Foreign Policy Watch: India-Africa

Crafting a unique partnership with Africa


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : China's scramble for Africa and challenges for India

This op-ed analyses the future of India-Africa cooperation in agriculture amid the looming Chinese involvement in African countries.

Agricultural significance of Africa

  • With 65% of the world’s uncultivated arable land, employing over 60% of the workforce, and accounting for almost 20% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP, agriculture is critical to Africa’s economy.

China factor behind

  • As this relationship enters the post-pandemic world, it is vital to prioritize and channel resources into augmenting partnerships in agriculture.
  • This is crucial given its unexplored potential, centrality to global food security, business prospects and to provide credible alternatives to the increasing involvement of Chinese stakeholders in the sector.

Analyzing Chinese engagement

Chinese corporations, small and medium-sized enterprises and entrepreneurs adopt has provided a layered perspective of the sociopolitical, economic and environmental impact of Chinese engagement.

  • Trade: China is among Africa’s largest trading partners.
  • Credit facility: It is also Africa’s single biggest creditor.
  • Infrastructure: Its corporations dominate the region’s infrastructure market and are now entering the agri-infra sector.
  • Strategic support: While access to Africa’s natural resources, its untapped markets and support for ‘One China Policy’ are primary drivers of Chinese engagement with the region, there are other factors at play.

China is going strategic in the guise of agriculture

  • Increasingly critical to China’s global aspirations, its engagement in African agriculture is taking on a strategic quality.
  • Chinese-built industrial parks and economic zones in Africa are attracting low-cost, labour-intensive manufacturing units that are relocating from China.
  • Chinese engineers interviewed spoke of how their operations in Africa are important to accumulate global experience in management, risk and capital investments.
  • Not only are they willing to overlook short-term profits in order to build a ‘brand China’, but they want to dominate the market in the long term, which includes pushing Chinese standards in host countries.
  • Chinese tech companies are laying critical telecommunications infrastructure, venture capital funds are investing in African fintech firms, while other smaller enterprises are expanding across the region.

Agricultural landscape

  • While many Chinese entities have been active in Africa’s agriculture for decades now, the nature, form and actors involved have undergone substantial change.
  • In Zambia, Chinese firms are introducing agri-tech to combat traditional challenges, such as using drone technology to control the fall armyworm infestation.
  • They have set up over Agricultural Technology Demonstration Centers (ATDCS) in the continent where Chinese agronomists work on developing new crop varieties and increasing crop yields.
  • This ATDCs partner with local universities, conduct workshops and classes for officials and provide training and lease equipment to small holder farmers.
  • Chinese companies with no prior experience in agriculture are setting out to build futuristic ecological parks while others are purchasing large-scale commercial farms.

Inducing their soft power

  • The exponential growth in the China-Africa economic ties and the emergence of Beijing as an alternative to traditional western powers have motivated change in perceptions across groups.
  • Governments and heads of state are recalibrating approaches, media houses are investing more resources for on-the-ground reporting.

Dark Side of the Sino-Africa ties

  • Simultaneously, Africa-China relations are becoming complex with a growing, insular diaspora, lopsided trade, looming debt, competition with local businesses and a negative perception accompanied by greater political and socioeconomic interlinkages.
  • On occasion, there seems to be a gap between skills transferred in China and the ground realities in Africa.
  • In some cases, the technology taught in China is not available locally and in others, there is inability to implement lessons learnt due to the absence of supporting resources.
  • Larger commercial farms run by Mandarin-speaking managers and the presence of small-scale Chinese farmers in local markets aggravates socio-cultural stresses.

India’s agricultural engagement

  • Diverse portfolios: India-Africa agricultural cooperation currently includes institutional and individual capacity-building initiatives, an extension of soft loans, supply of machinery, acquisition of farmlands and the presence of Indian entrepreneurs in the African agricultural ecosystem.
  • Land acquisition: Indian farmers have purchased over 6,00,000 hectares of land for commercial farming in Africa.
  • States cooperation: Sub-national actors are providing another model of cooperation in agriculture. Consider the case of the Kerala government trying to meet its requirement for cashew nuts with imports from countries in Africa.
  • Civil society: Similar ideas could encourage State governments and civil society organizations to identify opportunities and invest directly.
  • Agri-business: There is also promise in incentivizing Indian industries to tap into African agri-business value chains and connecting Indian technology firms and startups with partners in Africa.
  • Investment: In the past year, despite the pandemic, the sector witnessed a record increase in investments.

Way forward

  • A thorough impact assessment needs to be conducted of the existing capacity-building initiatives in agriculture for India to stand in good stead.
  • This could include detailed surveys of participants who have returned to their home countries.
  • Country-specific and localized curriculum can be drawn up, making skill development demand-led.
  • In all senses, India has consistently chosen well to underline the development partnership to be in line with African priorities.
  • It is pertinent, therefore, that we collectively craft a unique modern partnership with Africa.


  • While India’s Africa strategy exists independently, it is important to be cognizant of China’s increasing footprint in the region.
  • Beijing’s model, if successful here, could be heralded as a replica for the larger global south.
  • It is important to note, however, that prominent African voices have emphasized that their own agency is often overlooked in the global discourse on the subject.

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