Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Obama and Indian Agriculture-Dr Prabhakarn

Obama and Indian Agriculture

Dr Prabhakarn

Indian farming has its own solution. The obstacles are not technical but political. What the US wants is its replacement with an ‘agribusiness’ model to suit its own markets.

The buzz has been growing as to what will be the topic of discussion between Manmohan Singh and Barack Obama. In my opinion Obama’s visit will have the most profound impact on our agriculture, if one were to go by the behind the scene activities the US has been busy with for almost four years with the connivance of our agricultural messiah. When George W Bush came calling, the nuclear deal hogged the limelight, and the agriculture related aspects didn’t make headlines. Is there something unsaid and unwritten that has been going on backstage for at least a few years since Singh went to the US and talked with Bush? I am referring to the Knowledge Initiatives in Agriculture (KIA), which might not have caught headlines, but which will be most vital to our survival as a food producing nation and for sure Obama will raise a strong pitch on this because India is a huge market for American farm products. Hillary Clinton has laid the foundation when she came calling a year ago. And this will be the best time to do that, with the falling dollar and rising rupee.

Several laws and policies related to seed, food and farming in India have in the past been made to either facilitate American entry in these sectors or forge so called US - India ‘partnership’ in agri R&D and trade. Agri exports are a big part of Obama’s economic recovery plan. His visit will be marked by decisions which will have far reaching implications for Indian agriculture.

It is here that the seeds of chemical agriculture, euphemistically called the ‘Green Revolution’, were sown, the ill effects of which are only now being fully unfolded. Out soils have turned barren, our vibrant and vast biodiversity almost vanished owing to the monoculture of rice-wheat, and our groundwater is polluted. And ever since, right up to the introduction of American company Monsanto’s infamous Bt brinjal, public sector agriculture research institutes are being used as base stations from which the American integrates spring board into the Indian landscape. In the process – fom seed, to tractors, to processing to retailing American companies such as Cargill, Walmart and Monsanto have got more than a foothold in India. Now that the green revolution has fallen on its face, our agriculture messiahs want an ‘evergreen revolution’ (read genetically modified crops). Where are all those more than 25,000 rare native rice germplasms, some very high-yielding, some highly fragrant and some with therapeutic values, nurtured and preserved by late Riccharia, then director of Central Rice Research Institute in Cuttack, Orissa, who refused to be tricked by the World Bank with a huge bribe to pat with this invaluable collection and was later hounded out of office? History will never forgive those involved in this treachery. While Riccharia paid with his life for his patriotism, the messiahs who connived with the Americans got away with American inspired ‘awards’ and accolades.

There is now clear evidence of the American imprint on India’s agriculture legislations. Some come in via the route of the US-led multilateral system, the World Trade Organisation. On Intellectual Property Right (IPR), the US took India to the dispute settlement body of the WTO for non-compliance of IPR obligations. Despite amendments to the Indian patent law. It is still not good enough for the UN-India Business Council and American Life Science Corporations. Bilateral trade relations also come with prescriptions for legal and policy changes.

American clone under consideration is India’s version of the Bayh-Dole Act – the Protection and Utilisation of Public Funded Intellectual Property Bill, 2008. This advocates IPR for agricultural scientists and research institutions. The most controversial draconian Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India Bill, 2010, is waiting to resurface in Parliament. All concerned Indians have raised strong objections to the provisions of this Bill. Minister of state for science and technology Prithviraj Chavan is openly supporting this Bill. The Bill seeks “single window clearance” for GM materials and unlike the earlier 1986 Environment Protection Act, where all the stakeholders can have a definite say, the new Bill will only have ‘advisory’ roles for the ministries. And if you voice your opposition openly to GM material, you could end up in jail, or pay the hefty fine, or both. This will easily facilitate the clearance of genetic engineering for application on our seed, feed, food and livestock.

During Bush’s visit in 2006, the US-India Knowledge Initiative in agriculture education, teaching research, service and commercial linkages was inked. It is run by a board including Monsanto and Walmart. In July 2009. Hillary Clinton visited the Indian Agricultural Research Institute in New Delhi, where she sounded her commitment to see through policy changes in our agriculture sector which are favourable to American firms. Her primary focus was the GM crops and food items.


Bill Gates, who backs agricultural biotechnology, visited India recently and made headlines by ‘adopting’ a village in Bihar. Soon, there was a report that the Borlaug Institute for South Asia is being set up in Bihar to unleash a second green revolution. Can’t we see a connection here?

As a run-up to the US-India strategic dialogue in June, top officials held a series of meetings, including one on agriculture. But India doesn’t need that level of interaction with the US. In agriculture, a diversity of local alternatives exist. The current food crises, despite the grains rotting in FCI godowns, shows that there is no shortage of foodgrain per se. There is no justification for new proprietary agricultural technologies to be brought in from the US.

There are several local initiatives that point to the way forward. For instance, dry land millet-based mixed farming practices organic farming with locally available farm waste, tree crop mixed farming agroforestry, livestock integrated farming, safeguarding uncultivated agro-biodiversity conserving our vast seed varieties, non pesticide management agriculture and the time-tested natural farming or rishi kheti Indian farming has its own solutions. The obstacles are not technical but political. What the US wants is its replacement with an ‘agribusiness’ model to suit its own markets. India does not need its food menu to be written by the US. And irrespective of what Obama’s speech writer pens down for his parliamentary address, any word on democracies will be meaningless if his visit leaves India as a less self-defining nation, which no longer chooses how and what it feeds its own. The link between arms and alms is not as distance as it may seem.

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