Thursday, February 05, 2009

Agriclinics and Agribusiness Centers – Evolving Trends of Agricultural Extension Services in India

Time and again the conceptualizations and perspectives on the issue of food security across the globe invoke reviews and introspection and so is the agricultural extension service system, which plays a pivotal role, amongst the other stakeholders of food production. In nineties, when I was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, I started my firm for delivering consultancy services. A senior executive from IDBI (Industrial Development Bank Of India) lamented to me as the agricultural extension professionals are not considered analogous with similar professionals like Doctors, architects, chartered accountants, industrial clinics run by engineers, and the like, in issuing soft loan facilities & margin money assistance. I wish to document this concern to mark the hard core reality before a decade and a half. The pluralistic development of demands in the delivery system of agricultural advisory services had the inspirations among agricultural graduates to promote a business line in the service sector. Yet, the lack of institutional support subdued our progress and spirits.

In 1995, World Bank took a moment to review the Training & Visit (T&V) program worldwide, implying that the system had been less pluralistic to the emerging trends of globalization, privatization & decentralization, and needs to be overhauled. When the conventional Training & Visit program is on the reconsideration by the World Bank and other decision making bodies - and pushed to serve the tail end - the employment opportunities of graduates of agriculture and allied sciences shrank immensely to render the levels of unemployment and underemployment to unprecedented higher degrees. MANAGE observes in India over 11,900 graduates in the field of Agriculture and allied sectors pass out from agricultural Universities every year. However, only 2000 are able to find employment in the Government and Private sectors. Thus every year around 9,900 graduates are available for supporting the agricultural production, if viable business/employment opportunities are afforded to them and yet they are left with no tangible options.

History elucidates that agricultural extension is centuries old and the state is endowed with responsibilities of directing and implementing the food production of the country. A strong extension force along with broad community of farmers is envisaged as an active stake holder in the process of planning and the implementation of food production. It is a proven consideration that a nation like India, having a strong qualified extension work force and keeping their potential untapped – where Agriculture contributes a significant share of GDP and provides employment to more than 50% of the work force – would not be affordable to the precious national exchequer.

In late nineties, in the draft guide to the policy makers of the developing countries, FAO observed that the time is ripe for policy-making bodies in developing countries to redefine the discipline of extension within a global context, so as to let the extension function, to be performed with excellence in line with the global challenges. Global emphasis on sustainable development, including rural and agricultural advancement, as well as the developments such as globalization, market liberalization, decentralization, privatization and democratization, are creating new requirements for the extension services in developing countries. For the farming community, the need for knowledge and its application keeps on evolving into new dimensions.

Neuchâtel Initiative (NI) in 1999 considered calling for a demand driven extension services to address the pluralistic requirements of the farming community worldwide. In the common framework of Pro-poor and Market oriented agricultural advisory services (MOASS) of Neuchâtel Group describes the clientele, as a predominant role player - rather than just a farmer - in the entire agricultural value chain. Early in this decade, Government of India adopted the agenda for the demand driven extension system in its Policy framework for agricultural extension. The multi-agency dispensation of extension service is regarded as more pragmatic than the conventional state and public sector controlled extension services. And come, Agriclinics & Agribusiness centers (AC&ABC) scheme – Over a paradigm shift in the global and national policy perspective – to provide the demand driven agricultural advisory services. Eventually, Agriclinics & Agribusiness centers shall have to be conceived as the component output of overhauling and transformation in the global approach towards agricultural extension and the concurrent national extension policy to meet the emerging challenges of globalization, rather than mere deployment of efforts to address a common unemployment issue. As a matter of fact, the unemployment/underemployment is a factorial indicator of the tail end deficiencies of the earlier non plural system of agricultural extension.

Agriclinics & Agribusiness centers are categorized under Small and Medium enterprises and the assistance mode is classified as priority sector - direct lending, and thus overriding my apprehensions of 1990s, for the consideration of soft loans and margin money assistance on par with other general practitioners. Passed is a decade and a half, since the need for demand driven advisory services have been felt by me as a service provider, It is high time the private players have been supported to identify their niche in the agricultural value chain.

This article shall accomplish its desired objectives by documenting the insights and a few of the well considered essentials to support and strengthen the functioning of the larger lot of agripreneurs and make them result oriented. There are many and a few are the following;

  • Allocation of extension programmes, from the national extension agenda, to be handled by the agriclinics and agribusiness centres on a regular basis to ensure level playing grounds.
  • Consideration to enhance the spread of nodal organizations for the benefit of agricultural graduates all over the nation.
  • Consideration to enhance the funding and training capabilities of the nodal organizations for a more effective and result oriented functioning.
  • Consideration for upgrading the nodal organizations with impressive track record of performances to a level of “knowledge centers” with adequate funding and support, to provide a extended hand holding facility to the agripreneurs without any time bar.
  • Consideration to enhance the upper limit of the term loan & credit assistance, with a increased subsidy and the relaxation of the ceiling for mandatory collateral security, so as to overcome the vagaries of inflation, and the demand & supply forces in the agricultural and rural credit system.
  • Considerations to increase the public investment and earmark funding on a regular basis to assist the agripreneurs on the course fees & travel expenses for seminars, workshops and exposure visits and purchase of online data, subscriptions and reference materials for upgrading their skill sets and improving the quality of services. Such assistance would help to reduce the cost of advisory services at the receiving end.
  • Initiative to form a national level professional network to represent agriclinics and agribusiness centers and deploy institutional and statutory requisites to form the long dreamt “Agricultural council” analogous in the status and dispensation of Bar council of India, Indian Medical council and the like.

This post is the modified version of my article published in “Agripreneur Info”- A Newsletter published by VAPS, a Agriclinics & Agribusiness training center

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