04 May 2011

Sustainable Agriculture, Federalism in the US and the Department of State

On 3 May 2011 the program has been really exciting and I wanted to write more, but time will permit me to only jot down a few quick points. We the participants under the 'Food Security and Sustainable Development' theme of the International Visitor Leadership Program had three meetings.

The day began with a meeting/interaction at the office of the National Sustainable Agricultural Coalition with their Executive Director, Susan Prolman. One view that opend up is that 'sustainable' is not necessarily totally against fertilizers and pesticides, but it does engage with the ills of higly energy intensive and chemical input intensive monocropping systems of agriculture. Similar efforts in India include the Association for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture that recently organized a Kisan Swaraj Yatra (Farmers Freedom Tour).

The next meeting was with Mr Akram Elias who introduced us to the American system of federalism and the separation of power. Some of the highlights that would indeed help us understand and carry forward the interactions as we go are the following. (a) The individual is the basic unit of social order (of cousre, family and community are important but because the indivuduals want it as such) and from that perspective it the individual's spirituality (not any specific religion) and the pragmatic political aspects. (b) There are certain rights that the individual has (for instance, speech, religion, ...) and the state does not interfere in these affairs - they are in the domain of the individual. (c) Following from the above, the government has a limited role in the economic sphere. It is association of individuals that initiate policies so as to exchange information, develop standard or code of conduct, help upgrade skils/knowledge and take to advocacy/lobbying to espouse their cause. The government's role is to regulate or deregulate as demanded by the people. (d) The USA is a federal government with the states having delinqished three important powers - defense, monetary policy and foreign policy. In all other domestic matters it is the state government. The questions that keep bothering is how to keep the vested interest out. This is by reiterating that the capitalism is a form of democractic capitalism. It is not against private property. It is not against people making profits (and it that sense against value added tax). But they need to be regulated. And as I would like to add; it should definitely be a matter of concern if one person's methods of making profits is scuttling the freedom and capability of many others.

We had lunch at one of the outlets of Sizzling Express, a Korean joint, and let me tell each one of us could fill our plates according to our wish. Eunmi and Rambabu are you listening.

The last meeting was at the Department of State. It began with a tour of the section where they have kept the gifts that the Secretary of State or others receive during their vists abroad. We then went up to the Library to have a meeting with a very illuminating interaction with some of their staff (Melissa, Bill, Kevan, Rebacca and Anthony). There were a range of interesting discussions coving subsidies (both in the US and in developing countries), poor implementation of schemes in the developing countries, infrastructure and marketing, global concerns of food security and hunger including rising prices, community-based sustainable practices in the US as also in India and a host of other concerns.

In the evening went to Gerorgetown Park (met a Pakistani man who traced his roots to Lucknow and a student from Seri Lingampally in Hyderabad who was working on a part-time basis) and then walked down the Potomac. It wa a lovely day!

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