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Interrupted Journey of Agricultural Education

Revitalising Higher Agricultural Education in India: Journey Towards Excellence by P M Tamboli and Y L Nene (Secunderabad: Asia Agri-History Foundation), 2011; pp i-xv + 316, Rs 500.

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technological change and public goods.

Interrupted Journey

They, in turn, depend on rapid growth and constant adaptation of institutions

of Agricultural Education

requiring rapid growth in the supply

of personnel with higher education, including advanced degrees. Agricultural John W Mellor growth is highly technical, particularly

I
n this book, higher agricultural education is presented in the agricultural university context to include agricultural research and, to some extent, extension. Thus, this important book covers the key institutional elements of technological change that in turn drive a high agricultural growth rate.

The book provides a brief historical background regarding higher agricultural education in India, a detailed description of 24 of the agricultural universities, including the treatment of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute and its graduate programme and a lengthy treatment of the Indian Council of Agricultural R esearch (ICAR), the complex and evolving centre-state relations, and the role of foreign aid, which played a major role, e specially in the early post-independence decades. Given the importance of the United States (US) land grant model, there is a detailed description of one of the US land grant universities and a comparison with the current operating mode of the I ndian agricultural universities.

Urban-based Growth

This book is timely and important. Why? We have been through a lengthy period, led implicitly by the World Bank, that for all sectors, getting policies right and then leaving details to markets would give accelerated growth. There is much evidence from India corroborating that view for the urban-based sectors. The reforms in the early 1990s were substantial and a comparison of the growth rate before and after those reforms shows an extraordinary

Economic & Political Weekly

EPW
october 8, 2011

Revitalising Higher Agricultural Education in India: Journey Towards Excellence by P M Tamboli and Y L Nene (Secunderabad: Asia Agri-History Foundation), 2011; pp i-xv + 316, Rs 500.

a cceleration in the growth rate of these

sectors. That growth was sufficient to

drive the overall growth rate to very high

levels. However, the same comparative

e xercise shows no significant acceleration

in the agricultural growth rate. Neither

the reforms nor the huge demand pull

from the urban sector accelerated the

agricultural growth rate. The agricultural

performance, compared to other coun

tries at a similar stage of development, has

been quite poor.

Conventional World Bank wisdom

would lead to the expectation that poverty

decline would accelerate with accelerated

overall growth. That did not happen. Ever

since Montek Ahluwalia’s (1978) seminal

paper on the issue, we have known that it

is agricultural growth, not urban-based

growth that reduces poverty. A large liter

ature explains how this happens in a

closed economy (e g, Lele and Mellor 1981)

and an open economy (e g, Mellor and

R anade 2006), with an overall summary

in Dorosh and Mellor (2011).

So we are left with neither highly effec

tive policy reform nor rapid growth

demand pull doing the job for agriculture

and as a result poverty decline not accel

erating. Of course, no one with knowl

edge of how agriculture grows would

have expected otherwise. Agriculture,

because of the land constraint and the

small size of the operating unit, grows on

vol xlvi no 41

on the biological science side. That brings us back to Tamboli and Nene. But their sub-title “Journey Towards Excellence” is misleading. At the least it should have been “Interrupted Journey Towards Excellence”. This book details what went wrong in the agricultural universities and ICAR – and indeed, a lot went wrong – and that tells us a lot about what went wrong in agricultural growth and poverty reduction as well.

US Model of Technological Change

Their book details the thoughtful approach in the early years to what should be done about higher agricultural education, the guided use of foreign technical assistance to assist in that task, the evolution of ICAR as the national presence in agricultural technology generation and the agricultural universities as the state presence (in the context of agriculture b eing constitutionally a “state subject”). It also details the role of the universities in integrating higher education and research, and to a modest extent of extension. Looking back, one can say the world had several models for fostering rapid technical change in agriculture. The Japanese model is quite different from the US model and certainly at least as successful in achieving consistent rapid technological change in agriculture.

The book documents the extant of incorporation of the US model, but it was not fully incorporated – e g, most extension is not linked in the agricultural universities. But pursuing a single model and adapting it to Indian circumstances brought with it a consistent approach, a massive amount

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of training at the postgraduate level, substantial exchange of faculty, and considerable hands on assistance from visiting US professors. The two authors are fully a cquainted with the US system, with Tamboli occupying a senior position in the US system and Nene a long-time researcher and administrator in the Consortium of International Agricultural Research C entres.

So we see Indian higher education in agriculture off to an excellent start. The universities were state-based, but tended initially to be all-India institutions with diverse faculty, which had rigorous high level training. They were well-funded and at least for a few decades grew rapidly, d eveloped excellent all-India coordinating mechanism and should have been expected to play a lead role in accelerating the agricultural growth rate. For a while they did, particularly in the “green revolution” period. What then went wrong?

The authors present a litany of problems. At the base was a lack of funding.

That resulted in a decrease in the number of scientific faculty, even as the science problems became more difficult and diverse. Research capacity steadily eroded, the faculty aged, few replacements were hired, faculty vacancies tended at 50% of full strength. The proportion of junior professors dropped precipitously. Operational budget support to staff declined to 13% – when 40% would be considered more normal and efficient. Reinforcing these trends staffing has become increasingly determined by personal considerations rather than scienti fic merit with consequent inbreeding of the faculty, with merit playing a declining role in appointments and promotions. Research suffered the most, meanwhile, the quality of teaching suffered as well and the capacity to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances disappeared. The requirement for marketable higher level teaching is the constant refreshing of the curriculum.

The authors document how the agricultural universities in the US have been d ynamically evolving with the changing times, while those in India have stunted, with little change in teaching objectives, method, or materials. These failings in the agricultural universities were mirrored in changes in ICAR.

Recommendations

The authors have a long list of actions that need to be taken. The book is clear on the major role of agriculture minister C Subramaniam in the 1960s in bringing about the golden age of Indian institutional capacity building and hence of agricultural growth. They point to the need, once again, for a powerful, independent, high-level commission to make recommendations not just for reform of the system, but also for putting it on track for the kind of rapid evo lution and adaptation to changing times that the US agricultural university system has been going through so effectively.

On specifics, they should have spotlighted the financing problem as central to

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october 8, 2011 vol xlvi no 41

EPW
Economic Political Weekly

BOOK REVIEW

change – and set a clear simple target of a certain percentage of agricultural GDP, or of national or state budgets to allocate to the higher agricultural education complex. That is the first crucial step. But then the money must be spent properly. The book is clear that the institutional arrangements have become grossly inadequate. They strongly recommend implementation of the two recent Commission reports on ICAR. They do not mention what is becoming dominant in the US – the use of massive sums in competitive grants as a means of ensuring quality.

Given the useful contribution of the US to the early teams analysing agricultural higher education and research needs and the exemplary rapid adaption of the US land Grant Colleges of agriculture to the rapidly changing times, one wonders

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why US aid has for long been completely absent from this scene in India. Perhaps, the US foreign aid policymakers think comparative advantage is one more unproven theory.

Will all this happen? Best to answer that without it agricultural growth will continue to stagnate, overall growth will not succeed in pulling even horticulture and livestock production at the rates needed for driving down poverty and so poverty decline will move very slowly, indeed. Agriculture, of course, does not dominate GDP growth. At only 17% of GDP and declining, slow growth in agriculture can be largely compensated in other sectors. However, at this stage of development agriculture drives and is dominant in poverty reduction. This is because of its large share in the labour

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force, and more so its powerful multipliers to the employment-intensive, non-tradable, rural non-farm sector. Read this book to see why this is not happening and what to do about it.

Email: jmellor@jmassocine.com

References

Ahluwalia, M S (1978): “Rural Poverty and Agricultural Performance in India”, Journal of Development Studies, 14: 298-323.

Dorosh, Paul and John W Mellor (2011): “Why Agriculture Remains a Viable Means of Poverty Reduction in Sub-Saharan Africa”, Research Report, International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington.

Lele, U J and J W Mellor (1981): “Technological Change, Distribution Bias and Labour Transfer in a Two-Sector Economy”, Oxford Economic Papers,

33: 426-41. Mellor, J W and C Ranade (2006): “Why Does Agricultural Growth Dominate Poverty Reduction in

Low and Middle Income Countries?”, Pakistan Development Review, 45:2.

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Ramadorai, S (2011); The TCS Story … and Beyond (New Delhi: Portfolio/Penguin Group); pp xiii + 287, Rs 699.

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Saikia, Yasmin (2011); Women, War and the Making of Bangladesh: Remembering 1971 (New Delhi: Women Unlimited); pp xx + 304, Rs 600.

Sen, Jai, ed. (2011); Are Other Worlds Possible? Interrogating Empires (Delhi: Daanish Books and OpenWord); pp 342, Rs 650.

Vinod, Hrishikesh D (2011); Hands-on Intermediate Econometrics Using R Templates for Extending Dozens of Practical Examples (Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Co); pp xxvii + 512, price not indicated.

Wallace, Paul and Ramashray Roy, ed. (2011); India’s 2009 Elections; Coalition Politics, Party Competition, and Congress Continuity (New Delhi: Sage Publications); pp xviii + 412, Rs 995.

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