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Indian farming group gets tips in Franklin Co.

June 09, 2008|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - After meeting with Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Secretary Dennis Wolff and visiting greenhouses, produce auctions, a hydroponic farm and other sites of interest, a group of agriculture officials sat down Thursday to a fairly typical Pennsylvania meal - chicken, macaroni and cheese, coleslaw and apple compote.

Standard fare for Pennsylvanians, but perhaps new to the palates of the visitors from the states of Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka and Rajasthan in India. They were here as part of a three-year U.S. Agency for International Development program known as Strengthening Agricultural Marketing Systems (SAMS).

The days of American parents admonishing children to clean their plates by invoking the starving children of China or India are past. India can produce what it needs to feed a population of more than 1.1 billion people, but the country needs to develop its marketing, storage and processing capabilities to further increase productivity, said Patricia A. Fulton of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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The change in India's economy from agrarian to industrial has been swift but uneven, said H.R. Srinivasa, director of the Department of Agricultural Marketing in Karnataka, one of India's 28 states.

In 1995, about 70 percent of the nation's gross domestic product was generated by agriculture, Srinivasa said. In 2007, farming accounted for just 17 percent of the GDP, but 65 percent of the people were still involved in agriculture, he said.

The wealthier the nation, the more its people can afford to eat. Srinivasa said per capita consumption of food was 183 kilos (about 403 pounds) a year in 1991, a figure that has risen to 222 kilos (488 pounds) a year.

That translates into 90 billion or more pounds of food a year.

India needs to increase agricultural production in a land with nearly four times the population of the United States on one-third the land, but farmers also want higher prices, Srinivasa said.

"They are looking at marketing agricultural products so the primary producers, the farmers, are benefiting the most," said Bhushan Jayarao, a Penn State University extension veterinarian and one of the hosts of the tour.

Extension Agent Steve Bogash shepherded the officials around to farms and auctions, and gave them a tour of the extension service's gardens and greenhouses on Franklin Farm Lane.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is implementing the USAID SAMS program in partnership with land grant colleges such as Penn State, Fulton said. Experts in different fields have been sent to India to "develop a cadre of master trainers" to disseminate information to other farmers.

During the past three years, approximately 90 mango farmers and 60 grape farmers from his state have been trained through the program, he said.

"We are amazed at the capabilities of American farmers to adapt to the changing times," Srinivasa said. "The markets have been in doldrums ... but U.S. farmers have shown us the way to get better prices for their produce."

"No farmer is blindly copying the other farmers" among those the group met with last week, Srinivasa said.

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