Agricultural Education

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Dr S.L. Marbaniang:
Our farmers in the State of Meghalaya have been generally following the footsteps of their parents or grandparents without any change or improvement at all. They continue to believe in the wisdom of the old and so look down at any interferences with the age-old tradition. To them the so called book learning or book knowledge has no relevance. “What can intellectuals or scholars with suits, boots and neckties do with practical agriculture?”, is an oft quoted remark by villagers.

 With the rare exception of a very few officials who posses an agricultural degree who are very sincere and committed to the farmers’ cause, experientially it had not been a pleasant one with many, especially officers and staff of the department who tended to be mostly theoretical experts. Consequently, beyond paying lip service to them, cultivators did not bother much to approach them for their expertise.
 Subsequently, during the late 1950s and early 1960s, a new breed of professionals, fresh from the agricultural institutes and with eagerness to make the country self-sufficient in food production, emerged who interacted with people at the grassroot level. Hence, began the dawn of a new era in the history of agriculture in the country which soon spread to different states and union territories. It also coincided with the growth and development due to the Green Revolution, spearheaded by an American agricultural scientist, Norman Borleaug. The concept and practice was adopted in India by Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, who also came to Meghalaya to participate in the Indian Science Congress held during the first week of January, 2009 at North Eastern Hill University Campus, Shillong.
 Rapid population increase has been a stumbling block in the growth of India’s economy. Every year, the population equal to that of Australia, is added to India’s already huge size of more than a billion, which is next only to that of China. Therefore, planners and administrators are faced with great challenge of how to feed the hungry mouths. On the contrary, land size remains same.
 Dedicated breed of dynamic and dashing youths, armed with an agriculture degree, went round to share their knowledge and skill with farmers throughout the nook and corner of the country. The scenario was repeated in North Eastern Region (NER) too. As a consequence, villagers began to change their response and attitude towards book contents with regard to agriculture. A cooperation between givers of information and tillers of the soil began which soon grew and flourished.
 Potato is one of the most important cash crops of the region. After Nagaland became a separate state of the Indian union during the early 1960s, the P. Shilu Ao Government requisitioned the service of an eminent Khasi potato specialist in the then composite State of Assam, Mawsing Kharsati. Kharsati toured the different villages and hamlets of the nascent State of Nagaland before he implemented various agricultural schemes. The climate of Nagaland was found to be quite suitable for the growth of many cash crops, chief among which was potato. As a mark of gratitude and affection for the practical officer, the Government bestowed honours and citations to Kharsati, who was also affectionately known as “Alu Sahib” (Potato Officer).
 When Meghalaya became a separate State, Mawsing Kharsati’s service was reverted back to Shillong. During the few years that are left in his career, he popularized the use of mechanized methods and introduced the latest knowledge of science and technology. The footprints he left behind are being emulated with vigour and confidence by his worthy successors. If during Kharsati’s tenure, the agriculture degree was much recognised, those who came after him went an a few more step ahead by acquiring a post-graduate degree and a Ph.D. in various agriculture topics which are relevant for the day.
 At present, agriculture colleges are present in nearly every state and union territory. The premier agricultural institution in the country is the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) at Pusa, New Delhi. In the Philippines, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) at Manila, its capital, has done commendable jobs in coming out with hybrid rice varieties.
 One year after the birth of Meghalaya, the Central Government established the North Eastern Hill University (NEHU) at Shillong with a jurisdiction over Meghalaya, Nagaland and Mizoram. An Agriculture College under NEHU was started at Medziphema, Nagaland. In course of time, each of the States of Nagaland and Mizoram had their own Central University. So, NEHU is left only with the State of Meghalaya. Nevertheless, none can deny that education has developed very fast in these regions and the number of affiliated colleges has increased manifold.
 During these nearly four decades, the NE Region, Meghalaya not excluding, has undergone a lot of transformations in various dimensions. There are at present four universities functioning in Meghalaya alone. Each district of the State will have a Polytechnic. Medical courses have been started at NEIGRIHM, new Shillong leading to the award of M.B.B.S degree. The State Government proposes to have two Medical Colleges soon, one each at Shillong in East Meghalaya and at Tura in West Meghalaya. Besides these, there is a Rajiv Gandhi Indian Institute of Management (RG-IIM) at Upper Nongthymmai, Shillong and the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) at Lawmali, Shillong. Both these famous institutes started functioning from 2008.
 While all these are welcome gestures, indeed, the next pertinent question is does any one think about the necessity of having an agriculture college in the state? Many will agree with the views of this writer that the answer is in the affirmative. If it is so, then it is high time for the State Government to immediately start processing of the project. A State with about three-quarters of its population engaging in agriculture and allied activities surely needs at least one agriculture college for a start in the near future.
 At the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, the chief cash crop of southern US, namely, cotton, started declining in production due to repeated cultivation of the same crop. When the economy of the southern states started sliding downwards due to the law of diminishing return being applicable to cotton crop, there emerged on the scene a young, black scientist by the name of George Washington Carver (1856-1915).
 The son of slaves, Carver overcame all the odds in his life and acquired a degree and a doctorate in agriculture from Iowa State College, Iowa, US. Devoting tirelessly his time and energy towards the cause of the farmers in the southern belt of the US, he ultimately came out with an alternative crop, the peanut which is looked down with impunity as monkey food, which saved their future. From peanut, Carver produced about 300 brands like peanut butter, peanut cheese, milk vinegar, paints, ink soap, oil, dyes, flour, shaving cream, emulsions, paper, etc.
 Dr. George Washington Carver did not stop there. He created new uses for cotton. Synthetic rubber tyres from cotton stalks, polish, silk from poplar bark and synthetic marble from wood shavings were results of his hard works. From cotton, he also developed a material which binds the asphalt as steel rods function in reinforced concrete.
 A recipient of many honours and awards, Carver led a simple life till the end. He spend his time at the Tuskegee Institute, Tuskegee Alabama State in the U.S. started by another black agricultural scientist, Booker T. Washington. During his lifetime, the Carver Creative Research Laboratories at Tuskegee were started in his honour. These laboratories include eight units-for study and research in agronomy, bacteriology, botany, biology, creative chemistry, mycology, plant genetics, art and ceramic’s.
He also has given the prestigious Roosevelt Memorial Award in 1939.
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 Suggestion:  From a population of about a million in 1972 (1971 Census), Meghalaya’s projected population is expected to cross the 3 million mark in 2001, an increase of about 200 percent. We cannot and should not be too dependent on the Centre’s handout.
 The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) at Barapani and the Central Potato Research Institute (CPRI) at Upper Shillong have been rendering  a great services to Meghalaya. The establishment of an agriculture college will be a great blessing to people of the State. 

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