India is a nation of farmers. While agriculture’s contribution to India’s GDP has steadily declined from 61% at the time of Independence to under 15% today, it still employs over half of the Indian population and it remains one of the few sectors that has the potential to double India’s return on investments. At an investor gathering in New York in June Union finance minister Arun Jaitley emphasised the significance of agriculture as one of the main drivers of India’s economic growth.
Since the Green Revolution of the 1960s, India has become much more efficient in food production, especially in food staples such as wheat, rice and pulses. The Green Revolution exemplifies the potential of the India-US agricultural partnership, where American agronomist Norman Borlaug worked with Indian farmers to avert famine using advanced wheat varieties that had the capacity for higher yields. As a result, between 1963 and 1968, India’s maximum agricultural yield increased from 360 kg per acre to over 2,700 kg. According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), in 2014, India was the seventh-largest agricultural exporter, up from 13th-largest a decade ago. India-US bilateral ties are critical for sustaining this momentum and helping India position itself as the ‘breadbasket of Asia’.
The India-US Business Council’s (USIBC’s) food and agriculture committee will also host a meeting this month with USDA under-secretary for farm and foreign agricultural service Michael Scuse, the highest-ranking member of the USDA to visit India since 2010. It is a sign that after many years of silence on agricultural cooperation, the two countries are ready to build a new partnership. The recently-concluded US-India Trade Policy Forum, which for the first time included a representative from the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, is a testament to both governments’ commitment to solve key issues in the agricultural space.
The seeds of a second green revolution have already been sown to ensure long-term food security for India. For over a decade the USDA has promoted knowledge transfer and exchange, and has sponsored 112 Indian agricultural researchers under fellowships that offer training and collaborative research opportunities.
US companies are partnering the Indian private sector and state governments to lead and support investment and development. Food-processing firms supply potato farmers in Punjab with quality seed varieties, technology and sustainable farming practices to help produce process-grade potatoes that can be packaged and readily consumed. This partnership has been scaled up to collaboration with 24,000 farmers in over nine states.
Whether it is business to business, government to government or business to government, with a consistent level of cooperation, food can be a source of income and prosperity for India. Besides refuelling the sequel to the Green Revolution, it can also fulfil the mandate of Make in India.
Time is of the essence, as by 2022, India will have to be able to feed the maximum number of people in the world. Borlaug rightly said, “Food is the moral right of all who are born into this world. Without food all other components of social justice are meaningless.” Unless we eradicate hunger and malnutrition from India, the work of the government will not be over.
Mukesh Aghi is president of the US-India Business Council
The views expressed are personal