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India can become the food bowl of the world
The Union Government has permitted FDI up to 100 per cent in several agricultural activities under the automatic route, subject to certain conditions. IE, through its not-for-profit venture, Agriculture Consultancy Management Foundation, focuses on the application of science, technology and management to upgrade the sector. This FDI can be a game changer to this lagging sector. We interviewed experts Dr M S Swaminathan and Dr Shanthu Shantharam, visiting professor at the Iowa State University, for their views. Excerpts:

Industrial Economist(IE): Will this 100 per cent FDI be a game changer in agriculture?    

Dr M S Swaminathan(MSS): Our agriculture and rural development need more investment, particularly in the areas of post-harvest technology, value addition to primary products and value chain development. Therefore, FDI will be useful if it helps to fill gaps in our internal rural infrastructure.   



Dr Shanthu Shantharam(SS): Definitely. If we address other factors also, it will be a game changer .  The government must also double or triple its investment to build the necessary infrastructure for agricultural development.  Either FDI or private sector will not invest wholesale in infrastructure.




What policy changes need to be implemented to attract FDI in agriculture?   


MSS: We should ensure that the FDI is pro-small farmer. Already there is jobless economic growth and attracting and retaining youth in farming is our primary challenge. FDI should help in the technological upgrading of our agriculture so that young educated can start programmes like agri-clinics and agri-business centres.   

SS: IPR policy, biotechnology regulatory policy and inter-state trade in agricultural commodities must be redressed on a priority basis.


What technologies do you think will enhance agriculture and how can productivity be increased? What role will opening up of FDI play in this?   


MSS: The technology must be environmentally sound and socially equitable. FDI should not be the cause for the further marginalisation of resource-poor farmers.   

SS: There is no other technology other than modern biotechnology that will help improve the performance of Indian agriculture and that technology has been held in suspended animation for over five years.  That needs to change.  Also, investments in GIS and other smart agricultural tools should be made.  Modern global agri-businesses who are leaders in modern agricultural technology will bring all their inventions to bear on Indian agriculture.


How far has India developed in handling agriculture produce? Will this be of use to contain food wastage?   


MSS: There is a mis-match between production technology and post-harvest technology with the result that both producers and consumers do not derive full benefit from production. Food losses and wastages are high. This is why one of the five points of the UN Secretary General’s Zero Hunger Challenge deals with containment of food losses.   

SS: India’s track record of handling agricultural produce has been pathetic.  It is the total lack of cold-storage throughout the supply chain that is the bane.  I think FDI can bring substantial investments in building this necessary infrastructure for the benefit of agriculture.


How do you expect the food processing infrastructure to develop?   


MSS: The infrastructure should help both production and post-harvest operations. At the production level, agricultural engineering, soil health management, irrigation water security and pest and disease management are critical. The government has started Food Parks for developing food processing infrastructure. These parks should be developed on scientific lines.   

SS: Food processing needs plenty of new technologies and that can be brought in by FDI from global agribusinesses. India also needs lots of food packaging technology that can be got from foreign businesses.


Your dream for Indian agriculture and where you foresee it realised in five years.   


MSS: My hope and dream relate to the economic prosperity of small farmers on the one hand and on the other the realisation of goal 2 of the Sustainable Development Goals recently adopted by UN Member countries. This goal deals with ‘end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.’   

SS: My dream for Indian agriculture is to achieve at least 5 per cent annual rate of growth with strong help from modern science and technology.



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IE, the business magazine from south was launched in 1968 and pioneered business journalism in south. Through the 45 years IE has been focusing on well-presented and well-researched articles. When giants in the industry stumbled to keep pace with the digital revolution, IE stayed affixed embracing technology.
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