[NEW DELHI] Agriculture research continued to get a back seat in India with the country’s budget allocation for the scientific sectors seeing an 18 per cent overall hike that favours the strategic sectors of atomic energy, defence and space.
While India’s finance minister Pranab Mukherjee announced two billion Indian rupees (US$ 39.8 million) "to incentivise agricultural research" in his 2012-13 budget speech on 16 March, the hike was a mere 7.6 per cent over 2011-12.
Meagre crop research spending, at a time when the country is grappling with suicides by farmers due to heavy crop losses and mounting debts, contrasts with new allocations for a mission to Mars and a 51 per cent hike for space research.
The three strategic departments of atomic energy, defence and space together cornered about half the total outlay of Rs 402 billion (US$ eight billion) for science. Taken together, research in agriculture, health, atomic energy, defence, earth sciences, environment and forests, new and renewable energy and space saw a hike of 18 per cent.
The ministry of earth sciences got Rs 16.68 billion (US$ 332,718,621) — a jump of 36 per cent over last year.
Allocations for the ministry of science and technology — comprising the three departments of science and technology, biotechnology and scientific and industrial research — hovered around nine per cent, with no major programmes announced.
Mukherjee set the tone when he observed that in 2011-12 India's economic "performance has been disappointing" and had slowed down compared to previous years, but said the country had turned the corner.
Thirumalachari Ramasami, secretary in the department of science and technology, told SciDev.Net that, given the country's overall economic slowdown, "we understand" the modest outlay and “are comfortable with the roughly 10 per cent hike".
M.S. Swaminathan, a former director general of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) who ushered in the country’s 'Green Revolution' with the introduction of high-yielding dwarf wheat varieties, noted that crop research did get a small hike.
But, Swaminathan said, ICAR needed to introspect why its scientists were not able to bid for strong funding with attractive projects.
He told SciDev.Net that ICAR should think of ways to make its research programmes relevant to pressing problems in the farm sector. Also, it should consider delivering new varieties and technologies that could help reduce crop losses, he observed.