American Tools to Help Alleviate India’s Drought

By Vineeth Murthy 

Dried riverbed in Rajasthan, India. The United States could offer drought relief and agricultural assistance to India to help alleviate unusually dry conditions in the country this year.  Source: Austin Yoder's flickr photostream, used under a creative commons license.

Dried riverbed in Rajasthan, India. The United States could offer drought relief and agricultural assistance to India to help alleviate unusually dry conditions in the country this year. Source: Austin Yoder’s flickr photostream, used under a creative commons license.

India’s agriculture sector production is 18 percent of India’s gross domestic product (GDP) and about 49 percent of India’s labor market. Productivity is heavily dependent on the monsoon season, which accounts for 75 percent of the total annual rainfall. This year’s monsoon is 41 percent deficient in total rainfall across India. The risk of drought could drive up agricultural product prices and depress earnings for half the nation’s population.

This issue will certainly be on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s mind around the time of his visit to the United States in September. The United States, for its part, could use the occasion of Modi’s visit to offer India the drought-resistant technology it needs to improve agricultural productivity. Greater bilateral cooperation in this area could help strengthen the U.S.-India partnership both in the near-term, through drought relief, and in the longer-term, by collaborating on drought-resistance programs.

The United States has extensive experience in assisting developing countries in improving drought resistance both in the short and long term. Some of the top recipient countries in agriculture foreign assistance in the last ten years include Ethiopia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Kenya and Somalia.

Top 5 recipient countries in foreign agriculture assistance. Source: U.S. Overseas Loans and Grants, compiled by CSIS Wadhwani Chair.

Some of the measures that the U.S. government undertook in drought-prone Ethiopia and can share expertise in India are:

  • Creating economic linkages between drought-prone areas and areas with agricultural output. In 2012, USAID coordinated with a number of farmers’ cooperative unions to sign contracts with the World Food Program. The produce was purchased and then provided to drought-prone areas of Ethiopia. This consolidated the market for farmers and helped supply food in food insecure areas.
  • Promoting the approval of technologies such as drought-resistant seeds, as well as new methods of water harvesting.
  • Promoting private sector engagement. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) partnered with PepsiCo to focus on improvement in chickpea production that has less post-harvest challenges in Ethiopia.

Looking beyond short-term drought assistance, the United States should re-commit to building stronger agriculture cooperation. The United States and India had launched a U.S-India Agriculture Knowledge Initiative back in 2005, but there has been less progress than the U.S. had initially expected. The U.S. government has important tools to help India’s agricultural system, and with a more decisive government in Delhi, we may find greater cooperation moving forward.

One program, whose approach can be adopted in India, is Feed the Future – a multidepartment initiative led by USAID with resources drawn from U.S. Department of Agriculture, Commerce, State, Overseas Private Investment Corporation and others. This initiative aims to address global hunger and food insecurity and currently works with 19 partner countries – mostly located in Sub Saharan Africa – a region prone to droughts. Measures taken under this initiative include improving drought resistance, as seen in Table 1 below.


2011 2012 2013
Total number of hectares under improved technologies 2,397,456 3,241,549 4,124,013
Number of children under age 5 reached by nutritional programs 8,814,584 12,038,528 12,699,186
Value of incremental sales due to expanded trade and markets $38,080,821 $ 1,00,366,589 $174,302,362

(Table 1: Feed the Future program results, 2011-2013. Source: USAID, compiled by CSIS Wadhwani Chair.)

The indicators above show that Feed the Future has improved agricultural growth in 19 partner countries despite severe droughts in Sub Saharan Africa in 2011 and 2012. This result-oriented expertise would be useful for India’s drought resistance. As seen, children have increased access to nutritional programs and agricultural commerce has expanded. In 2002, when the state of Karnataka experienced a drought, levels of nutrition intake reduced. Demand for nutrition is much higher in India than ever before. Expenditure on vegetables alone saw an increase of 43% between 2007 and 2012. If this demand is not met during drought, food prices will increase. Narendra Modi will be wary of this as he was voted into power, in part, because of spiraling food inflation.

The U.S. government has an opportunity to extend an early hand of friendship by offering Prime Minister Modi critical assistance on India’s most urgent problem back home. These confidence building measures, both immediate drought assistance, and reiterating U.S. desire for long-term cooperation in agriculture, will help set the stage for other areas of collaboration.

Mr. Vineeth Vasudeva Murthy is a research scholar with the Wadhwani Chair in US-India Policy Studies at CSIS


1 comment for “American Tools to Help Alleviate India’s Drought

  1. August 1, 2014 at 13:58

    Vineeth, Thank you for pulling together a brief overview of programs that India could take advantage of in their relations w/the US. I think valuable considering your new Prime Minister’s visit in the coming weeks. I hesitate to offer too much here, leave it to say that food IS political. My first thought when reading this was how to draw the link to existing resources (like your 2005 example) but then I wonder what happened with that program – did it disappear? There, of course, are other partnerships between academic institutions in other countries that serve as this information exchange infrastructure (e.g. UC Davis & Chile, Texas A&M Norman Bourlag Institute and many other countries, Cornell, Baylor, etc.). California also came to mind (over the foreign country examples you offer) and then of course the research that CERES is doing on Water – in particular Brooke Barton. Remember, much of CA water sources come from Sierra runoff and other Northern sources with a lot also coming in from the Colorado river (now almost dry at certain points, possibly not reaching the ocean any longer). To say that water is not also a political football would be an understatement – meaning, it is quite a controversial issue. So simply indicating that we should be looking at the ways that the US or CA manages its water sources is not necessarily the best way to do it.

    Towards the end of the piece I couldn’t tell what the primary point of the article is. Yet one of the questions that comes up for me is: how does looking at the foreign aid programs (e.g. Ethiopia/WFP, etc.) compare to national wide programs (sponsored by the State)? In other words, looking at it through the lens of foreign aid is limiting, I believe. However, looking at this from the perspective of the country as a whole addressing the water issues seems more relevant. More comparisons to those efforts and initiative, like found in CA, might be more helpful for the analysis and comparison.

    Sincerely, John

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