Memorandum by Mr. J. Robert Fluker of the Office of South Asian Affairs


The Indian Food Crisis

India is confronted with a new food crisis of alarming proportions. This crisis is a result of unprecedented disasters which have aggravated India’s already precarious food situation.

The northeast monsoon, which normally brings the rainfall needed for the rice paddies in Madras State, failed for the fourth consecutive year. The last hopes for a good harvest in Bihar vanished recently when practically no rain fell on the almost mature rice. In this time when India desperately needed good crops calamity followed calamity. Earthquakes in Assam, floods in the Punjab and visitations of locust in Rajputana compounded the devastation of India’s stored foodgrains and standing crops.

The political opposition, particularly with the Communists, are exploiting the situation, charging the Government with indifference to the peasant’s lot. The Communists have had considerable success in organizing the rural areas into autonomous districts from which Government officials have been excluded by force.

In attempting to take all measures to counteract this opposition the Government of India planned to reduce ration requirements to 6.5 million tons and to supply all but 1.5 million tons from domestic procurement. With the rice crop short by some 4 million tons, however, imports must be increased. The Government of India originally planned to meet the situation with imports of 4 million tons of foodgrains. At this writing India is procuring 2.7 million tons of foodgrains through purchase abroad. India is also in the process of procuring [Page 2086] an additional 1.3 million tons of foodgrains by purchase on the open market and by additional allocation under the International Wheat Agreement.

The Government of India, however, has been unable to finance the procurement of the additional 2 million tons (74 million bushels) and on December 16th Madame Pandit2 officially appealed to the Secretary of State for United States aid in financing the additional 2 million tons.3 It is the Department’s position that the alleviation of the Indian food problem is a necessity. In view of the fact that the Government stocks of foodgrains are rapidly dwindling and of the need for containing Communist Imperialism, it is felt that India must be aided in this time of crisis which strikes at the very existence of people in India and the present Government of India.

The Department of Agriculture has informally estimated that the quantities of wheat available for export in the first half of 1951 will far exceed the 2 million tons requested by the Government of India. The Department’s investigation into the availability of shipping or transport of the desired tonnage indicated that transportation will be available by mid-March.

The exact method of financing this request has been under investigation by the Department in collaboration with ECA. Following discussions with the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Commerce, the cost of supplying 2 million tons of foodgrains to the Government of India was estimated at $214 million, including $180 million for the purchase of grain and $34 million for delivery to India.

The root of India’s overall food program, without the additional requirements posed by the recent disasters, lies in the static production practices and low yields per acre due to the inadequacy of knowledge, incentive and material means. The Government of India’s “Grow-More-Food” program is intended to mitigate its food problem by means of land reclamation, extension services, irrigation projects and the like. In support of this aim the Department has developed a tentative South Asian program. This tentative program proposes the expenditure of some $120 million in fiscal 1952 on an improved seed [Page 2087] program, land reclamation, steel modernization, etc., which will aid India in achieving self-sufficiency and will enable India to make a substantial contribution to the United States’ efforts in the event of an all out war.

Earlier discussions with the ECA developed the possibilities of integrating a cross-section of the Aid Program for fiscal 1952 with the emergency relief involved in supplying the requirement for 2 million tons of foodgrains.

  1. Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, Indian Ambassador.

    “I told Madame Pandit of our awareness of the situation and of our sympathy for her Government in its difficulty. I mentioned that the figure required was very large, especially in time of great demand like the present, and stated that acceding to her request would require going to Congress for funds to which Madame Pandit agreed. I told her, however, that we desired to be helpful and would explore the situation urgently and thoroughly, examining the total supplies needed and the anticipated source of these supplies, as well as the provisions to prevent a recurrence in the future of such a demand which I understood to be of a non-repetitive nature.” (891.03/12–1650)

  2. A memorandum of conversation with Madame Pandit by Secretary Acheson on December 16, 1950, not printed, read in part as follows: