Development of Agriculture continues to remain critical for India’s economic growth, poverty reduction and ensuring food security of the country, as over 58 per cent of the rural households depend on agriculture as their principal means of livelihood. Green Revolution which brought food sufficiency to the country was due to combination of technologies viz., hybrids and high yielding varieties, fertilizers and improved agronomic practices and public policy. This revolution was made possible through an Organized and Committed Agricultural Extension system that ably supported and supplemented the input intensive production system.
In spite of significant growth in agriculture, Indian Agriculture continues to face serious challenges such as declining soil; water and other natural resources; decreasing size of farm holding; Input use inefficiency; costly and scarce agriculture labour; drudgery in farming operations; growing risks in farming; information, knowledge and skill gaps; poor access to credit and investments; slow diffusion of relevant technologies; competiveness of quality and prices in export & domestic markets; inadequate focus on processing and value addition; Low profitability of agriculture; inadequate rural infrastructure; poor access to resources and services for Women in agriculture; weak institutional linkages and convergence; Extreme events of Climate change etc. The real challenge remains in diffusion of the technologies generated by the research system to the farmers through an effective extension delivery system to address these challenges. Thus, extension is strategic to the growth of agriculture and allied sectors and enhancing the farmers’ income.
Public extension services are criticized for poor performance with lack of accountability to clients, lack of relevance and quality of their programs. This is mainly due to various limitations faced by the extension system such as inadequate resources; inadequate competency and skills of Extension worker towards market orientation, value orientation and IT; poor Research, Extension, Farmer and Market linkages; lack of convergence between departments and schemes; inadequate budget; procedural delay in release of funds and lack of transparency; inadequate operational flexibilities; top down approach of schemes and programs; lack of farmer participation in extension planning and implementation etc.
The challenges faced by the public extension system provide a space for pluralistic extension to involve various actors and service providers such as private agri- business companies, NGOs, producers’ organization in dissemination of agricultural technologies with additional manpower, knowledge, skills, expertise and leveraging Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funds for overall development of agriculture.
The evolution of relationship between corporates and society has been one of the slow transformation from hardcore business to a philanthropic and from philanthropic to stakeholder participation. However, the data shows that, very meager amount of CSR fund has been spent in the agricultural sector by the companies though there is huge potential for investment in the sector. Agriculture cannot be seen in isolation. CSR may be looked in terms of “Creating Shared Value” wherein, business can help progress of agriculture and agriculture sector can help business to improve and flourish.
Implementation Mechanism of CSR activities
A Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) for promoting CSR activities in Extension may be initiated from MANAGE.
The CSR fund for extension in agriculture and allied sectors may be channelized through SPV in Consortium approach with the involvement of various partners
Consortium approach may be supported and guided by the Steering Committee operating from MANAGE under the chairmanship of Director General, MANAGE.
Steering Committee may consists of DG, MANAGE, Faculty – MANAGE, Representatives of Donor agencies, Agricultural and allied department officials, Representative of implementing partners and farmer representatives.
Steering Committee will receive the proposals from the implementing agencies across the country, scrutinize the proposal and approve the suitable proposal based on the relevance, importance and technical soundness of the proposal and release the fund accordingly.
Funds from Donor agencies/companies/departments will be received by Consortium headed by MANAGE.
A proper Monitoring system will be put in place at national, state and project level for effective monitoring of implementation of the project including the delivery of input and other services.
The steering committee will be held once in three months for scrutiny and approval of new proposals and review the progress of implementation of the sanctioned projects.
Potential activities required funding support:
Development of competency of field extension functionaries of agriculture and allied sectors (overt 1.25 lakhs) on various emerging areas is huge task and require adequate budget.
Tablet based education tools to the extension functionaries.
Irrespective of any interventions in agriculture, capacity building component has to be inbuilt into the program design and behavioral change has to be brought out among farmers. Hence, Capacity building of farmers through training, demonstration, exposure visits, technical back stopping/ Hand holding is required in a large scale.
Model village can be created by adopting good agricultural practices and used for demonstration and replication of such Model village across the country.
So far, a total of 53, 544 agripreneurs have been trained. Out of which, 23,470 have established their ventures. One of the reasons for less establishment is inadequate financial support and credit from bank. Hence, there is a huge potential for investment for promotion of agri- start up, in-turn they provide need based multiple services to the farmers.
Formation and development of Farmers group/community based organization/cooperatives for cross learning.
Working capital / Revolving fund for CIGs/ farmers groups to undertake activities like collective procurement of farm inputs, group processing, value addition, collective marketing and any other innovative activities.
There is a lot of scope for investment on rural youth for promotion of agri-preneurship for self-employment as well as enhancing their employable skills for creating an opportunity for better employment through skill oriented training programs.
Customized/personalized mobile based integrated agro-advisory services to the farmers.
For every two villages one Farmer Friend supposed to be working for extension under ATMA. Positioning and capacity building of about 3 lakhs Farmer Friends at gross root level is a crucial link in the extension.
Establishment of single point resource center for agriculture and allied sectors at village level similar to Raitha Samparka Kendra (RSK) and all the activities may be routed through RSK. RSK can also be used as training centers for the farmers.
Production of Videos on improved and Innovative agricultural technologies and dissemination of technologies through video to the farmers.
Creating awareness about flagship programs of center and state government to involve local community for better impact of such programs.
Activities such as Custom hiring centers, milk chilling unit, fish fingerling production, etc can be taken up on PPP mode with the help of agripreneurs and rural youth to provide production support services to the farmers.
MANAGE is implementing a one-year diploma course titled ‘Diploma in Agricultural Extension Services for Input Dealers (DAESI)’, spread over a period of 48 weeks, with 40 classroom sessions and 8 Field visits on Market holidays, which imparts relevant and location-specific agricultural education to equip the input dealers with sufficient knowledge to transform them into para-extension professionals so as to enable them to address the day-to-day problems being faced by the farmers at field level.
The course fee is Rs 20,000. Out of which, 50% of the course fee (i.e., Rs 10,000/- per input dealer) is subsidized by DAC, GoI. Agribusiness companies can also can sponsor the candidates/input dealers for the program. Agribusiness companies’ sponsorship can be considered for tax benefit under 35 CCC, subject to other conditions laid in the notification. So far, a total of 5246 candidates have been trained under DAESI. A large no. of input dealers (About 2.82 lakhs) are yet to be trained.
(This article is based on concept note on CSR and Agricultural Development presented at national level workshop held at MANAGE, Hyderabd on July 4 & 5, 2017)
(Dr N Balasubramani is the Deputy Director (OSPM) at National Institute of Agricultural Extension Management (MANAGE), Hyderabad.)
Disclaimer: The views expressed by the author in this feature are entirely his own and does not necessarily reflect the views of India CSR Network and its Editor.