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More from less works well at TNAU
In 2011, the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) was ranked 17th in the university sweepstakes. In each of the last two years it has been ranked No. 1! Fantastic, isn’t it?

Did you know that the venerated TNAU had its origin as an agriculture school in 1868 from where it  has grown to be among the foremost centres for high science and technical education in agriculture and allied activities? Well, in the last academic year, 1270 of its students graduated in B Sc Agriculture and B Tech streams. Another 720 passed out as postgraduates and 180 obtained their doctorates.  Impressive numbers indeed, by any standards. The generously funded university has an annual budget of Rs 420 crore.

Vice Chancellor Dr K Ramasamy, under whose tenure TNAU has made rapid strides, explained the wide ranging initiatives that helped Tamil Nadu record handsome increases in production despite adverse climatic conditions.  “For 30 years rice production in the state was hovering between 72 lakh and 79 lakh tonnes. In the past three years it has recorded continuous increases – 103 lakh tonnes, 112 lakh tonnes and 128 lakh tonnes respectively,” he said. A good part of that comes from a rich combination of science, technology and adroit extension work.

“We selected the varieties that performed well and gave a big push for taking it to the farm. For instance, we took the Co51 rice variety to Tiruvarur district and multiplied the seeds. We provided the seeds to farmers. This new variety helped double rice production in Tiruvarur district. We activated the university seed production system and multiplied it in partnership with farmers and ensured availability,” said Ramasamy.

“A lot of research went into developing seeds suitable for different regions. During the last two years, several districts were declared drought- affected. TNAU scanned available technology and found that one pink-pigmented bacterium delayed the maturity of the crop. This meant the plant could resist 20 days of drought. Because of this, we could save 200,000 acres of rice in the delta districts. Delayed onset of monsoon, thus, did not impact production,” added Ramasamy with satisfaction.


Attention to millets…

The second important intervention related to millets. Ramasamy’s stature as a member of the Tamil Nadu Planning Commission and his close liaison with the Department of Agriculture helped in getting the needed policy for millets. The Chief Minister appreciated the importance of this. The result is indeed spectacular: from the earlier production of less than 9 lakh tonnes, millet production has shot up to 19 lakh tonnes. The familiar varieties of varagu, pani varagu, saamai, thinai, and kambu, neglected for long, are commanding attention for their nutritional value.

The Vice Chancellor pointed to another beneficial intervention by the state that provides milch animals free to farmers. TNAU provides special seed material for raising green fodder. This has helped the state register handsome increases in milk production.


Simple tools, implements…

IE has been pointing to the dearth of male labour in villages and the need for farm mechanisation. Ramasamy talked about the efforts of TNAU to design and produce small tractors and implements suitable for these: “we have introduced simple seed drills for direct seeding,” he said.

Tamil Nadu has been undergoing a horticulture revolution. The state has made rapid strides in banana and mango. Producers’ organisations have been formed to access technology and best practices, as also to get market information that helps profitable marketing. A chemical developed by TNAU delays the ripening of mango, banana and other fruits and is found to be extremely beneficial for exports. Such attention is extended to flowers and vegetables.


Recourse to technology

TNAU has taken recourse to information, communication and telecom technology and uses these effectively to reach farmers. A wealth  of information is provided on weather and prices in various markets. The university provides a one point source to respond to queries and to provide solutions. Around 380,000 farmers are informed through SMS and video messages. 700,000 pages of information on agriculture are available in the TNAU website. These have 720 video clippings.  The innovative “Crop Doctor” helps the farmer get clarifications  on crop breeding/nurturing/protection through his cell phone.

A measure of the nationwide reputation of TNAU should be evident from 137 of its students getting Central assistance on the basis of their performance. Again, TNAU secured 137 out of 320 seats offered by the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR). The reform in the curriculum also permits easy mobility: “from this year students can go from TNAU to any university within India for pursuing subjects of his choice. We can also send our faculty abroad for training and the cost will be borne by ICAR,” said Ramasamy.

More from less seems to work well for TNAU. The focus on productivity, taking recourse science, technology, extension and management seem to have received the needed attention.

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