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  • Malkiat Singh Duhra

History of Agricultural Research and Education in India

After independence in 1947, there has been a substantial growth in the Indian Agricultural Research System. The Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) is the chief public body at the national level for directing and endorsing agricultural research and education in the country. Likewise, State Agricultural Universities are responsible for doing the same at the state level. After independence, agricultural research was given much emphasis which in turn led to the increased significantly agricultural production and India became self-sufficient in food grains. Agriculture, as the backbone of the Indian economy, plays the most crucial role in the socio-economic sphere of the country. Indian agriculture is a diverse and extensive sector involving a large number of stakeholders. It has been one of the remarkable success stories of the post-independence era through the association of Green Revolution technology. The Green Revolution contributed to the Indian economy by providing food self sufficiency and improved rural welfare. Moreover, since independence, India has observed a considerable increase in the production of oilseeds (through Yellow Revolution), fish (Blue Revolution), fruits and vegetables (Golden Revolution), milk (White Revolution), sugar and honey (Sweet Revolution).


India, as a predominantly agricultural country, attributes a major share of its overall development to the agricultural sector. Indian agriculture is a miscellaneous and extensive sector involving a large number of stakeholders. India has one of the largest and institutionally most complex agricultural research system in the world. However, such a complex research system was not a sudden development. It involved a process that started in the second half of 19th century during the colonial period and eventually led to the establishment of the Imperial (now Indian) Council of Agricultural Research (IARI). In the present research system, the role of ICAR at the national level in aiding, promoting and coordinating research and education activities across the country is of significant importance. The main events in the history of agricultural research in India can be grouped into the following categories:

  1. Establishment of agriculture departments and agriculture colleges.

  2. Establishment of the Imperial (Indian) Council of Agricultural Research.

  3. Initiation of Commodity Committees.

  4. Project for intensification of regional research on cotton, oilseeds and millets.

  5. Initiation of all-India coordinated crop improvement projects.

  6. Reorganization of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR).

  7. Development of Agricultural Universities.

Among these, the first three signify the development of agriculture in the colonial India, where as next four were prominent in the post-colonial era.

India has one of the largest and institutionally most complex agricultural research systems in the world. Historically, the Indian agricultural research system is the contribution of a process which started in the 19th century and which resulted in the establishment of the Imperial (Indian) Council of Agricultural Research on the recommendation of a Royal Commission of Agriculture in 1929. Since then there has been an evolution of agricultural research in India. Imperial Council of Agricultural Research established in July 16, 1929 worked on lac, jute, sugarcane, tobacco, oilseeds, spices, and cashew-nut.

Agricultural Research in Colonial India and After Independence:

The early development of agricultural research in India was associated with the occurrence of famines. The occurrence of famines and starvation deaths of people in different parts of India in the second half of the 19th century opened the eyes of the imperial rulers. During this period, 24 famines, big and small, had an estimated toll of more than 28 million people. However at that time, little precedence was accorded to agricultural research and development in the country.

Establishment of Agriculture Departments and Agriculture Colleges:

A fundamental Department of Agriculture in India was established in the year 1871, as Department of Revenue, Agriculture and Commerce with the help of Lord Mayo (4th Viceroy) and A O Hume (in the civil service Bengal). The Department was established to supply cotton to textile industries of Manchester and to feed the famine ravished India. Actually, the inherent desire of the colonial rulers was to develop agriculture to the economic necessities of the British Capitalism. This prevented the independent development of the Indian agriculture, fulfilling the economic requirement of the Indian people.

Indian Agriculture Research Institute (IARI) was established at Pusa (Bihar) in the year 1905. Lord Curzon Viceroy of India concentrated on agriculture during the severe famine of 1899-1900. Indian Agriculture Research Institute took major initiative in integrated pest management, varietal improvement, and integrated soil-water nutrient management practices. To promote agriculture, some colleges of agriculture were established in different parts of India.

  1. Agriculture College Saidapet Chennai was established in 1868 and later relocated to Coimbatore during 1906.

  2. College of Agriculture at Pune 1907.

  3. College of Agriculture at Kanpur, Sabour, Nagpur, and Lyallpur between 1901-1905.

The chief function of agriculture colleges was teaching and training, but research activities could not be carried out due to a lack of scientific and technical manpower and finance.

The greater emphasis given to agricultural research could be established by the fact that the system guided by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research has 49 ICAR Institutions, 17 National Research Centres, 6 Bureaus, 25 Projects Directorates, 79 All India Coordinated Research Projects (AICRPs)and the All India Network Projects (AINPs), 607 Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVK), 52 State Agricultural Universities, 1 Central Agricultural university, 4 Central Universities having faculty of agriculture, National Academy of Agricultural Research Management, 23 traditional Universities are carrying out agricultural research, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and Bhaba Atomic Research Centre (BARC), Government Departments such as the Department of Science and Technology and the Department of Biotechnology, Private and Voluntary Organizations, Scientific Societies and Institutions like National Dairy Department Board which has been instrumental in transforming the dairy industry for rural development.

Agricultural Universities in India:

In India, agricultural universities are mostly public universities that are engaged in teaching, research, and extension in agriculture and related disciplines. Many of these universities are a member of a registered society, the Indian Agricultural Universities association. The Indian Council of Agricultural Research is the main regulatory authority of agricultural education in India, while the disciplines of Veterinary Medicine and Forestry are regulated by the Veterinary Council of India and India Council of Forestry Research and Education respectively. State Agricultural Universities are the predominant class of agricultural universities in India. An Agricultural University is usually established by an act of state legislature with a dedicated mandate of teaching, research, and extension in agriculture and related disciplines.

History of State Agricultural Universities:

After independence, one of the greatest changes before India was agriculture and rural development. This necessitated the availability of trained Human Resources in these areas. The first Education Commission of India in 1949 headed by Dr. Sarvepali Radhakrishnan, who recommended setting up rural universities in India on the American Land-grant model. In 1950s, the Indian Parliament was already setting up specialized Engineering Universities - Indian Institute of Technology - as Institutes of National Importance. However, the Parliament had limited mandate in establishing such specialized institutions for agricultural education, despite the urgent need, as the constitution of India has conferred the power to make laws in subjects of agriculture exclusively in the domain of the states.

The first state agricultural university of India, G B Pant University Agriculture and Technology, was established in Pantnagar (UP now in Uttarakhand). The task of mentoring the proposed university in UP was assigned to the University of Illinois, which signed a contract in 1959. It was inaugurated by the first Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru on November 17, 1960. The model of establishing Pantnagar University paved the way for establishing state government supported dedicated universities for agricultural education i.e State Agricultural Universities in India. Punjab Agriculture University, Ludhiana was established in 1962 on the pattern of the Land-grant system. It was formally inaugurated by Jawaharlal Nehru, Prime Minister of India in 1963. There are 4 constituent colleges of PAU namely College of Agriculture, College of Agricultural Engineering & Technology, College of Home Science, and College of Basic Sciences and Humanities. Punjab Agriculture University pioneered the Green Revolution in India in 1960s. It was bifurcated in 2005 with the formation of Guru Angad Dev Veterinary and Animal Sciences University (GADVASU). Orissa University of Agriculture and Technology, Bhubaneswer was also established in 1962. There are 54 State Agricultural Universities in India. A contract was signed between Government of India, the Technical Cooperation Mission and a few United States Land-grant universities (Ohio State university, University Tennessee, Kansa State University, the University of Illinois) to promote agricultural education in India.

State Agricultural Universities are characterized by their triple mandate of teaching, research, and extension. Since the initial State Agricultural Universities were established with technical cooperation from United States Land-grant universities, their academic programmes are strongly influenced by the American system and present a departure from the academic system prevailing in other general universities in India. The undergraduate degree programmes of State Agricultural Universities are of minimum 4 years duration. Since their inception, State Agricultural Universities followed a trimester or a semester system with credit- based, continuous evaluation on a 5 point or 10 point GPA scale. This is different from general universities, which usually follow yearly term and percentage based end-session evaluation.

Deemed Universities:

There are 7 Agricultural Universities under the deemed university category and a further proposal to establish 6 more deemed universities for agriculture in the 12th five-year plan. Most of the deemed universities are sponsored by the ICAR and have small academic programmes as compared to State agricultural universities a few of these universities, like Allahabad Agricultural Institute and Indian Agricultural Research Institute, have contributed significantly to research in agricultural science.

Central Agricultural Universities:

The Central Agricultural University at Impal, Manipur was incorporated by the Act of Parliament (no. 4 of 1992) and caters to many states in Northeast India. So far it is the only Central Agricultural University. There are proposals and demands to establish more Central Agricultural Universities. Some of the older State Agricultural Universities like Pantnagar University and Punjab Agricultural University Ludhiana are demanding to be converted into central universities.

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