SKUAST-Kashmir: Racing with the Time
"This conservation of indigenous genetic material has not only bought profitability to farm sector but also being acknowledged at the international level."Special arrangement

SKUAST-Kashmir: Racing with the Time

Climate Change, agri-entrepreneurship, innovations, and doubling farmers’ income, this university is converting challenges into opportunities

KHYBER MAJID BHAT

Sitting in an alluring lawn dotted with tall conifers on its corners oozing pungent resinous threads, Mighty Chinar at the extreme ends with their shade spreading over the green floor, slanting soil beds with sheaths of lavenders, Santolina and rosemarries disseminating the aromatic scents around the area, charming colourful butterflies with their rhythmic tunes corresponding with the fresh natural winds coming out of the river Sindh and the sight overlooking the parts of Srinagar and Ganderbal - this heavenly setting, appearing as a beautiful dream is the campus of Faculty of Forestry, one of the seven multi location faculties of SKUAST-Kashmir.

But why discuss this virtual faculty campus tour on a topic related to challenges and opportunities of SKUAST – Kashmir? To answer this query, we must understand what challenges lie ahead of SKUAST- Kashmir and how it is progressing to transform these challenges into sustainable opportunities.

Origins, Establishment and Challenging environs

Without any prejudice to SKUAST- Jammu (The other agriculture university of J&K carved out in the year 1998-99) which equally conducts the mandated agricultural education, research and extension with zeal, working platform for SKUAST- Kashmir is highly onerous.

The reason is the geographical area over which it has a legal jurisdiction i.e. Mid-High temperate zone of Kashmir valley which has been badly affected with political turmoil and Cold Arid region of Ladakh, arguably the toughest terrain with harsh environs to work with.

Since its inception in 1982, SKUAST-Kashmir has been able to develop a niche in the agriculture production in the union territory. As per its annual report of 2017, SKUAST-Kashmir maintains more than 7000 accessions of crops, animal breeds and microbes across its different faculties and research stations; thus augmenting as the custodian of all local biodiversity in crop, animal and microbial genetic resources.

This conservation of indigenous genetic material has not only bought profitability to farm sector but also being acknowledged at the international level.

Notwithstanding, Climate change and its potential impact on the agricultural sustainability especially in vulnerable north-west Himalayan region, Scientists, spawned with a new challenge have been able to transform them into opportunities using technology driven interventions.

Some of the achievements include precision farming at harsh cold environs of Leh, cloning of Pashmina goat (native to high plateau of Ladakh), revival of mushkbudjii (Aromatic Kashmiri rice) landraces, artificial cultivation of Kuth (critically endangered important medicinal plant of Kashmir), technological intervention in implementing High Density Apple Plantations (HDP) across Kashmir valley, Digitization of forest resource inventory, recovery of critically endangered endemic fauna of Kashmir including Hangul etc.

These modern technological interventions intertwining with indigenous farming innovations are proving crucial for sustainable agricultural productivity.

In line with the Government of India’s vision

As per the 2017 report of ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare on fixed capital expenditure in farm business or FCEFB (synonymous with private investment in agriculture and allied activities), J&K has improved its private investment share from 7.62 percent (1981-82) to 9.69 percent (2013-14). This increase is along the same period of SKUAST-Kashmir’s establishment that coincidentally was also in 1981-82.

Notwithstanding, Department of Agriculture’s initiative, SKUAST-Kashmir’s role also cannot be ruled out. In its vision document on post harvesting market interventions (2015), Govt. of India envisages re-strengthening of extension services and recognizing agriculture as an agri-enterprise as two of the four immediate strategy platform to uplift the agriculture sector.

In case of former, SKUAST-Kashmir has improvised its mandated extension activities with prime example of Kissan Mela (An innovative approach of scientist-farmer- entrepreneur interactions launched in 2016), a focus area highlighted also by Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) vision document (2030) which gives highest priority to farmers, and entire strategy based on ‘farmer first’, while as in later, Institutional Development Plan (IDP), of NAHEP revolves around enhancing the educational relevance and quality, creation of conducive atmosphere for creation of next-gen agri-entrepreneurs.

In addition to these, SKUAST-Kashmir envisages (ICAR) 2025 Vision Document by Converging across Bio-Technology (BT), Nano-Technology (NT) and Information technology (IT) for technology advancement in Agriculture and Food sector.

Agricultural education policy vis-à-vis NEP (2020) Policy

Govt. of India’s endeavour of reforming the education sector, announced the introduction of new agricultural education policy too. It is the first of its kind project in India and aims at bringing academic credit banks and degree programs with entry-exit alternatives to Universities focused on crop sciences, fisheries, veterinary and dairy preparation etc.

A key reform including the entry-exit options opens the opportunity for students to devise their degree programme as per their requirement and convenience. Fortunately, because of its dynamic and flexible education system, SKUAST-Kashmir is already ahead in implementing the NEP (2020) education reforms.

Some of the reforms already existing in SKUAST-Kashmir include 4 year undergraduate degree programme, experiential learning programme (ELP), Student READY programme etc.

Role of IDP-SKUAST-Kashmir (NAHEP) education reform

Strengthening the national agricultural education system in India, SKUAST-Kashmir aims to provide more relevant and high quality education to its students, one of the key stake holders of SKUAST-Kashmir’s successful journey.

The programme “National Agricultural Higher Education Programme or NAHEP aspires to promote efficient and competitive working atmosphere through modern teaching and research standards, implemented by ICAR and funded by World Bank, this programme also seeks to enhance faculty competency and commitment levels.

As per the NAHEP (2021) report, organisation of online international training for faculties and students, establishment of discovery centre, development of computer labs, GIS and RS lab, Virtual classrooms, digital libraries are some of the initiatives successfully completed by SKUAST-Kashmir.

However, the key feature of the listed successful initiatives is the introduction and implementation of Academic & Examination Management System developed by SKUAST- Kashmir.

SKUAST-Kashmir: Made a Mark

Transforming the challenges of modern era into sustainable opportunities is a successful mantra of this university. Consider this;

1. Since the beginning of this year, SKUAST-Kashmir has conducted two international conferences on subjects that have impacted the global scenario, COVID-19 and Digital Agriculture

2. Under the IDP-NAHEP programme teachers and students of different subject matter faculties have been sent to various overseas training programme including the prestigious Kansas State University, USA recently flagged off by Hon’ble Lieutenant Governor Shri Manoj Sinha (Hon’ble Chancellor)

3.Improving the university ranking among national universities with 27th rank in 2017, 13th in 2018, 10th in 2019 and 6th in 2021. In addition to this SKUAST-Kashmir has also been placed in “Band Excellent” in Atal innovation ranking by Ministry of Higher Education.

The author is doing honors degree and is currently part of SKUAST-K students’ overseas training programme to State Kansas University, USA.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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