Eritrea has a lot to learn from India in the field of agriculture, Semere Amleson, Dean of the Hamelmalo Agricultural College and former Director of Research (Agriculture) of Eritrea in North East Africa, has said.

He told The Hindu on Wednesday on a visit to the Kerala Agricultural University (KAU) that Eritrea needed a lot of help from India in achieving food security.

“Eritrea is a young country. Its economy is largely devoted to agriculture. Nearly 70 per cent of the people are involved in farming. Things are fine when there is enough rain. Eritrea, especially its semi-arid North East and South East lowlands, receives around 500 mm rainfall a year over two or three months. Droughts take their toll on farming families,” he said.

Years 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2008 witnessed severe drought and poor harvests. Matters improved in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2010. Eritrea has 5.65 lakh hectares of arable land. The main crops include sorghum, millet, barley, wheat, legumes, vegetables, fruits, sesame and linseed.

“Sorghum is the staple food. We import large quantities of wheat. We are keen on cultivating rice. But we need drought-tolerant varieties. Eritrea’s livestock and poultry sectors are self-sufficient,” he said.

He said agricultural research was the main area of cooperation between India and Eritrea.

“India’s Green Revolution, which made it self-sufficient in foodgrain, attracts us. The techniques India practised included introduction of high-yield crop varieties, modern agricultural methods, and improving irrigation facilities. Right now, Eritrea wants to strengthen its agricultural research,” he said.

An agricultural engineer, Prof. Amlesom actively participated in his country’s freedom struggle. Eritrea was federated as part of Ethiopia in 1952. The country went through civil war in the 1970s with separatists making big gains. Soviet and Cuban-backed government forces regained most of the areas after an offensive in 1978. The fall of President Mengistu (1991) led Eritrea to a new status as autonomous region, with a provisional government established by the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front. The referendum was followed by declaration of independence (1993). There was a transitional government for four years.

“I fought for country’s independence for 20 years. Now, the task is to build the nation and improve its farm sector,” said Prof. Amlesom.