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January 31, 2024  China Daily   

Agricultural Cooperation is a Potent Driver of the Growing Synergy of Africa and China

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Agriculture represents a significant part of Africa-China friendship and cooperation and is of fundamental importance to both.

Chinese involvement in African agriculture has a long history dating back to the late 1950s when China started to provide agricultural support to the continent. China's model of agricultural cooperation in Africa is formed through applying the experiences from China's own agricultural development to the African continent.

Africa is fully aware that China has succeeded in producing one-fourth of the world's grain and feeding one-fifth of the world's population with less than 10 percent of the world's arable land, which is a vital achievement in the pursuit of food and nutrition security not only for China but for the world.

Agriculture is a major source of income for most countries in Africa and particularly for the rural population of vast parts of Africa. It accounts for over half of the continent's total employment and more than 32 percent of Africa's gross domestic product. Even though Africa possesses 60 percent of the world's uncultivated and arable land, it has remained a net importer of food. Considering the importance of the agriculture sector to most African countries, Africa is by and large in need of cooperation and technical support, even though it continues to make progress.

It is in this context that African governments have consistently viewed agriculture as an important driver of growth, development and jobs on the continent. The African Union adopted its Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme in 2003, a framework which aims to accelerate coordinated economic and structural transformation by improving agricultural productivity, achieving food security, increasing investment and sharing knowledge.

Over the past decade, the rapidly growing Africa-China agricultural cooperation has increasingly focused on enhanced cooperation between Africa's own Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) and its goals, and the Forum on China and Africa Cooperation and the Belt and Road Initiative, which increasingly outline concrete measures aimed at the continued implementation of the CAADP. However, there still remains scope for agricultural cooperation to improve and enable African agriculture to concretely contribute to achieving national and continental goals inter alia the African Union's Agenda 2063 and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Over the past 10 years, China has entered into 200 cooperation agreements with 152 countries and more than 30 international organizations under the framework of the BRI. Africa faces a huge infrastructure funding deficit, and 52 countries and the African Union Commission have committed to the initiative as signatories. Underpinned by the goals of policy coordination, connectivity, unimpeded trade, financial integration, and people-to-people relations, the BRI has seen over 3,000 development projects including ports, highways, railways, power plants, 4G and 5G wireless networks, bridges, and airports, all of which contribute significantly to the promotion and the modernization of industrial and agricultural sectors in Africa and some developing countries.

The signing of the Cooperation Plan between the Government of the People's Republic of China and the African Union on Jointly Promoting the Construction of the Belt and Road in December 2020 provided momentum for future expanded Belt and Road cooperation. This constructive agreement among others defines the scope and content of key BRI cooperation projects in the fields such as infrastructure, connectivity, communication, facilitating unimpeded trade, enhanced people-to-people exchanges, access to funding and mapping out future timetables.

As regards the future of enhanced Africa-China agricultural cooperation, African leaders were most encouraged about a number of highly constructive events, related to the growing and mutual beneficial agricultural cooperation, based among others on expanding Africa-China cooperation in the context of the FOCAC and the BRI.

The first event of note that undoubtedly injected significant momentum into Africa and China friendship was the China-Africa Leaders' Dialogue in Johannesburg on Aug 24, during which it was announced that China would launch a plan on China supporting Africa's agricultural modernization. This plan will be broadly aimed at supporting Africa to expand grain plantation and encourage Chinese companies to increase agricultural investment in Africa.

During the third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation on Oct 18 in Beijing, eight major steps were announced by China in support of the joint pursuit of high-quality Belt and Road cooperation. These important measures among others are focused on promoting integrity-based Belt and Road cooperation, a multidimensional Belt and Road connectivity network, promoting green development, advancing scientific and technological innovation, continuing all round practical cooperation and supporting people-to-people exchanges. These are all steps that will have a wide impact on and deliver tangible results for agricultural cooperation between Africa and China.

Since the BRI's inception, a total of 34 agricultural cooperation documents have been signed with 19 African countries, the AU and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. China has built 24 agricultural technology demonstration centers in Africa, benefiting more than 1 million small farmers on the continent. In terms of personnel exchanges, China has recently also sent more than 400 agricultural experts to Africa and trained more than 10,000 managerial and technical personnel for African countries.

The cooperation in agriculture is beneficial for both Africa and China. With China moving and leading the way in agricultural modernization through significant investment in scientific research and technology, it presents a huge opportunity for the AU to tap into and propel Africa's agricultural production, agro-industry and agri-food value chain transformation.

What is also of growing significance is that Africa is increasingly prioritizing the need to embark on more interconnected agricultural trade in the wake of the creation of the African Continental Free Trade Area. One of the overriding goals of this initiative is interconnectivity which increasingly resonates with the BRI. As such, the construction of railways under the framework of the BRI has boosted trade relations among African countries. The Chinese-funded Mombasa-Nairobi Railway in Kenya is reported to have increased passenger numbers by over 150 percent and annual cargo capacity by over 104 percent. The linking of the African Continental Free Trade Area and the BRI therefore has a huge potential for African countries to improve intra-African trade and boost global import and export supply chains.

Africa attaches great importance to its mutually beneficial agricultural cooperation with China which has rapidly grown, establishing a solid foundation for future practical cooperation. This cooperation proves once again that China has followed the right direction in advancing BRI cooperation with the continent and that BRI partners in Africa continue to show firm commitment to participating in and embarking on high-quality Belt and Road projects for mutual benefits.

The author is a senior research fellow at the Institute of African Studies at Zhejiang Normal University and a former senior diplomat in the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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