India has begun moves to help Africa set up agri-business centres, seed incubators, modern laboratories and joint projects as part of an enhanced partnership in agriculture to achieve food and nutrition security, promote entrepreneurship and create a trillion-dollar food market by 2030.
Proposals for such sectoral cooperation will be bounced this week at the Asia-Africa Agribusiness Forum meeting in which agriculture ministers of some 15 African countries will take part. The details, official sources said, could be worked out and decisions taken at the Africa-India Summit this year in Delhi.
Africa is well-endowed with resources but it lacks much of the expertise to unlock their commercial potential by restructuring its agriculture industry to a more profitable form of agribusiness.
Many African countries are net food importers and small holder farmers comprise much of the continent's agriculture sector.
"Small holder farmers must be given access to scientific innovation designed for the poor, to help them connect to markets, but in a way that builds their own resilience rather than creating dependency," says William Dar, director general of the Hyderabad-based International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).
According to a FICCI-PwC theme paper, in Sub-Saharan Africa farming techniques need improvement in order to offer opportunities to the small holder farmers to get out their way out of poverty. Also, the agro-based industry needs a major transformation to generate more job opportunities, revenues and food for the growing population.
Under the South-South Initiative, India has been engaged in sustainable agriculture development of Africa. The Indian Council of Agriculture Research, International Agriculture Consulting Group and ICRISAT last year formed the Platform for India-Africa Partnership in Agriculture (PIAPA) to "transform Africa", providing Indian expertise and experiences to finding solutions to their food and agriculture development challenges.
ICRISAT will use its Agribusiness and Innovation Platform initiative to help set up agribusiness incubators for farmers across Africa, along the lines of its networks of incubators in India.
A recent meeting in Mali capital Bamako mapped out an upscaling agenda for private, public partnerships based Inclusive, Market Oriented Development (IMOD) in West and Central Africa. Some success stories of IMOD include formation of farmers' and womens' groups in Niger to produce quality seeds and training them on small-scale business skills and marketing.
The World Bank in a report, "Growing Africa: Unlocking the Potential of Agribusiness", says that Africa's farmers and agribusinesses could create a trillion-dollar food market by 2030, a three-fold increase from the current size of the market which is estimated to be worth $313 billion.
This expected growth highlights the fact that Africa is a new market for agribusiness firms and related value chain players, says Charles Brewer, managing director for DHL Express Sub-Saharan Africa.
"The retail sector is booming in Africa, as is the rapid growth of populations and the African middle class. As a result of this expansion, there is a greater availability of and demand for good quality agricultural produce and processed food products than ever before," says Brewer.
Agribusiness entails the full value chain from farming through secondary processing, distribution and retailing to the end user-consumer.
Hennie van der Merwe of South Africa-based Agribusiness Development Corporation (ADC) says Africa is currently experiencing a revival in terms of its focus on agribusiness, not only to increase food self-sufficiency but also to create jobs and economic activity, specifically in rural areas.
However, the ability and experience to develop and manage commercial farming and agribusiness ventures are largely lacking in the continent and that major technology transfer and capacity building would be necessary, van der Merwe avers.
George Tonderai Marechera of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation, a non-profit organisation that facilitates public-private partnerships for the access and delivery of appropriate agricultural technologies for smallholder farmers, says that it is hard to develop cassava production in Zambia due to challenges of machinery for planting, harvesting and processing.
India has proposed to establish five India-Africa food processing business incubation centres in Angola, Cameroon, Ghana, Mali and Uganda.
India and Africa are implementing science and technology initiatives in knowledge transfer, common priority research areas and capacity building development. A Tanzanian delegation last month visited India and evinced keen interest in e-initiatives like the nationwide SMS portal to increase productivity and adopt the same in the country.
Also at a meeting at the Research and Information Systems for Developing Countries last October, participants said African countries could learn from the way India has boosted the domestic production of seeds.
The National Seed Association of India is partnering Syngenta Foundation India in the "India Africa Seeds Bridge" project. It is aimed at developing the seed system in Africa through providing African farmers better seeds and making market access for Indian seed companies.
Africa and India are running seed trials in Senegal for commercial cultivation. Once approved, the trial data will be used for automatic approval for release of millet and sorghum varieties in 15 ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cabo verde, Cote D'ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togolese.
Diran Makinde, director of the African Biosafety Network of Expertise, says African regulators can benefit from the Indian experience and data accumulated. Last October, policy makers from Burkina Faso had come on a study tour of Indian Bt cotton farms.
There is also talk of setting up seed incubator facilities for private-sector entrepreneurs in Africa and building Africa's capacity for seed research.
Marechera says that India's model of small seed companies based on lesser investment has potential in Africa.
Biotechnologists from some African countries like Nigeria are already in touch with India's agriculture ministry and seed companies to build partnerships.