What!” she was half-expecting her parents to exclaim, “After so many years of study, you are going to be a farmer!” Lovely Balasaria, a research scholar in agricultural chemistry and soil science at Calcutta University, was worried that when she zeroed in on agriculture as her chosen subject of study, she would face resistance from her parents. But fortunately, she says, smiling, “there was no such objection”.
Balasaria’s initial apprehensiveness was not completely baseless since, as one of her professors points out, “even today, many people think that a career in agriculture means going off to the fields with a bullock cart in tow”. But according to experts, agriculture has been slowly gaining ground as a lucrative career option.
Explains Dr Dibyendu Sen, formerly a director at one of West Bengal’s most prestigious agricultural universities, Bidhan Chandra Krishi Vishwavidyalaya (BCKV), “The first real boost that agricultural studies got in independent India was from the government in 1952.” That year, the Community Development Programme (CDP) was instituted with the aim of extending financial and other support to agricultural bases all over the country.
Sudipta Tripathi, farm manager at Calcutta University’s agricultural experimental farms in Baruipur, West Bengal, explains why the demand for agriculture graduates immediately shot up: “The post of the agriculture development officer (ADO), whose responsibility was to oversee the development of agriculture in the area of his jurisdiction, was created, with each block across the country hiring one person. And unlike the block development officer (BDO) who could be from any stream or discipline, the prerequisite for applying for the post of ADO was a degree in agriculture.”
But since then, job opportunities in agriculture have gone up exponentially. Says Dr Sen, “The signing of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) treaty and the liberalisation of the Indian economy have created unheard of possibilities as far as employment opportunities are concerned.”
How' He explains, “Earlier, agriculture in India was subsistence-oriented. That is, it was considered to be an endeavour for meeting the basic requirements of food ' grains, pulses, vegetables, etc ' and other essential commodities ' oil, milk, etc. But after liberalisation, agriculture has become commercialised, no longer serving only to cater to the domestic market. It has now delved into areas of export, which is a big, profit-making industry.”
And not just grains and vegetables. The growing global demand for fruits and flowers has also resulted in the demand for experts in agricultural disciplines such as floriculture and horticulture. At the same time, the export potential of agriculture is seeing a great deal of money being pumped into scientific and technological research into such fields as bio-technology or micro-biology and genetic engineering of seeds and saplings.
While traditionally, the government has been the largest employer, today, big companies such as ITC and Reliance Industries are also hiring people with backgrounds in agriculture. Says K.T. Prasad, vice president, human resources, ITC, “In the last four years, we have hired 500 to 600 persons from the agriculture sector, including those with BSc and MSc degrees in agriculture.”
I ITC, agricultural graduates join as field staffers. If you have an MSc under your belt you can be hired as a hub in charge whose job is to look after the warehouses and man the hubs of the company’s agri-businesses. As a hub in charge, you would also be responsible for building a relationship with farmers and providing them with information, knowledge and expertise on various aspects of farming. With an MSc degree in agriculture you can expect to get a starting salary of about Rs 2,30,000 per annum in a company like ITC.
Banks that finance agricultural business ventures also absorb a large number of agriculture graduates every year. “It is very important for us to attract agriculture students because, simply put, we need them,” says Ganesh Taute, chief general manager, National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD).
Specialists in demand
NABARD hires specialists to look after specific departments such as fisheries, forestry, horticulture, plantation and soil science, and offers a monthly starting salary of Rs 20,000, with perks. Taute reveals that NABARD also has provisions to sanction securities-free, low-interest loans of a minimum of Rs 5 lakh to agriculture degree holders who opt for the organisation’s agri-business centre and agri-clinic schemes. These are self-employment schemes available only to agriculture graduates who want to set up businesses to provide services to farmers, such as helping them choose the right seeds and saplings and providing them knowledge and guidance on soil, fertilisation and so on.
There are other opportunities in agriculture as well. As Dr Dipak Kumar Bagchi, vice chancellor, BCKV, points out, “Agriculture has a wide range of applications even in areas such as information technology.” For instance, in space research and space technology, gathering information about resources like land and water is done through a Geographic Information System (GIS), which is an agricultural principle.
So now that you know how profitable a career in agriculture can be, where do you go to study' A bachelors degree course of three to four years’ duration is offered at all the agricultural universities in the country. In West Bengal three universities are dedicated to the study of agriculture ' the BCKV in Kalyani, Uttar Banga Krishi Vishwavidyalaya in Cooch Behar and the Agriculture College under Visva-Bharati in Santiniketan. Calcutta University’s Science College in Ballygunge also has a department of agriculture which offers postgraduate and research programmes and is now planning to introduce an undergraduate degree course as well.
The minimum eligibility for admission to a BSc in agriculture is a pass in the higher secondary or equivalent examination with science or agriculture as a subject. Most universities demand a minimum 50 per cent aggregate in the Plus Two or equivalent examination.