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An organic agriculture university wouldn’t transform Goan economy

THE state government has given approval in principle to the agriculture department’s proposal to set up an organic agriculture university. According to Deputy Chief Minister Chandrakant Kavlekar who holds the agriculture portfolio, the idea behind the proposal is to encourage the hinterland talukas of the state, which are predominantly agricultural, to boost farm yield using organic practices. It is true that growth of tourism has created an uneven pattern of development in the state, with the coastal talukas far more advanced than the hinterland ones. However, many would like to ask the agriculture minister if the answer to bring the hinterland talukas up to the level of the coastal talukas in terms of development lies in setting up an organic agriculture university. Vague snippets of information available from the government suggest that the university would initially focus on research. The agriculture department should make all the details of the proposal public, so that it can benefit from an informed public response. To think and say that an organic agriculture university would transform the economy of Goa may seem like defying reason in the absence of details.

However, a few questions must be asked: First, what kinds of research the organic agriculture university would do which is not already being done? India has a long tradition in agricultural research, including on many subjects that relate to making agriculture sustainable by discouraging industrial and chemical means. Second, how will Goa benefit from it? The proposal to set up an organic agriculture university is not the first of its kind in the country as the government of Gujarat had passed the Gujarat Organic Agriculture University bill in 2016. Though the bill became an act, the state has not been able to establish the university. The reason that has been advanced for the university not becoming functional was non-availability of land required for the purpose. If a huge state like Gujarat has not been able to find land for a university, how does the small state of Goa expect a huge area for the proposed institution to be found? It is hard to be enthused by Kavalekar’s claim that some areas have been identified for setting up of the university from which few would be shortlisted and the process for acquisition would follow. People have opposed proposals for land for educational institutions like IIT and NIT in the past. We have seen how difficult it was for the state government to find land for the IIT.

The idea of setting up an organic agricultural university appears to be too ambitious, given the fact that most of Goan farmers have fragmented plots and agriculture is on decline. Establishing an institution of research and academic learning might not attract farmers or youth. The state’s approach to promotion of agriculture has not been very successful. It took more than five decades for Goa to get its first agriculture college at Sulcorna in Quepem taluka. A higher secondary school at Savoi Verem, started six years ago and imparting courses in agricultural studies is yearning for the attention of the state authorities for grants. It has tied up with two reputed institutions for research in soil testing. Even the apex agriculture institution, the Indian Council for Agriculture Research has in the recent past set up the National Organic Farming Research Institute in Sikkim.

It is true that demand for organic food is growing. Despite the demand for organic produce, the organic farming has not grown. Only 10 colleges in the country offer 11 courses in organic farming. Even in the United States of America only 10 colleges offer such courses. There is not a single organic farming university in the world. Though India is home to 30 per cent of total organic producers in the world, it has just 2.59 per cent of the total area under organic farming, according to the World of Organic Agriculture 2018 report. A study found that organic farming can yield up to three times as much food as conventional farming, provided right techniques are used. Rather than trying to set up an institution which could become a white elephant, the government should focus on plans that can boost organic farming.

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