Tackling Africa's Food Conundrum
In early 2022, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs of China and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) signed the General Agreement on Phase III of the China-FAO South-South Cooperation Trust Fund. This was the third contribution China made to the FAO South-South Cooperation Trust Fund after 2008 and 2014, with a cumulative amount of US $130 million.
In his speech titled “Bring About a Better Future for China-Africa Cooperation” delivered at the African Union (AU) Conference Center in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on May 5, 2014, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang expressed China’s support for Africa’s peaceful development, and highlighted China’s determination to promote the building of a harmonious world together with African countries.
Over the years, China has been sharing its effective solutions of governance and development with other developing countries while striving to alleviate poverty. It has supported the global endeavor to reduce poverty and ensure food security, and has played a responsible role as a major country in the context of building a community with a shared future for humanity.
Villagers look for corn in a drought-hit corn field in Kilifi, Kenya, on March 23.
Food Security, Cause for Concern
The African continent has 60 percent of the world’s arable land, but less developed technology. Owing to a lack of high-yielding varieties, their crop yield is low. The Africa Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition 2021 jointly released by the AU, FAO, and the UN Economic Commission for Africa shows that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, regional conflicts, and economic recession, among other factors, the number of African people in starvation is rising.
Since mid-2020, natural disasters caused by extreme weather such as droughts, floods, and tropical cyclones have reduced harvests in countries in the Southern African region. It is reported that spiking locust populations in East African countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia have brought an unprecedented threat to food security in the Horn of Africa. The UN World Food Program (WFP) warned that 45 million people, mostly women and children, face severe food shortages in 16 countries of the Southern African Development Community.
With Africa’s population projected to reach 2.5 billion by 2050, the continent will face even more serious food security challenges. The WFP Global Hotspots Report 2020 pointed out that of the 15 global hotspots where food security has deteriorated and requires urgent attention, 10 are located on the African continent. Among them, Zimbabwe, South Sudan, and the Central Sahel are facing the most serious food security problems, which is a major challenge for the international community.
Chinese experts examine rice growth with locals in a rice demonstration area in the Centre-Ouest Region, Burkina Faso, on July 13, 2021.
In African countries, the ideal solution to the food shortage is to promote the three major staple grains of rice, corn, and wheat, and achieve high yields with measures suitable to various specific local needs. The Anhui Academy of Agricultural Sciences (AAAS), for example, has been providing assistance to African countries such as Zimbabwe, Angola, and Cameroon. As a provincial-level scientific research institute, it has been promoting advanced concepts and technologies as well as high-quality varieties, and bringing hope to local farmers with increased yields and income.
Rice cultivation is one of the most important parts of China’s agricultural assistance to Africa, and the AAAS is also an active promoter of the crop in Africa. In September 2009, agricultural experts of the academy, together with other Chinese experts, launched the pilot project of planting a drought-resistant rice variety developed by the academy in Angola, a country that had only 10 percent of its 35 million hectares of arable land cultivated. With good results from the first trial of 33.3 square meters, the planting area of the variety was expanded. In 2012, this variety of rice was cultivated in two farms of 8,000 mu (533 hectares), with yields of up to 550 kg per mu, much higher than local varieties.
Chinese experts need to overcome many difficulties to cultivate rice in Africa. The shipping of Chinese seeds to Africa, for example, is too expansive by air, while the germination rate is drastically lower when seeds are delivered by sea. Breeding seeds directly in Africa is subject to technical, legal, economic, and political considerations. Another challenge is rice plagues and weeds, which need to be controlled in the middle and late stages to achieve good harvest. Apart from a few countries like Egypt, most parts of the continent have a small portion of land for rice planting. The promotion of high-yielding, high-quality conventional rice varieties and integrated cultivation techniques is an important way to rapidly increase rice yields in the continent.
Professor Li Xiaoyun (first, right), director of the Small Technology & Big Harvest Project, holding exchanges with farmers in Tanzania about new technologies.
China has long provided support and assistance to African countries to help them achieve food self-sufficiency. Since 1996, China has implemented more than 20 South-South cooperation projects in Africa under the South-South and Triangular Cooperation framework, and dispatched more than 1,100 experts to about 40 countries, including African countries, benefiting about one million small farmers in these developing countries.
Since 2012, more than 8,000 African agricultural experts have been trained in China, and more than 50,000 Africans have been trained locally by Chinese experts, with nearly 30 agricultural demonstration bases established in Africa. In 2021, the Eighth Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation proposed new measures for poverty reduction and agricultural development in Africa. These included undertaking 10 poverty reduction and agricultural projects for Africa, and setting up a number of China-Africa joint centers for modern agrotechnology exchange, demonstration and training in China. It also included supporting the Alliance of Chinese Companies in Africa for Corporate Social Responsibilities in launching the initiative of “100 Companies in 1,000 Villages,” which will bring benefits of China-Africa agricultural cooperation to local people.
China has made great achievements in poverty reduction and will continue to provide agricultural assistance to more countries along the Belt and Road through frameworks such as South-South Cooperation. It is always ready to let more people around the world benefit from Chinese experience and Chinese wisdom, and play an active role in global efforts to eliminate poverty.
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