A southern Indian state plans to send hundreds of farmers to east Africa to cultivate farmland in countries such as Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, officials said on Thursday.
HYDERABAD, India A southern Indian state plans to send hundreds of farmers to east Africa to cultivate farmland in countries such as Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, officials said on Thursday.
The state of Andhra Pradesh, where hundreds of debt-ridden farmers have committed suicide this year, is in talks with the Kenyan government to lease 50,000 acres (20,000 hectares) of land and send about 1,000 farmers there to work, they said.
"This is a business opportunity for Andhra farmers who are well-versed in tropical and arid area farming," said the state's agriculture minister, N. Raghuveera Reddy.
At least 502 farmers have killed themselves since May, when Reddy's Congress party government took power in the state, promising to end their woes.
About 500 farmers have already agreed to take up the offer and leave a state better known for sending thousands of engineers to work in computer software firms in Western countries, mostly the United States.
The Andhra government and Kenyan officials are working on a memorandum of understanding that will flesh out details, said C.C. Reddy, an adviser to the state government who came up with the plan.
Kenyan Lands Minister Amos Kimunya said he was not aware of the proposal.
"It has not come to my attention; I don't know who they are talking to," said Kimunya.
Kenyan Agriculture Minister Kipruto Rono arap Kirwa said he had not heard of the proposal either.
Talks were also being held with representatives of the governments of Tanzania and Uganda to send farmers there as well, officials said. Comments from those countries were not immediately available.
Under the plan, state agriculture officials will accompany the farmers to help establish cooperatives and coordinate with the Kenyan government. The cooperatives will be run by the farmers themselves and will grow sugarcane, tobacco, cotton, groundnut, millet, chickpea, fruits, and flowers.
"Farmers can send their earnings to families back home without any hindrance," Reddy said, adding that the state government would pay for their travel and also for interpreters.
Under the relocation plan, the Andhra government will pay the east African countries to lease the land for cooperatives, which will employ the farmers and pay back the lease costs through earnings from farm output.
The Kenyan envoy to India held talks with Andhra officials last week, and the two sides were expected to sign an agreement soon, officials said.
Thousands of farmers unable to pay rising debts as their crops failed have also committed suicide in the neighboring states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Maharashtra.
Police in the desert state of Rajasthan opened fire on a large group of farmers, killing four people, after they set fire to a police station on Wednesday, demanding water to irrigate their land.
Additional reporting by David Mageria and Wangui Kanina in Nairobi