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Indian firms should explore Africa for pulse, oilseed production: Govt

In a bid to address domestic shortages, Indian companies should consider investing in Africa for production of pulses and oilseeds, Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh said on Wednesday. India is dependent on import of pulses and edible oils due to a huge supply-demand gap. It imports 4-5 million tonnes (mt) of pulses and 13-14 mt of edible oils annually.

“Can we think of a dispensation where Indian companies can consider investing in Africa for growing pulses and oilseeds, which are in short supply in India. Similarly, African businesses can think of engaging mutually beneficial collaborators in India,” Singh said at India-Africa Agribusiness Forum organised by the industry body, Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci).

India attaches great importance to private sector participation in agriculture and agri-business. There is an impressive presence of private sector, including large business groups in food processing, logistics, supply chains including cold chains, he said.

“I am happy to note that recently our Government has taken a decision to set up a food processing cluster in Africa. I am also aware that some of the Indian companies have invested in agriculture in Africa and many are looking forward to doing so,” he added. His African counterparts, especially from Zambia, Botswana and Seychelles, evinced interest to collaborate with Indian companies in various areas of agriculture sector.

“We are willing to offer 10,000-15,000 hectare on lease for 99 years. We have 75 million hectare of land, of which 58 per cent is areable. Of total areable land, only 11 per cent is used, and the rest is available for investment,” Zambia Agriculture Minister Given Lubinda said. There are challenges in Zambia but they provide opportunity for solution to global food security, he added.

Echoing similar views, Botswana Agriculture Minister Patrick Ralotsia said, “Currently, entire South Africa is engulfed in drought. Africa need not reinvent the wheel. We can learn from India and address the issues of food security. “We need to collaborate to achieve the common objective of food security. If we collaborate with India, we will benefit.” Seeking partnership with Indian companies, Seychelles Agriculture Minister Wallace Cosgrow said, “We count on India on all private sector investment. Come to Seychelles to see invest opportunities in agriculture sector.” 

India imports pulses from African countries, like Malawi and Mozambique. There is a huge potential to invest in Malawi, where almost 50 per cent of pulses area remains unused due to lack of irrigation, lack of seeds and technology and poverty.

Malawi is growing pulses in 3.5 lakh hectare, while it has 6 lakh hectare that can be used for pulses cultivation. Investing in Africa can help India address shortage of pulses and edible oils, a Malawi trader said.

India’s pulses shortage had widened last year due to shortfall in domestic output because of drought. The supply is expected to remain tight this year as well due to back-to-back drought and the government is taking measures to boost supplies through imports and creating buffer stock.

India may extend farm sector LoCs to some African nations
India is expected to extend lines of credit (LoC) to least developed African countries for joint venture business initiatives in agriculture sector to enhance engagement in the segment, a top official said on Wednesday. Commerce Secretary Rita Teaotia said huge opportunities exists in agriculture sector in India and Africa. “We hope to extend lines of credit to joint venture agri business initiatives in Africa to deepen our engagement in the agri sector particularly in LDCs (least developed countries) and thereby help to support food security in both our regions,” she said at the India Africa AgriBusiness Forum organised by Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci). India also support the LDCs in trade initiatives through ‘Duty Free Tariff Preference’ scheme, which came into effect in August 2008, Teaotia said. 

“We now provide 98.2 per cent of our tariff lines (products)... to LDCs. Out of the 34 LDCs in Africa, 21 countries have already begun to avail the benefits of the scheme and 13 are yet to become beneficiaries. We sincerely hope these countries too will come on board soon and use the access to India’s market.” Under the scheme, import of most products from least developed nations to India attract lower duties. 

Further, Teaotia said the Department of Commerce runs a Cotton Technical Assistance Programme for cotton growing African nations. “Cotton is certainly an important crop in Africa as it is in India, but in many countries it continues to be exported as raw material without too much of value addition. The programme is an initiative to strengthen the cotton and textile sector in selected countries (of Africa),” she said.
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