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Nourishing partnership


Agricultural cooperation with China can help Africa fight malnutrition and support global food supply chains

The African Union Summit held in Ethiopia in February this year declared 2022 the Year of Nutrition, shining a much-needed spotlight on an issue that has long troubled the continent. Malnutrition is a big challenge for Africa, where many people do not have enough food or do not take the right amounts of the correct nutrients, which makes millions vulnerable to diseases and erodes the continent's human capital.

According to a 2020 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Fund for Agricultural Development, 282 million Africans (about 23 percent of the population) are undernourished. About 100 million people are reportedly facing catastrophic levels of food insecurity. This has caused widespread malnutrition among African citizens.

The 2021 Global Nutrition report revealed that over 40 percent of women of reproductive age in Africa suffer from anemia, caused by the inadequate intake of iron. About 13 percent of Africa's newborns are underweight. The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child committed to combating malnutrition and improving the nutrition awareness among African people. Malnutrition significantly lowers the productivity of individuals and their earning potential. This means that Africa will have a low level of human capital which is crucial for the continent's economic development.

The scourge of malnutrition is directly linked to Africa's underperforming agricultural sector. The most viable solution to malnutrition is to improve agricultural production.

China and Africa are already cooperating extensively in the development of Africa's agricultural sector focusing on production, processing and building viable agricultural value chains. According to a 2021 white paper released by the Chinese government, China has provided over 7,000 agricultural training opportunities to Africans since 2012. China has also engaged in a huge skills transfer program as more than 50,000 Africans have been trained by Chinese experts sent to Africa. About 23 agricultural demonstration centers have been set up in various African countries with the aid of Chinese experts.

Uganda and China in partnership with the FAO launched the South-South Cooperation Project in 2017 to boost agricultural production in Uganda. Under the project, 3,000 farmers received training in cereals, horticulture, aquaculture and livestock farming. Chinese technicians also introduced local farmers to hybrid rice whose yields can be more than double that of the traditional rice. These initiatives will go a long way to improving Africa's indigenous skills and expertise to lead agricultural development. Further, agricultural cooperation mechanisms have been established with 23 states and regional organizations.

The inaugural China-Africa Agricultural Cooperation Forum, taking place in 2019, led to the formation of the China-AU Agricultural Cooperation Commission which has been earmarked to spearhead the modernization of agriculture in Africa. Moreover, about 200 companies from China have invested a total of over $1 billion in the agricultural sectors of 35 African countries thus injecting much-needed capital to boost agricultural production. For example, China's Anhui Provincial State Farms Group leased about 10,000 hectares of land in Zimbabwe for the production of food crops such as soy beans and maize which is the country's staple food.

In Mozambique, the Wanbao Agricultural Development Company secured 20,000 hectares of land to grow rice and improve the country's food security. This saw the country enjoy a bumper rice harvest of 17,000 metric tons from 2,400 hectares in June 2019. The hybrid rice introduced by the Chinese in Madagascar yields 8 to 10 tons of rice per hectare which is double the yield of local varieties. Chinese experts have also helped set up an entire industrial chain for hybrid rice in Madagascar which has led to improved food security.

Another Southern African country, Zambia, hosts several farms owned by Chinese companies that produce food such as cereals, fruits, vegetables, meat and eggs to supply the local market in a bid to alleviate food shortages.

It is encouraging to note that the 2021 Action Plan of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, the most recent, delves extensively into the future of agricultural cooperation between China and Africa. Agriculture will occupy significant space as one of the strategic areas for Sino-African cooperation in the next three years. The two parties committed to convening the second Forum on China-Africa Cooperation on Agriculture which will facilitate the implementation of agricultural cooperation mechanisms. Using economic and trade cooperation zones and improving infrastructure and irrigation facilities are some of the targeted areas aimed at boosting Africa's agro-processing capacity.

Moreover, China and Africa are undertaking to develop Africa's fishery industry, boost trade in agricultural products, and oversee the signing of a memorandum of understanding between China and the African Development Bank on agricultural production. Further, China will send 500 Chinese agricultural experts to Africa to conduct among other things, policy consultation, technical demonstration, onsite teaching and capacity training. The two sides have also committed to cooperating in science and technology and market-based investment in Africa's agricultural industry. China's participation in the continent's agricultural sector is important to increase the continent's agricultural yield, making food cheaper and more accessible and thus alleviating the burden of malnutrition.

Improving Africa's agricultural production is even more crucial in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent Russia-Ukraine conflict that has disrupted global food supply chains. Russia and Ukraine are major suppliers of cereals such as wheat, maize and barley, accounting for one-third of global cereal exports. About 50 countries, concentrated in Asia and North Africa, depend on Russia and Ukraine for at least 30 percent of their wheat supplies. The current conflict certainly threatens the food security of those countries

Hence, investing in and exploiting Africa's arable land, much of which is underutilized, will be important to diversify food sources and protect supply chains from shocks such as the COVID-19 pandemic and violent conflicts. As such, the boosting of agricultural productivity in Africa will not only benefit China and Africa, but will also have positive implications for the global food supply chains as a whole.

The author is an associate professor of international relations and political science and director for the Centre for Africa-China Studies at the University of Johannesburg. 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.

Contact the editor at editor@chinawatch.cn