Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) is one of the first seven agricultural universities established in the 1960s. Post-Independence, memories of the Great Famine of Bengal of 1943 still haunted India.
Nearfamine conditions prevailed in the country in the early 1960s. Food was imported from the US under the PL480 programme. Because the food came on ships and was immediately used up, this situation of India was pejoratively dubbed as “ship-tomouth” existence!
In the mid-1960s, PAU was one of a handful of institutions that were provided the seeds of dwarf wheat varieties obtained from Dr Norman Borlaug’s wheat research programme in Mexico. Not every institution that received the new seeds was as successful as PAU in developing new varieties of wheat. PAU showed the way and put the state of Punjab and the nation on a new trajectory of agricultural production.
Wheat production in Punjab jumped from 1.9 million tonnes to 5.6 million tonnes (MT) between 1965 and 1972, to 7.67 MT in 198081 and to 15.78 MT in 2007-08. India’s wheat production increased from 12 MT in 1964 to 18 MT in 1968 and to 80 MT in 2009, with major contributions from Punjab year after year. The state’s farmers have been contributing annually, for the past several decades, an average of 40% wheat and 26% rice towards India’s grain reserve pool for food security. This is nothing short of a miracle considering the fact that Punjab constitutes only 1.53% of the area of India.
AGRICULTURAL COLLEGES NOT AFFILIATED TO PAU
PAU was established on the pattern of the US land grant system (USLGS) that entails agricultural education, research and extension. The USLGS is the envy of the world. Without the joint role of all three pillars, the above-mentioned miraculous food production would not have been possible. It is a known fact that all three components must exist in an institution to be able to provide quality education and deliver research/technology to the farmers. All three components are interdependent.
Unfortunately, an unhealthy trend has been established in Punjab. PAU is being weakened by allowing the establishment of numerous agricultural colleges in the state. Last year, by my count, there were 19 agricultural colleges in Punjab. Most of these colleges are believed to be “degree shops” with no quality control. In many of these colleges, there is not even adequate faculty to teach all agricultural courses. Many PAU alumni, including Dr Gurdev S Khush, are appalled to learn that so many private agricultural colleges have mushroomed in Punjab and that none of these colleges is affiliated with PAU. They question whether these colleges can provide quality education without proper faculty, experimental farms and laboratories. Many people question the wisdom of the policymakers by not affiliating all agricultural colleges/programmes with PAU, when all private medical colleges are affiliated with Baba Farid University of Medical Sciences and all private engineering colleges with Punjab Technical University.
QUALITY, UNIFORMITY IN SYLLABUS MISSING
Uniformity in the syllabus and quality is important, which cannot be ensured in agricultural education when different colleges are affiliated with different universities. The latest entrant into the agricultural education arena is Punjabi University, with a BSc Agri course delivered through distance education. The government should take a hard look at this situation and consolidate agricultural education programmes under the umbrella of the PAU.
There is no sense in producing so many new agricultural graduates when there are insufficient jobs even for those graduating from the PAU. The planning commission of Punjab should determine how many agricultural graduates are needed in different disciplines in the state.
The country must meet the food needs of the evergrowing population of India (15 million new faces need to be fed every year). India’s current food production stands around 264 million tonnes. By 2050, India would need more than 450 million tonnes of food to feed its population. This can only be done by producing welltrained agricultural graduates.
Instead of quantity, quality of education must be stressed upon. The PAU must be strengthened by providing proper funding for its education, research and extension programmes. PAU, the goose that has laid golden eggs, must be preserved. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “It is the quality of our work which will please God and not the quantity.”
(The writer is a former vice-chancellor of Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana, and adjunct professor, Kansas State University, US)