The gringo agri'culture' in India
Threat to the fundamentals of Indian Agriculture
14 March 2006
"The backdoor initiative is being directed by the top echelons of the Indian government and multinationals and private companies in the US"
Claims are made that the "evergreen revolution based upon sustainable, need based, demand-driven, market oriented agriculture towards increasing rural prosperity". This is not just questionable, but worldwide it has not proven to have benefited a small farmer and farming in general
Parliament and the council of ministers have been left completely in the dark even though India and the United States, at a meeting in February, have finalised an ambitious work plan for the India-US Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture, under which the Manmohan Singh government will spend Rs 350 crores in a phased manner over three years.
The US investment is yet to be determined, although this will come from private industry, which is the beneficiary of this agreement. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia are taking keen interest in the initiative that has well-known seed TNC, Monsanto, as well as the retailing monster, Wal-Mart on its board.
US ambassador to India David C. Mulford described this as the "most important" initiative after the civilian nuclear energy agreement as it gives the US long-desired access to India's vast agriculture resources. The work plan now allows the US to emerge as a directing force in the areas of human resources and institutional capacity, agri-processing and marketing, emerging technologies and natural resources management.
The initiative is being directed by the top echelons of the Indian government and multinationals and private companies in the US. The co-chairs for the record, however, are director-general of the Indian Council of Agriculture Research Mangala Rai and the administrator of the US department of agriculture's foreign agriculture services Ellen Terpstra.
It is being projected by both governments as the Initiative for an "Evergreen Revolution", although even the scant details available are agitating agricultural scientists who are worried about the impact on small and medium farmers in the long run. However, a detailed response from the experts had not emerged as the government has kept the details of the initiative a well-guarded secret.
The work plan finalised at the second board meeting has fleshed out details for the four broad areas of cooperation that were decided upon at the first meeting in Washington last December. Interestingly, while the initiative is being translated into direct action, there has not been a word from the government on this, except for the very general references made to it in the joint statement issued by the Prime Minister and US President George W. Bush during his visit here earlier this month.
The US intervention in the Indian agricultural sector will now range from education, curriculum development, research and development, intellectual property rights, bio-safety, food safety in the human resources and institutional capacity building area; to food processing, post harvest management, food marketing, cold chain/product handling, use of byproducts and biofuels in the agri-processing and marketing sector; to nanotechnology, nutraceuticals, vaccines, precision farming, bioinformatics in the emerging technologies area to water, soil management, climate change and air quality waste management in the natural resources management sector.
Four working groups were set up to give their inputs, which have resulted in a very detailed work plan with specific recommendations. Dr Suman Sahai of the Gene Campaign said that the initiative was being kept under wraps, but from the little information she had received it was clear that the US was using this to seek an "entry into genetically engineered foods."
She said that this had been the aim for a long while and there was now every danger that MNCs like Monsanto will use the "captive market" provided by India to develop its own technologies that they will then patent. "We have in that sense become producers of their technology under this initiative," Dr Sahai said. She said her own "fear and apprehension" is that India will face pressure on the patent laws and that "we will eventually see genes becoming patentable" as a precursor to patents on seeds as well.
The second board meeting held here on February 13-14 recorded its belief that the initiative will support the "evergreen revolution based upon sustainable, need based, demand-driven, market oriented agriculture towards increasing rural prosperity." Highly-placed sources in the government, when asked how it would impact on the poor farmer, said that overall prosperity would make their lives better as well. The board also acknowledged the importance of "robust market institutions, efficient, effective and relevant technologies and an enabling environment for investment in agri-business." The board resolved to meet again in Washington, although the dates have not been indicated.
This article appeared on Deccan Chronicle in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India on March 14 2006
A precursor to this article appeared on our news and analysis section "Indian Agriculture -under the shadow of the nuclear deal"