The Indian way for Africa?

At a recent workshop on food processing technologies, African specialists felt they have found a way out of the serialised food crisis

Published: Saturday 31 August 1996

african nations could possibly find some avenue out of the endless series of droughts, under-production of food and resultant civil wars, if they manage to emulate India by urgently acquiring and utilising appropriate food technologies to boost production, preservation, packaging and distribution of local food stuff. This conclusion was reached during the First Africa-wide Exhibition and Workshop on Innovative Food Process ing Technologies for Commercialisation which was also addressed by a top official, Nutan Guha Biswas, a deputy secretary with the Indian government's ministry of food processing industries.

A leading scientist, Thomas R Odhiambo, who heads the African Academy of Sciences said that many African countries' dependence on food aid can easily be reversed through innovative food processing technologies focussing on local cereals, root crops, vegetables and fruits. He said, "Africa has only between two to five manufactured food products in the modern urban-based markets and they hardly exist in foreign markets." This minimal performance, according to Odhianbo, occurs despite a rich variety of food crops that include upto 30 indigenous grains, 300 leafy vegetables, 40 tropical fruits and 20 root or tuber crops which were domesticated or semi-domesticated centuries ago. Much of the food crop simply rots due to acute shortage of storage and refrigeration facilities.

"It is imprudent to leave matters of food security in the hands of foreign powers, however friendly, and Africa must come up with various food products," says H Michieka, who heads Kenya's Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.

The presentations made by top African researchers and experts at the exhibition hardly went beyond the processing of cassava and sweet potatoes. The African processed food market is innundated with foreign products. Many African nation, like Keny, still have laws that allow only wheat to be used in the making bread.

Even the presentations from Nigeria, considered one of the African nations with relatively skilled manpower and wealthy enough to fund research and development activities in the field of food technology, seemed confined to cassava. Most of the food preservation and processing technology seemed confined to sun-drying or dehydration, smoking and salting, while oil seeds were either crushed, pounded or boiled.

The participants learned from Guha Biswas that the agro-food industry in India is relatively more informed Guha. They were told that the organised sector of India's processed food industry, which has 29,000 factories with products valued at Rs 450 billion, is a major source of employment. The industry tops the list in terms of employment and includes primary food processing, the unorganised and cottage scale industries.

India's dependence, four decades ago, on foreign supply of milk and related products had been draining her resources developed Biswas. But then, "Indian scientists developed indigenous technology for the manufacture of milk products based on standardisation of buffalo milk and modified foreign technology to suit Indian conditions," she added. The example did sink in and many African experts felt that the Indian example was worth emulating.

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