The Planning Commission has, despite dissent from some quarters, decided to rope in a handful of consultants of Indian origin based in the US to devise a strategy to revive the agricultural sector.
These consultants will study different areas of agriculture and come up with concrete ideas to step up growth and add value to primary produce using advanced technologies.
A technical advisory committee has been constituted by the Plan body under D.P.S. Verma, professor, Department of Molecular Genetics & Plant Biotechnology of the Ohio State University.
Verma will be joined by other US-based experts such as Suri Sehgal of The Sehgal Foundation, Jamil Hamada of the US Department of Agriculture, and Ganesh Kishore, managing director of Burrill and Company and former senior scientific advisor, Dupont.
Four Indian agriculture experts are also part of the panel which will be convened by V.V. Sadamate, adviser, Planning Commission.
“With the kind of focus we are laying on agriculture and related sectors, especially animal husbandry and horticulture, there will be a huge marketable surplus in some years, and to handle this surplus we need expert opinion in various areas from processing to supply chain management,” said a senior official close to the development who did not wish to be identified. He added that only 6% of India’s agricultural production is processed, whereas even Vietnam processes 30-40% of its produce.
The panel will evaluate the technologies being used by agri-processing industries and suggest better options; identify private sector partners willing to participate and states’ willingness to accept modern technology; evaluate the impact of secondary agricultural revolution on rural development. It’s recommendations will come five months after working with the Commission.
With India being the second largest producer of fruits and vegetables and the largest producer of milk, this move is in line with the government’s Vision 2015, which envisages trebling the size of the processed food sector, increasing processing perishable food produce from 6% to 20% and doubling India’s share in global food trade to 3%.
However, critics have questioned the wisdom of creating a committee made up of non-resident Indians considering the National Development Council’s decision for the 11th Plan was already in place. “We have five reports of the National Commission on Farmers headed by M.S. Swaminathan, besides the Planning Commission itself, set up 12 working groups for the 11th Plan. Then we have the steering committee report made by professor Hanumantha Rao. What value will this committee bring to the table?”, asked a Planning Commission official on condition of anonymity.
The Left Front, an ally of the ruling United Progressive Alliance, expressed similar reservations. “We don’t want any foreign or NRI experts to advise us. It’s a complete waste of money and it will also lead to acrimony among the experts based in India. We have enough experts on agriculture across the country. This is just like the World Bank advising us on how we should run our economy. I shall take up the matter with the Prime Minister.” said Gurudas Dasgupta, Communist Party of India’s leader in Lok Sabha.
Question are also being raised on expenses. “There will be no honorarium for these members. Only travel and dearness allowance will be given to them, that too those incurred in connection with the meetings of the committee,” said the official.
R.A. Mashelkar former director general of Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and currently Bhatnagar Fellow, National Chemical Laboratory, Pune says cross cultural flow of expertise and talent should not be frowned upon. “Agriculture in India today is fast breaking traditional norms. For instance, precision input, which entails just the right amount of input mixing to get the required amount of output, will soon become a reality as also nano technology. Technical expertise therefore helps,” he said. However, he cautioned that at the end of the day, India should do what serves it’s interest best.
Jacob?Koshy?and?Ashish Sharma contributed to this story.