G Chandrashekar (right) and his colleague examine the crops during a field visit.
Among the various disciplines of agriculture, plant pathology is an important stream, as it pertains to diseases — its diagnosis, management, forecasting, forewarning, quarantine and genetic engineering, all of which can help enhance yield. This is beneficial not just to farmers, but also to the society at large. These biologists play a crucial role in “management of diseases through chemicals, agronomic practices, and biological control or by means of integrated diseases management,” says G Chandrasekhar, professor and head, department of plant pathology, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU), Coimbatore.
A plant pathologist’s job is not confined to research. “Monitoring pest and diseases in the state, giving necessary warnings for any outbreak of crop diseases, visiting the infected areas along with extension officials of agricultural department and studying the nature of damage, cause and suggesting suitable remedial measures to save crop and increase productivity are also undertaken by us,” says Chandrasekhar. As academicians, plant pathologists also work on getting funds for research activities. Further, they also impart training to agricultural extension officers and farmers.
Student of Chandrasekhar, J Edwin Rogbell, who works in the private sector as product development manager-fungicides and crop protection products at EI DuPont India. He obtained his PhD from TNAU. His job involves product characterisation of crop protection products. “Plant disease management ensures that crops are healthy enough to yield to their full genetic potential. On-field research involves screening of crop varieties that are tolerant to diseases, studying their association with the environment, field biology of fungicides, etc. In the lab, research involves study of pathogens and their environmental association at a molecular level, which helps to tailor the crop’s resistance and enhance their productivity,” he explains.
An adequate knowledge of plant pathology can only be gained through research and specialisation. “They also need knowledge on resistance breeding, seed pathology and post-harvest pathology. They should know the host-pathogen interaction, the conducive environment that causes disease outbreak and management strategies,” says Chandrasekhar.
Both researchers are of the opinion that with changing time, minor diseases are becoming major, plant pathogens are adapting to changing environments and causing significant disaster. It is important to stay updated on plant diseases and their management practices at a field level so as to serve the farming community. Also, there is no chemical control for viruses, which are difficult to identify due to their ultra-microscopic nature and frequent occurrence of new strains.
For students who want to pursue their MPhil and PhD, several scholarships like Junior and Senior Research Fellowships and RAS are available. They are paid a monthly stipend of Rs 12-25,000. Assistant professors and professors can earn from Rs 30,000-60,000 monthly, depending on their rank. Research associates at private firms can earn between Rs 3-4lakh per annum for a start.
Places to study
Rogbell recommends TNAU and other state agricultural universities like UAS (Karnataka), APAU (Andhra Pradesh), OUAT (Odisha) and IARI (Delhi). Students who want to take up plant pathology at the bachelor’s level have to complete biology at the higher secondary level, whereas master’s requires a bachelor’s in a related field. Fee is nominal in all state agricultural universities, with many offering scholarships to students ■