The population of Uttar Pradesh as per the 2011 Census is 199,581,477. More than 50% of all these people are below the age of 30. The state is also significant for providing substantial quantities of food grains to the national public distribution system.
Therefore, the strengthening of agricultural research and development in the state is an issue of national priority. However, there are many challenges ahead, and I briefly discuss some of these here.
Attracting youth in farming
The younger generation will be interested in taking to farming as a profession only if farming becomes both economically and intellectually attractive. The future of food security in our country will depend on both strengthening the ecological foundations essential for sustainable agriculture, and attracting educated youth to farming and allied professions such as animal husbandry, inland and marine fisheries, agro-forestry, agro-processing and agri-business.
It will therefore be highly useful if the state government launches a special programme for enabling youth to remain in villages and take to scientific agriculture. The programme, which can be titled 'Empowerment of Youth in Agriculture,' should help young farmwomen and men to earn income from both farm and non-farm enterprises. There are great opportunities for strengthening the services sector in rural areas. A group of young farmers consisting of agricultural, veterinary, home science, engineering and commerce graduates could jointly organise Agricultural Transformation Centres in every block to bring about a technological upgradation of farm operations and farming enterprises to provide demand driven services.
Such centres will undertake tasks like pest-proofing of villages and value addition to primary produce.
Strengthening ecological security
2012 marks the 20th anniversary of the Rio Conference on Environment and Development. It would be useful to launch a Land and Water Care Movement in partnership with Farmers’ Associations in order to conserve prime farmland for agriculture and to promote the efficient use of land and water. In the case of water, the emphasis should be on rainwater harvesting and on more income and crop per drop of water. Farm families can be issued Farm Health Passbooks that contain information on soil health, water quality, crop and animal diseases, so that the farm family has access to integrated information on all aspects of farm health.
Very effective and reliable soil and water quality testing kits are now available. This will help rural families to utilise in an effective manner the nutrient based subsidy introduced by the government of India from April 1, 2010. Similarly, young, educated youth could help rural communities organise gene-seed-grain-water banks, thereby linking conservation, cultivation, consumption and commerce in a mutually reinforcing manner. Every watershed should be developed into a bio-industrial watershed. A programme may be launched for training selected panchayat members as Climate Risk Managers who will be trained in all aspects of the science and art of managing drought, flood, sea level rise etc.
Empowerment of women in agriculture
In the 2010-11 and 2011-12 budgets of the government of India, the finance minister had provided funds on my suggestion for launching a Mahila Kisan Sashaktikaran Pariyojana. This programme has been incorporated in the Rural Livelihood Mission implemented by the Ministry of Rural Development.
It will be appropriate if the UP government, which has been a pioneer in mainstreaming gender considerations in development programmes too launches a special programme to empower women in agriculture.
Aim should be to reduce the number of hours of work and increase the economic value per hour of work in the case of rural women.