A new phase in India-Africa ties

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A new phase in India-Africa ties

The support India is offering to African countries to achieve self-sufficiency is commendable. But India itself needs to do more to ensure that such advances benefit all

This writer participated in the first ever African Development Bank  meeting that was held in India in May this year. The vibrant State of Gujarat, known for its spirit of enterprise, was a fitting location for this important event. The discussions about the synergies between India and Africa (the two regions where the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works extensively) were exciting.

For this writer, it was both a learning experience and a privilege to join in the exchange of ideas about key areas of African development, in particular, the potential of agriculture to create economic opportunity across the continent.

The African Development Bank is committed to bring economic transformation in Africa and also to ensure that all African countries and citizens are a part of the growth story. Its role is especially important at a time when an uncertain global aid environment has put developmental progress in several countries at a risk of backsliding.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been working with the African Development Bank to encourage countries to optimise social sector spending that benefits the poorest. Agriculture is one of the top priorities because with the right tools, smallholder farmers can improve their livelihoods and lift their families out of poverty.

This writer was delighted to see the partnership and support that India is offering to African countries in their quest to achieve self-sufficiency. India and Africa have much in common, including big agricultural sectors and a large population of young people. Africa has tremendous potential to become a global agriculture powerhouse, and there is much it can draw on from India's Green Revolution to achieve its goals of poverty alleviation, self-sufficiency and economic growth.

India's growth experience is an exciting story. The country is making significant advances in areas such as healthcare, sanitation, and financial inclusion. A great example is the reduction in infant and child mortality. The latest edition of India's National Family Health Survey shows that in the last decade, infant mortality rate has declined by 28 per cent, and the under-five mortality rate has declined by 32 per cent.

Improvement in child nutrition too is encouraging. Since the last survey, in 2005-06, there has been a decrease of almost 10 per cent in the number of stunted children under the age of five, and a seven per cent decline in the percentage of underweight children. The Government's Mission Indradhanush immunisation initiative has in just two years expanded access to life-saving vaccines for more than 22 million children and six million pregnant mothers.

The Government's emphasis on building a digital economy is also showing great results. The country’s poor, who have been historically cut off from the formal financial sector, now have access to digital banking tools that enable them to safely save, send and borrow money.

In less than three years, the number of new accounts opened is 286 million, as part of the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana scheme, and most of those have RuPay debit cards.

This is amazing progress and we are working with the African Development Bank to see if some of these models can be adapted and scaled in African countries.

However, there is still much work to do in India to ensure that these advances benefit everyone, especially in health and nutrition. Public health is arguably the most important long-term investment for the economic future of the country but making a case for its prioritisation continues to be a challenge.

India's complex and diverse socio-economic makeup means that there are no ready made solutions. But India has shown that it is capable of developing innovative strategies to address big challenges. Some of these can benefit Africa, too. Nigeria is drawing on lessons learned from the pulse polio programme in India to eliminate endemic polio. The partnership of the foundation developed with the Government of India on Human Immunodeficiency virus prevention is being adopted by other countries.

Sanitation is another area where India is beginning to make progress that also could benefit countries in the African continent. Under a new Government policy, India is developing decentralised solutions for the safe treatment, disposal, and reuse of fecal sludge, which would be a great benefit to African countries with limited water resources.

It is exciting to see the culture of innovation developing across sectors of India's economy. Even more exciting is the prospect of these advances being harnessed to reduce poverty for everyone in India and for millions of others in Africa and around the world.

(The writer is Chief Strategy Officer and President Global Policy & Advocacy at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation)

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