7 June 2019 -- A round table discussion organized by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS) in New Delhi, brought senior diplomats from African countries and India, officials from the Ministry of Agriculture, participants from the public and private sectors, senior academics and CGIAR partners together to discuss challenges and prospects for enhancing India-Africa cooperation on agricultural research and capacity building for development.
Over 80% of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa depend on agriculture. The demand for rice in the region is growing at over 6% per year due to rising population, better incomes, urbanization and shifting consumer preferences. To meet this rising demand, the region imported 16 million tons of milled rice in 2018 at a cost of around US$ 6 billion. “There is a need to build robust rice-based agri-food systems in Africa using the knowledge and overall progress made in India, to increase food production and improve nutrition”, said Dr Abdelbagi Ismail, IRRI Representative in Africa.
Dr. Sachin Chaturvedi, Director General of RIS, emphasized the role of think tanks in India and Africa to facilitate policy dialogues that shape future narratives of research for development (R4D) in agriculture. Chairing the inaugural session, His Excellency Mr. Ben Joubert, Acting High Commissioner for South African High Commission, highlighted the need to further the Africa Agenda 2063 by optimally using indigenous knowledge for evidence-based policies and said that recommendations from the discussion should feed into the next India-Africa Summit in 2020. He also highlighted the critical role of gender in agriculture since in many African countries, women form the bulk of farmers.
According to Shri Sanjay Agarwal, Secretary of the Department of Agriculture Cooperation & Farmers Welfare, “One of the Government of India’s key objectives is to deliver food and nutrition security for all. In this context there are many opportunities for South-South cooperation including training and capacity building for researchers, policy makers and farmers, improving market linkages, mechanization, and robust agricultural data systems to optimise land use and enable evidence-based policy implementation.”
IRRI inaugurated its regional office in Nairobi in 2018 to help countries in sub-Saharan Africa transform their rice sector and reduce dependence on imports. IRRI contributes by replacing old varieties with high yielding, climate resilient varieties that are of high quality and market value. It also works to modernize rice production systems, build human and institutional capacity, and catalyze policy reforms for agriculture transformation.
“The IRRI South Asia Regional Centre (IRRI-SARC) is ready to help further India-Africa partnership on agricultural modernization” explained Dr.Arvind Kumar, Director of IRRI-SARC & IRRI India Representative. A part of ISARC’s mission is to facilitate South-South collaboration through training researchers and policy makers; developing and disseminating climate resilient rice varieties; and developing linkages with research institutions in Africa.
Rice production in India is at an all-time-high of over 115 million tonnes in 2018-19 (Estimates by Ministry of Agriculture & farmers Welfare, India). Similarity in agro-climatic conditions in both countries harbours possibilities to harness progress in agriculture in India to address production gaps in Africa and enhance return on investment.
In the context of the upcoming India-Africa Summit in 2020, deliberations from this multi-stakeholder meeting bear much importance. Concluding the round table, Her Excellency Belinda Omino, Deputy High Commissioner-Kenya, said “There is a lot that African countries learn from India’s experience. However, in seeking to modernize agriculture in African countries we must recognise the value of indigenous foods and knowledge.”