The government last week quietly secured Cabinet approval for a new agreement with the United States that aims, inter alia, at promoting the privatisation of agricultural extension services and facilitating collaborations between American agribusiness and the Indian farm sector.

The proposed Memorandum of Understanding with the U.S. on ‘Agriculture Cooperation and Food Security’ was approved on Thursday and is likely to be signed this or early next month.

The MoU, a copy of which was accessed by The Hindu, is also intended to give a push to private investment in agriculture for growth of agribusinesses and farm-market linkages with stress on creating an enabling environment for private investment and reciprocal trade. It includes bilateral policy dialogue and agri business-to-business collaboration between India and the U.S.

Nutrition security

The nutrition security component calls for bilateral cooperation and best practices, including access to adequate quantities and quality of “diverse diet and diversified and fortified foods” and an integrated programme that targets the most vulnerable. The food security aspect focuses on sharing technological expertise and promotion of private sector extension in agriculture. Collaboration in S and T and education would focus on technology to farmers and agribusinesses.

The weather forecasting for crop management and market information part of the pact highlights improvement of crop production management in response to vagaries of weather and potential impact of climate change variability.

According to geneticist Suman Sahai of Gene Campaign, while India could gain from improved weather forecast technology in the proposed MoU, the bilateral collaboration on S&T, food and nutrition security will give access to the U.S. to India’s great genetic diversity of crop plants for commercialisation in its interest. “The opening of food security policy dialogue is also a matter of concern as it will impose on India the U.S. model of agribusinesses and vertical integration of food chain, impacting diversity and consolidating monopolies,” she said.

The costs of implementing the MoU would be borne by “parties that incur them.” Joint Working Groups would be set up to implement each component. Intellectual property issues would be settled as per the S&T agreement with the U.S., which was also approved in the last Cabinet meeting. Curiously, both agreements have been kept under wraps.

The stated justification for the MoU is that it would enable India to work with the U.S. as a partner to bolster “India’s agriculture and contribute to sustained growth and commercial viability of the farm sector.”

An India-U.S. Agriculture Knowledge Initiative is already in place that allows for U.S.-based private multi-national trading and seed giants like Cargill and Monsanto to be appointed on the board, enabling them to bear influence on the country’s farm research.

The present MoU was initiated under the India-U.S. Agriculture Dialogue during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Washington last November.

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