- India has a long history of partnership with Africa, with solidarity and political affinity going back to the early 1920s when both regions were fighting against colonial rule and oppression.
- India’s freedom movement had an internationalist outlook; many Indian nationalists viewed the struggle for independence as part of the worldwide movement against imperialism.
- After India gained independence, it became a leading voice in support of African decolonisation at the United Nations.
- Independent India, though extremely poor after two centuries of colonial exploitation, strived to share its limited resources with African countries under the banner of South-South cooperation.
- In 1964, India launched the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programme to provide technical assistance through human resource development to other developing countries, with African countries the greatest beneficiaries of it and the Special Commonwealth African Assistance Programme (SCAAP).
India’s engagement with the African continent:
- A historical solidarity is today a modern partnership. Critical to its foreign policy matrix, India’s engagement with the African continent has been multifaceted, with projects implemented under Indian lines of credit, capacity-building initiatives, and cooperation in a range of sectors.
- As an importer of fruits, nuts, grains and pulses from the continent, Indian congruence with African countries in the agriculture sector is expanding.
- With 65% of the world’s uncultivated arable land, employing over 60% of the workforce, and accounting for almost 20% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP, agriculture is critical to Africa’s economy.
- The African Continental Free Trade Area agreement is expected to improve cost competitiveness by removing tariffs.
- As this relationship enters the post-pandemic world, it is vital to prioritise and channel resources into augmenting partnership in agriculture.
- This is crucial given its unexplored potential, centrality to global food security, business prospects and to provide credible alternatives to the increasing involvement of Chinese stakeholders in the sector.
India-Africa continent: Economic Relations:
- India is currently Africa’s fourth-largest trading partner, and Africa’s third-largest export destination.
- Indian government initiatives like Focus Africa (2002), TEAM-9 (2004), Duty-Free Tariff Preference Scheme for Least Developed Countries (2008), and the institution of the India Africa Forum Summit (held in 2008, 2011, 2015), have succeeded in lifting bilateral trade and investment flows to new heights.
- After South Asia, Africa is the second-largest recipient of Indian overseas assistance with Lines of Credit (LOC) worth nearly $10 billion (42 per cent of the total) spread over 100 projects in 41 countries.
- It is an economic cooperation agreement between India and Japan which envisages closer engagement between Asia and Africa for “sustainable and innovative development” and will be anchored by these pillars.
Analysing Chinese engagement:
- Evaluating the approaches that Chinese corporations, small and medium-sized enterprises and entrepreneurs adopt has provided a layered perspective of the socio-political, economic and environmental impact of Chinese engagement.
- Today, China is among Africa’s largest trading partners. It is also Africa’s single biggest creditor.
- Its corporations dominate the region’s infrastructure market and are now entering the agri-infra sector.
- Increasingly critical to China’s global aspirations, its engagement in African agriculture is taking on a strategic quality.
- Therefore, dismissing China’s engagement in African agriculture as inconsequential for India would be unwise.
Chinese Engagements in Africa:
- Many Chinese entities have been active in Africa’s agricultural landscape for decades now, the nature, form and actors involved have undergone substantial change.
- In Zambia, Chinese firms are introducing agri-tech to combat traditional challenges, such as using drone technology to control the fall armyworm infestation.
- They have set up over 20 Agricultural Technology Demonstration Centers (ATDCS) in the continent where Chinese agronomists work on developing new crop varieties and increasing crop yields.
- These ATDCs partner with local universities, conduct workshops and classes for officials and provide training and lease equipment to small holder farmers.
- Chinese companies with no prior experience in agriculture are setting out to build futuristic ecological parks while others are purchasing large-scale commercial farms.
- Furthermore, African agriculture experts, officials and farmers are provided opportunities to augment skills and be trained in China.
Takeaways for India:
India-Africa agricultural cooperation currently includes institutional and individual capacity-building initiatives such as the India-Africa Institute of Agriculture and Rural development in Malawi, extension of soft loans, supply of machinery, acquisition of farmlands and the presence of Indian entrepreneurs in the African agricultural ecosystem.
Indian farmers have purchased over 6,00,000 hectares of land for commercial farming in Africa.
Sub-national actors are providing another model of cooperation in agriculture.
How Africa engagement will help India:
- Strengthening the India-South Africa partnership is vital in the context of Africa’s development, especially to provide a viable alternative to the China model.
- The fast-growing and fast prospering population of Africa will present itself as a major opportunity for the rest of the world.
- India has historic ties with several countries of the continent, such as the nearly 1.5 million people of Indian origin in South Africa, which would help India make good on that opportunity.
- Their problems and aspirations put India and a variety of African countries on the same side of multinational attempts to tackle global challenges such as climate change, keeping trade open and avoiding big power domination.
- India and South Africa give these efforts an institutional framework through forums such as the G20, the Indian Ocean Rim Association, BRICS and IBSA.
- Robust maritime security in the Indian Ocean is not of just bilateral significance.
- The defence relationship, with a focus on joint production as well as maritime security, is also going to be a priority in the future.
Case study: state governments identify opportunities and invest directly in Africa:
Consider the case of the Kerala government trying to meet its steep requirement for raw cashew nuts amounting to 8 lakh tonnes a year with imports from countries in Africa to complement its production capacity currently limited to 0.83 lakh tonnes.
- There are also proposals to create a jointly-owned brand of Africa-Kollam cashews.
- Similar ideas could encourage State governments and civil society organisations to identify opportunities and invest directly.
- There is also promise in incentivising Indian industries to tap into African agri-business value chains and connecting Indian technology firms and startups with partners in Africa.
- The transformative power of innovative and disruptive technology has been evident in the African agri-tech sector as the startup ecosystem in the continent enjoyed a 110% growth between 2016 and 2018.
- In the past year, despite the pandemic, the sector witnessed a record increase in investments.
- A thorough impact assessment needs to be conducted of the existing capacity-building initiatives in agriculture for India to stand in good stead.
- This could include detailed surveys of participants who have returned to their home countries.
- Country-specific and localised curriculum can be drawn up, making skill development demand-led.
- While India’s Africa strategy exists independently, it is important to be cognisant of China’s increasing footprint in the region.
India has an intrinsic interest in helping Africa achieve progress. The spirit of “developing together as equals” defines this bilateral partnership.
A resurging Africa and a rising India can give a strong impetus to South-South Cooperation, especially when it comes to addressing challenges in areas like clean technology, climate-resilient agriculture, maritime security, connectivity, and Blue economy.
China’s model, if successful here, could be heralded as a replica for the larger global south.
It is important to note, however, that prominent African voices have emphasised that their own agency is often overlooked in global discourse on the subject.
In that sense India has consistently chosen well to underline the development partnership to be in line with African priorities.
It is pertinent, therefore, that we collectively craft a unique modern partnership with Africa.