Building Innovators

Education in agriculture needs to undergo shifts from a production mindset to a market-oriented mindset. Academics and industry linkages need to be deepened and strengthened. Academics and startups need to be in constant dialogue and collaborate to bring positive changes in the lives of Indian farmers. The FPO movement in India also needs strong support from the agricultural education system. Entire curriculums needs to be made contemporary given the tectonic shifts taking place in the sector.

I will detail out some of the fundamental traits and characteristics which youth must have before they step into the work place. Agricultural universities and colleges need to impart these skills irrespective of the courses being taken by their students:

Thinking Abilities:

I don’t know if Critical Thinking as a subject is taught in agriculture and allied sector colleges. This is an area where there is vast amount of good quality literature available to build curriculums.

In general

Critical thinking is not just memorizing or gathering information and knowledge. It is making logical and creative connections to build upon these inputs to reach conclusions on any issue or problem that seizes the mind.

While reading

Reading a document and also thinking about every word or sentence therein is important. I have found first-hand that some near-geniuses are pretty slow readers, especially when it comes to stuff which are science/math/logic heavy. The reason is that they digest and think about every word they read and debate within their own minds about the subject matter. They ponder upon what the writer intends to say, whether there are biases in assumptions, whether the writer has considered contrary arguments, whether they agree with it, does it make sense etc.

While listening

This involves deep and active engagement and focus on the speaker. It involves asking open-minded questions to gain insight by separating facts from assumptions, and arriving at one’s own conclusions on the subject.

First Principles Thinking

This was pioneered by Aristotle over 2000 years ago. He defined a first principle as “the first basis from which a thing is known”. It is synonymous with Elon Musk today. This requires breaking down everything you are trying to understand down to the basic fundamentals. All super achievers have a mastery over the basics. You may need to go only a few levels deeper than most others to get the benefits out of this type of thinking process. This can be taught in agricultural universities and colleges.

Decision Making – Financial and Otherwise

When we were growing up, the world was pretty simple. Choices were limited. Today the youth and kids are bombarded with a huge plethora of choices. Academics tend to fall short for children in this area. Young students in agricultural colleges and universities need to be trained to use a basic version of decision tree analysis. This is essential to figure out decisions they need to take on their own for everything relating to their day-to-day routines and major ones like choice of education and career etc. Learning financial skills early as a subset of Decision Making is very important for youngsters. Lack of understanding budgets, financials and a spendthrift attitude may result in accumulation of unwarranted debt and financial burden in their future besides not building a basic skill of entrepreneurship. Not everyone can be a Warren Buffett who purchased his first stock at 11 and first plot of land (40 acres) when he was 15. Buffet did all kinds of odd jobs as a kid including that of selling soda crowns, newspaper delivery etc. There is a lot to learn from lives of such people.

Creating Problem Solving Generations through Agri Education

I found the Written Analysis and Communication course taught at IIM Ahmedabad useful, given its structured approach at situational analysis, problem definition, setting of objectives, criteria for evaluation of alternatives, generation of alternatives, decision on an alternative keeping in mind the objective and the criteria and a contingency plan in case the selected plan of action doesn’t work out. This is something which must be taught to youngsters in colleges with case studies of problem situations they are likely to be interested to analyze and solve. The Kepner Tregoe method (KT-method) is a good problem analysis model for problem solving which was developed in the 60s. We were trained to use it in our jobs when I joined the corporate sector. The corporate sector also taught us stuff like Eliyahu Goldratts Theory of Constraints when we were into our mid-20s. I am sure these frameworks can be all used in the context of colleges too. Methodologies for problem solving should become a compulsory part of the agriculture and allied sector education curriculum.

Creation of a tinkering culture in India

When I was young, I saw an interesting pattern in villages. Say a farmer was getting a bullock cart or plough or any other equipment made or repaired by the village carpenter or craftsman. During this time, the farmer would work as the assistant of the craftsman. Both the farmer and the craftsman would have a debate around what was the best solution to solve the problem at hand. The same was the case when the farmer need some work to be done by the tractor mechanic, the electrician and so on. The electrician would turn up on the farm to fix things with the electric motor or wiring, which the farmer wasn’t able to fix himself. The farmer would ask all these people questions as to what was the problem and how they intended to fix it. He would assist all these people in their work. The farmers have respect for those who work with their hands because they do the same. I found the curiosity of these simple rural folk highly admirable.

 In our transition from rural societies to living in urban areas, we seem to have lost this curiosity for the work done by the working classes who provide technical services to the middle classes and above. In the western world when the parents fix things around the house, the children observe. In many cases the children assist their parents in this task, which enables learning and thinking. In the West, those in the middle class or above tend to have workshops at home. While the parent indulges in largely technical work, the children are allowed to assist and learn. In one of his interviews to the media, Jeff Bezos credits being resourceful and solving problems to the work that he did with his grandfather on his ranch in Texas. Bezos has mentioned about his grandfather being wise and resourceful enough to do most of the work on the ranch by himself. Bill Gates and Paul Allen spent time tinkering after school hours in their school lab. That resulted in Microsoft Corporation.

We need to bring this – the Western style tinkering culture – into our agricultural education. We also need to borrow from our own rural culture, which has engagement of our farmers with service providers. The agriculture education system needs have direct hands-on engagement with real world farmers so as to produce entrepreneurs, inventors and tinkerers from its students.


Both oral and written communication is an extremely critical and important skill. Collges must make special efforts to ensure that all their students are comfortable in speaking before small audiences and also in written communication. I find the younger lot a little challenged in terms of oral as well as written communication despite the plethora of tools at their disposal today. We were dependent on Wren & Martin for our art of crafting sentences that made grammatical sense. This area needs focused attention by colleges and universities.

Source Page No. 40 & 41-…/magazine-mar-2021.pdf

Published by Sunil Khairnar

I have been working in the agribusiness, commodities and development sector in India for more than 27 years. I have a B. Tech in Agriculture Engineering and a Management Post Graduation from IIM Ahmedabad.