India dangles agric aid to grab land

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By Emmanuel Mayah

One of the deals dangled at African leaders at the on-going India-Africa Summit Forum is a partnership in agriculture to promote food security on the continent.

This India has pledged to do by sharing its expertise with farmers in Africa and by deploying technology to improve drought-resistant farming.

India says it already has agricultural interventions in a handful of Africa countries where its focus is on improving the technical, economic and trade conditions under which African farmers operate.

However, India’s motive and ability to revamp agriculture in Africa are already being questioned by observers who argue that India has not been able to save its own farmers back home and wonder what success story it intends to export to Africa

Investigations reveal that Indian pastures, particularly in the Punjab area, are becoming increasingly less productive. As a result, Indian farmers are seeking new rounds to cultivate.

Indeed, right behind China and Saudi Arabia, Indian farmers are the most recent arrivals to Africa, looking for cheap land and profitable production.

It is easy to see why, according to Indian farmer Jaswinder Singh in a recent article published in the Indian Express: “Vast tracts of arable land are lying vacant. The land is fertile, the climate is suitable and water is abundant. Also, both land and labor are cheap.”

Already Indian farmers are scaling up their small Indian farms into large African plantations in African countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Senegal and Mozambique. The profit opportunities are huge, with growers exporting rice, wheat, sugar cane and lentils back to Indian and European markets.

It is not just individual farmers that are taking part in the scramble; large Indian agro-companies like Karuturi Global have also moved to Africa.

Critics of the Indian predatory movement to Africa call it a second colonialism given the way the Asian country, just like the Chinese, prey on struggling African economies to extract big profit.

A 2009 article by the UK Telegraph cited documents showing the Indian government had provided over US$766 million in soft loans to Indian companies to support their agriculture adventure in Africa.

If Indian companies arrive paying cheap prices for land and labour, and then export the goods elsewhere, the inevitable question is: “What’s in it for Africa?

The Indian Express article claims African governments are begging for Indian investment. “Agriculture in Africa is not developed and the continent is facing acute food shortage.

Therefore, you see a lot of African governments actively seeking the expertise of Punjab’s farmers. What they’re suggesting sounds like a large-scale social enterprise: Indian farmers teach and invest in long-term economic development in Africa, while making a profit.

But what remains a paradox is why Indian farmers have expertise only for Africa. Reports have it that Indian soils have been degraded and Indian water resources depleted by poor farming tactics, which is pushing the drive to Africa. Are these the same practices they intend to share with African farmers?

Critics believe that cultivating African lands to export goods back to India and Europe will only exacerbate existing famines and shortages on a continent already over-exploited.

The sad story of poor Indian farmers can hardly serve as a proud export model. In the last ten years, about a quarter of a million farmers in India have succumbed to suicide.

Poor farmers are forced to take out big loans to buy expensive pesticides and fertilisers, and to dig wells for the increasing amounts of water they need.

But when their crops fail, or their wells dry up, they fall into debt - and many thousands of farmers kill themselves out of desperation.

According to P.V. Satheesh, the Director of the Deccan Development Society - which supports community farming in one of the poorest parts of rural India -  farmers are misled into believing the promise that the high-input, chemical-intensive, single-crop agriculture of the so-called green revolution is their salvation. “So when it fails, they end up trapped in a debt spiral that too often leads to despair and suicide.

Satheesh points out that as many as 100,000 of the farmer suicides have been in Punjab, which is the centre of industrialised agriculture in India. There the water has been contaminated by the pesticides which have been applied to crops.

“There is a train to Delhi every day which they call the cancer express. Half of those on board have been made ill by the pollution. Punjab has been poisoned - it has a high cancer rate from contaminated food and water, and a high suicide rate.”

Not a few participants at the India-Africa Summit Forum have pondered why Africa has remained unable to feed itself in spite of its huge resources. Mr. Tunde Akingbade, a Nigerian Civil Society campaigner lamented that although huge fund are budgeted for the agriculture and food sector every year, Nigeria is unable to meet food production targets.

In 2009, civil society organisations flagged-off what they termed, 'voices for food security campaign'.

The campaign is a collective effort by small-scale farmers and civil society organisations across Nigeria to campaign for strengthening of the Nigerian agriculture and food sector.Statistics from international non-governmental organisation, Oxfam of Great Britain, indicated that Nigeria spent an average of $3 billion yearly on food importation.

 

  • Africa-India Summit
  • Africa-India Summit
  • Africa-India Summit
  • Africa-India Summit
  • Africa-India Summit
  • Africa-India Summit
  • Africa-India Summit
  • Africa-India Summit
  • Africa-India Summit
  • Africa-India Summit