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Food Security- Cooperation between East and Southern African Nations with India

Written by Jasjeev Singh Sahni

Abstract: This document musters a humble analysis on the cooperation for food security between the Republic of India and the nation states in the African continent, with special emphasis on the East and Southern African regions. It explores government-to-government watershed agreements and goals, multilateral issues, the cooperation among the diaspora, the initiatives of the private sector, the findings of civil societies and concomitant developments.


While the ownership of 65% of the world’s arable land should patently mean that the African subcontinent is the world’s grocery store, it stands as a net importer of foodgrains in today’s economy. As historically palpable, the metamorphosis of it from a food exporter to a continent with nations withdrawing from investing and subsiding agriculture leading to negative outputs has been due external shocks to rural agriculture, a lack of prioritising of agricultural institutions, ineffective representation in global agricultural organisations, forcefull restrictions atrophying fiscal flexibility from the Bretton Woods institutions and an abysmal distribution of land holdings. The catastrophic food insecurity of Eastern Africa is, perhaps, a synecdoche for the rest of the continent's inept ability in consolidation of resources. Famine-like conditions, which perennially exist in these nations, are buttressed by the damages laid by El-Nino climatic fluctuations and armed conflicts.

With similar sectoral skeletons, albeit with varying levels of maturity, bundled with concomitant sectoral priorities, India and Africa have strived to take advantage of mutual cooperation. These partnerships are yet to effectively penetrate into high-impact priority areas for sustainable and noteworthy returns. Following the ethos of no conditionalities, non-prescription of prerequisite policies and abstention from the substantive question of sovereignty, the Indian model of partnership in agriculture has been commended by Africa. As a nation which has weathered through grave food insecurity contexts, the Indian model of agriculture based growth is pedestalize by the african counterparts.

The footsteps of India and the African nations are bounded to the path of the African Union’s Agenda 2063 -a blueprint to promote, among other vital agenda, the modernity and inclusivity in agricultural practices- and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals -with SDG 2 envisioning sustainable agriculture and an ambitious aim of zero malnutrition.

Quotidian issues have a weighty bearing on the negotiations that shall persist from now on. The World Bank forewarns that post-COVID 19, the world might see a health crisis morphing into a debilitating food crisis in Africa. National stocks shall fall short and the import-sustained food economies -a moniker that most of the African nations forlornly carry- may not be able to sustain this crisis. The recrudescence of the factors that led to the fall of agricultural economies does not stop with the virus. The locust plague has been effecting mammoth harm onto crops. Kenya has been the nervecenter of this crisis, but these have been spreading in other nations in the Horn of Africa as well. These headwinds abate the economies of these nations from soaring.

Indian and African Cooperation: An overview of the dynamics

With the rise in the momentum of South-South Cooperation initiatives, India and African Nations have used priority and investment linking to mitigate malnutrition, reduce poverty among landholders, improve agricultural production, ameliorate rural agro-based economies, extend credit to agri-businesses, shared knowledge commons on farming techniques and transferred technologies.


Indian and African policy finds an unmistakable congruence in intent, implementation and propagation. At the World Trade Organization, these nations have found themselves on the same page for a smorgasbord of agendas. A microscopic view of this was their actions as the sentinels of the collective interests of farmers at the 2001 Doha Round. They also agree upon public food stock holdings and safeguards to protect low-income farmers from price surges ripples from the developed world.

The African Development Bank meetings, like the one in Gujarat, India in 2017, have been cornerstone junctures to catalyse cooperation efforts in the field. At least 13 African nations have made deals with India for agricultural machinery and cooperative credit advancement through this route. The African nations have attested to viewing the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) nations as inroads to agriculture investment and pristine examples of successes in smallholder productivity enhancement. The second India-Africa Forum Summit, held in Ethiopia in May 2011, led to the formulation of the Addis Ababa Declaration that laid the framework for enhanced India-Africa

The India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) Fund is an example of trilateral initiatives for vamping up training programs, amilioetring sofl loans and promulgation of allied sectors involvement. Parallel ventures have been taken up by the Indian Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, the National Institute of Agricultural Extension Management (MANAGE), and the United States Agency for International development (USAID) for the upskillment of African farmers. These were primarily focused in Kenya, Malawi and Liberia. MANAGE finished 24 US-India-Africa Triangular International Training Programmes between April-November 2018. The Supporting Indian Trade and Investments for Africa (SITA) programme, which was funded in part by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), conceived a locus for agribusiness entrepreneurs and farmers from African nations and India to explore trade and investment enterprises in concert.

Civil Societies have brought to the fore the transferring of best practices from both the African nations and India. Unions in South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal have collaborated with Indian Non-Governmental Organisations like the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) for exporting practices of self-reliance and modernisation in agriculture. Research institutes like the New Delhi-based The Energy and Resources Institute, and the Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute have been launchpads of innovation and articulation of policy between the two stakeholders.

Private Sector into the mix

Government policies conducive to providing the fertility for the private sector have been instrumental in promoting agri-services and startups in food processing, input supplies, value chain and manufacturing operations across the continents.

With an intent to promote agribusiness in Africa, India has inaugurated a spectrum of incubation centres.

These are principally of four types:

  1. Vocational Training Institutions

  2. The Agri-Business Incubation (ABI) Programme: Within this programme, five Food Processing Business Incubation Centers (FPBICs) in countries like Ghana, Cameroon, Angola, Mali, and Uganda would be set up.

  3. Food Testing Laboratories: With International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) as the implementing nodal agency, these were proposed to be set up in Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Gambia, Rwanda, and Republic of Congo.

  4. Soil Testing and Soil Health Cards: Launched in 2015, this scheme would provide soil health cards to farmers and carry recommendations on nutrients and fertilisers. These labs are prevalent in South Africa and Kenya.

As a chief player in farmland acquisition, India holds 4.5 million ha of African land under foreign land acquisition deals. The nations which offer gargantuan opportunities include Ethiopia, Malawi, Kenya, Uganda, Liberia, Ghana, Congo and Rwanda.

There has been a burgeoning of the animal protein sector in the subcontinent. South Africa, Kenya and Ethiopia are vital suppliers in the meat and milk production subsector. In the fisheries sector as well -specifically inland and marine capture fisheries, post-harvest, licensing of local fleets and aquaculture- the African continent has welcomed various investments.

There is also some scope for growth in the use of specialized Indian hybrid seed technologies and private-public alliances for mimicking the success of pearl millet hybrids, as well as watershed management techniques , as per the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). It is worthy to mention that under India’s Duty Free Tariff Preference Scheme (DFTPS), 98% of Indian goods -a majority of which comprise agricultural commodities- are accessible to Least Developed Countries duty-free.

East African Nations and India

Vignettes of an Indian-East African relationship of the yore was the undeniable bedrock to the linkages of the contemporary.

There are now plans to invest USD 2.5 Billion on millions of hectares in Eastern African nations for the growth of maize, palm oil and rice. More than 80 firms have earmarked investments worth USD 2.3 Billion in Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique and Madagascar.

The Rwandan leadership has orchestrated investment promotion schemes to attract FDI in the backbone of its economy, the agricultural sector. Several Indian corporations have been involved in agro-processing in the nations. Important Indian firms in Rwanda are the Global Beverages, the Kabuye Sugar Works, Sulphur Rwanda, East African Food & Beverages Ltd., the Nyagatare Agro Venture (in rice production), the Alpha Choice Rwanda Ltd., the Voluntous Agricon Ltd and the SBTC Trading and Construction. Access to regional markets has made the nation an important partner for India.

435 Indian firms have investment licenses granted by Ethiopia in agriculture for the subsectors of floriculture and textile, laser technology and products, garments, plastics, pharmaceuticals, hotels and restaurants. Quite importantly, for the value addition in the sugarcane farming and procession, the Export-Import Bank of India (EXIM) has lent credit to the Tendaho Sugar Factory in Ethiopia. Additionally, Ethiopia is a major investment belt for the production of oilseed, coffee, grains and spices.

Tanzania has reposed its position as a large commercial farming space, with a bend of finesse in the production of coffee, tea and oilseeds. At the first India-Africa Forum Summit of 2008, the President of Tanzania and former chairperson of the African Union, Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, urged India to invest in capacity building in the agriculture sector. “India has the technology and the skills, which, if made available to Africa, will certainly help it implement the African Green Revolution,” he remarkedIt also has a spectrum of processing and packaging opportunities. Malawi is a strategic location which is the epicenter for many markets, like Mozambique and Zambia.

Farmers from the Indian states of Punjab and Andhra Pradesh have taken up land which was offered on lease, in nations like Kenya and Uganda, utilizing their skilled manpower. Moreover, under India’s EXIM Policy, the GoI launched the “Focus: Africa” trade programme, where nations like Kenya and Ethiopia were extended Lines of Credit (LoCs). These include the USD 5 Million investments to each the Eastern and Southern African Trade and Development Bank, the Industrial Development Bank Ltd. based in Kenya and the East African Development Bank. SITA has had collaborations with the Indo Global SME Chamber (IGSC) and the Eastern Africa Grain Council (EAGC) to bring together Indian and African agribusiness firms and engage in business and investment opportunities.

Southern African Nations and India

There has been a harmonization of macroeconomic protocols on the agricultural front between India and the South African Development Community. This was put under a spotlight first under the SADC Summit Declaration 2004. This Regional Economic Community, comprising 15 Southern African nation states, has had various Memorandum of Understanding agreements with India; through the India-SADC Forum events across the years, these two actors have taken significant steps on the agricultural front- acknowledged as pre-eminent of its six areas of cooperation.

Among the five key long-term projects approved and funded by the EXIM Bank in 2008, the Dry Land Agriculture Project Emphasizing Regional Irrigation and Water Management for Small Scale Farmers project and the SADC Regional Project on Value Addition to Primary Agriculture Products were of gross significance. Along with the training of irrigation specialists and farmers for agri-engineering and industrial skills, the Government of India has provided assistance in off-season seed production, procurement of technologies and community credit schemes.

The Union Cabinet of India has spearheaded a long-term contract with Mozambique by signing a MoU for the import of pulses, aiming to institutionalize this trade and stabilize price, along with ensuring availability. An Indian NGO, the Frontier Growth Advisors, has implemented projects in small-scale farms in Mozambique. They have promoted multiple cropping (maize, cassava and cowpeas) and heralded the shift from cash cropping and cultivation of cotton. Working with USAID and IFAD, the NGO has been significant in solidifying regional supply chains and providing a web of markets for isolated rural farmers. They have promoted technology use for planning.

There have been abundant schemes undertaken by the Government of India in the field of agriculture in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Namibia as well.


The interventions mitigated by the Indian government in various African nations and alliances via the food security promotion programme emulate a conviction between both the nations to become the food baskets of the world.

This is crystal clear from the 75% of EXIM’s Lines of Credit being extended to African nations as of 2018, focusing on infrastructural development of irrigation, power supply and agricultural machinery. The trend which is of tremendous importance is the change in the Africn nations’ disposition of character making them see a greater benefit out of its relationship from India, as unlike the Western alliances, India has underpinned a path of cooperation with mutual benefit. While Western nations emphasize on a donor-recipient model of growth, India has underpinned an equal-share model of sustainable growth.

The march to become a food exporter might be arduous, but India’s cooperation has in a great way aided Africa to bring itself to the task. Indeed, access to affordable, nutritious and sufficient food is a global quagmire. Problems -both hereditary and the newly-born- need to be dealt with effective cooperation among all stakeholders.


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