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June 06, 2012

Questions about India's 'major boost to Africa's cotton output'

A much circulated statement says 'India has set in motion a $4.66 million programme to develop the cotton industry across the African continent.'

Questions immediately rise from the first sentence. Africa is very big and varied so any claim about 'across the continent' seems very doubtful, especially given the stated amount of the initiative, the number of beneficiary countries (seven) and the project period (three years, from January 2012 to December 2014). No doubt the people the project will assist will be grateful, but less than $5 million spread so thinly cannot honestly be said to be capable of  'developing the cotton industry across the African continent.'

S.K.Makhijani, economic counsellor in the Indian High Commission in Nigeria, is quoted as saying the project involves training, transfer of technology and ICT-based interventions in production.

"This is an initiative under the aegis of the second India-Africa Forum Summit aimed at strengthening the competitiveness of the cotton sector," Makhijani said, including by, "training in extension technology, training in post-harvest management as well as pilot projects on crop residue-based industries" will be conducted.

It is also expected there would be the establishment of skill schools, exposure visits, advisory support for policy framework and investment promotion.

"It is hoped that these initiatives would change the face of an industry that has suffered a myriad of problems over the years," Makhijani said.

The cotton sector in many African countries is struggling, but it is for complicated local and economic reasons that cannot be addressed by a few projects, no matter how well-intended.

Indian and Chinese interventions are much more thriftily implemented than traditional Western ones that have dominated in recent decades in Africa, but still, the stated outcomes across such a large number of countries  from a distance seem out of proportion to the budget. The seven countries are Benin, Nigeria, Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali, Malawi and Uganda.

It may be oversold by its promoters, but it nevertheless sounds like a good initiative.

African Agriculture

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