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Open letter to the Prime Minister of India on the Indo-US Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture

September 4, 2007

123 deal being looked into, but not KIA?
Endorse this open letter to the PM please

by Kavitha Kuruganti

Dear Friends,

Greetings! Below is an Open Letter to the Prime Minister of India on the Indo-US Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture (KIA or AKI), which was signed at the same time as the 123 Nuclear Deal. However, as we can see, the nation (political parties, individuals and media institutions) has chosen to express loud concerns on the nuclear deal, ignoring that the KIA also has serious ramifications for this country. We cannot afford to remain invisible or silent on this front.

Given the whole interest generated with regard to the nuclear deal, this is the right time to express our concerns yet again on the Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture too and to not let it be implemented in a business-as-usual attitude, without the many serious concerns being addressed. This letter draws from the discussions that happened during a national workshop organised in Hyderabad in December on this bilateral agreement. This open letter to the PM also draws some of its demands from the nuclear deal experience — of stalling implementation until concerns are taken on board seriously and addressed.

We hope that you all join us in endorsing this letter which we intend to put out in a week’s time or so. It would be great if agricultural scientists too, in addition to any elected people’s representatives that you can all individually draw into endorsing this, would sign up.

Do send me your consent on my email address with the required details against your name and please do circulate this widely to collect more endorsements and pass them on to me. Thanks.

Kavitha Kuruganti


September 4, 2007

Dr Manmohan Singh,

Hon’ble Prime Minister,

Government of India.

Dear Sir,

Sub: Indo-US Knowledge Initiative on Agricultural Education, Research, Services and Commercial Linkages — Demand for an immediate hold on implementation

Respected Sir, this letter is being written to you after looking at the Indo-US Knowledge Initiative on Agricultural Education, Research, Services & Commercial Linkages (being referred to as the KIA or AKI) in close detail, after extensive discussions held amongst agriculture scientists, farmers’ leaders, civil society representatives, science policy experts and others on the implications of KIA on Indian farmers, especially small and marginal farmers. Through this letter, we would like to convey our deep concerns related to this bilateral deal that you had signed with the US President.

The current agrarian crisis and farmers’ livelihoods:

The KIA hardly makes a mention of the deep agrarian crisis present all over rural India today. In fact, there is very little mention of farmers in the KIA proposals. Where the current problems in Indian agriculture are mentioned, they are described as "exciting challenges and opportunities" — we wonder for whom? How can a high-profile bilateral agreement coming at a juncture of such a crisis ignore the crisis and fundamental ways of addressing it?

The agrarian crisis in India is to be seen as a livelihoods crisis — the government has to answer why agri-business corporations are not in a crisis while farmers are attempting to commit suicides in thousands, if it is truly a farming crisis? The agri-industry is in fact posting growth figures that are impressive.

Increased production and productivity from farmers will not come if the State takes away their very dignity, their resources, their interest in their occupation, erodes all support systems and leaves them only with heavy debt burdens. Productivity cannot just be a factor of a miracle technology that someone introduces but a factor that is closely related to farmers’ self-worth, dignity and morale.

The Indian economy (which is seen as the only domain of development) is appearing to declare its independence from Indian farming and the distress of farmers because the contribution of agriculture to the GDP is going down and your government measures development only in economic growth and GDP terms. We need to get out of this framework to understand farming better and the sustenance it provides to millions of lives.

What farmers need is income security, especially given that the liberalized trade policies that subsequent governments have pursued have pushed them into unfair disadvantage from all sides, even as technologies promoted by the NARS and agri-corporations are unsustainable.

Our analysis also shows that the KIA proposals are certainly not in tandem with other dominant policy discourse related to agriculture in India now, be it the Planning Commission’s approach paper to the 11 th Plan or the draft Kisan Policy drafted by the National Commission on Farmers [NCF]. The Planning Commission and the NCF have at least run a semblance of consultative processes while drawing up their recommendations and while adopting a particular discourse. The KIA, however, is at contrast to these other policy articulations.

It is apparent that the National Agricultural Research System [NARS] had never done any deep-thinking workshops institutionally about its role in the entire crisis being experienced by farmers today and about unsustainable and unsuitable technologies foisted upon farmers. Since no such analysis exists, the crisis does not inform decisions on any front, including the Indo-US Knowledge Initiative.

India ’s Green Revolution & the ’Second Green Revolution’:

Numerous studies and papers have brought out the ecological, socio-cultural and other fall-outs from the Green Revolution. The Planning Commission chose to portray the repercussions in terms of ’technology fatigue’ and the ’ecological disaster’. While the Green Revolution at least had a stated thrust on improving national food security (that concept of food security is questioned by numerous experts now) and ran on a principle of social contract, it seems that the Second Green Revolution is meant only for agri-corporations.

Before making plans for a Second Green Revolution, the country should have first drawn up a comprehensive balance sheet on the first Green Revolution. Learnings should have been picked up from such an analysis and critique of the earlier Green Revolution. Such learnings should have been internalized and incorporated into all your pronouncements on the second Green Revolution and into the KIA.

Our analysis says that while the country might have obtained self reliance on the food front (that too based on two grains which don’t assure nutrition security and are known to have caused other adverse impacts), Green Revolution has completely eroded farmers’ self-reliance. Farmers’ natural resource base has been degraded almost irrevocably. Our bio-diversity has been eroded irreversibly along with farmers’ knowledge about management, creation and conservation of such resources. While food security is touted to have been achieved, quality of food in terms of safety and nutrition has been badly affected. A diverse variety of foods that used to be accessible and affordable have been lost to the millions of poor in the country. Bio-mass has disappeared on a large scale and organic cycles of crop-livestock-tree-living soil resources have been broken through reductionist science. Local economies have only pumped out their wealth with very little coming back into the villages. In recent decades, any public support system that used to exist for even that kind of intensive agriculture that GR ushered in, is being systematically dismantled, leaving farmers to the mercy of greedy markets of agri-corporations.

We find that the agri-research establishment has been indoctrinated into thinking that "There Is No Alternative" (TINA) to intensive farming using ever-increasing quantities and varieties of external inputs. This TINA syndrome runs deep in the entire NARS to the extent that they cannot even start looking at ecological alternatives with any amount of objectivity or scientificity. The Green Revolution did not happen overnight on the strength of the science behind it but because of massive public investments in creating huge support systems to address pre-production, production and post-production issues. Ecological agriculture however has received no such support in the country and without such public investments going into this paradigm, will not start appealing to our scientists either. When the GR began, no one wondered about where we will get the tonnes of chemical fertilizers/pesticides and HYV seeds that were to drive the GR — the country just set about arranging these through a variety of policy and public investment measures. However, whenever there is a discussion on alternative paradigms, the first question that is asked preposterously is, where will we find so much of organic inputs?

Now, with the Second Green Revolution that you are shaping, there is a formal institutionalization of American corporate interests driving our research agendas and public policy frameworks. This will further indoctrinate the NARS and other systems into the industrial/intensive model of agriculture. You have chosen to give the Monsantos of the US, documented earlier for their anti-farmer policies and known for their lawlessness, a formal place to guide the future of Indian agriculture as suits them, through the KIA. Why did your government not think of placing some key farmers’ organizations and other civil society representatives in the country on the Board on this side?

The Second Green Revolution in the form of the KIA has no mention of farmers, leave alone farming livelihoods or national food security. Who then is this Second Green Revolution for, at the expense of public funds, we wonder.

Finally, why do your government and the NARS shy away from understanding, supporting and promoting an ecological agriculture paradigm — can your scientists compete with some of the best natural and organic farmers in this country on a variety of parameters related to production, productivity, economic viability, sustainability, social benefits and so on, before promoting any other paradigms [given that we have already seen the results of your paradigms]?

India & the USA :

The socio-economic and agro-ecological situations with regard to Indian and American farming are vastly different. In their model of agriculture, less than 2% of the American population depends on farming whereas in India, around 65% of our population continue to depend on farming and allied activities for their very survival.

In India, agriculture is a way of life connected closely with knowledge evolved over centuries of experiential learning from Nature, connected deeply with the culture of our peoples and their livelihoods. On the other hand, in the USA, agriculture is an industry, driven mostly by big agri-business corporations. Even though they claim that it is an efficient model of agriculture to be emulated here in India to attain higher productivity levels and so on, it is a farming model that is constantly propped up by ever-increasing amounts of subsidies. The true efficiency of that model will be clear only when the subsidies are removed. On the other hand, Indian farmers, with very little support from the government and in the face of highly adverse conditions created by the government, have proven that theirs is a more efficient system of farming by feeding millions of Indians and also showing steady increases in production and productivity.

Also important is the fact that the USA has not signed the Convention on Biological Diversity [CBD] or the Kyoto Protocol or the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. What is interesting to note is that the main themes of these protocols to which India subscribes to through ratification and which USA discounts or fights in the international arena - biological resources including biodiversity, climate change and safety with regard to living modified organisms - are also key parts of the KIA.

These protocols enshrine some principles — for instance, biological resources are sovereign resources of nation-states (CBD), climate change is a big threat to the planet and immediate interventions are needed to reverse it and stop it (Kyoto) and living modified organisms need careful impact assessment and handling and prior informed consent for transboundary movement (Cartagena) which are not respected at all in the KIA or by the USA. Why is India partnering the USA in such an agreement then?

The USA, to this day, has not allocated any resources for the KIA whereas India is paying the USA for unneeded and hazardous technologies from the taxpayers’ money. Ironically, the deal is all set to ultimately benefit American corporations than Indian farmers. Is this kind of unequal partnership what one could call as a bilateral agreement?

Why did you not think of having such a bilateral agreement with Cuba, which has shown the world how to produce more through organic methods even with economic sanctions imposed upon it — is there any reason why India should not learn from such a model of agriculture, to drive its next Revolution in agriculture?

On many of the themes included in the KIA where Indians are supposed to learn from the USA, there is no dearth of knowledge, skills and capabilities within the country. It is not clear why we need to learn from the USA on water management, drought proofing, food processing etc., when some of the best models on these themes are right here in the country within the people’s knowledge domain. While the agriculture research model pursued by the country constantly erodes such rich knowledge right here, you would like to learn from distant USA at a charge, that too technologies that do not suit our needs nor address the present agrarian crisis!

The Americans are clearly proposing through the KIA, and in Board Meetings after Board Meetings, that they would like to use the bilateral deal to make changes in our regulatory regimes related to IPRs or particular technologies like Genetic Engineering. These changes are to suit their interests and not to ensure the basic rights of Indian farmers and consumers. In return, what are you planning to suggest as changes at their end through this bilateral deal? Can you bring down the huge subsidies that American farming is propped up with, to protect Indian farmers’ interests from your side?

Coming to the comparative picture between India and USA again, the Indian IPR regime related to agriculture is very different from the American regime. Whose regime will be applied in this collaborative research? Who will have patents and what will be the implications for Indian farmers and their apriori rights on many resources and technologies?

In the USA, patents are possible on everything from a plant to a gene. As you know, all the notorious cases of bio-piracy from this country involved American scientists and corporations. What guarantees are you providing to the citizens of this country that the collective heritage of this country in the form of its biological resources and knowledge will be protected and given legitimately back to the communities without American bio-piracy now acquiring a legitimate passage you gave them?

The Biological Diversity Act of India, flowing out of the CBD, requires that permission be obtained from the National Biodiversity Authority before any biological resource is accessed by any foreigner. The KIA is not fulfilling any such obligations (Annexure 1). From all accounts, not even Material Transfer Agreements are in place while valuable genetic resources are already being taken to the US laboratories by Indian public sector scientists visiting the USA under exchange programmes or fellowships and so on under the KIA.

India’s Science & Technology and Development framework:

Our development framework focuses only on national economic growth rates and forgets the livelihoods of millions of Indians eking out a living through farming. As a polity, we seem to be feeding the endless lifestyle aspirations of millions of urban, middle class Indians who only want to emulate the Americans and others. This is obviously extremely destructive in an ecological sense - the ecological foot print that we would be leaving as a country would be far higher than the developed countries’, if this development model is pursued mindlessly.

At another level, the S & T framework adopted in the case of agriculture was always one that sought to gain control over nature, rather than working in cooperation with/tandem with nature. The latter, as thousands of years of Indian farming has shown, is the one that ensures sustainable resource use - it took only 4 to 5 decades of intensive farming to erode and degrade our resources to the present situation whereas our forefathers did farming for thousands of years without leaving the future generations gasping for life.

The S & T framework governing Indian agriculture has been one that requires intensive use of external inputs which has its own ecological, economic and political ramifications. Commodification of all inputs has only meant that local economies got drained to fill the coffers of agri-business companies whose sole aim is to seek more and more markets for their products.

Our S & T frameworks should have been reviewed as a response to the farming crisis all around. This did not happen; through the KIA we want to further accelerate adoption of the same S & T approaches in agriculture as in the case of Green Revolution. Those approaches have already been proven as unsustainable and destructive of our natural resources.

This is in fact a destruction of democracy itself. Electoral democracy, as you are aware, is only a narrow understanding of democracy. Participation, public debate, accountability, referendum & recall systems are glaringly absent in our democracy in the context of agriculture. We actually need a Constitution that respects plurality of knowledges, not just what passes off officially as "Science & Technology". We need a Constitution that is ecologically embedded. We need a Directive Principle of State policy that orders protection of Indian agriculture and the diversity that exists there.

S & T policy makers sitting in the Ministry of Science & Technology or Department of Agriculture Research & Education or in the Planning Commission have not learnt anything from other countries about incorporating alternative paradigms and knowledge systems into the making of an S & T policy. There is ample positive experience to learn from, elsewhere.

National Agricultural Research System [NARS] in India and its orientation:

The NARS is supposed to have been designed along the Land Grant College system in the USA. However, the accountability mechanisms that are apparent in the Land Grant system there are completely missing here. It is a top-down model of institution building that has gone into our NARS, with no accountability at all towards the clientele — the predominantly poor, small and marginal farmers of this country.

The scientific orientation of the NARS is reductionist, piece-meal and fragmented — agriculture being a complex process of synergies and interactions amongst various factors, such a reductionist approach will not solve the real life problems of the farmers. This has been proven again and again — the scientific experiments and their results in a controlled setting in the agriculture research stations are not replicable in real life conditions of farmers.

There should be an inter-disciplinary, dialectical and holistic scientific approach that should be adopted by agriculture scientists. Such an inter-disciplinary approach should encompass other scientific spheres like anthropology, sociology, political science etc. in addition to different specializations within agriculture science. Synergies between crop-livestock and crop-tree husbandry have been completely ignored by the agri-research system, for instance. The sociological ramifications of a particular technology on different kinds of farmers in different locations are not worked out before large scale promotion of a technology. Another example of the narrow orientation of the agri-research establishment is the neglect that dryland farming suffers in the country today.

Even the research agenda of the NARS is not driven by the real life conditions of the farmers. It is a top-down, linear, lab-to-land model that is adopted in almost all research projects. There is no participation apparent from the side of the farmers in individual research projects, leave alone whole institutions and their overall directions of work.

The NARS do not recognize any other knowledge domain other than what gets classified officially as "scientific". It is this blind approach that had resulted in the erosion of precious knowledge and natural resources amongst farming communities in India. The largest knowledge bank is with the smallholding farmers of India which consists of knowledge of centuries of experiential learning. This technological arrogance is also ignoring larger experiences evolving across the country to sustain farming concurrently with initiatives of farmers, individuals and organizations. Such ready knowledge is constantly being discounted and actively eroded by the NARS in a variety of ways. Today NARS suffers more from ’Innovation fatigue’ than ’Technology fatigue’.

There is nothing in the KIA that promises any changes in the existing deep-rooted maladies of the NARS. In fact, the technologies chosen by the KIA will push agriculture scientists farther away from the fields of farmers, deeper into their laboratories (and laboratories in the USA). Agriculture research orientation is now going to be shifted from applied and adaptive research to basic and strategic research, as per the KIA. When it is clear that applied research itself had failed in the Indian agriculture research establishment, what is the rationale behind moving to basic research? How will they then translate it to farmers’ real needs and conditions on the ground?

Worse, the agriculture education and extension models are also being re-cast to shift these services away from farmers.

Historically, there has been an excessive orientation of these NARS institutions to gear their research towards only production and productivity questions rather than looking at farmers’ livelihoods. There are many others, however, in the UN system and elsewhere, who are changing their S & T institutions, curricula, research design and frameworks and so on to meet the Millenium Development Goals. Does the Indian NARS have nothing to learn from them, other than learning from the USA about orienting agriculture research for improving the commercial potential of agri-corporations?

As mentioned before, the so-called modern technologies in agriculture have only proven to be a drain on the local economies of farmers rather than improving their livelihoods in a sustainable manner. It is imperative that any research and extension intervention from the NARS should only be defined and achieved in a livelihoods context and no other context.

The NARS should realize that in today’s complex world, reductionist techno-centricity will not solve any problems. The new mandate of the NARS has to be evolved out of the failure of the earlier mandate and it does not help to continue in the same technological determinism framework. That is the key cornerstone of post-modern agriculture.

It is also important to re-cast completely the reward and incentive system that drives the agriculture scientists today. It is not publication of papers or number of patents that should be the driving parameters of assessing the fulfillment of the mandate of NARS. It is possible for knowledge flows to occur in a manner that farmers derive benefits, without going through the formal, expensive, discriminatory and exclusive intellectual property regime — this has been the experience of civil society work time and again. Agriculture scientists’ reward system should be linked to the quality and effective time spent with farming communities in drawing the research agenda from the farmers, by developing technologies in a participatory manner and by using an interdisciplinary and "expert & non-expert co-inquiry" approach.

At present, the NARS is only turning itself into an outsourcing agency for private corporations. Private corporations want to use the public sector institutions for their own research needs and profit-seeking mandates with the lure of some money put into PPP research collaborations and the agriculture research establishment is ready to forget the needs of their primary clientele. The foundations for this are already laid out in the form a parallel initiative ’National Agriculture Innovation Project’ supported by the World Bank.

Specific KIA proposals:

 Re-orienting Indian agriculture research to basic and strategic research will mean further cutting off of farmers from these institutions, when the current farming crisis calls for the reverse — of all public sector institutions related to agriculture having to move closer to farmers and work along with them.
 Transgenic agriculture has been given a prominent place in the whole deal, under the theme of Emerging Technologies. It is not clear how this decision has been taken since the debate is unresolved about the very need for such technologies and the various implications from the deployment of such technologies in farming. What is the basis for decisions related to transgenics by the government, given the ever-emerging evidence on the lack of predictability and scientificity in this technology and the hazards that the technology poses? There is no evidence that GM crops increase productivity of crops or can withstand climate change vagaries (In fact, there is USDA data that shows that GM crops might actually mean lowered yields compared to their non-GM counterparts — if the USA is teaching us through the KIA, it is hoped that they are teaching us such facts too). There is clear evidence that such crops are stress-intolerant which means that our national food security itself could be jeopardized by adopting such technologies in the era of climate change.
 Transgenics by the public sector, without MNC presence, is being projected as being farmer-friendly reducing the whole discussion to pricing and IPRs. The reality however is that there are very few farmers who actually demand for and are able to access such public-sector bred seeds in crops like cotton. Further, experience in collaborative research from the University of Agricultural Sciences , Dharwar and CICR, Nagpur shows that our IPR literacy is very poor and we more or less get cheated during the R & D process in these collaborative projects involving proprietary technologies. Patents and royalties are brought into the picture preventing the institution from actually releasing seeds to farmers. What lessons are we learning from such experiences?
 When it comes to proposals related to food processing technologies, they all seem to favour American capital investments more than the needs of Indian farmers or consumers. Such technologies have to be assessed for their employment potential to begin with, since the food processing sector is being projected as the one that will absorb rural population displaced from agriculture.
 There is also clear evidence of using the KIA for the entry of big (food) retail chains into India, at the front-end too. It is very unclear what share of the retail price will actually reach the farmers of the country.
 The government has to decide whether we as a country should focus on food security and sovereignty of the nation or food processing and value addition meant for export markets. The KIA certainly gives importance to the latter but is that what the country needs?
 On themes like bio-fuels too, there is an urgent need for careful thinking regarding alternate use scenarios for precious resources like land and biomass. The KIA proposals seem to be in contradiction to the dominant discourse with regard to bio-fuels in this country - so far, we have talked about bio-diesels on wastelands in this country. The KIA talks about ethanol-based bio-fuels. The KIA has no mention about such technologies which will assist in backyard production of bio-diesels for community level energy needs by integrating native, hardy bio-diesel crop species into farming, through cooperative institutional structures. The KIA proposals are meant to create technologies that will essentially result in a competition between urban (fuel) and rural (food) needs.
 The KIA has water management as one of its themes of collaboration. India, which is famous for being a ’hydrological society’ and for the organic socio-cultural links between communities and water resources, would have nothing to learn from a country like the USA on water management and drought-proofing. There is ample experience within this country for the NARS to learn from. No amount of techno-centric solutions will take care of water resources - their conservation or preserving the quality. No remediation of contaminated waters can take place through the NARS especially given the impunity with which contamination from industrial effluents takes place. Only a radically different view and value system associated with water as a basic resource of life will change things.
 As mentioned earlier, the IPR regimes in India and the USA are vastly different and this is an area of great concern with relation to the KIA. Precious germplasm is already moving out of the country in the name of collaborative research and it is not clear what IPR arrangements are in place. There do not seem to be any material transfer agreements in place either. We seem to be legitimizing bio-piracy as never before. On the other hand, communities who are original contributors to our germplasm collections in various NARS centres are being denied access to what is legitimately theirs!

The process of formulating the KIA:

This deal has been projected by you as the harbinger of the Second Green Revolution, which means that it has great significance attached to it. Yet, you chose not to debate it with our elected representatives or with state governments. From all accounts, it did not even get discussed properly within the NARS. This is completely unacceptable.

Further, it is not clear what accountability mechanisms exist in the case of KIA - what reviews, what monitoring, who will be accountable and how. What needs to be done in case an American party needs to be made liable for a particular project, for instance?


We invite you to reverse the possibilities with the KIA by rescuing America from itself, its farming and its agri-corporations. Please get into a bilateral deal that teaches Americans alternative paradigms in agriculture and rescues America from the ’monoculture of mind’ that has evolved there. We want you to understand and make the Americans understand that democracy is not just liberty, equality and fraternity but also sustainability, plurality and generosity.

Given that Indian agriculture does not have anything in common with American farming, given that we have vast amounts of experience, knowledge and capabilities on a variety of subjects within the country, given that the KIA does not seem to have any benefits for farmers but only negative implications, given that the Second Green Revolution if any has to be launched in the country only after due deliberative and democratic processes, given that the IPR implications from the deal are stacked against Indian interests and given that the current agrarian crisis facing Indian farmers needs other fundamentally different solutions, we demand that your government :

 Put the implementation of the KIA on hold immediately. Review the whole deal with credible agricultural, political and social scientists along with farmers’ union and civil society representatives, like you are ready to do with the 123 Nuclear Deal, after pressure from other political parties. Further, debate the agreement within the Parliament and state Assemblies and discuss it with state governments.
 Draw up a fresh research agenda for the Indian NARS and its different local institutions after a broad based consultative process with farmers all over the country.
 Provide income security to all farmers in the country by providing them an assured monthly salary from any special financial mechanism that you evolve for the purpose.
 Allocate all the funds meant for agriculture extension in the hands of the targeted clientele after organizing the farmers for better accountability.
 Allow immediate access to indigenous germplasm collections to communities who wish to access such resources for conservation and use, through legislative and administrative means.

Requesting you to intervene in this matter immediately and take all our concerns on board,

Signed & endorsed by:

Personal description, if any
Organisation, if any


Kavitha Kuruganti
Centre for Sustainable Agriculture
12-13-445, Street # 1, Tarnaka
Secunderabad 500 017;
Phone: +91-9393001550