Review ICAR-Bayer MOU : PCPSPS

Ensure that official agencies are not becoming marketing avenues for corporates, demands the organization Statement by Peoples’ Commission

Statement by Peoples’ Commission

The People’s Commission on Public Sector and Public Services (PCPSPS) finds that the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Bayer, an MNC on September 1, 2023 without even having guidelines on joint research with multinational corporations (MNCs) in place. The agreement has the mandate “to develop resource-ef icient, climate-resilient solutions for crops, varieties, crop protection, weed, and mechanization. The collaboration will focus on working together on agriculture sustainability program ef orts by providing quality agricultural inputs and advisory services to farmers in a systems approach” Earlier, ICAR signed similar MOUs on research collaboration with Bayer, one on cultivation of pomegranates and another on “Development of Drone-based Potatoes Crop Management Technologies”.

We feel distressed that the Council, which is an apex public sector institution of eminence, the largest of its kind in the world, with its vast network of research associates and field-level extension agencies spread across the length and breadth of the country, which has been coordinating, guiding and managing research and education in agriculture including horticulture, fisheries and animal sciences in India for more than nine decades, an institution which spearheaded the Green Revolution that transformed India’s agriculture and made the country self-sufficient in food grains production, should choose it appropriate to enter into an agreement with a profit-driven MNC and allow it to exploit the Council’s unique brand value, its public credibility and its vast infrastructure to pursue its own commercial plans in the country. In the field of agriculture, ICAR has much more to offer to others than what a private company like Bayer can give.

We understand that inadequate state funding is driving the ICAR scientists to enter into the agreements with the companies like Bayer. Today India has a research intensity of 0.37% only. This is much lower than 3.1% for advanced capitalist countries, 0.62% for China and 1.8% for Brazil. In FY 2020–21, as per the Union budget, India’s expenditure on agricultural R&D (ICAR budget) was a meagre INR 7762 crore (about USD 1.1 billion) (Government of India 2021a). There lies a huge scope for achieving better results. The expenditure on agricultural R&D needs at least to be doubled immediately. Decline of quality of technology generation and human resource development in state agricultural universities (SAUs) is attributed to structural factors with reasons in lack of sufficient support from State Governments and Central Government, reduced faculty strength, inadequate faculty development programmes and ageing of scientists. Only a few SAUs have been able to retain a critical mass of scientific manpower. While the national agricultural research system did realize some increase in the strength of faculty in the SAUs after 2003-04 (till 2012-13), but a large part of the increase went for recruitment done for the benefit of standalone single faculty SAUs. The shortfall began after 2013-14. The decrease was more in SAUs than in ICAR institutes. We are not sure whether the Union Cabinet had a prior opportunity to consider the pros and cons of ICAR’s proposals to sign MOUs with Bayer, as such arrangements not only lend undue authenticity to Bayer’s commercial products and services in the eyes of the field-level agencies functioning under the aegis of ICAR but also allow Bayer to gain an undue advantage of ICAR’s credibility as a premier agency in India in the field of research in agriculture.

In our view, such MOUs make a mockery of the so-called “Atmanirbhar” effort of the government, in so far as agriculture is concerned. Considering that MNCs like Bayer promote the use of chemicals in agriculture, a partnership between ICAR and Bayer of this kind constitutes an antithesis to the nation-wide mission launched by the Prime Minister recently to propagate natural farming as a more sustainable alternative. An official press release on March 19, 2023 stated, “Natural farming is the
only way for conservation of earth- (the government under the leadership of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi is continuously working to promote it) ( In that context, ICAR’s MOUs with Bayer are clearly counter-productive and out of place with the stated priority of the government in agriculture. It is important to note that several chemicals promoted by MNCs like Bayer are known to cause carcinogenic and other diseases, for which the concerned companies are facing litigation in several countries. The products marketed by such MNCs are patented, carrying prices which are not affordable in the Indian context, whose active ingredients (AIs) are being imported from the parent company located outside causing the drain of foreign exchange. Though the Patents Act empowers the concerned regulatory authority to grant compulsory licenses after the end of a three-year timeframe to domestic firms prepared to manufacture and sell those products at more reasonable prices, there have been instances of the MNCs dragging the regulator into expensive litigation at the cost of the public. Against such a background, it is distressing to find official agencies like the ICAR allowing those very same MNCs to take advantage of their name and facilities to market their products and services.

In the federal allocation of subjects under the Constitution, the subjects, “agriculture, including agricultural education and research, protection against pests and prevention of plant diseases” lie within the jurisdiction of the States. ICAR which is an autonomous organisation under the Department of Agricultural Research and Education (DARE), Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare , Government of India, functions within such a set up, in close association with the States, providing advice to them in matters relating to agricultural research, innovation and extension of knowledge to the farming community, through its field-level agencies. There are several ICAR-sponsored research institutions and State-level agricultural universities which are engaged in outstanding research work relevant to Indian agricultural environment. Several States have launched their own natural farming missions to free the farmers from the use of chemicals and other unsustainable practices. It is therefore not clear as to why ICAR should choose to promote Bayer in multiple areas of agricultural research. Even in fields such as the use of drones, there are many domestic firms which have developed highly innovative, affordable technologies that need to be promoted. ICAR has the ability to them more efficient. Though India has become self-sufficient in terms of food grains production, as a result of its increasing dependence on chemical fertilisers, pesticides etc., it is becoming more and more dependent on imports, a situation that has got accentuated recently, when the prices of imported fertilisers spiked, as a result of the ongoing Ukraine conflict. The domestic fertiliser manufacturers have therefore shifted their focus to making available organic fertilisers. Institutions such as ICAR should, instead of promoting chemical agro-products marketed by MNCs like Bayer, should shift their focus to agroecological approaches, biological inputs and integrated farming systems, which will help Indian agriculture to sustain in the long run. Though, as a result of a continuing agitation by farmers across the country against the three egregious farm laws, the Central government had no other alternative than to revoke the same, the latter seems to be providing entry for private agencies through the backdoor, by resorting to arrangements with them as in the case of ICAR’s MOU with Bayer. In our view, in the long run, opening agriculture to large private firms will expose the farming communities to undue risks, impoverish and disempower them. Such an approach would not augur for the well-being of the farming communities. Instead, the government should assure the farmers of a minimum support price for their produce on the lines recommended by the Swaminathan Committee, so that farming may become a remunerative activity. We request the government to review the ICAR-Bayer MOUs and similar other MOUs/ agreements entered into by other official agencies with large corporates, not only in agriculture but also in other fields, so as to ensure that official agencies may not become marketing avenues for corporates.

Peoples Commission on Public Sector and Public Services. About Peoples’ Commission on Public Sector and Public Services (PCPSPS): Peoples’ Commission on Public Sector and Services includes eminent academics, jurists, erstwhile administrators, trade unionists and social activists. PCPSPS intends to have in-depth consultations with all stakeholders and people concerned with the process of policy making and those against the government’s decision to monetise, disinvest and privatise public assets/enterprises and produce several sectoral reports before coming out with a final report. Here is the first interim report of commission- Privatisation: An Affront to the Indian Constitution.

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