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Institutionalization of Agricultural Education in India

Rajesh Kumari

Research Scholar

Zakir Husain Centre for Educational Studies (ZHCES)

Jawaharlal Nehru University

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                                  At the head of all sciences and arts,

                                  At the head of all civilizations and progress,

                                  Stand not militarism, the science that kills,

                                  Not commerce, the art that accumulates;

                                   But agriculture, the mother of all industries,

                                  And the maintainer of human life.[1]


This paper will deal with the historical emergence  of the agricultural education in India. The study is limited to the education commissions and reports. Furthermore, this study concerns the inceptions and factors leading to the development of the agricultural university in India. This entails exploring the process of domestication and naturalisation of land-grant model in very diverse and vast country like India, where the political, social and economic and geographical conditions are very different from those of the United State of America from where the land-grant model of the agricultural university was adopted.

Before 1947 India was a colony of the British Empire with an economy was driven by agriculture. Both the agricultural and industrial sectors were lagging behind those of the developed world. The colonial government during the initial decades did not pay the attention towards the development and transformation of agriculture on scientific lines. But later on, it realized the need to do so in order to secure the permanent and regular revenue from agriculture

Furthermore, famines and droughts caused loss of revenue. The colonial government appointed the famine commissions of in 1864, 1884 and 1901. These commissions recommended the improvement of agriculture along scientific lines to satisfy the needs of the colonial subjects. Famine Commission of 1880 recommended the agricultural conference for the improvement of agricultural conferences which held between 1888 and 1896. The commission opined that ‘no general advance in the agricultural system could be expected until the rural population had been so educated as to enable them to take a practical interest in agricultural progress and reform.[2]

Nineteenth century witnessed the emergence of scientific experiments in agriculture on a global scale. Every European country set up experimental stations to increase agricultural productivity. In 1876 The United States of America took a formidable step in the formation of Agriculture College through the Morrill Act of 1876 which resulted in an exemplary institution of agriculture. Simultaneously, in India too there was an attempt in the field of agricultural education, the first agricultural school was set up in Saidapat. This was the infancy of agricultural education on modern lines. The agricultural university itself would develop over several decades.

Agricultural Education in the Nineteenth Century

This period saw the consolidation of the British rule in India, especially with the failure of the war of 1857. The British rule in our country was based on their superiority with respect to science and technology, and it was important for the British to maintain this superiority if they were to continue to be our rulers. Yet, given such a large country as India to govern, the British realised that it was important to have a cadre of well-trained Indians in all areas including science and technology.[3]

After the first intellectual revolution the Renaissance in Europe, beginning in the 14th century and gaining momentum with Leonardo da Vinci in the 15th century basic science, propelled by a conscious realization and use of the scientific method which had been by this time codified first by Roger Bacon and then by Francis Bacon, progressed by leaps and bounds in the West. And, after the Industrial Revolution (1750-1850), the Western countries began to reap the fruits of industrialisation, which made use of the basic discoveries of that time in science.[4] None of these discoveries made its appearance in India until the nineteenth century.

Colonisation had brought forth a massive cultural collision which influenced profoundly the cognitive and material existence of both the colonizer and colonized.[5]This encounter was initially disturbing, even agonising. The most important character of the nineteenth century on the Indian thinking was an emphasis on cultural synthesis. The idea of cultural synthesis gave them the best of both worlds. First it enabled them to absorb cultural shock and secondly gave a possible opportunity to transcend the barriers imposed by colonialism.[6]

From the point of view of technical education, India is probably the most interesting colonies. Colonized earlier than others territories, India went through its colonial evolution sooner. The case of India shows more clearly than any other the dual nature of technical education: as a response to a demand for technically trained people and as a means of developing the economy in the future. In a colonial setting, education responded to economic and political pressures from both the colonizers and the colonized.[7]

At the middle of the nineteenth century scientific education made its entrance in India. This century was basically was the opening of the several technical and engineering colleges. A number of institutions that were established at Roorkee (1847), Calcutta (1856), Poona (1854) and Madras (1859) represented an innovation in the history of British technical education.[8]

Agriculture education had to wait the development of scientific agriculture. Until then the father was the best teacher of the son in an agricultural community. Scientific agriculture presupposed an adequate understanding of plant growth, its dependence on soil, its content and its structure, water management, seed selection, disease affecting plants and methods of controlling them and so on.[9] In the beginning of the eighteenth century Stephen Hales (1677- 1761) did some fundamental work on the functional activity of plants such as their water intake by the roots and their discharge by the leaves, a process now known as ‘transpiration’. He realised the importance of air in plant metabolism. Liebig’s (1802-73) demonstrated the importance of chemical fertilisers and was in no small measure responsible for the fertilisers industry which very soon rivalled the natural supply of Chilean saltpetre as source of soil nitrogen.[10] Therefore these kinds of developments left no doubt about the development of agriculture education in the school curriculum.

The British rulers of India in the early nineteenth century were from the landed aristocracy and were interested in agriculture. Marquis of Hastings was one of them. Agricultural education made its humble beginning in India, during the colonial rule. If John Mack was the teacher in chemistry, William Carey was the first teacher in agricultural science, botany and forestry. His biographer wrote;” The youth whose gardener uncle would have had him followed that calling became a scientific observer from the day he landed at Calcutta, an agricultural reformer from the year he first built a wooden farm house in the jungle.”

Carey made his observation about the prevailing primitive conditions of agriculture in the country. He noticed the poor soil management, the extreme poverty of the people, wretched farming equipment’s, the primitive irrigation methods (he called them watering with the foot), and the modes of ploughing and reaping, all contributing to a low per yield.[11] Therefore Carey realised the need of agricultural science for the improvement of agriculture.

The first educational aspect of agricultural science received a direct impetus through the establishment of the Agri-Horticultural Society in 1820 by the guiding spirit of Carey. The society also opened its branch in different parts of India, mainly at Cuttack, Bhagalpur, Lucknow, and Delhi, Lahore.[12] These societies popularised and encouraged the gardeners and distributed the seeds and plants and helped to promote the better and improved agricultural implements. Later in the later half- nineteenth century, when agriculture made or become the subject in the schools, society became the guiding froe for these schools.

The Beginnings of Science Education and the Emergence of Agricultural Education as a Separate Field

Science education and agricultural education are related but distinct domains of knowledge. Agriculture education seeks to impart scientific education among the students of agriculture. There were three main aspects of this study to this distinction. Firstly it is about the demarcation between the science education and agricultural education and the emergence of agricultural education as a separate educational discipline keeping in mind the needs of vocational and professional education. Then there is the idea of a establishing an institution of higher agricultural institution. Institution making is a prolonged and complex business with its own ethos and discipline. Here different actors play a pivotal role in making the institution that engages with issues of administration, political will, and needs to be rationalised in terms of the needs of the citizenry. Agricultural institutions were designed to serve the actual tillers of the land and provide the benefits of modern science to the farmers.

TRhe history of the development of basic sciences with application to the agriculture is fairly old: Botany, Zoology, Chemistry, Physics and other sciences have been taught in the colleges of liberal arts and science for many years. Engineering education too in India dates back to the nineteenth century. One of the early engineering Colleges to secure such recognition was the Bengal Engineering College which was affiliated to the University of Calcutta in 1857.[13]

Prior to coming the present existence of agricultural university had gone through the several stages of transformation. Earlier agriculture education was the inherent part of the technical schools and then to technical college and later in the end of the century it developed to the full- fledged agricultural college. First agriculture class was opened at the Barasat School instructions on the field and lessons on the practice of agriculture,[14] in the early phase agriculture education nearly attached to the secondary schools only. Even government thought that these measures had already met the ends of technical education, and further courses were unnecessary. Even government resolution of September 1886, also showed the some sign of seriousness about the agricultural education. More or less agriculture education made its ground for the modern and scientific and technical education in the schools at first and later to establishments of separate colleges for the agricultural colleges.

Agricultural School of Saidapat, Madras, initially it was school but later in 1878, tuned into College and offered the three year diploma course in agriculture. there were others which also offered the agricultural classes, like Poona College of Science, opened the separate agricultural department in 1879, it was because of the famine of 1877 which again the focused attention on the agricultural development through the scientific methods. Government Agricultural College, Kanpur, was established in 1893, but in 1915 college offered a Licentiate in agriculture and a full-fledged B.Sc., degree in agriculture in 1921, and a post-graduate degree from 1941 (S.1991). Other colleges who also offered the agricultural education on scientific lines were, Baroda College, introduced an agricultural branch to provide collegiate education in agriculture, College of Agriculture, Nagpur, also offered the agriculture education.[15] Zaheer Baber argues that research of Indian botany and agriculture was designed to serve better the interests of the metropolitan botanists and contribute to the reproduction of the colonial rule.[16]

Between 1898 and 1905, possibly as a consequence of the 1890 Voelcker report that was very favourable to Indian agriculture, agricultural research and education received special recognition by the Crown and the Imperial Agricultural Research Institute was set up in Pusa, in Bihar, in 1905. The institute moved to Delhi in 1934 and is now known as the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI.[17]

Recommendations of the Education Commissions; Agricultural Education in pre-independence India


Before 1948 agricultural or general education was primarily the responsibility of the colonial government. The government took some steps for the improvement of Indian agriculture, and appointed the A. Volcker to undertake an extensive study of Indian agriculture and made recommendations for its improvement agriculture was hitherto incorporated in technical colleges and there were some colleges established specifically for the agriculture. But Volcker had suggested that the incorporation of agriculture as the subject of technical education. And Volcker noted that Indian agriculture varied and one single technique was not sufficient at the all India level. He raised issue of language, the books prescribed for the colleges were in English and translated into different native languages but there was lack of proper understanding of specific topics.[18]

In 1928 a Royal Commission on Agriculture in India was appointed to study agriculture and rural life. It made an exhaustive report on research, marketing, financial credit and rural welfare. One of its main recommendations was that a research institution should be established. The Education Commission (1948) concluded that however efficient an organization might be built up for demonstration and propaganda unless it was based on solid foundations provided by research, it was merely a house built on sand.[19] As a result of this recommendation, the Imperial Council of Agricultural Research was incorporated, established in 1929. However, the Council of Agricultural Research had grown and expanded its work


Agricultural Education after Independence

India became independent in 1947; at this period Indian agriculture was very backward and not able to meet the basic food requirements of its population. Per acre productivity of major crops was below average level. Therefore import of agricultural technology was need of the hour. Nehru said that ‘everything can wait but not agriculture.[20] Therefore agriculture acquired an important place in the five-year planning process. And the first five year plan emphasized the development of the agricultural sector.

The first mention of the agricultural university is in the education commission report of 1948, where the commission found it essential for the upliftment and betterment of rural people and which could serve the rural people explicitly. Its report contains no mention of the value of a land grant type university in modernizing India’s agriculture and contributing to agricultural production. Nor is there any direct reference to integration of agricultural instruction, research, and extension as a cardinal organization principle of a rural university.[21]

The Kothari Commission on the Higher education in 1964 deals with agricultural education in a separate chapter which is entitled “Education for Agriculture”. This indicates the seriousness of the commission and emphasis on agriculture. The commission also suggested that government should make a difference between the agricultural department’s extension work and agricultural universities’ extension. The commission suggested the establishment of Agricultural University in each state of the country.

The education commission reiterated the lack of coordination between the state agriculture departments and extension station. The commission also paid attention to the delineation of the functions and responsibilities between agricultural universities and the State Departments of agriculture. In so doing it hoped to promote agricultural research and boost the rural economy.

American assistance for the Indian Agricultural University could be traced back to the agreement of PL480 where it had agreed to provide food assistance. But food assistance and HYV seeds were not considered the final solution to the problem. Therefore question of technology transfer was raised. On the pretext of providing HYVs the US government provided new technology for increasing food production and to build local research capabilities for improving agricultural productivity.[22] The government of India took the opportunity to benefit from well-developed institutions of America. As a result the government bilaterally  established the first Joint Indo-American Team for the extensive review of existing national level agricultural colleges. The Team gave some major recommendations for the improvement and co-operation in agricultural research, education, and extension in the country. Subsequently, the Second Joint Indo-American Team was constituted for the further reorganization and integration of agricultural research and education at the national and regional levels.

J.I.A.T (Joint Indo American Team) highlighted several pitfalls in the existing services: “in a country whose economy predominately is based upon agriculture, those individuals trained in agriculture are excluded from the Indian Administrative Services. This appears to be due in part to the inadequate breadth of training in the colleges of agriculture. It does not appear sound to perpetuate a system which excludes trained agriculturists from posts of responsibility in administering the many Government activities that must necessarily involve agriculture in a country such as India.” The recommendation of the Joint-Indo American teams at observed in the Second Session of the Indian Council of Agricultural Education was that “in the vast country like India five postgraduate institutions for agriculture as recommended by the Joint Indo-American Team are rather inadequate. The number of such institutions to be developed in the field of agriculture should be definitely more than five. In the field of Veterinary science five institutions as recommended by the team will suffice for the present.[23]

 The Agricultural Administration Committee report asserted that ‘there is a clear necessity for establishing major research stations for serving the needs of each agro-climatic region and tract having a particular type of soil and climate. This will mean the establishment of research facilities at least 50 major research stations, equipped and staffed for undertaking research work in all branches of agricultural improvement.’’ Committee further suggested that at least one of these Regional Stations should develop into a first-rate Post-Graduate Teaching centre and this centre must maintain close contact with the farmers and their organizations and should develop a tripartite organization for research, education of students and extension or education of those who cannot attend college.[24] Even the Second Session of the Indian Council of Agricultural Education mentioned this in item no.8in 1956: “rural universities should be started in suitable areas where there is a possibility of developing an existing agricultural college into a university by the introduction of studies in various allied branches likely to benefit life in rural areas.[25]

All these above mentioned reports on agricultural education recognized that agriculture education and research would be central concern and accorded priority to the establishment of an Agricultural University. The Education commissions assumed that students of agriculture education would solely remain within the field of agriculture.[26] But they ignored the emerging craze for jobs in government departments and the private sector where agriculture remained the secondary priority. Alice argues that members of the agricultural education commissions looked for adaptable models from outside India, though this was done rather uncritically. This was done in the hope of catching up with the developed and developing countries. The graduates from these specialized universities would pursue very professional and specialized careers in such fields as agronomy, animal breeding, plant genetics, and parasitological, as well as in such “new” professions for India as agricultural engineering, nutrition, administration of agricultural services. Graduates and postgraduates from agricultural colleges and universities were not expected to return to their farms.

Agricultural Universities in India; an Overview

Prior to the establishment of the agricultural university the work of research and extension was undertaken by the Agricultural department of the State government and central government. The activities of education, research and extension were pursued separately and there was little coordination among these activities. The extension worker was in charge of supplying and disbursing pure seeds, fertilizers green manure.[27] Most of the scientists were burdened with  administrative rather than agricultural research and education. On the contrary, the Madras College of Agriculture differed from the departments for as a university its charter was to integrate education, research, and extension.

The idea of developing rural universities, inspired by Gandhi’s idea of basic education gave a fresh impulse to change.[28] The idea of the rural university metamorphosed into the Agricultural University in India in a double move to reach out to the population of rural India and to modernise agriculture on scientific lines. The rural university was to strive constantly to increase the number of useful occupations which in outlook, skill spirit of service would raise the status of the agricultural profession.[29]

The object of the agricultural university is “to bring the results of science to the cultivators”.[30] If the knowledge garnered by scientists who work under conditions meteorological, social and economic that were widely different from those obtaining in India a good deal of intensive and extensive research will have to supplement class-teaching and field work and the agricultural University. The vision of the agricultural university factors in this process of naturalisation.[31] There are three phases of the U.S Government’s technical assistance to Indian Agricultural university education: a modest ad hoc beginning in1952, the Agricultural Education and Research Project 1955-61 and the subsequent Agricultural University Development Project from 1961 to the present.[32]

A special feature of the Agricultural University as envisaged in the USA included a common campus of for colleges of agriculture, veterinary science, basic sciences and home science and engineering. There would be several common facilities such as laboratories, libraries gymnasium, and hospital etc. These shared facilities would result in closer contact between agricultural and veterinary men and between them and the engineer, the home scientist, the chemist, the physicist and so on. The unfortunate tendency to look down on the agricultural worker and others will be largely removed if all come from the same campus rather than scattered colleges with no contact with one another. Stevenson has described that the “setting up of the university in the rural area will do much to improve the student-teacher relationship which is so fundamental to good teaching and discipline. These small colleges will provide a greater specialization and more elasticity in curricula”.[33]  Stevenson has also reiterated the issue of validation of the export of an American model: “we are trying to superimpose an American Institution on Indian soil and that conditions in India differ so vastly from those prevalent in the U.S.A that any institution based on a foreign model will not succeed.

The contribution of agricultural research to this earliest sustained concern for rural development was shaped by the conception of the research station’s role in relation to the food grain cultivator. The prior development of agricultural research had been largely focused on crops that were important to the imperial powers: cotton, tea, rubber, jute and the like. Consequently, the research stations were both pioneers and technical leaders in the cultivation of these crops. Moreover, as these high-value cash crops were taxed to pay for the budget of the research stations some growers had come to have a voice in agricultural research policy.

The first Agricultural University of India was set up with the assistance of United State of America in 1960, in U.P, the Uttar Pradesh Agricultural University, later renamed in honour of its Chief Minister G. B. Pant.(Govind Ballabh Pant Agricultural University). Later other states also followed the process of making the agricultural institutions, in present time almost of the states have their own institution, which are imparting the higher education for agriculture.


[1] Report of the Agricultural Administrative Committee, by Ministry of Food and Agriculture (Department of Agriculture) Government of India, 1954,p.1.

[2] Sen, S.N (1981), Scientific and Technical Education in India, Indian Science Academy, New Delhi, p.468.

[3] Bhargava, Pushpa Mitra and Chakarbarti, Chandana, (2003), The Saga of Indian Science Since Independence, University Press, New Delhi pp.8-9.

[4] Ibid.,8-9.

[5] Sarkar, Suvobarata,(2010), “Technical Content and Colonial Content; Situating Technical Knowledge in Nineteenth Century Bengal”, Social Scientist, Vol 1/2, (Jan-Feb.,2010), pp.37-38.

[6] Ibid.,37-52.

[7] Ibid.,

[8] Ibid, for detail, see Sen, S. N, (1991), Scientific and Technical Education in India;1781-1900, see chapter 7, Technical and Agricultural Education, Indian National Science Academy, New Delhi, pp.281-300. Kumar, Deepak, (1995), Science and the Raj, Oxford University Press, New Delhi.

[9] Sen, (1991), p, 66-67.

[10] Ibid,

[11]Ibid , p.157.

[12] Ibid, p.158.

[13] Report of the Joint-Indo American Team,p.29.

[14] Sen, (1991),p.300-301.

[15] Ibid., p-448-452.

[16] Baber, Zaheer, (1996), The Science Empire; Scientific Knowledge, Civilization and Colonial Rule in India, State University Press, Albany, p.174.

[17] Bhargava, Pushpa, Mitra and Chakrabarti, Chandana, (2003), The Saga of Indian Science Since Independence, Universities Press, India, p., 27-28.

[18] Volecker, J.A (1898), Report on the Improvement of India Agriculture.

[19] Stevenson, K.A.P and Mehta, Y.R (1960), A New University; the U.P Agricultural University, Book Hills House Nainital, p.156.

[20] Bhatia, B.M (1988), Indian Agriculture; A Policy Perspective, Sage Publication, New Delhi, p.19.

[21] Kathleen, M Prop. (1968), The Establishment of Agricultural Universities In India; A Case Study of the Role of USAID-U.S Technical Assistance, University Of IIinois College of Agriculture Special Publication 15, Urbana, IIIinois,p.20.

[22] Abrol, Dinesh, (1983), American Involvement in the Indian Agricultural Research, Social Scientist, Vol.11, No.10, (Oct.1983), pp.8-26.p.10.

[23] The Proceedings of the Second Session of the Indian Council of Agricultural Education, held at Lucknow, from the 20th to 22nd  August 1956, issued by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, New Delhi, 1957, pp.5.  the council also paid attention to the need for strengthening post- graduation education in India (both agricultural and Veterinary science). The council strongly recommended the formation of an agricultural society which would exclusively overlook agriculture in the broadest sense.

[24] Ibid.,p 5.

[25] The Proceedings of the Second Session of the Indian Council of Agricultural Education, held at Lucknow, from 20-22 August 1956, issued by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, New Delhi, 1957, p.13.

[26] Alice Stone IIchman,(1969),  Agricultural Education in Indian Development, Asian Survey, Vol.9. No.10, A Symposium on Higher Education in India’s Asian Drama (Oct., 1969).p.,756.

[27] Inaugural Speech Delivered by Shri Ajit Prasad Jain, Minister for Food and Agriculture, Government of India, the Proceeding of the Third Session of Indian Agricultural Education , held at Banglore, form 23rd to 30th August 1958, ICAR, New Delhi, 1958, p.210.

[28] Report of the Education Commission (Dec 1948-Aug 1949), Vol.1, Ministry of Education Government of India, 1962,p.501.

[29] Ibid,.p.501.

[30] Stevenson,(1958), proceedings of the Third Session of the Council of Agricultural Education held at Bangalore, form 23rd to 30th August , 1958,.p .1

[31] Ibid., p.1

[32] Prop (1968), p.5.

[33] Stevenson (1958), p.146-147.


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 A Method of Assessing Progress of Agricultural Universities in India, Joint Indo- American Study Team Report, part 1, Indian Council of Agricultural Research , New Delhi,April,1970.

Report /Royal Commission on Agriculture, Report, 1928, Printed by the Government Central Press.

Report of Study Team on Agriculture Administration, ( August 1967), Administrative Reforms Commission, New Delhi.

Report of the Education Commission (1964-66), Manager of Publications, 1966, Delhi.

Allice Stone IIchmen, Agricultural Education in Indian Development, Asian Survey, Vol.9, No.10, A Symposium on Higher Education in India’s Asian Drama, (Oct., 1969).

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Bhargava, Pushpa Mitra and Chakrabarti, Chandana (2003), The Saga of Indian Science Since Independence, University Press, New Delhi.

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