US, India may jointly tap Africa agriculture

US, India may jointly tap Africa agriculture

Nairobi/New Delhi: India and the US may team up to tap farm opportunities in Africa that may also translate into the US funding Indian farm projects in the continent.

The proposal is a spin-off from the India-US Agriculture Dialogue and an announcement is likely during the US President Barack Obama’s visit starting 6 November.

“As part of the India-US dialogue on agriculture, there has been some focus on Africa," said a senior Indian government official who didn’t want to be identified. “We will talk to them. It will be our projects and their funding, and will result in reduced cost of delivery. The African countries will be our equal partners."

A senior commerce ministry official confirmed that US under-secretary of agriculture for farm and foreign agricultural services James W. Miller is currently in New Delhi to chalk out an agenda for cooperation in agriculture, ahead of Obama’s visit. Miller met commerce secretary Rahul Khullar and agriculture secretary P.K. Basu on Friday.

Questions emailed to the US embassy in New Delhi and to the spokesperson at India’s ministry of external affairs (MEA) remained unanswered at the time of filing this story.

A statement posted on the website of the Indian embassy in Washington read, “Under the agriculture dialogue, the two governments have set up three working groups for: strategic cooperation in agriculture and food security, food processing, agriculture extension, farm-to-market linkages, and weather and crop forecasting respectively."

The first meeting under the initiative was held on 13 and 14 September in New Delhi.

Mint had reported on 19 October about state-owned trading firm MMTC Ltd, the Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative Ltd (Iffco) and the conglomerate Bharti Enterprises planning to join a growing number of Indian entities engaged in commercial farming in Africa.

India has long-standing ties with many African nations, forged by its support for their independence movements. India and China, the world’s fastest growing major economies, are also racing to acquire stakes in hydrocarbon blocks in Africa and elsewhere to meet domestic energy demand.

Krishna V. Rajan, former secretary (east) in the ministry of external affairs, says agriculture is a “very important area" given India’s growing engagement with Africa.

“If Africa’s potential is to be realized, it has to be a major international effort. This is a relevant area and there is no politics attached to it. Everything should not be seen only through China’s prism. India has its own competitive advantage that it brings to the table as China has its own," he said.

Rivalry between India and China for control of natural resources and energy assets beyond their borders is being played out in African countries as the Asian giants seek to gain an extra edge in their quest for energy resources.

“India, of course, has had tremendous success in helping lift some of its people out of poverty through agricultural innovation," said Ben Rhodes, US deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, according to a White House press statement issued on Wednesday.

“And our partnership with them has been strong in that respect. And this (Obama visit) is an opportunity to talk about that partnership, and also its potential to service our broader food security initiatives in places like Africa," Rhodes said.

Indian farm interest in Africa are focusing on pulses and edible oil as India imports around 8 million tonnes (mt) of edible oil worth Rs26,000 crore every year and 3.5 mt of pulses worth Rs14,175 crore.

Asit Ranjan Mishra contributed to this story.