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From Field to Fork: Obama’s agribusiness recipe for India

US corporate officials explain the "benefits" (to US agri companies) of American agricultural exports, seeds and technology to their Indian counterparts

By Rahul Goswami, Sanhati

November 20, 2010

The government of the USA has planned for India to become an important consumer of its agricultural exports and crop science. India has also been planned as a host country for an agricultural research agenda directed by American crop-seed biotech corporations.

This is to be achieved through a variety of programmes in India, some of which began their preparation two years ago. This agenda, labelled as US-India cooperation by India’s current UPA-2 government and by the USA’s current Barack Obama administration, has the support of the American farm sector, but not that of India’s farmers and cultivators. The clear and blunt objective is to increase US agricultural exports and to widen as quickly as possible the trade surplus of the US agricultural sector.

This agenda has become clear following the three business and industry meetings held during the visit of US President Barack Obama-’US-India Business and Entrepreneurship Summit’ in Mumbai on 6 November, ‘India-US: An Agenda for Co-Creation’ with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) in New Delhi on 8 November, and ‘US-India Conclave: Partnership for Innovation, Imperative for Growth and Employment in both Economies’ with the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) in New Delhi on 9 November.

The US agri-business view has been projected in India by the US-India Business Council, a business advocacy group representing American companies investing in India together with Indian companies, with a shared aim to deepen trade and strengthen commercial ties.

In a document titled ‘Partners in Prosperity -Business Leading the Way’ (November 2010), the business council stated: “India requires an ‘Ever-Green Revolution’-a new program which would engage the country’s rural sector, providing water utilization and crop management ‘best practices’ to promote greater food security-this time based on technology to increase efficiency and productivity. The effort to vitalize India’s agriculture sector should be driven by business, and the first step is improving India’s farm-to-market global supply chain.” …………

Finally, there is the idea of the ‘Evergreen Revolution’ being promoted by both sides, India’s Ministry of Agriculture and the ICAR-led research and agri education system, and the US Department of Agriculture in concert with the US State Department and American agri business. Also called ‘’second Green Revolution” by India’s agriculture sector planners, such labelling has ignored entirely the social and genetic violence to India’s agrarian settlements which has only increased post-Liberalisation.

At a meeting in Bhubaneswar, Orissa, held to discuss the central government’s ”Green Revolution in Eastern India” programme, a concluding declaration was made by farmers, activists and scientists from more than ten Indian states. ”Food and livelihood security of the poor is subverted by the decision imposed by the Union Government on the peoples of the six Eastern Indian states to push for the new phase of Green Revolution with a thrust on hybrid seeds technology,” said the declaration. ”We question the rationale of the government in bringing in this Green Revolution and strongly believe that techno-centric production models adopted so far do not address real food, nutrition and livelihood security.”

It is not food, nutrition and livelihood security which are the concerns of the India-US Agriculture Dialogue. This ‘dialogue’ is controlled and directed by the US government’s new National Export Initiative. ”We are pursuing a new trade strategy which looks at nations based on the nature of their marketplace,” stated Tom Vilsack, US Secretary of Agriculture, on 2 September 2010 (he was part of the Obama mission to India). ”These efforts mean that agriculture is one of the only major sectors of the economy with a trade surplus, which we expect to be worth US$30.5 billion this year. Overall, our agricultural exports should be worth US$107.5 billion in fiscal year 2010-up from US$96 billion in 2009-and we expect them to rise again in 2011. More importantly, this progress should create good jobs for Americans: USDA studies show that every billion dollars in agricultural exports supports over 8,000 jobs and generates an additional US$1.4 billion in economic activity.”

According to a September 2010 ”Report to The President on the National Export Initiative’ by the US Secretary of Commerce, Gary Locke (he was also part of the Obama mission to India), the NEI has five components. Three of these apply directly to the new American agriculture hard sell to India: (1) ”We will improve advocacy and trade promotion efforts on behalf of US exporters, so trade missions can introduce the world to American products and advocacy centres can help US exporters pursue opportunities”; (2) ”We will reinforce our efforts to remove barriers to trade, so as many markets as possible are open to our products”; (3) ”We will enforce our trade rules, to make sure our trade partners live up to their obligations”.

A month after Vilsack’s statement on the importance of agriculture sector exports to the US economy, Dr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission of India, asked the vice-chancellors of agricultural universities to adopt ”innovative approaches” to strengthen agricultural research and education in India. Ahluwalia said India’s agricultural universities ”can play an important role in this direction by providing research based projects with the help of industry” and suggested ”a new mechanism to fund research projects instead of funding universities”.

Ahluwalia is reported to have urged the scientists working in agricultural research institutes to ”re-orient themselves in next Twelfth Five Year Plan amid the challenges of food security and climate change” and-typically for Indian planning today-referred to the gap in agricultural growth rate and land productivity of China and India, neglecting entirely the chronic depletion of soils and widespread degradation of agro-ecological systems in China which have suffered from high chemical input industrial farming.

”America helped bring about a Green Revolution,” said President Obama to the media in New Delhi after a meeting at Hyderabad House. ”The aim is to turn that into an Evergreen Revolution.” A weather forecasting tie-up is being described as the ‘’showpiece of the collaboration” which is expected to ”predict India’s increasingly erratic monsoon”.

This tie-up was finalised in July 2010, when Planning Commission member Dr. K Kasturirangan (who headed Indian Space Research Organisation) and secretary in the Department of Earth Sciences, Shailesh Nayak, visited the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. The Indian government’s justification for the weather and crop forecasting tie-up is that it combines both oceanographic and atmospheric sciences. From the information now available, crop scientists in the ICAR network and earth scientists at ISRO will be able to use the forecasting model. The US administration says this will help predict sudden breaks in the monsoon cycle. But it will also enable district-level predictions of crop sowing, harvesting and movement to a degree not seen before in the sub-continent.

This information will first be used by the US Department of Agriculture and the US Department of Commerce to determine agri business and trade responses. By then, under the ‘Agriculture Dialogue’ plan, there will be enough collaboration at farm level, in the grain markets and in the retail chain to employ such granular information to the benefit of American food exporters and traders. The risk to India’s food security-quite contrary to the pious statements made by both sides during the Obama visit-has never been greater.

Rahul Goswami is an agriculture systems researcher based in Goa. He worked for two years with the National Agricultural Innovation Project, Government of India. He is a member of the Indian Society of Agricultural Economics, and Associate, Centre for Communication and Development Studies, Pune.

For full article, go to: http://sanhati.com/articles/2970/