Event Reports

Divya Jeevan Foundation,

India’s Eastern and North Eastern states along with four immediate eastern neighbours, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, and Myanmar, comprise a geographically compact region in Eastern South Asia, connecting South and South East Asia. Since time immemorial, people, ideas and skills have traveled within the region, given the historical, cultural and commercial ties and also given the natural complementarities that the plains and the hills have. In the last few decades, however, political borders that demarcate the various nation states of the region impeded this natural and historical flow. So much so that this region has come to be acknowledged widely to be the least integrated in terms of economic coordination and modern physical connectivity. In more recent times however, emerging regional transport and economic corridors under evolving bilateral agreements, as well as multilateral frameworks such as BBIN and BIMSTEC promise to provide greater impetus for increasing economic linkages within the region. Also, higher political will for better bilateral and at times, multilateral trade and connectivity ties has created an enabling environment for furthering this agenda. Factors such as climate change concerns and present geopolitics in the region and beyond also emphasis the need for higher integration among the nation states. Given this backdrop, completing and implementing the planned connectivity infrastructure facilitating cross border flow of goods people and money, sustainable development of border regions, creation of transboundary agriculture value chains, development of special regional trading and tourism loops and hubs at or close to border regions can go a long way in ensuring livelihood of communities on both sides and usher in shared regional prosperity and lead to peace dividends. 

The seminar in roundtable format serves as a platform to discuss the emerging insights from an ongoing study being conducted by the Asian Confluence in collaboration with the Asia Foundation, which focuses on ways and means to connect the border states and regions through interconnectedness of goods, services and people. The study has identified three main pillars on which further discussions, deep-diving and interventions could be explored. These are tourism, creation of agri-horti value chains and enabling of sub-regional and trade-tourism-transit hubs.  The roundtable intends to share initial insights and ideas on these three pillars so as to invite inputs, critique and suggestions through discussions and ideate a time-bound action agenda for each pillar in prioritising them based on opportunities, challenges and concerns as identified through discussions and actionable deliberations. The two day roundtable discussion focused on some of the following pillars:  

1. Tourism for better sub-regional integration, economic and peace dividends:
Focus on developing a sub-regional Hub and Border Tourism:
The entire region has immense possibilities on tourism being home to some of the most breathtaking natural terrains, the mighty Himalayas, extremely rich and diverse culture and biodiversity, substantial forests covers and a lot more. Also historical movement of people along the corridors in the region has always been high, for trade, pilgrimage and spiritual interests. In recent times, there is substantial movement for health tourism and education purposes, other than those already mentioned above. There already are existing routes for Nepal-India-Bhutan circuits of tourism with Siliguri as the fulcrum. Further facilitation of these corridors with Siliguri as the sub-regional Hub and destinations in North Eastern states of India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar as spokes can lead to substantial gains for livelihoods, foreign exchange earnings and also preservation of biodiversity, forest covers culture and peace. Tourism development at the border regions could develop a new product of border tourism in the industry. The border regions have immense potential to converge service industries
in tourism (such as agri-tourism, community tourism, history trails, adventure tourism, viewing border protocols) along with agro trade and Asian Confluence being the facilitator for creating a cross border network loop of tourism and hospitality operators to facilitate the tours. The under discussion BIN visa or travel permit will be the main precursor for such a momentum for people’s mobility. Also, the recently signed Land Border Crossing Agreement between India and Myanmar will facilitate movement through land border between the two countries, which used to be more restrictive earlier. The roundtable looks at the present status, possibilities, gaps and concerns to come up with a time-bound Action agenda for tourism development with an aim to lead to higher economic and peace dividends as well as people-to-people connect. A cross-cutting issue that will also be considered to examine how such sub-regional tourism initiatives can be made more gender inclusive and promote higher participation and gains by women.
2. Creation of Integrated and Climate-smart and gender-inclusive Agri-horti value chains:
Recognising synergy between contiguous and yet diverse terrain and geographical conditions that offer a lot of complementarities, the roundtable will bring forward the possibility of creating an integrated and climate-smart agro-horti loop involving the native states of the sub-region. The existing complementarities in terms of agri-horti produce among the nation states in the sub-region stems from the diverse geographical and climatic terrains of the sub-region. For example, produce from two sides of the India-Bangladesh border, particularly for the North Eastern states of India and Northern districts of Bangladesh makes a strong case for exchange and consolidation. While some of the produce is same on both sides of the border a lot of them are unique to either sides given the predominately hilly terrain of the North Eastern states and Bangladesh being predominately plains. Historically this meant a lot of trade between the different terrains given the uniqueness of the produce between the diverse geographies and also increasing cultural and trade ties between people. An interesting angle to this is probably the need to look at natural and hence, in many ways, the climatic advantage that the geography wields in terms of producing specific and unique crops. For e.g. Meghalaya, Mizoram in India has unique varieties of spices including turmeric and ginger that are not usually cultivable in the plains and similarly, Bangladesh plains have crops such as cereals and pulses and some vegetables that cannot be cultivable in the hilly terrains of North East India. Similarly a wide variety of seasonal fruits are more readily harvested in the hills rather than in the plains. While modern agricultural technology and innovation has created possibilities to cultivate all different kinds of crops and produce across a diverse geography, such practices may not always be climate friendly and may not always make economic sense either. More importantly, given the natural complementarities of the diverse geography in this subregion, the nation states stand to gain, if they invest in agriculture that is aligned more with natural advantages and hence make climate and economic sense. It may be pertinent to mention here that the quantum of produce in each territory (nation state) or terrain for some of the subsistence crops is not sufficient or seasonal in nature that highlights the need for exchange, integration and storage. In terms of the economics, beyond the need to meet domestic consumption requirements, integration of the local value chains into sub-regional value chains with a diverse basket of produce that is exchanged in a more systematic,consolidated and organised manner with possible value additions will help consolidate and integrate the sub-regional agri-horti market and in due time, develop a larger export market, leading to higher dividends for producers on all sides of the borders. With this backdrop, the roundtable aims to discuss the idea of creating agri-horti loops in the sub-region that can align with natural advantages, be gender inclusive and climate smart in terms of choice of crops, terrain, processing, logistics of the supply-chains, etc. The idea is to look at traditionally and highly traded agri-horti products and also potential and unique items from the sub-region to come up with a concrete action plan on which products and chains to prioritise and also identify further deep diving that will be needed to understand how to leverage existing trading practices, core competence, technology and also balance gender inclusion and climate change concerns. The roundtable will aim to deliberate on how the exchange in sub regional produce can be made more systematic, consolidated and organised in a climate friendly manner with possible value additions that can cater to the livelihood needs of producers on both sides of the borders, while leading to consumer gains at the same time.
3. Exploring Special Trading Hubs:
In continuation and addition to the deliberation on consolidating the sub-regional agri-horti value chains, this ongoing study also tries to identify a common market hub with a view to leverage existing and upcoming connectivity infrastructure as also emerging bilateral and multilateral frameworks like the BBIN and BIMSTEC. Given the scope of this study, this discussion intends to focus on a common trading corridor for India, Bangladesh and Nepal. However, there are substantial possibilities to include Myanmar in the scenario for furthering the work already undertaken. The formal trade between the three nations at present consists mainly of boulders and some limited agri-horti products. Alongside Bangladesh Bhutan India Nepal (BBIN) cross-border movement, the development of a hub will not only tap into the sub-regional initiative that all these states are engaging in but also provide a direct market to consumers retailers and others that can access this facility. Post the BBIN route trials (presently without Bhutan), a proximate zone on the route can be designated as trading zone with pre-decided goods and products, which will invariably spin off into larger momentum with increasingly improved transport systems. Siliguri being at the junction of trading corridors of all BBIN countries has a lot of promise as a sub-regional trading hub. It is already functioning as a major meeting point for cargo, people and business from all four BBIN countries being conveniently located close to multiple border crossing points between India and its four neighbours, viz. Changrabandha and Phulbari with Bangladesh, Jaigaon with Bhutan, Panitanki, Jogbani with Nepal. All the above mentioned border points are designated as Land Custom Stations of high bilateral importance jointly by customs in India and its neighbouring countries. Also, four out of the five ports are to be developed as Integrated Check Posts in the near future. Also given upcoming physical connectivity projects, Siliguri, situated on the ‘chicken-neck’ at the junction of corridors from all four countries, poses as a highly potential location as a subregional trade hub. Given this, the roundtable deliberates on the opportunities challenges, gaps and concerns to develop a sub regional trading hub (possibly at Siliguri, West Bengal, India) and come up with an action plan and advocacy agenda with stakeholder mapping for the same. This
envisaged outcome will be informed by and be aligned to the outcome from the discussions on sub-regional agri-horti value chains.
4. The Larger Strategic Backdrop: Ideation Exercise and Way Forward
The consultation group will take up innovative ideation exercises to examine the possibilities of moving to a paradigm of border security that is based on collaboration through information sharing, institutional linkages and infrastructure facilitation, ensuring physical and economic security of the communities that inhabit the region.




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This is a good article
Posted by :
Posted on : 29-Apr-2017 06:31:22 AM

Needs a lot of corrections and citations
Posted by : SDATTA
Posted on : 10-May-2017 12:43:06 AM