Partnering for Food Security

Renu Modi
Center for African Studies, University of Mumbai

The Food and Agriculture 

Organisation’s Global Food Price Index soared to its highest-ever level in February 2011, in both real and nominal terms. This dramatic rise  was driven mostly by higher prices of cereals, meat and dairy products.

In the African continent, the prices of coarse grains have been steadily on the rise. The world population, estimated at 6.8 billion in 2009, is projected to increase exponentially to about nine billion in 2050. Africa’s population, which has just exceeded one billion, is growing by about 24 million per year, and will double by 2050. This rapid growth of population, coupled with diminishing food production, has raised concerns that need to be addressed urgently. At the maiden India-Africa Forum Summit in New Delhi in 2008, agriculture was identified as a priority sector of collaboration between the two regions. With the population clock ticking away, the intertwined areas of food security and agriculture are set to be at the heart of future summits and the broader India-Africa partnership.

About 65 percent of the population of Sub-Saharan Africa lives in rural areas as does the bulk of the labour force. For example, in Tanzania, the agricultural sector provides livelihoods to more than 80 percent of the population and is the anchor of the economy. Farmers are engaged in predominantly small-holder subsistence production, marked by low output. Rudimentary production tools and agricultural technologies, vulnerability to drought conditions, declining soil fertility and climate change, poor access to inputs and capital have led to low productivity per acreage.

The continent is also subject to external shocks such as the debilitating global economic meltdown of 2008 and a surge in the price of staple foods such as cereals, meat and dairy products. For low income and highly import-dependent countries, particularly for those with limited foreign exchange availability, the import of food at high costs is not a viable option. Any escalation in prices leads to the erosion of purchasing power, which in turn affects food security and  nutrition levels, not to mention access to  school and health services.  The availability of food is, therefore, of urgent concern to the African continent.

According to the FAO, “Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”  The concept of food security came into public discourse soon after World War II and resulted in the establishment of a specialised UN agency, the FAO, which focused on the production of adequate amounts of food to deal with hunger. By the 1980s, Noble Laureate Amartya Sen, in his seminal work Poverty and Famine: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation (1981), pointed out that “starvation is the characteristic of some people not having enough food to eat. It is not the characteristic of there not being enough food to eat.” In other words, he emphasised the aspect of entitlement of individuals and households to food. As a result, the demand side aspect of food security entered the lexicon of policy planners at the local and national levels.

The continent of Africa, though beset by the problem of food insecurity, has great potential for agricultural transformation. Malawi’s President Bingu wa Mutharika, then Chairperson of the African Union (AU),  pointed out at the official opening session of the Conference of African Ministers of Agriculture (CAMA) on in October 2010 that although only 10 percent of the arable land is currently under cultivation in the continent, it has the potential to become the food basket of the world. The Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), under the aegis of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), has identified the agriculture sector as an “engine of growth” and a potential “sustainable solution to hunger and poverty in Africa”.

According to FAO (2008), only 14 percent of Africa’s 184 million hectares of arable land is under cultivation and 21 million hectares are in a state of “accelerated degradation”. In order to realise the potential of its land, Africa has an option to look outward, forge partnerships and seek investments to overcome severe problems of under-capitalisation. The agriculture sector can get an immense impetus through foreign direct investment based on partnership and mutual reciprocity and thus help create “land as assets”. Indian investments can address the critical gaps in the basic support infrastructure such as rural electrification, roads and waterways, irrigation facilities, technological upgradation and capacity building. The Indian model of combining democracy with development inspires confidence and attracts several African countries.

At the 2008 India-Africa Forum Summit, the President of Tanzania and former chairperson of the AU, Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, voiced Africa’s concern for food security and urged India to invest in capacity building in this crucial sector. “If we are able to increase productivity in African agriculture, Africa would not only be able to feed itself, but will have huge surpluses to sell to the world. India has the technology and the skills, which, if made available to Africa, will certainly help it implement the African Green Revolution,” he said.

The countries of Africa are diverse and asymmetrical in terms of size, location and the benefits or limitations of their geographic positioning, infrastructure, political framework, development, growth rates, levels of income and human development index. Therefore, one cannot paint the vast continent with a single stroke. But the general trend is towards a greater degree of democratisation and an attempt at better economic governance in many countries. Economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa is projected to increase from 1.8 percent in 2009 to 4.9 percent in 2010. Among developing regions, Sub-Saharan Africa’s growth rates will be the third-fastest (i.e. after India and China) and ahead of Europe, Central Asia, Latin America, North Africa and the Middle East. It provides the right climate for attracting global investments, of which Indian companies are an essential part.

The Indian private sector is the main vehicle through which investments in agriculture are being made. Many business enterprises such as Jain Irrigation, Karuturi Global Ltd. (KGL), Kirloskar Brothers Ltd. (KBL), Mahindra and Mahindra (M&M), Ruchi Soya and Renuka Sugars have established their presence in several countries in  agriculture and related sectors. In addition, several new players such as Yes Bank and McLeod Russel are making  forays into the agriculture sector in the continent.

KBL provides pumping systems and solutions or what it calls `Triple A’ technologies -- technologies that are  adaptable, appropriate and affordable. This can help address the need for irrigation in several countries across Africa. The popularity of the KBL pump can be gauged by the fact that every pump in Egypt is called a Kirloskar! KBL’s investment in Senegal is a success story that needs to be shared and replicated. The use of KBL water pumps has resulted in the enhancement of the total acreage under cultivation and Senegal can now meet 40 percent of its rice demand locally, as compared to 19 percent prior to the implementation of the project about five years ago. In 2008, Senegal had its first-ever dry season harvest, garnering 60,000 tonnes of paddy. The  production numbers are impressive — from 100,000 tonnes in 2006 to its quadrupling in about two years. Till June in the 2009-10 season, the country produced 546,000 tonnes of rice, with a target to increase it to 750,000 tonnes by 2015. The West African country is now on its way from being a net importer of rice to a next exporter in the second decade of the 21st century.

Jain Irrigation, a leading provider of irrigation services and agricultural inputs, has attempted innovations in resource (water) conservation and in sharing the technology of drip irrigation in several countries in Africa. It offers ways of irrigating more land with less water (water saving); more yield with less water (food security) and more food
production with less energy use (energy security). The company is an end-to-end solution provider in agriculture — from production to processing. They have also forayed into sunshine areas of alternative energy and are working towards introducing solar energy-based innovative pumping and irrigation systems. Today, the company, which follows the maxim of “more crop per drop”, has a presence in over 15 countries.

Karuturi Global, a company that ranks among the top 25 agro transnational companies of the world, has made hefty investments in the floriculture and agribusiness operations in Ethiopia, Kenya and India. KGL, the largest producer of cut roses in the world, aims to “harvest Africa’s potential and thereby address global food security”. The company aims to cultivate food crops; cereals (rice and maize), and fresh vegetables, in addition to cash
crops for sale in Ethiopia and the
COMESA region.

Indian companies are also involved in a host of CSR (corporate social responsib-ility) initiatives that enables them to reach out to the local populace and integrate with the local community. For instance, Karuturi has ensured the conservation of the environment through the use of indigenous greenhouses, in-house power generation from biomass, rainwater harvesting, environment-friendly fertilisers and chemicals.

The Indian Government has played a pivotal role in spurring Indian investments in agriculture and allied sectors through the EXIM Bank, a Government of India enterprise, which implements lines of credit (LOCs) to support investments globally. Of the 133 LOCs extended worldwide by India, 89 were allocated to 47 countries in Africa. The apex bank has played an important role in promoting food security through the facilitation of investments for the purchase of agricultural equipments from India such as tractors, harvesters, setting up of small- and medium-sized agro-processing plants, motor pumps, irrigation equipment, setting up of sugar industries and other agro-based SMEs across the continent.

Above all, India’s policy of engagement with Africa is based on requests by African counterparts and is based on a complementarity of interests. In this context, it is important to stress that the Indian Government encourages private business initiatives in Africa only on the invitation of African Governments and staunchly maintains that the rules of the host country be respected. The main thrust of India’s engagement consists of capacity building and human resource development. India has contributed to capacity building initiatives as well. It is providing 300 new scholarships especially in agricultural sciences through the African Union Commission to be implemented by the Department of Agriculture Research and Education (DARE) and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). Seventy-five students (25 Doctoral and 50 Master’s) will be enrolled each year for a period of four years. The ICAR will also provide two-to-four-week-long customised trainings in water conservation and utilisation; production of seed, sapling and planting material; livestock production; fisheries production; farm mechanisation; post-harvest processing and value-addition. This will provide a continuing engagement and the skills acquired are expected to be ploughed back into their home countries.

The India-Africa partnership, based on reciprocity, could therefore become central to the combined quest for food security and agricultural transformation that nourishes and sustains billions in these two regions. The partnership could give a big boost to the AU’s vision of a dynamic and resurgent continent through sustainable land and water management, improved rural infrastructure and market access, and increased food supply. These measures are going to be the cornerstone for the long-term food security in the continent.

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