A grain of rice that matters

BEIJING, July 18 (Xinhua) — China’s success in feeding the world’s largest population with its limited farmland is illuminating for African countries’ approach to food security, said attendees to a workshop on China-Africa rice cooperation.

African countries expect innovation based on China’s experience to transform smallholder agriculture into farming as a burgeoning business, said Thomas Arokoyo, country manager for Nigeria of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), at the workshop held in Beijing Wednesday.

Rice is either a staple or alternative food crop in many African countries. However, due to the lack of technology and funding, rice production potential is far from being tapped, leaving many of the countries heavily reliant on import to feed the large population.

Although Mozambique has good natural conditions to grow rice, its domestic output remains limited, said Pedro Dzucula, national director for Agriculture and Silviculture under Mozambique’s Ministry of Agriculture, on the same occasion, adding that the country has imported an average over 365,000 tons of rice annually from Asian rice producers since 2000.

“There is obvious complementarity and potential in China-Africa agricultural cooperation, especially in the rice value chain,” said Zhang Ning, director for the South-South Fund Program of the China International Center for Economic and Technical Exchange (CICETE) under the Ministry of Commerce, also at the workshop.

At the Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in 2018, China said it would work with African countries to make plans on agricultural cooperation and assist the continent in achieving general food security by 2030.

Cooperation in the rice industry is key to the China-Africa cooperation, and the development of the rice industry is the foundation of a prosperous and stable Africa, Zhang said.

In a joint initiative reached late June during the first China-Africa Trade Expo in Changsha, Hunan Province, the CICETE, African Union, AGRA and other contributing parties pledged to leverage their comparative advantages to advance China-Africa rice value chain cooperation through bolstering agricultural business, adapting and investing in suitable rice technologies.

The initiative represented a roadmap for future cooperation, Zhang said, adding that an agricultural technology demonstration center started in Mozambique immediately after its release.

Mozambique has a population of 28 million and arable land of 36 million hectares, only around one-tenth of which is cultivated.

Mozambique faces bottlenecks like high-cost machinery, low degree of agro-processing and limited market access of final products, said Dzucula, calling on Chinese businesses, especially those from the private sector, to invest in these sectors.

Noting similar challenges in Nigeria, Matthew Olusegun Owolabi, an official with the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, suggested that Chinese agriculture demonstration centers should play a bigger role in training agricultural machinery mechanics and operators.

The meeting, themed “Tapping into the Potential of China-Africa Rice Cooperation,” was sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Beijing Office, an active advocator for triangular cooperation in advancing development and health agendas in Africa.

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