Special Message to the Congress Proposing an Emergency Food Aid Program for India
To the Congress of the United States:
In recent months I have been watching with deep concern the emerging problem of world food supply. And I have been especially concerned with the prospect for India. During this past week I have discussed the Indian food problem with the Prime Minister of India, who has been our welcome and distinguished guest here in Washington. I am persuaded that we may stand, at this moment, on the threshold of a great tragedy. The facts are simple; their implications are grave. India faces an unprecedented drought. Unless the world responds, India faces famine.
Strong efforts by the Indian government, and our help, have so far averted famine. But in the absence of cooperative and energetic action by the United States, by other nations and by India herself, some millions of people will suffer needlessly before the next crop is harvested. This, in our day and age, must not happen. Can we let it be said that man, who can travel into space and explore the stars, cannot feed his own?
Because widespread famine must not and cannot be allowed to happen, I am today placing the facts fully before the Congress. I am asking the endorsement of the Congress for a program that is small neither in magnitude nor concept. I am asking the Congress, and the American people, to join with me in an appeal to the conscience of all nations that can render help.
I invite any information that the Congress can supply. Our people will welcome any judgments the Congress can provide. The executive branch, this nation and the world will take appropriate note and give proper attention to any contributions in counsel and advice that Congressional debate may produce.
If we all rally to this task, the suffering can be limited. A sister democracy will not suffer the terrible strains which famine imposes on free government.
Nor is this all. The Indians are a proud and self-respecting people. So are their leaders. The natural disaster which they now face is not of their making. They have not asked our help needlessly; they deeply prefer to help themselves. The Indian government has sound plans for strengthening its agricultural economy and its economic system. These steps will help India help herself. They will prevent a recurrence of this disaster. I also propose action through the World Bank and the Agency for International Development to support this strong initiative by the Government of India.
Since independence India has done much to increase her output of agricultural products. Her agriculture has not been neglected. From 1950 to 1965 she increased food production 75 percent. This is a creditable achievement. But India has had to contend with a continuing and relentless increase in population. Her people have also consumed more from a higher income. Accordingly, she has remained heavily dependent on our help. Last year we provided, under Public Law 480, more than 6 million tons of wheat, equal to more than two-fifths of our own consumption. To keep this supply moving, the equivalent of two fully loaded liberty ships had to put in at an Indian port every day of the year.
Now India has been the victim of merciless natural disaster. Nothing is so important for the Indian farmer as the annual season of heavy rain--the monsoon. Last year, over large parts of India, the rains did not come. Crops could not be planted, or the young plants withered and died in the fields. Agricultural output, which needed to increase, was drastically reduced. Not since our own dust bowl years of the nineteen-thirties has there been a greater agricultural disaster.
Indian leaders have rightly turned to the world for help. Pope Paul VI has endorsed their plea. So has the World Council of Churches. So has the Secretary General of the United Nations. So has the Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organization. And so, in this message, does the President of the United States.
I have said that effective action will not be cheap. India's need is for at least 11 to 12 million tons of imported grain from January to December 1966.
Food in this world is no longer easy to find. But find it we must. Here is what I propose.
Last fiscal year we supplied six million tons of food grain to India. So far in this fiscal year, I have allotted 6.5 million tons of grain for shipment to India--more than the total of six million tons which we had planned to provide as a continuation of past arrangements. It is even more necessary in this emergency to keep the pipelines full and flowing and to insure that there is no congestion of rail or sea transport. India, furthermore, estimates an additional six to seven million tons of food grain will be necessary through next December beyond what has already been committed or expected.
I propose that the United States provide three and one-half million tons of that requirement, with the remaining three and a half million tons coming from those nations which have either the food to offer or the means to buy food. I invite those nations to match the amount which we will supply. For example, I am delighted to be informed that Canada is prepared to provide a million tons of wheat and flour to India.
Every agriculturally advanced country can, by close scrutiny of its available supplies, make a substantial contribution. I ask that every government seek to supply the maximum it can spare--and then a little more. I ask those industrial countries which cannot send food to supply a generous equivalent in fertilizer, or in shipping, or in funds for the purchase of these requisites. All know the Indian balance of payments is badly overburdened. Food and other materials should be supplied against payment in rupees, which is our practice, or as a gift.
It is not our nature to drive a hard mathematical bargain where hunger is involved. Children will not know that they suffered hunger because American assistance was not matched. We will expect and press for the most energetic and compassionate action by all countries of all political faiths. But if their response is insufficient, and if we must provide more, before we stand by and watch children starve, we will do so. I therefore, ask your endorsement for this emergency action.
I have spoken mostly of bread-grains. The Prime Minister of India spoke also of other commodities which can meet part of the requirements or replace part of the need. In response to her needs, I propose that we allot up to 200,000 tons of corn, up to 150 million pounds of vegetable oils, and up to 125 million pounds of milk powder to India. The vegetable oil and milk powder are especially needed for supplementing the diets of Indian children.
In addition, India's own exchange resources can be released for food and fertilizer purchases if we make substantial shipments of cotton and tobacco. I am suggesting the allotment for this purpose of 325700,000 bales of cotton and 2.4 million pounds of tobacco. Both of these commodities we have in relative abundance.
I request prompt Congressional endorsement of this action.
I urge, also, the strong and warmhearted and generous support of this program by the American people.
And I urge the strong and generous response of governments and people the world around.
India is a good and deserving friend. Let it never be said that "bread should be so dear, and flesh and blood so cheap" that we turned in indifference from her bitter need.
The Indian people want to be self-supporting in their food supply.
Their government has adopted a far-reaching program to increase fertilizer production, improve water and soil management, provide rural credit, improve plant protection and control food loss. These essentials must be accompanied by a strong training and education program.
I have directed the Secretary of Agriculture, in cooperation with AID, to consult with the Indian government to ascertain if there are ways and means by which we can strengthen this effort. We have long experience with short courses, extension training and similar programs. If they can be used, I feel certain that American agricultural experts would respond to an appeal to serve in India as a part of an Agricultural Training Corps or through an expanded Peace Corps. Many of our younger men and women would especially welcome the opportunity.
I am determined that in our assistance to the Indian government we not be narrowly limited by what has been done in the past. Let us not be afraid of our own enthusiasm. Let us be willing to experiment.
The Indian government believes that there can be no effective solution of the Indian food problem that does not include population control. The choice is now between a comprehensive and humane program for limiting births and the brutal curb that is imposed by famine. As Mrs. Gandhi told me, the Indian government is making vigorous efforts on this front.
Following long and careful planning and after discussions in recent days with Prime Minister Gandhi, I have proposed the establishment of the Indo-U.S. Foundation. This Foundation will be financed by rupees, surplus to our need, now on deposit in India. It will be governed by distinguished citizens of both countries. It will be a vigorous and imaginative enterprise designed to give new stimulus to education and scientific research in India. There is no field where, I hope, this stimulus will be greater than in the field of agriculture and agricultural development.
Finally, in these last days, the Prime Minister and I have talked about the prospects for the Indian economy. The threat of war with China and the unhappy conflict with Pakistan seriously interrupted India's economic progress. Steps had to be taken to protect dwindling exchange resources. These also had a strangling effect on the economy. Indian leaders are determined now to put their economy again on the upward path. Extensive discussions have been held with the World Bank, which heads the consortium of aid-giving countries.
The United States interferes neither in the internal politics nor the internal economic structure of other countries. The record of the last fifteen years is a sufficient proof that we ask only for results. We are naturally concerned with results--with insuring that our aid be used in the context of strong and energetic policies calculated to produce the most rapid possible economic development.
We believe Indian plans now under discussion show high promise. We are impressed by the vigor and determination of the Indian economic leadership. As their plans are implemented, we look forward to providing economic assistance on a scale that is related to the great needs of our sister democracy.
An India free from want and deprivation, will, as Mahatma Gandhi himself once predicted, "be a mighty force for the good of mankind."
LYNDON B. JOHNSON
The White House
March 30, 1966
Note: A joint resolution supporting U.S. participation in food relief for India was approved by the President on April 19, 1966 (see Item 180).
See also Item 154.
Lyndon B. Johnson, Special Message to the Congress Proposing an Emergency Food Aid Program for India Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/239502