The US and India are back at it again. This time around, it is not the spectre of a looming famine in Bihar that is expected to kill thousands through starvation but global hunger and malnutrition, for which India and USA will collaborate to provide leadership in agriculture to raise crop yields.
Never mind that India has record buffer stocks of food grains right now and still more people sleep hungry in India than ever before and that India ranks 66th on the Global Hunger Index for 88 countries.
Never mind that intensive agriculture models led to more farmers killing themselves than the projected numbers of starvation before the Green Revolution was ushered in or that Punjab for example, the seat of the Green Revolution in India, is reeling under a severe environmental health crisis quite closely connected to agricultural technologies deployed in the name of increasing yields.
The first time around, they said that they were trying to get away from the ship to mouth existence that is being imposed by the Americans on us through PL 480 food aid programmes — and whose help did they take to get away from the American intrusions? The Americans themselves!
It is interesting to see how American leaders make it a point to include agriculture into their agenda during their India visits. George W Bush decided to stop over at the agriculture university in Hyderabad and Hillary Clinton at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, Pusa. For a country which has only 1.9 per cent of its labour force working in agriculture and a mere 0.7 per cent of total GDP contributed by agriculture (2002), why this American interest in Indian agriculture?
The answer possibly lies in potential huge markets held in the seeds and food processing sectors. In India, this market is emerging in an impressive fashion. In the global seed market estimated at $30 bn, India already has a large market worth $1 bn. The domestic seed market, especially of hybrid seeds, is expected to grow at an impressive growth rate of 13 per cent at least. In the food processing and retail sector, the Indian urban food market is expected to form a major chunk of the $50-bn-mark retail market in India in the near future.
Clinton’s speech at Pusa Institute made a clear mention of seeds and food processing as the sectors where investment will go. Interestingly, the second green revolution in this country, with the help of the Indo-US Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture (KIA) is supposed to be ushered in under the guidance of corporations like Monsanto and Wal-Mart which are on the KIA board. How investment on food processing would increase productivity of our food grains is an unanswered question, of course.
There is also mention of “cutting edge technologies” to raise crop yields and Clinton affirmed with authority that crop productivity was the ‘root’ of the problem of world hunger.
No mention at all of food lands going for bio-fuels, no mention about food grains being used for cattle feed and building inefficient food chains, no mention of the shocking wastage of food in the developed world not at the grain level but of processed foods, which would have already consumed much energy in their processing and packaging.
Nor any mention of overflowing granaries in India continuing to mock at the poor in the country who cannot access such food.
While Clinton is reported to have avoided the use of “GM” as the frontier technology, given the vast controversy over it, our agriculture minister was more forthright. He opined that collaboration in frontier areas like biotechnology would make a significant contribution to the world!
What our leaders don’t seem to realise is that there are vast differences not just in conditions of farming in the USA and in India but in the very philosophies and outlook towards agriculture. India for instance opposes patents on life forms in international forums while the USA and its corporations seek to patent everything that they can.
The rigid patent regimes in the USA have led to hundreds of farmers sued and/or jailed for doing something that they have done for millennia — saving their seed! Who is India listening to, on world hunger and the way out?
It would be extremely unwise for our leaders to provide ready platforms and markets for profit-hungry US corporations in the name of food crisis, world hunger, second green revolution and climate change.
If the government is keen on tackling the food crisis, it would do well to evolve a deeper understanding of both food production and access related issues, take up a comprehensive analysis of the Green Revolution and then chart out an Indian course of action. In this hundredth year of “Hind Swaraj”, our modern day leaders would do well to revisit Gandhiji’s vision.