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Drought-Hit Indians Head for Africa in Farming Program

The Indian state of Andhra Pradesh plans to send hundreds of farmers to East Africa to cultivate vast tracts of unused land.

Indian farmers have long years of experience in tilling the land, but there is not enough of it to provide work for the country's huge rural population.

In the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, the shortage of land has been worsened by six years of successive drought. Farmers in the state have been driven into poverty and debt, and hundreds have even committed suicide.

On the other hand, East African countries have tens of thousands of acres of fertile land, but have not exploited its potential due to lack of expertise and investment.

Spotting an opportunity, the Andhra Pradesh government has decided to lease 50,000 acres of land in Uganda and Kenya. Here an estimated 500 Indian farmers will be sent to grow tropical crops such as sugar cane, tobacco, and cotton.

C.C. Reddy, an adviser to the government who is spearheading the project, says he expects the farmers to be as successful as Indian engineers and doctors who have made a mark in many Western countries.

"After all it is based on the expertise, expertise the farmers have in producing excellent crops, getting maximum yield from the land," he said. "Using this expertise they are exploiting the global opportunities that are now being offered by the African lands."

In the colonial era, large numbers of Indians were transported by the British to East Africa to build the Uganda-Kenya railway. In 1972, Ugandan dictator Idi Amin expelled an estimated 70,000 Ugandan-born Indians and Pakistanis who had come to dominate business there, saying he wanted to turn Uganda into a "black man's land."

Andhra Pradesh will invest millions of dollars in creating infrastructure such as irrigation facilities in the two countries. It expects to recover the investment by selling the farm produce.

Mr. Reddy says East African countries offer ready markets for the produce. Kenya and Uganda currently import food despite having enough fertile land.

He says the virgin African lands offer opportunities to grow organic fruits and vegetables, which are increasingly in demand in the West.

Indian officials say the project will take modern agriculture methods to countries where farming in large tracts still remains relatively primitive. They say it will also open up new avenues for African farm labor.