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The Indo-US Pact on Agriculture: A Redrag to the Activists
Prof. C Kameswara Rao
Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education,
Bangalore, India
krao@vsnl.com, www.fbae.org, www.fbaeblog.org, chaakaaraav@yahoo.com

During the recent visit to India by the US President George Bush, a significant outcome was the Indo-US Knowledge Initiative, which includes a major thrust on agricultural biotechnology.   No sooner, the anti-tech activists trashed the deal, using outdated rhetoric like ‘Killing fields of India’ (Times of India, March 16, 2006).   A farmers' protest rally, organized in Delhi on March 21,2006 in a different context, was also exploited to criticize the deal.   The main charge is that the US will exploit the Indian genetic resources and dominate Indian markets with GE products that could not be sold elsewhere and that India would be paying heavily both in kind and cash.   The technological advantages that India would gain from the deal are ignored.  The activists even project the agricultural deal as a recompense for the Indo-US nuclear deal.  

Sharad Pawar, the Union Minister for Agriculture, assured that the Indo-US agricultural deal would benefit both the countries by increasing agricultural research, particularly in biotechnology (Hindustan Times, March 24, 2006).   Mangala Rai, Director-General, Indian Council of Agricultural Research, clarified that, a) there was no agreement to allow the US access to the country's indigenous gene pool, b) the issues related to Intellectual Property Rights would be decided on a mutual basis, and c) there are no potential risks to India’s food security from the deal.

The Indo-American agriculture deal is timely as Indian agricultural research needs a jumpstart.   At the farmers' protest rally, Ajit Singh, the former Union Minister for Agriculture, recognized the general decline of agriculture in the country.

The objections raised by the activists reflect anti-Americanism.   Some of them are:

a)      The “US has asked for the removal of restrictions on import of US farm products into India, in order to flood the Indian markets with US GE products”.  
Under the WTO agreements, sooner or later, India has to review import restrictions; otherwise it will get into the same situation as the European Union, now facing a WTO ruling.
b)      The US “made it clear that it would not invest a single dollar in the agricultural initiative and India has already committed Rs. 400 crore, of which Rs. 300 crore is for GE and biotechnology”.  
The activists are either ignorant of, or have a selective amnesia to the fact that, in 1971, the US has written off a massive debt worth $1.26 billion owed by India under the PL 480 deal.   India’s national honour lies in paying for what it gets.
c)      “Intellectual Property Rights on the outcome of research under the deal will belong to the US”.  
This is absurd, as under international norms, IPR on research carried out under an official bilateral agreement, using Indian gene pool, will have to be shared by the partners, as the DG of the ICAR has already clarified. 

d)      “The goal is to generate agricultural products for trade and not to address food and nutrition.”  
In order to be viable, a product for marketing should be superior to what is already available.   Nutritional enhancement of agricultural products has for long engaged the attention of scientists.   Golden Rice is one example and a dozen others are in research and development.

e)      “Indian research establishment will essentially do contract research.”  
This not essentially bad in itself as the Indian scientists gain new expertise and would be independent in due course.     Contract research and projects are what have placed India on the international scene in the IT sector.

f)        Two sentimental and emotional issues are also raised:  One is that the deal will deliver India’s genetic wealth into the American hands and the other is that amendments to IPR laws, prompted by the US, to introduce patents of seeds and genes would do away with the provisions for protecting farmers’ rights.   Every country has rich genetic resources of the crops of interest to it.   The wisdom lies in utilizing these resources to enhance food and fiscal security.   Other than repeatedly saying that India has very rich agricultural genetic resources, no responsible scientist has ever stated what these genes are and what benefits could be derived from them.   India did practically nothing to benefit from its much talked about genetic resources.   Poor and subsistence farmers’ rights need to be protected but the activists are ever eager to protect undocumentable and even non-existent farmers’ rights on Indian crop varieties and seeds but do not concede IPR to India’s own scientists and establishments who have invested time, money and efforts in making appreciable advances.  

An MNC-phobia-rooted objection is that the Bush delegation included representatives of Monsanto and Wal Mart.  All international delegations, including those of India, include representatives from the trade sector, whose interests are also the interests of their countries.   The Indian side contained well meaning and responsible people, but the activists want us to believe that they know better than the official Indian team. 

Indian activists did not raise any objections to some of the worst deals in modern Indian history, particularly those with the erstwhile USSR, where India was an obviously junior partner and had to turn to the West in order to save the situation in such deals as heavy electricals (BHEL) and natural gas (ONGC), when they ran into problems. 

March 28, 2006