Thursday, December 9, 2010

US promises not so (ever) green revolution

Mr Obama’s stupendous Indian visit during Diwali had caught the limelight of the whole world for almost a month. But here, the issue is: what does US President Barack Obama's visit connote for agriculture in India? US President expressed that US and India can accelerate cooperation in agriculture and it is the US to learn lessons from India in irrigation systems and low-cost farm machinery. He also interacted through video conferencing with a group of farmers and villagers of Kanpura village of Ajmer in Rajasthan, at the agriculture and food security expo organized by CII. Mr Obama appreciated ICAR, the apex public organization looking after the affairs of agriculture in the country and its work for the farming community.

The Obama regime has maintained continuity with the preceding Bush regime in the basic thrust of USA’s relations with India in agriculture. And keeping this in mind well in advance of the Obama visit, a meeting of the “U.S.-India Agriculture Dialogue Steering Committee” took place in New Delhi with high level experts from both the sides. The Committee reportedly met to identify areas of cooperation for working groups on “Strategic Cooperation” in agriculture and food security; food processing; farm-to-market linkages and agricultural extension; and crop and weather forecasting. The present set of negotiations are only aimed at operationalising the India-US MOU for Cooperation in Agriculture and Food Security, which was signed shrouded in the veil of secrecy well in advance of the Obama visit.

It is only to take forward the vision that brought into existence the India-US Knowledge Initiatives in Agriculture (KIA). But have such initiatives ever led to anything worthwhile? We have already witnessed the debacle of KIA, which had come to an end on 31 March 2010, and all set to get a three-year extension as the Agriculture Ministry had taken up the issue with the US authorities after the five-year-old initiative ended in March. This is despite the Parliament Standing Committee on Agriculture asking the Agriculture Ministry to review the implementation and achievements of the initiative. Very little came out of that agreement and President Obama is likely to re-energise the Indo-US Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture. Since the agreement is facing un-surmountable hurdles because of the inability of the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) to pay for staff travels and technologies being imported, it is likely that the U.S. would push through more collaboration in agricultural scientific research through the US-India Strategic Dialogue.

The joint statement from the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Us President Obama suggests that the agenda is far-reaching and open-ended. The collaboration will, it is claimed,

(i) develop, test, and replicate transformative technologies to extend food security as part of an Evergreen Revolution,

(ii) be in the areas of weather and crop forecasting system, improvement in the food processing and crop productivity, and optimum uses of natural resources like water and

(iii) enhance the agricultural value chain and strengthen market institutions to reduce post-harvest crop losses.

While collaboration in farm research will pave the way for the entry of US agribusiness multinationals, especially companies like Monsanto and Du Pont, the thrust of the US talks is going to be an opening of the food retail and insurance sector. A few weeks back, President Obama had expressed hope that India would allow FDI in big retail. Agriculture Minister, Sharad Pawar, too, has been pushing for FDI in a big way and Ministry for Commerce had even set up a small committee to prepare the ground for its entry.

But if the supermarkets were so efficient and provided dynamism, then why is the US providing a massive subsidy for agriculture? After all, the world’s biggest retail giant Wal-Mart is based in America and it should have helped American farmers to become economically viable. But it did not happen. American farmers have instead been bailed out by the government, providing a subsidy of Rs. 12.50 lakh crore between 1995 and 2009, and this includes direct income support. India is, therefore, importing a failed economic model, which would only help the economic recovery of America, and not serve any cause of the beleaguered Indian farmers and the agricultural situation.

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