African farmland to Indian firms no cause for worry: UN official

February 13th, 2011 - 5:42 pm ICT by IANS  

By Gyanendra Kumar Keshri
New Delhi, Feb 13 (IANS) A top official at UN agencies has sought to allay apprehensions among people of some African countries that propose to lease farmland to investors from countries like India to mutually secure food supplies under South-South cooperation.UN officials also say the rich countries must play a more meaningful role in addressing concerns over climate change in the African continent, assessed to need $25 billion in funding, with support also coming in from emerging economies like India and China.

“Concerns over land are just an apprehension. Land is allocated to serious investors and they are helping in the development of the respective regions. There is no free lunch,” said Youba Sokona, coordinator at the United Nations Economic Commission.

“People are investing money to get good returns. This engagement is important to ensure food security and also boost economic growth in Africa,” Sokona, who is from Ethiopia and oversees climate change policy in Africa, told IANS in an interview.

“Africa is importing a lot of food despite availability of fertile land and water. What we need is know-how and investment. This is coming largely from India and China and we are also comfortable working with the two countries,” he said during an official visit here.

Ethiopia, for example, has offered to Indian investors 1.8 million hectares of farmland, equalling 40 percent of the total area of the principal grain-growing state of Punjab, in what could give a big push to the country’s food security.

The senior UN official said African countries were also looking for technology transfer from developing nations like India and China to deal with issues of poverty and climate challenge that can be mutually beneficial.

“South-South cooperation is very important. Our challenges are similar. We will be more comfortable tackling it together. We’re looking for technology transfer, not technology dumping,” Sokona said.

“Most technologies offered from North American and European countries are not suitable in our countries. But Indian and Chinese technologies and know-how can be comfortably implemented in the African countries.”

According to Anthony Nyong, who oversees the compliance and safeguards division of the African Development Bank, said developed countries, which have been the main polluters in the past, must pay the most to tackle the challenges of environment degradation.

“We (the least developed countries - LDCs) add only three percent to the total global green house gas emission while we bear the maximum brunt of it. Yet, there is a huge financing gap,” Nyong told IANS.

“Just to fund current programmes we need some $25 billion. But only $700-million funding is available,” Nyong said, adding: “We have the commitment and the expertise to address these issues related to environment. But there is a big problem of financing.”

(Gyanendra Kumar Keshri can be reached at gyanendra.k@ians.in)

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