This class is for farmers, and wannabes

M.J. PRABHU | Updated on October 14, 2011

The Bachelor of Farm Technology class at Coimbatore's Tamil Nadu Agricultural University. - Photo: M. J. Prabhu   -  Business Line

While there is no age limit for those desirous of joining this course, a minimumpass percentage in Standard X is a must.

A three-year part-time course in farm technology is attracting students from all walks of life.

It's a sunny Saturday morning, and the Department of Open and Distance Education at Coimbatore's Tamil Nadu Agricultural University is abuzz with activity. Weekend classes are on, but this isn't your average classroom filled with young learners. Many of the students walking in are in their mid-40s and some are in their 70s!

This is the batch enrolled for the three-year Bachelor of Farm Technology course started by the University recently and is currently in the second semester of the six-semester programme.

A first of its kind in the country, the course aimed primarily at creating scientific awareness among farmers is attracting people from all cross-sections of life, including retired income-tax officials, bank executives, sales representatives and homemakers.

So, how did the university think of starting such a course? “Once on a trip to Israel, I happened to interact with a farmer who was a school dropout. He stumped me with his knowledge of soil science, the kind that our PhD scholars work on here in India. Casually I asked where he learnt all this technical stuff from, and he coolly replied that his Standard VIII lessons back in school had dealt with such information. Only then did I realise how backward we were educationally and decided to introduce something new — an education degree primarily for farmers. But today we are astonished to see so many non-farmers joining the course. It only goes to prove that good education does find takers among people of all ages,” says Dr Murugesa Boopathi, Vice-Chancellor, TNAU, Coimbatore.

Adds the course director, Dr Valluvaparidasan, “we have nearly 300 students, who take great interest in attending the weekend classes held once a month. In fact, all the seats have been filled for the current semester and enquiries for future admissions are pouring in.”

The oldest student here is 80-year-old farmer Anbu Sundaranand from Thirumalayampalayam, near Coimbatore. “I chose to join this course even though I have 70 years of farming experience. There seems to be a lot of difference between what I did in the past and what I should do now. I am now able to farm more precisely as I am equipped with scientific knowledge and guidelines from expert. I firmly believe farmers must become aware of new technologies,” he says.

Of course, it is not always easy to accept new ideas or changes, especially for those who come with years of hands-on experience in the fields. “The older and experienced the student, the more predetermined is the mindset and it takes some time for them to agree on certain things. But we enjoy teaching them because they are eager to learn,” says Valluvaparidasan.

As for the newbie, it is sometimes a case of better-late-than-never: K. Singaravelu, a retired income-tax official, says he knew nothing about farming before joiningthis course. “I am now in the second semester and already I can understand, to some extent, why farmers face losses.”

For some it is an opportunity to reconnect with their agricultural roots. “Though many of us are in private jobs, our parents and brothers are still into agriculture. Given a choice we do not want to move away from farming. Thanks to this course, I am now able to ask my labourers the right questions about seeds, inputs and, importantly, marketing facilities. I no longer merely nod my head to everything they say,” says R. Saravanakumar, a business executive who joined the course recently.

The degree course also seems to confer on the farmers a kind of status symbol. “I printed the degree behind my name on the my daughter's weeding invitation,” smiles Govindarajan from Tarapuram. Many of his classmates agree that the BFT behind their name makes them feel important, educated and gains them respect from neighbours.

While there is no age limit for those desirous of joining this course, a minimum pass percentage in Standard X is a must. Besides the latest in farm technology, the course also familiarises students on the many inputs and subsidies that the Government offers farmers. In fact, one paper in the final semester deals with effective management of labour.

“This year our University is flooded with enquires about the course. Friends of present students also want to join. We feel immensely happy that we are able to bridge the communication and knowledge gap between farmers and those interested in the sector,” says Boopathi.

Published on October 13, 2011

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