India-Africa co-operation in science, technology goes a gear up

Samir Saran & Malancha Chakrabarty Correspondents
India and Africa have a long history of partnership. Technology co-operation has been an essential ingredient in India’s development co-operation with Africa since mid 1960s when the Indian Technical and Economic Co-operation (ITEC) Programme was launched. ITEC was formulated with the intention of providing technical assistance to partner countries by focussing on manpower development. African countries have been the largest recipients under the ITEC Programme.

The need for technology co-operation between the countries of the South was felt early on because direct application of technologies developed in the West may not be appropriate for developing countries as they face complex challenges. On the other hand, the technology gap between the Southern countries is smaller. In this regard, Indian technology may be more suited to the needs of African countries, particularly in the field of agriculture and renewable energy technology.

However, given the fact that India itself was a large aid recipient till early 1990s, the scope of India co-operation with African countries was limited. With the rapid growth of the Indian economy in 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 co-operation between India and Africa has now widened.

During the India-Africa Forum Summit in 2008, India committed substantial support towards science and technology development in Africa.

The 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 started in 2010 with the objective of providing opportunities to African researchers to engage in collaborative research in science and technology in Indian universities and institutions under eminent Indian scientists. So far about 164 candidates from African countries have been awarded fellowships under this programme.

The Department of Science and Technology is also providing technical assistance to African institutions engaged in research and development by training African researchers, sharing technological know-how and developing academic linkages with African institutions.

In addition, India has also signed technology co-operation agreements with four African countries namely South Africa, Tunisia, Egypt, and Mauritius. India’s co-operation 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 and more than 220 South African researchers have received funding from the government of India .

According to the author’s estimates from the data available in the Department of Science and Technology’s website, so far India has sanctioned research projects worth Rs122,7 million to South Africa. The total value of projects sanctioned to Tunisia is estimated to be Rs21,5 million .

India-Africa technology co-operation in the field of agriculture, renewable energy technology, and information technology bears a special mention.

India-Africa science and technology co-operation offers a unique opportunity for agricultural growth in Africa. The case for greater agricultural co-operation between India and Africa is stronger because of the similar agro-climatic conditions in India and Africa. African agriculture suffers from low productivity and limited use of technology. On the other hand, India has built considerable capacity in agricultural research. Two Indian institutions, namely International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) lead India-Africa co-operation in agriculture.

ICRISAT has established agri-business incubators and value-chain incubators in five African countries viz. Angola, Cameroon, Ghana, Mali and Uganda by partnering with local bodies. 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 that 10% of the African farmers use high yielding varieties of crops, 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. This 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 has also committed to providing 25 PhD and 50 Masters Scholarships a year to African students.

India is also playing a significant role in the deployment of renewable energy technologies in Africa. It has extended credit lines to facilitate 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 (TERI) are promoting the use of solar lanterns and clean cooking options in many African countries. Promotion of decentralised solar energy options and improved cook stoves not only provides energy access to the 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 socio-economic 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 Rs 452 crores . 48 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 IT sector in CDAC Noida and CDAC Pune . India’s lines of credit was used to construct the Technology Development and Innovation Centre in Science and Technology Park in Mozambique, Technology Park in Cape Verde and the Mahatma Gandhi IT and Biotechnology Park in Cote d’Ivoire.

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