Agriculture Ministry, for the first time, held a meeting with Vice-Chancellors of state agriculture universities (SAUs), which was so far handled by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), and offered to onboard them on different government schemes. The ministry is also ready to directly fund them for projects, which was earlier made through ICAR.

“If one agriculture university was doing some research work, other agriculture universities in other states are not even aware of it. At times, even within the same state one does not know what activities the other university is doing,” said an official source who justified organising the meeting.

However, many agriculture scientists requesting not to be named said that the department of agriculture and farmers welfare should better focus on the implementation of several schemes where it is lacking rather than intrude into the area in which ICAR has been allowed to work.

Manoj Ahuja, Secretary of the department of agriculture and farmers welfare, had chaired the meeting of the Vice-Chancellors on May 14, which was organised by the Indian Agricultural Universities Association (IAUA). Sources said that the ICAR Director-General Himanshu Pathak was not present at the meeting.

Funding of the projects

While most of the Vice-Chancellors were not averse to get direct funding on project basis since they face fund crunch, they are not keen to undertake extension activities with farmers for the government as it will hamper their main core function of imparting education, the sources said.

The government thinks that involvement of highly experienced agriculture scientists in different government schemes will yield better result, the sources said.

“If there is seed shortage for a particular crop, that can be planned before and indents could be placed with the SAUs,” a source said. However, he agreed that as it was earlier done through State governments, there may be problems for a direct connect. “The SAUs are directly under the state government and they may not be able to bypass them by connecting directly with the Centre,” the source said.

Mixed reactions

However, officials in the department of agriculture and farmers welfare — who conceived the idea of onboarding SAUs — believe that there are several areas where there is scope to work together. Officials also said that a better co-ordination with SAUs may help them to avoid duplication of R&D activities and re-orient towards development of newer technology. For everything the Department needs, the communication with SAUs should not be always either through ICAR or state government, the officials said.

“Currently, several good varieties of seeds developed by SAUs have been confined to a narrow geographical location in which a particular SAU is located whereas there is potential for such varieties to get rolled out across the country,” a senior official said. However, an assistant director general of ICAR said that there is no bar for any such variety as the concerned university has to apply and follow the guidelines for all India release whenever it develops a new technology. But he agreed that funding is an issue for SAUs in getting trials conducted at multiple geographical locations. “ICAR at many times offer help to SAUs in such activities,” he added.