How Agriculture Skills Council of India (ASCI) is coping the COVID-19 crisis


Agriculture is one of the crucial sectors that can become a catalyst to revive the country’s economy and to put it back on its track. It is the opportune time that we focus on the agriculture and allied sectors to transform and improve the livelihood of the farmers and to provide new opportunities for the migrants who have been forced to return to their native home states due to the pandemic.

In this Skill Talk, Anupam Sarkar, Head- Research, Agriculture Skills Council of India (ASCI), talks about the proactive steps taken by ASCI and about their emphasis on entrepreneurship development in the rural areas. Read on to know more.

Q: What are some of the crucial steps taken by the Agriculture Skills Council of India (ASCI) to ensure skilling initiatives undertaken by various partners are not badly affected during the present crisis?

A: We, at the Agriculture Skills Council of India, have taken initiatives on several fronts. First, we are working on digitising the online assessment, Training of Trainers, and content. This is very important as not only can we reach out to the remotest of areas with minimum overheads, train the learners individually but also as the focus is more on blended learning, i.e., theoretical and practical learning through online classes.

Second, is that we are working with several state governments to support reskilling and upskilling of the reverse migrant workers who returned to their homes from urban centres. The economy has got badly affected due to the COVID-19 crisis both in the urban and rural areas. Our focus is on improving employability and entrepreneurship development among the migrants and rural workforce.

How Agriculture Skills Council of India (ASCI) is coping the COVID-19 crisisWe have identified region-specific and district-specific sectors that have the potential for growth and employment generation keeping in mind the cropping patterns, weather, raw materials, infrastructure, resource availability, etc. for conducting Short-Term Training from one to three months. Mapping the requirement of skilled labour in different sectors and sub-sectors, based on the region will assist in undertaking Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) for the migrant labourers who already possess the skills and need to be upskilled/oriented to the current trends in agriculture.

Third, we are holding regular meetings with our Training Partners from different states and regions to create awareness about what are the agricultural job roles and sectors that will become central in the near future.

Q: Agriculture is one of the crucial sectors to revive the economy. What steps are being taken from a skill development perspective?

A: Nearly half of the workforce in India is directly/ indirectly engaged in agriculture or allied agriculture activities. For the regeneration of the economy, rural job markets need to be strengthened. For this, the agriculture and food value chain will play a critical role. Not only that, but the agriculture sector also plays a very important part of rural industrialisation. Skill development in agriculture is critical, as it raises the productivity and income of the farmers. A rise in farm profitability will lead to the revival of rural demand which will feed into the growth of secondary and tertiary sectors.

Most farmers in our country are skilled in the traditional way, majorly through the hereditary transfer of knowledge, as a result, they have little or no exposure to formal, scientifically planned and developed skill courses in agriculture.

To raise productivity, farming income, and entrepreneurship development, skill development is crucial. Once it becomes evident that ‘returns on investment’ are positive, skill development will attract youth to this sector. Skill development is not just to provide the necessary skills but also hand-holding support, incubation for budding entrepreneurs, etc.

The aim is also to ensure that the movement towards the ‘glitter’ on urban centres is arrested and the youth remain anchored to their traditional vocation while contributing towards the development of the sector.

Q: With the focus being laid on local products through the “Vocal for Local” campaign by the Prime Minister, how is it going to improve the livelihoods of people dependent on agriculture and allied activities?

The “Vocal for Local” campaign will assist to revitalise the local economy and job creation, particularly with the available resources in the region, improve output quality, create the branding of local products, and provide opportunities for bigger markets and higher sales realisation.

A: This will receive a big push with the recent focus on the creation of infrastructure at the farm gate and aggregation points. There is immense potential in horticulture and high-value crops, organic farming, fisheries, beekeeping, and animal husbandry. Our focus is to design training programs and capacity building of the farmers based on the competitive advantage and resource endowments of the region.

In order to increase India’s presence in the global market and improve our export potential of agriculture goods, we will also need to maintain strict quality standards and hygiene norms. For this, farmers need access to more information and the latest technology. ASCI has created skill qualifications to address the issue of the use of new technology and devices.

Q: As a Sector Skill Council, how are you coping with the COVID-19 crisis and preparing for the future, let’s say in terms of new QP-NOS, job roles, entrepreneurship support, etc.?

A: Our Prime Minister has given a clarion call for self-reliant India. Keeping his message in vision, our focus is on improving productivity, empowerment of farmers, and fostering entrepreneurship through skill training. We have a component of soft skills and entrepreneurship modules embedded in all our QPs. Post-COVID-19, there will be more focus on digital skilling, life skills, new age skilling, etc.

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Q: Is technology going to be a leveler in the coming months for Agriculture and allied skilling, if yes, how?

A: Agriculture and livestock have witnessed a wide range of smart technology applications that are coming up at a rapid pace. Mobile-based applications, mechanisation, applications of remote sensing, data science, cloud computing, internet of things have brought a revolution in farm management practices, deployment of drones for data capture, mapping and delivery of fertilisers and their spray/application and use of Artificial Intelligence tools will further enhance the production and assist in risk management.

We see digital technology playing an important role in skill development and education. In rural areas, we have experienced faster digital connectivity. Many start-ups have come up are using digital platforms to find innovative solutions for farmer’s problems. However, we still have a long way to go. We are working for the capacity building of the farmers to avail benefits from digital technology.

Particularly, our focus is on small and marginal farmers, local entrepreneurs, women, self-help groups, and Farmer Producer Organisations. Digital skilling will make self- learning and access to knowledge a lot easier. It can break the physical barriers and make skilling/ learning a personalised experience. Thus, skilling in agriculture is going to be highly impacted by digital technology.

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