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Oil-rich South Sudan looks to India

South Sudan is looking to India to improve its agricultural and food security practices and hopes the New Delhi visit of Salva Kiir Mayardit, the president of the world's youngest nation, will "lay a solid foundation to further promote bilateral relations", a senior minister of the oil-rich African nation said in Addis Ababa.

"We know the Indian government is preparing to give the president a warm welcome. We are looking forward to the outcome as it would strengthen the ties between the two countries", Barnaba Marial Benjamin, South Sudan's minister for foreign affairs and international cooperation, told IANS during a visit here.

Mayardit, accompanied by a large delegation comprising ministers, officials and business leaders, will be in India Aug 26-28 at the invitation of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The invitation was delivered to Mayardit Aug 9 by India's special envoy to South Sudan P.S. Raghavan, a special secretary in the external affairs ministry.

"We believe our economic future is not in our minerals but in agriculture. So our strengthening relations with India will assist us in enhancing our agricultural production to guarantee food security for our people," Benjamin said.

"Indian technology in food production would help promote agriculture in South Sudan," he added.

South Sudan is the size of France but with only 8.5 million people. As a Food and agriculture Organisation report noted, only 84 per cent of the country's arable land is cropped. If farmed efficiently, it calculated, South Sudan could feed all of Africa or India.

India was the first countries inAsia to open a consulate in South Sudan capital Juba in 2007. On July 9, 2011, when South Sudan achieved independence, India was among the first countries to formally recognise Africa's 54th nation.

The minister said that since India is the biggest democracy in the world with a very deep and well established system, South Sudan could immensely benefit from that. He noted that South Sudan has sought India's assistance in the fields of horticulture, animal husbandry, rural development, health and education, technical training, human resource development (HRD) and and hydrocarbon development.

"We have agreed with the Indian government on some major development projects for finance that we would like their support for," the minister said.

India had played a "great role" for ensuring the stability of the newly-born African nation, the minister stated.

India is also training officials and diplomats at New Delhi's Foreign Service Institute. An Indian Army battalion serves with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). On April 9, five Indian Army personnel, including a lieutenant colonel, were killed in an ambush while escorting a convoy.

ONGC Videsh, the overseas arm of India's biggest explorer, has a 25 per cent share of South Sudan's 350,000 barrels of oil production per day.

Mahindra tractors were shipped out to the South Sudan region from 2007, starting four years before the country came into being.

There are around 450 Indian nationals living in South Sudan, mainly working in private enterprises.