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[CHENNAI] Africa and India will boost cooperation in agricultural technologies for smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa, with a view to achieving food security by 2015.

The Hyderabad-based International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the European Market Research Centre (EMRC) this month, to facilitate ICRISAT's participation in two key annual Africa business forums organised by the EMRC — the Africa agri-business forum and the Africa finance and investment forum.

The MoU was signed at a meeting of the Africa–India economic mission earlier this month (28 February — 5 March) in Hyderabad. Twelve African countries, including Burkina Faso, Kenya, Mali, Niger and Sudan, took part in the meeting whose agenda included agricultural equipment, research, soil and water conservation, bio-fuels, post-harvest management and knowledge parks.

"We have to keep in mind the interests of the smallholder farmer, and this technology-based partnership should benefit the poorest of the poor," ICRISAT director-general William Dar told the meeting.

In November 2009, ICRISAT launched a US$18 million project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to increase food security for smallholder farmers in dryland areas.

The ICRISAT-led project in ten Sub-Saharan African countries and four Indian states, 'Harnessing Opportunities for Productivity Enhancement (HOPE) of Sorghum and Millets in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia' has 50 partners that include theAlliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, the International Sorghum and Millet Improvement Programme, Africa Harvest and the West Africa Seed Alliance as well as the Institute d' Economie Rurale, Mali, and USAID.

"ICRISAT is also spending a major portion of its core budget for Africa, which includes research and development on its core crops: sorghum, pigeon-pea, chickpea, groundnut and pearl millet," Dar told SciDev.Net.

"Through development and delivery of improved crop varieties and training in crop management practices, HOPE will increase small-scale farmer yields by 35 to 40 per cent during the first four years of the project," he said. Within ten years, the project should benefit more than two million households in these continents, he added.

In another initiative, farm and forest experts from the Chennai-based M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation and the Nairobi-based World Agroforestry Centre met last month (18–19 February) to discuss cooperation in 'evergreen agriculture' — a form of conservation farming that integrates nitrogen-fixing trees with annual crops. This method is popular in several African countries, including Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Niger and Zambia.

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