India exports farmers to Amin's homeland

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The Independent Online

The Indian state of Andhra Pradesh is planning to export its drought-hit farmers to Africa in what may become one of the extraordinary migrations of modern times. The state government is negotiating 99-year leases of 70,000 acres in Kenya and Uganda for cultivation.

The Indian state of Andhra Pradesh is planning to export its drought-hit farmers to Africa in what may become one of the extraordinary migrations of modern times. The state government is negotiating 99-year leases of 70,000 acres in Kenya and Uganda for cultivation.

The scheme is likely to be controversial. Memories of Idi Amin's forced expulsion of more than 70,000 Asians from Uganda in 1972 are still raw, and tensions have arisen between Kenya's African and Asian communities.

Under the Andhra Pradesh plan, the first 500 farmers will leave for Kenya and Uganda in June. The fear is that they will be seen as modern colonisers from an India that is growing in economic strength. Andhra Pradesh has been a powerhouse of economic transformation, although its farmers have seen enjoyed little of that. Part of the city of Hyderabad has been dubbed Cyberabad because of the number of international IT firms moving there.

Rural areas are a different story. Like most of India, Andhra Pradesh has suffered years of droughts which have crippled agriculture. The suicide rate among farmers unable to pay their debts because of failed crops has rocketed. In the past six years, more than 3,000 in the state have killed themselves.

Andhra Pradesh says its African venture will ease farmers' woes. A farmers' co-operative will be set up, and the Indians will be allowed to run the farms as if they were the landowners. They can send their earnings home to their families in India, but they must use Kenyan and Ugandan labour. The lease will be paid off using a percentage of the profits earned by the co-operative.

The Andhra Pradesh government has signed letters of understanding with local authorities to lease 50,000 acres in Kenya, and with the Ugandan Investment Authority to lease 20,000 acres, the Hindustan Times reported yesterday. "The next step is formalisation of the lease, selection of farmers, identification of crops to be grown and funding," CC Reddy, an adviser to the Andhra Pradesh government, told the paper.

Mutuma Kathurima, the Kenyan high commissioner to India, said: "We have fertile land and abundant water. What we need is the green revolution experience of Indian farmers."

Asians have had a troubled history in east Africa. Although there were already extensive trade links, the Indian presence rose dramatically when labourers were imported en masse during the British colonial era to build a railway from the port of Mombasa to the Ugandan capital, Kampala.

The Asian population became wealthy but racial tensions arose with the African majority. In 1972, Uganda's Idi Amin, looking for a populist cause to shore up his dictatorial rule, expelled more than 70,000 Asians and confiscated their property.

Some returned to India and Pakistan. Others moved to Britain, where they are among the most successful immigrant communities. Relatively few returned to Uganda after Amin fell.

Today, many African Kenyans resent the comparative wealth of the Asians, and, historically, the Asian community has not assimilated. In 2000, one Kenyan Asian told The Washington Post: "I think of 'Kenyan Asians' like 'German Jews'."

The arrival of hundreds of Indian farmers at private reserves in areas where indigenous farmers are facing poverty may prove extremely unpopular.

In Andhra Pradesh, the scheme has come under fire from opposition parties. A politician from the Telugu Desam Party said: "The government should try to find a solution to the farmers' problem within the state. The whole scheme looks escapist and fanciful. It reminds one of indentured Indian labourers being sent by the British to work in plantations in Africa and other countries."

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