Remarks at a News Briefing Held in Connection With the Message on Food for India
[At news briefing on the Indian food program was held at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, March 30, 1966, in the Fish Room at the White House. The President entered the room in the course of the briefing and joined in the question-and-answer session. Other officials present were Orville Freeman, Secretary of Agriculture; William B. Macomber, Assistant Administrator, Office of Near East-South Asia, Agency for International Development; and Bill Moyers and Robert Komer, Special Assistants to the President. During the briefing it was stated that the United States would spend $1 billion over an 18-month period in food aid for India and that assistance from Canada and other countries was expected. The President was asked how soon he hoped Congress would act on the resolution he had requested (see Item 153). His response and the remainder of the briefing follow.]
THE PRESIDENT. In a matter like this, we don't put a time on it. I put a special paragraph in the message this morning inviting anything they could contribute to this discussion, asking them to debate it, approve it, and make any recommendations they want to.
The Easter holidays are coming on. There is no deadline. It is not like a tax bill or expiration of the draft or something of that kind. We want them to take ample time to have hearings, debate the question, modify, amend, or improve.
We have the authority to do it without asking them, but we know that the size of the contribution is such that they will be in on the landing, so it seems to me more desirable that they also be in on the takeoff.
Q. Mr. Secretary, did your $1 billion figure include the cotton?
SECRETARY FREEMAN. Yes.
Q. On tobacco and cotton, Mr. Secretary, do the usual end-use conditions apply, consumption in India? Could they be used to acquire foreign exchange?
SECRETARY FREEMAN, I am not sure I understand your question.
Q. Normally our stuff has to be consumed or used in India.
SECRETARY FREEMAN. The answer is yes.
Q. Mr. Secretary, on this self-help program that they have launched, do we have any projection as to when the Indians may become self-sufficient in agriculture?
SECRETARY FREEMAN. The Indians themselves have said that with the plan they have launched, they are shooting for a target of being self-sufficient in agriculture by 1971. We have not made an estimate yet and I really couldn't make one at this point. Give me another year and I think I could make one. At this point I wouldn't want to pass judgment on that prediction.
Q. Mr. Secretary, does this Indo-United States Foundation, which the President proposed the other night, require congressional authorization?
SECRETARY FREEMAN. That is referred to the Congress and is going to the respective committees under a special provision in the Food and Agriculture Act of 1965. If the committees do not act negatively in connection with it, it automatically goes into effect.
Q. Mr. Secretary, the last report we have had on the controversy over getting the fertilizer plants going in India was that the program was still lagging because of difficulties between the private companies and the Indian Government. Can you tell us how this is coming along?
SECRETARY FREEMAN. The regulations and restrictions. that the private sector felt to be such as to be unworkable have been removed. Now these matters are being expedited. There has been established a special Cabinet level committee, chaired by the Indian Minister of Agriculture, to expedite the processing within their government and overcome any bureaucratic hurdles.
I think that the complaints of the private fertilizer companies have been answered and that from here on out, particularly in light of the generally satisfactory discussions and the fine relationship that the President and the Prime Minister exhibited during this visit, that they will be encouraged and I feel confident that we will have more activity from the private sector of the economy in India.
THE PRESIDENT. I think it fair to observe some people were watching developments in the last few days and were awaiting this visit to see what came out of it.
Q. You mean the fertilizer industry in this country, Mr. President?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes.
Q. Mr. Secretary, is there any shortage of shipping to handle this volume?
SECRETARY FREEMAN. No, it will move expeditiously.
Q. Mr. Secretary, in addition to our appeal to all nations, is India making its own basic appeal to these countries?
SECRETARY FREEMAN. Indeed, yes. They have made a strong appeal and they have a traveling team, some of the prominent people in their government, that has actually called on different countries around the world. They have had their Ambassadors make an official request. They have been taking strong measures to try to get other countries to assist.
Q. You say the shortage is 17 million and they could get by with 11 million? How can they do that?
SECRETARY FREEMAN. They will just eat less. The amount of intake is going to drop a bit. Also, they are going to scrape the barrel dry. They had a good crop last year. Some has been tucked away and that is going to come out. They have very, very modest reserves. They feel they will have to spend that. Mother Hubbard's cupboard is going to be bare. Some people will be hungry, but they feel there won't be starvation and they can get by with this small help.
Q. How much money in foreign exchange do the Indians need to get their new agriculture program underway? What is the status of that?
SECRETARY FREEMAN. They need an awful lot more, of course, than they have. If you were living in an ideal world and they could go and buy everything they need, it would be a lot more than they have. I don't have the immediate, current foreign exchange position which is very hard to surface, but let's say that they have doubled their own foreign exchange allotments for agricultural purchases outside and will continue to invest more.
Q. Excuse me, sir. I am not talking about purchasing wheat. I am talking about purchasing raw materials for fertilizer plants, and so on.
SECRETARY FREEMAN. This is what I was talking about. Do you have a dollar figure on that?
MR. KOMER. The Indians are finalizing their fourth plan frame, which is due to go into effect in April, but will be postponed primarily because of the Pak-Indian war. Until we see their plan we will not know precisely how much they are allocating to various sectors of the economy. But in this area alone they have allocated 30 percent more of the central government budget to agriculture and that proportion should go up because, as the Secretary said, they are giving top priority to agriculture in the new fourth plan.
SECRETARY FREEMAN. I think $100 million, since we have been conferring with them, to buy fertilizer around the world, is a safe figure.
Q. Mr. Secretary, this reallocation of priorities giving emphasis to agriculture--over what time period is this taking place?
SECRETARY FREEMAN. For the foreseeable future. It is built into the current 4-year plan.
Q. When did it start?
SECRETARY FREEMAN. It starts now. It started within the last 6 months. But it is built now into the budget which is their 4-year plan and a part of that is in their foreign exchange allocation.
Q. Reference is made in the message, Mr. Secretary, to AID. Is there any special program that we don't already know about?
SECRETARY FREEMAN. In this connection, if you read it closely, the President has suggested the possibility of an agriculture training corps or unit, or the word hasn't come out, seeking to use our agriculturists more effectively, perhaps something like the short courses that have been so successful in our land-grant colleges, to take those Indians who have had some agriculture training and update their training and get them out to do a more effective job of training and education in the agriculture sphere. We are working on getting some of the details of how this can be done right now.
THE PRESIDENT. I might elaborate on that. Dave Lilienthal1 and others who are very familiar with the problems there have said to me that you don't really help agricultural production a lot in a minister's office. Where you get the job done is out on the farm with know-how itself. We do a very exceptional job with TVA, the Agricultural Department, and various national and regional organizations, the Farm Bureau and others calling folks together and planning, talking, educating, and training, and so forth.
If we could just have some farm know-how right at that acre level, it would do more to increase production than anything else. How do we get that farm know-how at that level? We just didn't have time to work out that detail before my message went up. But I said to the Prime Minister that I would be very glad to send through the Peace Corps, or some appropriate agency, competent agricultural people. We could take some of our rupees and hire some of her people to receive this training and give them a short course in the hope that we could meet that deficiency that Mr. Lilienthal and others pointed up, namely, know-how at the acre level.
Q. Would a county agent plan be advisable in this situation?
THE PRESIDENT. We haven't gone into the details. We didn't have that in mind. That is a little more all-enveloping than we had given attention to now. Eventually it might come to that. But we thought more of bringing in people by the hundreds and giving them brief, expert training that they could communicate back to their neighbors.
Q. Mr. President, how do you appraise Mrs. Gandhi's visit 2 now that she has left town?
THE PRESIDENT. I thought it was very good, very fruitful, very productive, very satisfactory from our standpoint. We had very lengthy and detailed exchanges. We will, of course, have to see what the Congress' reaction to this message is, and to the aid message, and then there will be all the big hurdles and the details of the World Bank and the negotiations that will take place there. Things went very well at our level. I cannot speak for her, but I think she feels the same way.
Q. Is there any chance that you may be able to accept her invitation?
THE PRESIDENT. I would like very much to.
SECRETARY FREEMAN. Mr. President, Carroll Kilpatrick 3 has a son in the Peace Corps working on poultry in India right now.
Q. I was going to ask the Secretary: This $1 billion of our cost, what is the cost in rupees? How do you figure that? What does it cost the Indians?
SECRETARY FREEMAN. I don't know what the exchange rate is now.
Q. Mr. President, wouldn't the new foundation you propose have something to do with the know-how at the acre level also?
THE PRESIDENT. Yes. We will have to wait for the Congress to take some action and go through the steps of selecting the members and setting it up. This is just the beginning.
MR. MOYERS. This is all on the record, ladies and gentlemen, and there will not be an 11 o'clock briefing in order to give you time to file.
THE PRESIDENT. I think I might make an announcement-- I do not know whether I ought to do this or not, but I do not want any of you to take seriously someone's statement over at the State Department that we have named a new Ambassador to Japan because I have just read about it.
Q. Mr. Reischauer 4 is going to stay there?
THE PRESIDENT. I don't know. I guess in the good old days that was the way they named Ambassadors. Those days are gone and forgotten.
"The bridge of the railroad
Now crosses the spot,
And the old diving logs
Lay sunk and forgot."
If any of you are interested in knowing, we have reached absolutely no decision on wage and price control, taxes, or cutting expenditures. The only man I know who has his mind made up on it is not in the White House executive department.
Reporter: Thank you.
1 David E. Lilienthal, former Chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority, who was appointed in December 1966 to head a nongovernmental planning group to study the long-range development of the Vietnam economy.
2 see Items 148, 149, 152.
3 Reporter from the Washington Post.
4 Edwin O. Reischauer, U.S. Ambassador to Japan.
Note: The text of the complete news briefing is printed in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (vol. 2, p. 467).
Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks at a News Briefing Held in Connection With the Message on Food for India Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/239507