Bridging the gap between South and Southeast Asia through strengthened transport linkages, cultivating climate-resilient crops like millet and fortifying people-to-people connections with dedicated tourist circuits were among proposals floated by member states at a two-day BIMSTEC meet here.
The deliberations were taken note of in the Kolkata Declaration', which was adopted on Sunday evening on the concluding day of the meet, a top official of the regional organisation said.
The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation or BIMSTEC, has Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Thailand as member countries.
The organisation can act as an enabler for the landlocked member states of Nepal and Bhutan to access the region's vast maritime networks. Bridging South and Southeast Asia through enhanced connectivity will open many avenues to facilitate a robust ecosystem for commerce, BIMSTEC Secretary General Tenzin Lekphell told PTI.
The member nations have also gained significant momentum in the Masterplan for Transport Connectivity', which takes into account road, railways, air and maritime transport, he said.
Ensuring food security was another key component of discussion for BIMSTEC, as experts called for exploring opportunities in food processing and value addition for strengthening the agricultural pillar of cooperation.
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The member states should focus on growing climate-resilient crops with high nutritional value to address the prevailing food crisis across the region, Lekphell said.
Earlier, during the inaugural session of the meet, Minister of State for External Affairs Rajkumar Ranjan Singh had advocated the cultivation of millet, as the food grain can be grown in all geographical locations and climatic conditions, and it consumes less water.
This is the year of millet, initiated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It is a climate resilient crop with very high nutrient value. Let us hope that food deficiency can be addressed by way of cultivation and popularisation of such crops, Singh said.
Lekphell said people-to-people connect is crucial between the neighbouring member states, and various discussions took place during the conference over educational cooperation, tourism, sports diplomacy and cultural exchanges.
The BIMSTEC region, which has the capability of earning USD 200 billion tourism revenue by 2024, has enriching cultural links that can strengthen people-to-people connectivity One of the propositions is developing Buddhist and temple circuits, he said.
The need for a common sports policy also came up for discussion, with some experts suggesting the creation of a new sporting frontier for the world to see, like BIMSTEC Games.
Focus should also be on cultivating clean energy through developing technologies in solar, nuclear and hydrogen sectors, Lekphell said.
The member states must stress on establishing a multi-disciplinary approach to educational cooperation, as well. Technology transfer facility, task force on traditional medicine and human resource development are the prime components of this.
There should be mutual exchange of data in academia through joint institutions such as BIMSTEC University and BIMSTEC Centre for Coastal and Climate Disaster Management, Lekphell added.
The two-day BIMSTEC conference in Kolkata was organised by the Institute of Social and Cultural Studies (ISCS) in collaboration with the Ministry of External Affairs.
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