Ludhiana: President Pranab Mukherjee on Tuesday lamented that India, once the cradle of civilization, is now the poorest in terms of education, literacy and knowledge. Describing lack of literacy as the biggest challenge facing the country, Mukherjee said the largest number of illiterates in the world resided in India.

He was speaking after laying the foundation stone of an auditorium at the Sat Paul School here. The President, in his interaction with a few students of the school, exhorted them to love the institution and respect the teachers if they wanted to make it big in life.

Listing the hurdles in the way of India’s growth, he said the largest numbers of illiterates in the world reside in India.

The country, which was once considered the cradle of civilization, is now the poorest in terms of education, literacy and knowledge, he said. "We had some of the centres of excellence such as Takshila and Nalanda where people from all over the world came. We have to achieve them again", Mukherjee said.

The President underlined the importance of knowledge economy and said the country was doing some catching up through the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and Right to Education.

"We are trying to catch up through Sarv Shiksha Abhiyan and Right To Education as these are probably the fundamentals through which we can build the educational system of the country," he said.

He noted that "today every economic and social thinker believes that knowledge is going to be the most important instrument and ingredient of building up the new economic order.

"Therefore, we have to build up informed, knowledgeable, rational citizens and that can be done only through such schools of excellence", Mukherjee said.

Mukherjee also used the occasion to drive home the importance of teachers and the significance of teacher-student ratio.

"Teacher-student ratio is not mere a mechanical ratio. It is the very essence of a country’s education system. The personal attention a teacher gives to a student makes all the difference", he said, introducing himself as a "teacher" to the students.

Mukherjee recalled that "I started my life as a teacher and as they say, once teacher, always a teacher".  "If you want to succeed in love, you should also love your institution and respect your teacher. That way you can achieve anything", he told the students, adding he entered politics accidentally as he hailed from a political family.

President Mukherjee said that agriculture sector in India is a crucial lifeline of the people. Although the food production of India has increased from 50 million tonnes in 1960s to 257.44 million tonnes in 2011-12, yet the economic viability of farm sector is still a challenge, he said.

"There are so many regions in our country where heart-rending tragedy regularly hits subsistence farmers, and small farmers remain susceptible to failure, risk and desperation," he remarked.

The Indian farmer urgently needs financial, technological, infrastructural, transportation and other requirements for a sustainable approach to the increased productivity, the President said.

There is hardly any value addition at the farm level and 98 percent of farm produce is sold as it is harvested, he said, while adding "due to tropical/sub-tropical conditions, more than 25 percent of production is lost during harvest and post-harvest operations."

Mukherjee emphasised, "we need to re-think on agriculture in India. Equally important is the necessity for collaboration between the state and Central governments on monitoring and appraisal of the schemes."

Stressing that the innovation of new varieties, technologies and methods for post-harvest process should be prioritised, Mukherjee said that the percentage of agriculture GDP, spent on research, must be increased in XIIth Five Year Plan.

Director General of International Rice Research Institute, Philippines; Dr R A Zeigler, said that the PAU has served very well in the past five decades, but the problems and challenges in farm sector for coming fifty years can be addressed only through research.

Calling upon the PAU to produce next generation of scientists, he underlined the need for developing policies and programmes that can pave way for the global food security.

Thomas Lumpkin, Director General, International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT), Mexico; said that currently the biggest challenge is producing more food with less land and less water.

"The first green revolution has been in wheat and rice, but presently, the green revolution is going on in maize," said Lumpkin, adding that India is lagging behind in maize cultivation.


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