is hired. So whether it is Nestle or Godrej Foods or Kisan, you can find professional openings.
If agricultural research is your subject you could look at both Central and state-level openings Ministry of Food Processing, Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying, Ministry of Agriculture etc. The Indian Council for Agricultural Research is the premier body where scientists, research scholars, computer professionals and other technical manpower is engaged in R and D. Places like the Horticultural Research Institutes, National Dairy Development Board, the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, Bureau of Indian Standards and various NGOs are constantly on the lookout for talent either on a permanent, contract or project basis. Consultancy is another lucrative field. Product development (new hybrids/varieties development) is becoming technology intensive in the seed industry. Biotechnology and genetic engineering are replacing traditional breeding methods. Hybrids with superior qualities and specific resistance to pests/diseases/chemicals are being bred. Attempts are being made to improve soil conditions, and cost-effective and eco-friendly ways of preserving, conserving, processing and packaging are evolving. According to FAO projections, 60-75 per cent increase in major foodgrain production in the developing world, excluding China, will come from yield increases. Studies at the ICAR reveal that there is still untapped yield potential. Corporates are taking fresh interest in pesticides and hybrids with specific resistance to pests and chemicals, all of which puts pressure on superior R and D and the patenting of hybrids.
An amazing lot of careers have cropped up in the agri business side. Here you have a group of industries involved in producing, transporting, processing, distributing and selling farm products. It also includes those businesses that supply farmers with goods and services like machinery, seeds, fertilisers, agricultural chemicals, credit and management information. Things like farm management, cooperative management, crop grading, land appraisal, packaging, labelling, marketing, sales, storage and housing ensure that the farmer in the remotest of Indian villages gets his dues and maximises his land's output. There has to be harmony between the numerous agencies which look after various aspects like production, extension, R and D, finance, commerce, private sector etc. The Government and the Food Corporation of India have to make the distribution chain more effective and increase availability through the PDS, by supplying to Super Bazar, Kendriya Bhandar and other departmental stores to reduce excess stocks. Commodity boards have to be recast based on the New Zealand model.
Agro industry is that area which relates to manufacture of machinery and equipment used in agriculture, food processing, manufacture of fertilisers, insecticides, herbicides, feeds fats and oil mills and industries involved in animal feed processing. You have engineers, scientists, food technologists and workers handling production.
Food facts on India
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