This time, it is Indo-US agriculture deal! Sharad Pawar owes an explanation to the nation!

You all know the Indo-US nuclear deal! But this one you don’t know this Indo-US deal!
In what appears to be a sort of high nuclear secret deal, this one is actually about another Indo-US agriculture deal! But this is not so called clearly and transparently! It is called in a somewhat foolishly, yes, foolish for the Indians to be driven into calling their deal in such a funny way, it is code-named as “Indo-US Agriculture Knowledge Initiative”! It is neither knowledge nor an initiative at all. It is what the public feared for long as a backdoor entry, as the public suspect, of the big multinational American companies, see the list of the partners in this so-called “knowledge initiative”, the much maligned Monsanto, Wal-Mart and one unheard of name, Archer Daniel Midlands who are all on the board of this new outfit. Then, on the Indian side?

See the ITC and Masanai farms. ITC sells cigarettes for years and had almost ruined the public health. Tobacco and tobacco products are   banned worldwide but here in India this company continues to make huge profits at the cost of the public health and well-being of people. And under some other pretence this company is brought on board. Masani farms? What makes it qualify to join this “knowledge initiative”?

Only Mr.Sharad Pawar, the Union Agri minister must explain to the people. The minister visited the USA last year to further the work of the Indo-US deal in agriculture. The minister held discussions with his counterpart in the USA, Michael Johanns, Senator Saxby Chambliss, chairman of the Senate committee on Agriculture and the eminent agri scientist and Nobel Prize winner Norman Borlaugh. Except Borlaugh, the others are unknown quantities and their intentions might not be entirely for advancing the welfare of the Indian farmers, unless proved otherwise.

The point is that this deal aims; let us be open-minded to find out new ways to improve agriculture productivity in India. That is fine and welcome. Towards this end this deal aims to do research to evolve drought and salt-resistant rice strains. Fine.

But then there are other aspects. The names of the MNCs on the board of this deal raise lots of unwarranted suspicions? Yes, we think so.

The MNCs have already done lot of damage the world over by their business practices. Monsanto is a pariah in the country already inviting lots of criticism for its over-priced bt cotton seeds. Wal-Mart has some unethical business practices. It had to close shop in South Korea. Even in the USA it’s buying of agri/food products and selling, it is the biggest retail giant in the world, has raised many questions of ethics and fair business practices.

And why on earth, you couldn’t find any other publicly-known name like Amul or some other agri-food company in India to represent India on the board?

Sharad Pawar is a senior leader and a man with a track record for doing much public service. His own Baramati belt is an example. With all such background, he must be doing things with tremendous public goodwill.

His own Vasanathdada Sugar Institute in Pune, it is said, is said to have undertaken GM sugarcane research with Swiss biotech co. Syngenta. Fine. But as a minister it is his duty to undertake public education and cultivate public opinion on this sensitive sector’s foray into Indian agriculture and that too with American MNCs into these commercially profit-making ventures.

He often talks as if biotechnology can deliver Indian agriculture from low productivity syndrome. He may be right. But as a Union minister he has to talk more and explain to the people and urge his fellow scientists in the agri universities and at the ICAR and other bodies to come out with lots of public education initiatives. The Hyderabad-based chain of agri-related institutions, funded with huge Central funds remain dormant for years. All these now functionless bodied must be given specific task so that there is a wide awareness of what is being done to accelerate the agri sector growth.

As we type these lines there is a spate of suicides from the minister’s own Vidarbha! The PM says he would visit the states personally to supervise the progress that is to be made in the agri sector after the NDC meeting.

We wonder how the PM would really get any worthwhile feedback. There is such disconnect between the concerned ministries and also the research bodies and also between the Centre and the states.

Politically, there won’t be honest co-operation with the Centre, each state would try to get the funds and go its own way. The populist policies that mark the agri sector in many states are not conducive for any worthwhile production and productivity-oriented initiatives.

So, the Union minister for agriculture and food must take some bold initiatives to enlighten the skeptical elite opinion regarding the real benefits that would flow from this Indo-US agri deal!
Again, the news is that this year the projects would be taken up by the American biotech companies and Indian firms aimed at developing new rice varieties.

We have to have a new mechanism to bring in our own universities and research bodies that are publicly funded and accountable to the government and the public. They must be associated with this private sector initiative.

We believe there is a role for biotechnology. But there are also concerns about environment and intellectual property rights etc that can’t be taken lightly. Or, in a secretive manner.

Let there be more and broad based collaboration between select US agri universities and the Indian counterparts. That would help the students and the faculty to undertake current international level research projects.

Yes, the first Green Revolution came along with the American research grants from the Rockefeller Foundation. But then, it was a charity fund. This time, it is not clear what role these MNCs would play in this much-hyped “second” Green Revolution!

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