United States, India To Expand Agricultural Collaboration

By Kathryn McConnell
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - A new partnership between the United States and India is intended to expand agricultural science and technology collaboration between the two countries with the goal of reducing hunger and poverty, a top U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) official says.

The partnership, called the U.S.-India Agricultural Knowledge Initiative (AKI), seeks to increase agricultural production, said Ellen Terpstra, deputy under secretary for farm and foreign agricultural services.

Terpstra, who co-chairs the AKI board of directors with Mangala Rai, secretary of India's Department of Agriculture Research and Education, spoke October 18 at the World Food Prize Symposium in Iowa.

During its first three years, the program is slated to focus on improvements in food processing, marketing, biotechnology and water management in India. It also plans to help universities in India develop community farm extension services delivered through programs based in agricultural universities, she said.

In addition, the two nations plan to collaborate on building India's trade and "supportive" policy and regulatory capacity, Terpstra said.

In June, the AKI board selected 15 candidates from India to participate in the Norman Borlaug International Agricultural Science and Technology Fellowship Program, which brings research scientists and policy-makers from developing nations to United States for short-term scientific training. (See related article.)

The purpose of the training program is to help those specialists gain the knowledge necessary to adopt new farm technologies in their countries. Specialists also learn how to address obstacles to the adoption of those technologies, such as "ineffectual" policies and regulations, according to USDA.

Each "fellow" is assigned a mentor who will coordinate the individual’s training and will visit the fellow's home country after the end of training. Training venues include U.S. agricultural universities, USDA and other government agencies, private companies, not-for-profit institutions and international agricultural research centers.

The Borlaug fellowship program is named after the Nobel laureate known as the "father of the Green Revolution," whose developments of high-yielding wheat varieties helped reverse severe food shortages in India and Pakistan in the 1960s, saving millions from starvation. Borlaug founded the 20-year-old World Food Prize, which in 2006 will be awarded October 19 to one U.S. and two Brazilian scientists whose combined work transformed the large Cerrado region of Brazil from nonproductive land into highly productive cropland.

Terpstra said she hoped the India fellows will "become inspired and return home with the goal of making a difference in the quality, safety and availability of food" in their home country.

The AKI board also will select 12 Cochran Fellowship Program participants. That program provides U.S.-based training of three to six weeks. The new Cochran fellows from India will study nontraditional farming practices, biotechnology and post-harvest management, Terpstra said.

The Cochran program was named for Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran and is designed for specialists and administrators from middle-income and emerging market economies whose principal agricultural exports may not compete significantly with U.S. agricultural products.

AKI was announced in July 2005 by President Bush and India Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during Bush's visit to India. (See fact sheet.)