Monday,23 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1268, (29 October - 4 November 2015)
Monday,23 July, 2018
Issue 1268, (29 October - 4 November 2015)

Ahram Weekly

India-Africa cooperation in science and technology

Technology cooperation between India and Africa is making significant gains, write Samir Saran and Malancha Chakrabarty

Al-Ahram Weekly

India and Africa have a long history of partnership. Technology cooperation has been an essential part in India’s development cooperation with Africa since the mid-1960s, when the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) Programme was launched.

The ITEC was formed to provide technical assistance, particularly focussing on manpower development, to partner countries. African countries have been the largest recipients under the ITEC Programme.

The need for technology cooperation between the countries of the South was recognised early on because the direct application of technologies developed in the West may not be appropriate for the complex challenges faced by developing countries. At the same time, the technology gap between the Southern countries is smaller. Indian technology may be more suited to the needs of African countries, particularly in the fields of agriculture and renewable energy.

However, given the fact that India was itself the recipient of large amounts of aid until the early 1990s, the scope of India’s cooperation with African countries was limited. With the rapid growth of the Indian economy over the last two decades, an increase in the role of information technology in India’s growth story and given that Africa is now the fastest-growing region in the world and rapidly innovating in its own right, the scope of technology cooperation between India and Africa has widened.

At the India-Africa Forum Summit in 2008, India gave substantial support to science and technology development in Africa. The Indian Department of Science and Technology is implementing a number of programmes and activities under the India-Africa Science and Technology Initiative.

The CV Raman Fellowship for African Researchers was also started in 2010. The fellowship provides opportunities to African researchers to take part in collaborative research in science and technology at Indian universities and institutions under eminent Indian scientists.

So far, about 164 Africans have been awarded fellowships under the programme. The Department of Science and Technology also provides technical assistance to African institutions engaged in research and development by training African researchers, sharing technological know-how and developing academic links with African institutions.

India has also signed technology cooperation agreements with four African countries: South Africa, Tunisia, Egypt and Mauritius. India’s cooperation with South Africa in the field of technology started in 1995. This agreement was recently renewed in 2015. So far, 74 joint research projects have been undertaken in areas such as biotechnology, information science, astronomy, food science technologies for rural applications, indigenous knowledge systems, nanotechnology and renewable energy. More than 220 South African researchers have received funding from the Indian government.

According to the authors’ estimates from data available on the Department of Science and Technology’s website, so far India has supported South African research projects worth 122.7 million Rs ($1.8 million). The total value of projects in Tunisia is estimated to be 21.5 million Rs ($330,000).

India-Africa technology cooperation in the fields of agriculture, renewable energy and information deserves a special mention. India-Africa cooperation offers a unique opportunity for agricultural growth in Africa. The case for greater agricultural cooperation between India and Africa is stronger because of the similar agro-climatic conditions in India and Africa.

African agriculture suffers from low yields and the limited use of technology. India has built considerable capacity in agricultural research. Two Indian institutions, namely the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), lead India-Africa cooperation in agriculture.

ICRISAT has established agri-business incubators and value-chain incubators, partnering with local bodies, in five African countries, Angola, Cameroon, Ghana, Mali and Uganda. ILRI focuses on reducing poverty and improving food security in African countries through more sustainable use of livestock. It has ongoing India-Africa programmes in Mozambique, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Kenya.

Given that less than 10 per cent of African farmers use high-yielding varieties of crops, the production of good-quality seeds is a major challenge for most African countries. The National Seed Association of India is partnering with the Syngenta Foundation India in the India-Africa Seeds Bridge project.

The project aims to develop the seed system in Africa by providing better seeds to African farmers and creating a market for Indian seed companies. In addition to these initiatives, India will offer 25 doctoral and 50 master’s scholarships per year to African students.

India is also playing a significant role in the deployment of renewable energy technologies. It has extended credit lines for the the construction of power transmission lines in Kenya and Mali; hydro-power plants in Burundi, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of Congo; and solar power plants in Niger.

Indian institutions such as the Energy and Resources Institute (ERI) are promoting the use of solar lanterns and clean cooking options in many African countries. The promotion of decentralised solar energy options and improved cooking stoves not only provides energy access to energy poor rural households in Africa, but also improves their quality of life.

India is also helping African countries bridge the digital divide. The Pan-Africa e-Network was launched in 2009 with the aim of narrowing the digital divide in Africa and harnessing the socioeconomic benefits of ICT.

Under this project, India has set up a fibre-optic network to provide satellite connectivity, tele-medicine and tele-education to African countries. The total value of the project is 452 crores Rs ($70 million).

Forty-eight African countries are part of the project and 169 centres have been commissioned and integrated with the network. Moreover, 80 candidates from various Africa countries have participated in training programmes in the IT sector in CDAC Noida and CDAC Pune.

Indian lines of credit were used to construct the Technology Development and Innovation Centre in the Science and Technology Park in Mozambique, a Technology Park in Cape Verde and the Mahatma Gandhi IT and Biotechnology Park in Cote d’Ivoire.

Samir Saran is vice president and Malancha Chakrabarty is an associate fellow at the Observer Research Foundation.

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