The Times of India
Rumu Banerjee, TNN
July 20, 2009
NEW DELHI: Days after the government said it was planning to introduce genetically modified food crops in the country in three years, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton gave a clear indication of the US administration’s approval of deploying `cutting-edge technology’ to raise crop yields.
During her first visit to India as secretary of state, which included a strategic stop at the country’s premier agriculture institute, Indian Agricultural Research Institute, Clinton was vocal about the need to address the "root" of the problem of world hunger: crop productivity. And helping increase crop yield would be cutting-edge technology, she claimed.
"India’s leadership in agriculture is absolutely crucial," Clinton said as she spoke at length on the US administration’s focus on global hunger and malnutrition. Pledging to "work and support" Indian initiatives, Clinton added, "We have to work together. It is imperative that we invest in science that increases crop yield."
The remarks comes in the face of continued opposition to genetically modified food crops in India. While the government has been talking about giving support to the introduction of GM crops, it has only allowed the entry of GM cotton, known as BT cotton.
Clinton’s statement at the Pusa institute, however, was clear about where the US administration stood on the issue. Talking about the Green Revolution that took place in India in the 1960s, she emphasised the need for close cooperation between the two countries again: this time, in agriculture and the use of technology in this field.
"India has 3% of the world’s crop land but feeds 17% of the world’s population. Its leadership in agriculture is crucial… we are looking at ways to accelerate in a short period of time the growth of productivity," Clinton said.
Questioned about the US’s commitment to GM crops, as opposed to the cautious stand taken by the EU, Clinton admitted, "We’re looking at it in a holistic way, by being very vigilant about how we do it." Interestingly, while the emphasis on technology in agriculture was more than apparent, Clinton avoided using the emotive word `GM’ throughout her interaction.
However, Clinton’s visit — which was to learn more about research done by IARI, helped by US funding, to develop seeds that give better productivity and crops that use less water as well as farm equipment that reduce production costs — was indicative of the thrust on technology that US plans to give in the collaboration agreement that will be signed on Monday.
Speaking about the "five pillars of collaboration that US-India would be redefining", Clinton said agriculture was one of the "strongest pillars". Giving support to Clinton’s statement was agriculture minister Sharad Pawar. "For India, a key priority is to trigger the next generation of reforms in the agrarian economy… Our joint collaboration in frontier areas of research including biotechnology could make a significant contribution to the world," he said.
Accompanying Clinton was new US ambassador to India Timothy Roemer and special envoy on climate change Todd Stern as well as other senior officials. Also present were Dr Mangala Rai, DG, ICAR; Indian ambassador to US Meera Shankar, A K Upadhyay, special secretary, department of agriculture and education and H S Gupta, director, IARI.