By Devika Jyothi
Addressing the challenges in agriculture and agri-business development, setting up projects to promote entrepreneurship and achieving sustainable food and nutrition security – these were the general themes of the Agriculture & Food-Processing panel at CII-EXIM Bank Regional Conclave on India and East Africa, ‘Partners in Development,’ held in Kampala on 20 November 2017.
Co-hosting the Conclave, the International Trade Centre (ITC) presented initiatives for developing the East African agribusiness sector under Supporting Indian Trade and Investment for Africa (SITA). Mr. Govind Venuprasad, SITA Coordinator, chaired the session on “Agriculture & Food Processing Sector: Role of Private Sector in Building Sustainable Agribusiness in Africa.” Consisting of private and public sector leaders from India and East Africa, the panel discussed opportunities and challenges in African agriculture and reflected on how Indian expertise and investment can be used to build more vibrant and sustainable agribusinesses in Africa.
‘Agriculture is the single biggest provider of employment for India and Africa,’ commented Ms. Rita Teaotia, Commerce Secretary, Government of India, highlighting the role of agriculture and agribusiness in employment generation and economic growth in both India and East Africa. ‘There are a lot of commonalities,’ she said. With both continents facing similar challenges in agriculture and agribusiness development, India’s lessons and solutions may well be adapted to address the challenges in East Africa, she added.
She urged the private sector to take advantage of India-Africa Technology Partnership programmes such as the India Africa University for Life and Earth Sciences and the India Africa Food Processing Cluster to facilitate value addition and create export markets. Technical collaborations with Indian institutions for the production of sugar in Ethiopia, and bio-pesticide in Uganda for organic cotton are good examples of such initiatives by the public sector, she said, ‘but real volumes will happen in the private sector.’
‘One of the reasons I’m here is to talk with businesses supported by SITA,’ commented Oliver-John Keetch, Head of Strategy, Corporate and Global Partnerships at the Department for International Development (DFID), India – SITA’s sponsor. ‘We look forward to hearing more about the positives as well as the lessons learnt on what we can do more.’
Inviting Indian companies to set up units in Uganda for processing its abundant agri-resources, Ms. Barbara Mulwana, Chair, Uganda Manufacturers Association, commented on the initiatives by the Ugandan government such as the ‘Buy Uganda, Build Uganda’ (BUBU) policy that supports and encourages the consumption of locally produced goods and services.
Mr. Atul Chaturvedi, President, Solvent Extractors’ Association (SEA) of India, who played a key role in the development of the Indian agribusiness sector, spoke of his journey through trial and error to establish SEA of India as one of the top associations in India. ‘We’ve learnt a lot along the way and have become experts in terms of what not to do as well as what to do,’ he said.
Further, Mr. Chaturvedi listed several areas where these lessons and India’s expertise could be put to beneficial use in East Africa, such as cost-effective packaging for edible oil, modernised storage systems for agri- and horticultural produce and controlled handling of perishables, to state a few.
‘India can also offer managerial support to the industry here’, he added.
Commenting on the export potential for Ugandan agribusinesses, Mr. Chaturvedi said, ‘Uganda is a blessed country with rich agri-resources, and India needs all that you can produce. Most importantly, if you can supply sunflower – this could be the next big thing as the Indian government is offering incentives, through low tariffs, for sunflower imports into the country.’
Mr. Chaturvedi handed over a copy of a study on Ugandan Sunflower sector, conducted jointly by SEA of India and ITC, to Ms. Teaotia.
‘Thanks to SITA, we were able to see the rural areas of Rwanda and Uganda,’ remarked Mr. Ramkumar Menon, Chairman, World Spice Organization and Head of Business Committee, All Indian Spice Exporters Forum. ‘And what struck me was the commonalities of challenges in the agro-sector like in spices.’
‘We are happy to share our experiences so that East African businesses can learn from our mistakes,’ Mr. Menon said, stating the need to establish a strong research and development base for strengthening the Spices sector. ‘Training and education of farmers, processors and exporters on quality aspects is another important aspect. We started this 10-15 years ago in India, and it is paying us dividends,’ Mr. Menon added. At 947,000 tonnes, Indian exports today account for over 40 per cent of the global export of spices.
On the potential investments in the pulses sector, Mr. Kassahun Bekele, Co-owner of Acos Ethiopia, said, ‘We produce huge volumes of different kinds of pulses crops. However, 90-99 per cent of these are small holders and not well organized – most lack mechanisation and irrigation facilities.’
‘There is a big gap, and this is where we need investment,’ Mr. Bekele said.
During the panel discussions, a Tanzanian pulses exporter expressed concerns over the recent ban on the import of pigeon peas by India. Ms. Teaotia explained that it was an exceptional condition following plenteous production last year. ‘Normally we buy,’ she assured.
The panel discussion was followed by a presentation on the India–East Africa Trade Information Portal which was set up to facilitate trade and investment between India and the East African region through the provision of critical information. The session also saw the launch the ITC-Level A mobile application. The app was developed in association with India’s Level A Commodities, which provides trade information on agricultural commodities in India and East Africa. The portal and mobile application were developed by SITA to address the information asymmetries that hinder international trade.
Summing up the session, Mr. Venuprasad said, ‘Since the start of the project in 2015, SITA has been at the forefront of promoting sustainable development in East Africa, providing Indian expertise and experiences to finding solutions to agriculture and agribusiness development challenges.’
‘With continued support and commitment from all partners in development, this will continue to grow and gain momentum in the coming years, enabling Africa’s agribusinesses to become more profitable and sustainable,’ he said.