Ruchika M. Khanna, Tribune News Service
Chandigarh, November 26. Fifty years and still going strong. Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) continues to be at the forefront of revolutionising agriculture in north India. Having acted as torchbearer while bringing about a green revolution in the country, the university continues to strive for increased food production and sustainable agriculture.
Punjab as food bowl
It is mainly because of the pioneering work done by PAU scientists that Punjab and Haryana have emerged as the food bowl of the country. Punjab alone contributes 70 per cent of the total wheat and rice produced in the country despite having just 1.55 per cent of the total land in the country. In 1966 before PAU was given the mandate to improve food production in the country and help the nation become food surplus, the country was importing 10.3 million tonnes of foodgrain to feed its teeming millions (the population was 49 crore then).
Today, the country is not just self-sufficient in foodgrain production, but is also exporting a huge quantity of wheat and rice. This has been possible mainly because of the improved hybrid varieties of crops and production and protection technologies developed by PAU and then disseminated further to farmers not just in the state, but across the country.
PAU has also contributed in a major way for promoting mechanisation of farm operations, promoting dairy farming, poultry and vegetable and fruit production.
707 crop varieties
Since its inception in 1962, PAU has developed 707 improved varieties of different crops. Of this, 117 varieties have been released at the national level. Over the past 50 years, the university’s research and development in agriculture has not diminished. In fact, scientists here have continued to develop better seed and improved agriculture practices.
Dr Allah Rang, head, department of Plant Breeding, claimed that two recent varieties of rice developed by the university — PR 121 and PR 122 (both having 10 per cent higher yield than any other variety) — were set to get a good response from farmers once they were released later this year. “The recently developed varieties of wheat, PBW 621 and HD 2967 (both resistant to yellow rust), have also been received well by farmers in the region,” he said.
PAU Vice Chancellor Dr B S Dhillon said the major task before him was to ensure that the university continued to strive for excellence in research. “As we celebrate the golden jubilee of PAU, we cannot be sitting on past laurels. Looking ahead, PAU’s objective will be the sustainable improvement of foodgrain production, which will help conserve natural resources.
We are now focusing on research through integration of biotechnology with crop production. Instead of looking at merely creating progressive farmers and farm scientists, the university will be looking at developing entrepreneurship in agro processing and development of bio energies,” he said.
Need for more budget
However, for the University to move ahead with its new mandate for research and development, it requires huge funds at its disposal. But with 90 per cent of its total budget being consumed by salaries and pensions, the university has little funds at its disposal for conducting research.
Though the state government has increased the planned and non-planned budget of the university from Rs 103 crore in 2011-12 to Rs 190 crore in this fiscal, the increased budget will be consumed mainly for salaries and to foot the pension bills of the university staff.
Though a special grant of Rs 100 crore was given to the university by the Union Government in 2006, it was utilised mainly for day-to-day expenses. The university will continue to look at the funds trickling from various ministries and Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) to conduct its research projects.
Dr G S Khush, an internationally acclaimed rice breeder and alumni of the university, said PAU will continue to play an important role in future for developing more technologies for increasing food production, training scientists and entrepreneurs for agro processing so that the industry can be developed in a major way in Punjab. “After promoting agriculture, PAU now needs to promote agro industry so that employment avenues can be generated,” he said.