India-Africa Roundtable on Science and Technology
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On 15th March 2023, as part of the "Connect Africa" initiative, VIF organised 1st "India-Africa Roundtable (IAR)"on Science and Technology with a focus on collaboration in the field of Science & Technology, particularly in the domain of Trade, Climate Change and Food Security issues in the context of the Agenda 2063 of the African Union Commission (AUC). The principal objective of the event was to facilitate the interaction between government and businesses by introducing these four Indian start-ups representing pharmaceuticals, aggro-tech, fintech, and civil drone sectors to African delegates so that they could understand their utility and engage in direct conversation. Ambassadors and High Commissioners of South Africa, Namibia, Morocco, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Ghana and Kenya were present.

The chief guest of the event, Mr Dhammu Ravi, Secretary in his welcome address, congratulated VIF for organising this event, embracing a goal-oriented approach. While a generalist approach is required, these kinds of programmes focusing on specific aspects are extremely important. This becomes more important in the science and technology sector as we live in the digital age. Technology has changed every aspect of our lives. Virtual education or self-education was not even conceivable two decades ago. Africa is a youthful continent that needs technology to leapfrog and accelerate its development. And Africa needs reliable partners in this journey. Given the records of the India-Africa partnership, the time is suitable to take India African partnership to the next level.

In his remarks, Puneet Roy Kundal, Joint Secretary Ministry of External Affairs, former Ambassador of India to Tunisia, explained the importance of data in this technology-driven world. He assured the African delegates that the Indian government would be happy to assist African countries in making their mark in digital space, whether it is data collection efforts, providing technologies or building the local capacity. He cited International Solar Alliance which is doing excellent work towards energy transition in many African countries. India is also helping Africa in their disaster management efforts. He detailed some work the Indian government is doing, including cyclone Freddy which had hit Malawi, Mozambique, Madagascar and Zimbabwe. Millet is another such example of climate-resilient grain, and India would be glad to share the best technologies regarding millet cultivation. The example of IIT Delhi setting up a campus in Tanzania is the best example of knowledge diplomacy that India wants to continue catering to African needs. The contribution of India in reducing the price of pharmaceutical products and how that helped India to increase access to medicines in many African countries is exemplary. India is also helping African countries to learn some aspects of Indian democracy via visits of parliamentary delegations where African countries can come and learn the best practices from India. These all contribute to improving the governance of many African countries.

Tobby Simon, President of Synergia Group is a professional with over three decades of great multi-disciplinary skills and global networks. Bengaluru-based Synergia Biosciences unveiled a nanotechnology-based intra-nasal platform of medicine for brain-related disorders. He informed that nasal-level treatment is the best solution instead of injection. Synergia has developed nine classes of nasal vaccines. It is cheaper and more efficient, and if it can be developed in Africa, it will be a great way to help Africa.

Ankit Gupta, Asst. Vice President Asteria Aerospace informed that Asteria is part of Jio Platforms Limited, a majority-owned subsidiary of Reliance Industries. He reported that GoI wants to make India as the world's drone manufacturing hub, and a lot of push comes from PM Modi himself. As per the industry estimates, this sector is expected to touch $23 billion by 2030. There are more than 200 start-ups in this sector, and they are driving the growth. He added that drone as service is growing exponentially. Drone is good at capturing the data but these data are required to be transformed into information to be used by the decision-makers. Converting data into information is expensive. And, with India's strength in its highly educated talent pool of engineers, India can become the capital of drones as a service as well. Therefore, many new institutes are coming up in drone MRO and drone training.

The next speaker was S Swaminathan, Founder & CEO of IRIS Business Services Limited. IRIS Business is India's leading fintech operating within the two sub-segments of Regtech & Suptech. IRIS serves 6000+ customers across 50 countries, from Singapore in the east to Argentina in the west. The most recent client country taking IRIS services in Bhutan. In Africa, IRIS has its operation in South Africa and Mauritius. Mr Swaminathan informed that IRIS has planned to invest $ 200 million under the Africa Fintech Initiative to lay the foundation for a fintech ecosystem across Africa. Further, the company will offer to cover all capital costs, estimated to be $200 million. The operational costs are expected to be covered by PPP mode.

Vijay Pratap Singh Aditya, Founder, EKGAON, Ashoka Fellow since 2008 is a leading social enterprise in India that works with a vast range of bio-diverse community-based organic/natural food products using sustainable, equitable and ethical principles. Ekgaon have been working in the rural services space for over 20 years across seven states in India. In Africa, Ekgaon has done some work in Kenya and Tanzania. He informed that Africa has huge tract of cultivable lands that are either unutilised or under-utilised. It will be good for Africa to partner with India and utilise India's experience in this regard. Using technology, the farmers can be enabled to do several things, including enhancing information both upstream and downstream. Being part of the value chain will help them improve their productivity andease their access to the market.

The presentation was followed by interventions from the African diplomats present in the room, where they shared their observations, expressed their optimism and interacted with each other, including asking questions to the companies. India’s engagement with private sector in Africa is far below its potential and these kinds of events are important to connect businesses with the government. Everyone concurred that there is need to organise similar events more frequently.

Event Date 
March 15, 2023

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