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Another covert deal

When Bush announced that Americans would be eating Indian mangoes, he failed to explain why.

india Updated: Mar 04, 2006 03:00 IST
Rukhmini Punoose
Rukhmini Punoose

When President Bush announced on Friday that Americans would soon be eating India’s famed mangoes, he failed to explain why.

Alongside the more flaunted nuclear deal, the US and India have also fleshed out another, more covert deal. That of a 1000-crore project called the Indo-US Knowledge Initiative in Agricultural Research and Education.

The project, touted by Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as the “second green revolution”, was informally launched this morning when the President visited Hyderabad’s Acharya N. G. Ranga Agricultural University, where he time in the various research labs including the pesticide and biochemical labs.

While both administrations have been extremely tight lipped about this deal, the seeds of the project were sown in July last when the PM visited the US. It was decided then to create a body that would identify collaborative scientific research, development and commercialisation, promote emerging technologies and energise trade links between the two nations over a three-year period. The board will comprise eight members from each country, representing academia, government and the private sector.

The university Bush visited, is famed for growing 302 different varieties of seeds and is recognised as pioneers in new rice growing and sustaining technologies. They have single-handedly pushed Andhra Pradesh to the forefront of seed growth and research in India.

“We showed him the cutting edge research we are doing on increasing productivity of various crops,” said Dr. M. Ganesh, principal scientist and head of the Agriculture School. “The President also spent time understanding the various types technological and natural methods we incorporate here.”

One of the chief drivers for the project in the government's eyes is that the Indian agricultural sector desperately needs a shot in the arm. There has been a sizeable imbalance in the growth of this sector, with the growth rate ranging from 5 per cent per annum in Punjab to 1 per cent in Assam.

However, some agricultural scientists believe that the Indo-US Knowledge Initiative could spell disaster for indegenous research and that the Center is taking a myopic view of things.

“There is a complete blackout at the top about what’s going wrong. This is the worst agrarian crises since Independence,” says Devinder Sharma an agricultural scientist, who is also a food policy analyst on the forum for biotechnology and food security.

Sharma says the Initiative's board is dominated by large multinationals like Walmart and Monsanto, who are all set to determine the Indian agricultural research agenda.

“The American IPR regime offers patent holders rights to life form, plants and seeds, so there is also the threat of losing rights to indigenous genetic resources. There is also the additional fear that India could become the dumping ground for all the genetically modified crops that there are no takers for in Europe and many other parts of the world,” Sharma says.

MS Swaminathan, the father of the green revolution and an honorary member of the Indo-US Knowledge Initiative, feels that no one can affect our farmers unless we are willing.

He adds that he hasn’t seen the documents of the agreement yet but says that the country is facing a real crisis.

First Published: Mar 04, 2006 00:54 IST