U.S.-India Agricultural Cooperation
February 11, 2021
While India’s recent agricultural reforms are contentious, they present important new opportunities for a range of global partners to boost agriculture modernization and represent a possibility for important engagement by the new Biden administration. India’s agriculture system needs to urgently address new priorities, such as improving resilience to climate change, producing more nutritious food, and adapting to shifts in consumption patterns among India’s growing middle class. There is a role for U.S. investors to bring skills, technology, and opportunities for scaling up U.S.-Indian collaborative research initiatives, particularly in the emerging area of sustainable agriculture.
Agricultural Research Partnerships
Experts in both countries are trying to identify the most useful areas to focus on in terms of possible future collaborations on agricultural research, information exchanges, and technology transfer initiatives that can foster deeper cooperation on sustainable agriculture. For example, the Tata-Cornell Institute for Agriculture and Nutrition (TCI) is a long-term research initiative designed to reorient India’s agricultural policies to better support the production of more nutritious foods.
As India must prioritize efforts to preserve its underground water, decrease pesticide pollution, and increase its agricultural biodiversity, the recent shift toward increased U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) research on sustainable agriculture is especially relevant for future U.S.-Indian collaborative research opportunities. For example, most USDA research and extension funding was traditionally focused on ways to enhance yields of crops or animal products, and few resources were dedicated to research on ecologically sustainable agriculture. However, as concerns have grown about the ecological impacts of conventional agriculture, the USDA has stepped up research on alternative approaches such as agroecological farming systems. One such effort is a 13-year long experiment by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, which has shown that organic farming can be profitable.
These types of collaborative research initiatives can be given an important boost if the two countries revive the U.S.-India Agriculture Dialogue as well as the U.S.-India Agricultural Knowledge Initiative (AKI), which had supported linkages between India and U.S.-based land-grant institutions with extensive experience in agricultural research, training, and extension. Agriculture cooperation will be boosted if policymakers keep in mind other related reforms such as India’s new National Education Policy (NEP), which promises to stimulate more international cooperation in higher education research and exchanges.
There are many small scale innovations being developed by U.S. farmers based on successful agroecological methods that could inform future U.S.-India joint ventures and research collaborations. For example, A-Frame Farm, a 450-acre farm in Madison, Minnesota, has shown that organic corn and soybeans can be produced profitably without using any pesticides by adopting cover cropping and crop rotation techniques to build soil fertility. Swanton Berry Farm in California uses a fruit-vegetable crop rotation strategy to successfully produce organic strawberries without the use of pesticides. Singing Frogs Farm in California, which receives support from the USDA Pollinator Campaign, has a program designed to assist farmers who diversify their landscapes and restore endangered native pollinator habitats, which successfully produces fruits and vegetables intercropped with flowering hedgerows selected to ensure year-round blooms provide forage for honeybees and native pollinators.
Opportunities for U.S. Investors in India’s Agricultural Markets
With a high percentage of waste in its current agricultural transportation infrastructure, the Indian market can provide significant new investment opportunities for leading U.S. companies in cold chain transportation logistics and frozen foods distribution. And with new reforms designed to expand contract farming, India could become a cost-effective strategic supplier to the United States for key food products with new agriculture value chains designed to meet the needs of U.S. consumers, thereby creating additional food supply channels for U.S. markets and benefitting Indian farmers with secured markets. In return, U.S. firms can help India develop value chains for new crops, such as sugar beet, to cater to new demands of its growing middle class and global consumer markets. The U.S. agricultural sector can also bring its expertise in internet and digital innovations to help the growing demand in India for technology that can help to modernize and streamline several aspects of India’s agriculture value chains.
The shift in U.S. investor sentiment about the scalability of sustainable agricultural comes at a time of historic policy reforms to the agricultural sector in India, a new administration in the United States, and growing economic and security ties between the two countries. The conflux of these developments suggests that important opportunities for expanding U.S.-India agricultural trade could be on the horizon.