a good harvest

On the 20,000 ariary note, the highest denomination of currency in circulation in Madagascar, is a bouquet of Chinese hybrid rice. Tribute to agricultural cooperation between China and the Republic of Madagascar. The largest island in Africa has around 28 million inhabitants, more than 80% of whom are dedicated to agricultural production. However, according to the World Food Programme, a large part of its rural population is often vulnerable to seasonal food insecurity. To remedy this, the Chinese government implemented, in 2007, an agricultural demonstration center project in Mahitsy, a municipality located northwest of the capital Antananarivo, with the objective of providing technical assistance in the planting of hybrid rice.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of groups of Chinese experts, Madagascar now has the largest area planted with the highest-yielding hybrid rice in Africa. It also became the first African country to achieve the development of the entire hybrid rice industrial chain: seed selection and production, planting, processing and marketing. The country is steadily moving towards rice self-sufficiency.

Sino-Malagasy cooperation is far from an isolated case. According to statistics from China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (MAAR), China has built 23 agricultural demonstration centers in 22 African countries. Over the past decade, groups of experts sent to the continent have trained more than 50,000 locals.

Indeed, since the establishment of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), China-Africa agricultural cooperation has produced fruitful results and brought tangible benefits to the African people, said Liu Yuxi, Chinese government special representative for African Affairs, in his opening speech at the China-Africa Harvest Night on November 5 in Beijing.

As Lin Huifang, deputy director of MAAR’s Center for International Economic Cooperation, pointed out, China-Africa agricultural cooperation has taken on much more diverse forms in recent years. “In addition to traditional forms such as food assistance, sending experts and building demonstration centers, China-Africa agricultural cooperation also encompasses investment and trade,” she told CHINAFRICA on the sidelines of the event.

Increase agricultural investment

Matilde Filomone Mariquele, mother of five, was born and raised in the district of Xai-Xai, in the province of Gaza, in southern Mozambique. She never thought that she could support her family by growing rice. In fact, due to the lack of infrastructure, such as an irrigation system, most of the land has remained fallow.

In July 2011, the creation of the Wanbao agricultural park, named after the Chinese company responsible for this rice project, changed the situation. Within months, wild weeds had been cleared, trenches filled in, irrigation canals dug and pumping stations built. A total of 2,000 hectares of land have been restored. This encourages more and more villagers like Matilde to invest in rice cultivation with enthusiasm.

Farmers sign planting and marketing contracts with the company, which, in turn, provides for the initial investment in infrastructure and other inputs, including production equipment and modern machinery, such as drones. With them, farmers can spray pesticides 25 times more efficiently than manual operation.

Thanks to improved irrigation facilities and effective management, the park’s yields have steadily increased. They reached up to nine tons per hectare in recent years, compared to 1.5 tons previously. “The benefits I received from growing rice have greatly improved my living conditions. I built my house and my children go to school”, testified Matilde.

In fact, the park is China’s largest rice investment project in Africa, contributing to food security in Mozambique with its high yields. MAAR data show that Chinese investment in African agriculture has grown rapidly over the past decade. By the end of 2020, Chinese companies had invested US$1.67 billion in two-thirds of African countries, with more than 100 agricultural projects receiving an investment value of more than US$0.7 million.

“Farming requires long-term investment, which means waiting a long time to get a return on your investment. The Wanbao Agricultural Park project in Mozambique highlights China’s desire to strengthen cooperation with Africa,” said Su Jian, former Chinese ambassador to Mozambique.

Chinese market access

As Ghana’s Ambassador to China, Winfred Nii Okai Hammond, pointed out at the event, an underdeveloped agricultural sector and barriers to market access are common challenges to food security in Africa. Thus, while China is investing in investment, it has in recent years multiplied the means to promote the import of agricultural products from Africa.

At the just-concluded fifth China International Import Expo (CIIE) in Shanghai, African products such as South African red wine, Kenyan avocado and Zimbabwean coffee attracted the attention of many visitors. Indeed, since the first CIIE in 2018 and the first China-Africa Economic and Trade Exhibition in 2019, African agricultural products have been gaining popularity among Chinese consumers. Through The World’s Specialty TV show and e-commerce parties, they are becoming known to an even wider audience.

To streamline the inspection and quarantine process, a “green corridor” was announced at the Eighth FOCAC Ministerial Conference in November 2021. Today, an Angolan lobster can reach a Chinese family’s table after a 24-hour flight. According to statistics from the General Administration of Customs, more than 360 varieties of African agricultural products have already entered the Chinese market. China then became the second largest destination country for African agricultural exports. Continuing this dynamic, since the beginning of this year, it signed exchanges of letters with 12 African countries on the application of zero customs tariff to 98% of products exported to the country.

“China has always championed global food security and contributed to the reduction of global poverty. It will make greater contributions to helping African countries achieve the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and the AU Agenda 2063,” said Mr. Liu.

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