Harvesting Opportunities: Uniting India and the US for a Food-Secure Future

Harvesting Opportunities: Uniting India and the US for a Food-Secure Future

With a massive and diverse population of over 1.4 billion and rising, India has surpassed China to become the world’s most populous country according to the United Nations. India is fast becoming a global superpower, prominent in technology, defense, and diplomacy. India is also an agricultural superpower—despite an enormous population to feed, India is a net exporter of food.

Still, Indian agriculture is dominated by smallholder farms, and the country faces ongoing food security challenges. Indeed, the world has much to learn from India, but there are many ways the world can share knowledge and assist India as it develops and emerges onto the global scene. Presently, Grow Further is funding innovations to help African smallholder farmers grow more food. We hope to soon repeat this in India, though we are mindful that our approach may have to be adjusted in important ways.

“We see huge potential for our model in India,” as Grow Further founder and CEO Peter Kelly told an audience in Seattle on May 1. “India has millions of smallholder farmers, scientific research capacity, the capacity to not only serve its own farmers but also serve Africa and other parts of the world through agricultural research projects.”


Engaging with India

Two weeks ago, the Seattle University Roundglass India Center invited an in-person and online audience to hear and learn from five prominent food security experts.

The May 1 forum was titled “Harvesting Opportunities: Cultivating US-India Collaboration in Agriculture and Food” and ran for an hour. The discussion featured Peter alongside such food security leaders as Sonny Ramaswamy, most recently president of the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities and previously director of the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the federal government’s primary agricultural research grant-making program.  Other participants included Washington State University professor Girish Ganjyal, Meetu Kapur of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Sathguru Management Consultants CEO Vijay Raghavan.

The speakers touched on an array of food security-related topics, including crop genetics, plant breeding, organic farming, and more. In his presentation, Peter explained what Grow Further is and how our unique model for funding smallholder farm innovation stands out. He also got straight into his reasoning for participating in the forum. “The reason I am here today is that Grow Further is interested in expanding into India in the near future,” he announced.

Home to millions of smallholder farmers, India does a good job of feeding itself and other nations to which it exports food, but there is much left to be done. Climate change looms as an ever-present threat; hotter summers, droughts, and torrential rains make farming increasingly precarious in much of India. Poverty is also a serious obstacle to better food security. India experienced the Green Revolution, but panelists at the Seattle University event said the revolution isn’t over.

KV Raman, a Cornell University adjunct professor and moderator of the event, said “What we really need now is a grand Marshall Plan between the two countries,” referring to the way the US could ideally help India in the agricultural arena. The mention of the Marshall Plan is, of course, a reference to the US-funded effort to rebuild much of Western Europe after the Second World War.

Marshaling our combined strengths

“The Marshall Plan going back to post-Second World War is what allowed Western Europe to be what Western Europe is today,” Ramaswamy argued, expanding on Raman’s point. “That’s what we need, and we need that sort of thinking that brings together the best from across the globe, including from within India.”

Ramaswamy agrees with Peter that the potential for better India-US collaboration on food security is tremendous. “We’ve got the brains,” he said during the discussion. “It’s not that we don’t have the brains. We’ve got the capacity and capability to do this collectively.”

Kapur argued that those interested in partnering with India to help improve food security there and beyond should first start looking for “what India has to offer for the rest of the world.” As an example, she mentioned millets, a popular cereal crop regularly grown in India but less commonly found on farms outside the subcontinent. Kapur also mentioned research in India to develop more drought-resistant varieties of rice, research that will one day prove important to both India and the US.

Opportunities for the two countries partnering in agricultural research are seemingly endless, Kapur said, for both better food security and better nutrition. “There is a lot of space to be able to create convergence around shifting the framework from climate resilience to really nutrition resilience for the world,” she said. “That’s how I see that partnership play out.”

How to Grow Further in India

Peter concurred, adding that there are huge benefits to be gained from tapping into the talents and funds available among the large number of Indian-Americans and immigrants from India thriving in the United States today. “There’s great potential for engagement of the Indian diaspora as donors and volunteers,” he said. “The diaspora has an interest in science, a propensity to give, as well as high income.”

“And then within India, there is a strong and actually legally required corporate philanthropy sector that we would also like to engage,” Peter added.

However, he clarified that Grow Further appreciates India has a different regulatory environment. The way Grow Further goes about engaging with smallholder farm innovators and stakeholders in Africa may not necessarily work in India. Thus, Grow Further is developing a plan for engaging with India. We’re seeking out partners who can help us better understand how we can help researchers and smallholder farmers there grow more food, raise farm incomes, and improve nutritional outcomes.

Our strategy for better connecting with India is ongoing, but we are very excited about the opportunities that will emerge from collaborating with smallholder farm innovators there.

“We are planning to work with partners who understand the context and the regulatory environment and so on, and start with a few projects and grow from there, as we have in other parts of the world,” Peter explained at the Seattle U forum. “But in terms of the details, we’re still developing the strategy.” 

— Grow Further

Photo credit: Nodoka Kondo, Seattle University Roundglass India Center.

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