South Asia has the highest concentration of poor people in the world with more than 500 million people still living in extreme poverty. Many more people, particularly women and those working in the informal sector, live just above the poverty line and are vulnerable to economic and environmental shocks and disasters ... In the past two decades, over 50 per cent of South Asians (more than 800 million people) have been affected by at least one disaster. There is increased momentum for regional cooperation particularly in the eastern part of the region, where the borders of India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan converge.
[Objective 1 of the Aid Investment Plan (AIP), South Asia Regional Development Program] is ‘increased water, food and energy security in South Asia to facilitate economic growth and improve the livelihoods of the poor and vulnerable (particularly women and girls)’. This objective seeks to respond to major regional development challenges in South Asia—improving trans-boundary water resource management, increasing access to energy and energy connectivity, and increasing resilient agricultural productivity and farm incomes. [The AIP] targets these three inter-related sectors where Australia is uniquely placed to contribute its expertise and technologies.
—Aid Investment Plan, South Asia Regional Development Program, 2015–16 to 2018–19 (DFAT)
India, the world’s largest democracy, is the major power in South Asia and likely to become a world superpower by the end of the century. It has the world's fastest growing major economy, and is expected to have the world's third largest economy by 2030.
Since independence in 1947, India has improved living standards. It has doubled life expectancy, quadrupled literacy rates, and now has a large middle class. Tens of millions of Indians have been lifted out of poverty since the 1990s, but 400 million people – a third of the world’s poor – live in poverty, and around 300 million acutely poor people live on less than US$2 a day. Limited education, inefficient infrastructure, rural poverty, high maternal and child mortality rates, malnutrition, and inequity in region, caste and gender remain major problems.
India is a major international player. It has been at the forefront of developing country activism and was a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). India has also been an active member of the United Nations, the Commonwealth, the World Trade Organisation and the G20, and has expanded its co-operation with East Asia, including with Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries and as a member of the East Asia Summit (EAS).
India is also lobbying for membership of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) grouping and for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, both of which Australia supports.
It is active within regional groupings such as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), and the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) group. A new regional sub-grouping of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) is working on power trade, inter grid connectivity, transit facilities and multi-modal transport.
The Indian government is moving from increasing productivity to improving farmers’ incomes. It now measures agricultural progress by farmers’ real income and not by gross production of agricultural commodities. The government intends to double farmers’ incomes by 2022. It will do so by improving irrigation, seeds and soil health; investing in cold and value chains; creating an electronic national farm market where farmers can trade; supporting crop insurance schemes; and diversifying crops.
Government funding for agriculture and the rural sector increased in 2016. The Indian government spent more money on farm irrigation, and created agricultural universities and outreach centres for research (Krishi Vigyan Kendras-KVK).
A draft National Policy for Women 2016 identifies women in agriculture as a priority area. It recommends training women in agriculture, hiring them as extension workers and trainers, and providing institutional and funding support for women producer associations. It also recommends developing women-friendly technologies/equipment and teaching women farmer groups about sustainable agriculture. Problems include using data analysis to regularly measure farmer’s income and getting ministries and public institutions to adopt the policy on women.
Australia and India elevated their bilateral relationship to a strategic partnership in 2014. Australia wants to build trade and investment through the Australia–India Comprehensive Education Co-operation Agreement. Both governments recognise the potential for co-operation across water management expertise, science, technology and agriculture.
ACIAR has supported collaborative agricultural research between Australia, India and other South Asian countries since 1983. The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) leads the national agricultural research system, a cornerstone of the Indian program which could support co-operative activities in the region and in SE Asia and Africa.
ACIAR’s research activities have been increasingly linked to other South Asian states’ food security problems. They have a growing regional character, including the programs delivered in conjunction with CGIAR, state agricultural universities, non-government organisations (NGOs), autonomous institutions and the private sector.
ACIAR will continue to work with India in a regional approach, involving neighbouring countries with shared issues and opportunities. ACIAR will maintain its relative level of funding to this regional approach. Substantial co-investment from India for our ongoing program of collaboration will become a prerequisite for maintaining our program at this funding level.
ACIAR consulted stakeholders in February 2017, and has reconfirmed the program priorities it developed with ICAR. The parties agreed that ACIAR continue its efforts towards designing a regional program involving India, Bangladesh and Nepal. The geographic focus within the country will remain the East, where most of its poor live. Sharing knowledge could transform the region.
The medium- to long-term strategy focuses on creating regional collaborations that:
- better manage agricultural water, including rain-fed areas in the Eastern Gangetic Plains and coastal zone
- sustainably intensify and diversify cropping systems using conservation agriculture/zero tillage
- breed improved varieties of wheat and mungbean
- develop policy about agricultural and farmer’s livelihoods and climate change