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Agronomists in Africa should make better use of Chinese information and technology, expert advises

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According to an agricultural expert, Africa must fully utilize its close relations and cooperation with China in terms of technology transfer, skills growth, and policy development to fully revolutionize its agricultural sector.

According to Andrew Cox, Chief of Staff and Strategy at the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), the continent can learn a lot from China in its efforts to develop the sector and improve people’s lives.

“Because of China’s experience in transforming the entire country around agriculture, we want to see China’s experience, its knowledge, its investment, its technical expertise to come through everywhere,” Cox said.

The fact that the people who spearheaded the agricultural revolution in China are still alive and working, he added, was a crucial advantage for Africa to capitalize on.

Cox said China’s claim it has eliminated absolute poverty while encouraging industrialization and urbanization and still transforming its rural and agricultural sector is an “extraordinarily important” example worth following for Africa.

Promotion of agricultural and rural development, as well as poverty eradication in developing countries, especially in Africa, has always been a priority of China’s foreign aid.

“If China can do it for a billion-plus people, then, certainly, there are many lessons, practices, experiences which can apply to the African continent,” he said, noting that China and Africa had walked the same pathway in the same century.

AGRA, Cox said, is interested in escalating the partnership between China and Africa to make it relevant to millions of farmers rather than focusing on individual and small projects.

AGRA is part of a number of agricultural-based partnerships and projects involving China, including a highly successful venture in Mozambique which supports rice production. Cox said this was a prime example of applying Chinese knowledge and technology and adapting it to a situation in Africa.

“Using Chinese know-how combined with African partners made it possible to double the rice yields over a fairly short period and that is the kind of thing that we want to see,” Cox said.

Such results mean Mozambique could potentially tackle a rice shortfall it usually experiences between an estimated 400,000 and 600,000 tonnes.

In 2018, a study by the UN revealed China’s agricultural foreign assistance projects have resulted in increased food production and income for smallholder farmers in Mozambique, as well as Guinea.

“African farmers want to see themselves transformed from subsistence agriculture to small and medium-sized farms, at the very least, and to see large-scale commercial initiatives starting to work better. It means giving African farmers access to the same opportunities and choices that farmers in China, the U.S. or Europe might have.”

“It (AGRA involvement in China-Africa partnerships) has been a very deep partnership with excellent results. We want to see it go big. We want to see Chinese knowledge and expertise applied on a wide scale across the continent.”

The growth of Africa’s agriculture also represents a win-win situation for both China and Africa as China, already Africa’s second-largest importer of agricultural products continues to increase its agricultural imports from the continent.

A report from China’s Ministry of Commerce in January revealed Chinese imports of agricultural products from African countries expanded 4.4 per cent year on year in the first 11 months of 2020, marking four consecutive years of positive growth.

Despite Africa’s food security coming under threat recently, particularly in the last year, Cox said the future of the continent’s agricultural sector, with China’s assistance, was not one doomed to repeated failures and crises.

“At AGRA, we are extremely optimistic that Africa’s agriculture can transform. It will not, probably, transform by itself and that is where these partnerships come in. The tremendous scale of the achievement of the Chinese experience shows that hundreds of millions of people can be taken out of poverty by getting the right kind of investments, policies and enabling environment for agriculture,” he said.

“This is what Africa needs, that is where the partnership is going.”

He, however, cautioned that such a transformation will take time and not happen in the space of a couple of years.

With China taking a leading role in preparing for the UN Food Systems Summit later this year, Cox believes an opportune moment to seriously review the workings of Africa’s food systems should be seized upon.

“That shared experience and partnership that we are seeing, including through AGRA, means Chinese support will be extremely helpful in preparing African governments to think about the kinds of food systems, the kinds of resilience that we need to see, especially in the face of climate change.”