By Vineeth Murthy
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.
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.
|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.