No one had urged Keralites to go to Ceylon, Singapore, Burma or the Gulf. Without government help or incentives, Keralites explored lands on his/her own and set up enterprises from eateries to hyper malls in distant lands. Now, its Africa's turn to be explored.
This time however, Keralites are being offered incentives and sops to set up shop or enterprises in Africa. Incentives on offer are from the International Trade Centre in Geneva and people are being encouraged to start ventures in Africa.
However, the call to explore Africa came a bit late for Keralites it seems. Even before the nation did not have a representation in such countries, Keralites went there, worked for decades and came back to tell the story and experiences. In the fifties, S.K. Pottekad wrote a detailed account of his trip that spanned ten months.
Now the renewed focus on Africa comes as China is expanding its presence in Africa. The majority of raw materials that the world uses these days are from Africa. Already Chinese firms own oil wells and mines in Africa. If India does not make a move now, the Chinese domination of Africa could be complete leaving no room for India to dip into the land’s riches.
Even though it is imperative for India to make its presence in Africa, not all nations are nice places to go and set up enterprises. After considering factors such as business friendliness and security, five nations have been approved and they are the East African nations of Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania. The initiative that encourages enterprises in these nations is called SITA- Supporting Indian Trade and investment for Africa.
As per the SITA initiative, products imported from these five nations would attract duty cuts of 98 per cent and the commodities include coffee, pulses, leather, sunflower oil, perfumes, textiles etc. There are also options to invest in Africa and set up businesses. For example, the regions lack potable water and setting up drinking water businesses can reap rich benefits. Other areas of investment are hospitals and medical services and other modern facilities. One can lease acres of land in African nations, if the experience of those who purchased land in some African nations only to be unceremoniously thrown out of the land later, is a deterrent. According to SITA coordinator Govind Venu Prasad, one need not spend a lot on land and can test the environment by leasing small areas first. One can export the agricultural produce to India and other nations and investors may avail help from the British government, which is offering financial assistance for agriculture.
Tailpiece: The question of whether one can grow rubber in Africa is being pursued by many. The Sameer Group is already growing rubber in Kenya and it also makes tyres. Considering that we are now processing cashew nuts that are procured from African nations, Keralites could be interested in raising the nut in Africa.