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Staunch support: Chinese investments can help Africa enhance its agricultural capacity
by Dr. Hodan Osman Abdi
Saturday May 28, 2022

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the founding of the African Union. Over the past 20 years, China and Africa have made significant achievements in combatting the effects of climate change and enhancing agricultural cooperation.

Africa is one of the most vulnerable regions to climate variability and change due to its overall underdevelopment. Given that Africa's economic growth is largely driven by climate-sensitive sectors such as tourism, energy and agriculture, it is not an understatement to say that climate change is one of the most critical challenges the African continent faces. And since climatic and ecological regions cut across national political boundaries on the continent, climate change not only threatens the survival of humans, animals and plants, it also threatens the already fragile social and economic systems in African countries.

China has implemented South-South cooperation with African countries tackling climate change, having signed 15 cooperation agreements with 14 African countries by 2021. Various approaches have been explored in support of Africa's response to the climate issue, such as implementing mitigation and adaptation programs, jointly setting up pilot low-carbon industrial parks, and conducting training in capacity-building. The Ethiopian Remote Sensing Satellite-1, for example, or ETRSS-1, launched with Chinese help, is one of the fruits of China's first remote sensing satellite cooperation with Africa. Through the ETRSS-1 project, Ethiopia now has a wealth of remote-sensing images to facilitate analysis of climate change.

Meanwhile, in the spirit of promoting food security and the realization of the AU's Agenda 2063, nutrition has been dubbed as the AU's theme for the year 2022. The global health crisis caused by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the fore the severe economic vulnerabilities of African countries, especially those dependent on imports to sustain their needs for food and agricultural products. This has exacerbated the already rampant challenge of malnutrition that plagues people on the continent.

Agricultural development has been at the forefront of the China-Africa cooperation policy since the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and African nations. In this context, boosting the agricultural productivity of the continent's arable land to feed more African people has been one of the major objectives of China's agricultural cooperation with African nations. Traditionally, the focus has been on education, training, infrastructure building and foreign direct investment, and now the focus is shifting toward a more holistic approach. The China-Africa Cooperation Vision 2035, which was drawn up at the eighth Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation held in Dakar, Senegal, last November, provides a detailed blueprint for China-Africa agricultural cooperation in the next decade.

In addition, the establishment of a permanent Chinese mission at the AU in 2015 and the subsequent establishment of a permanent AU mission in Beijing in 2018 have significantly enhanced coordination in agricultural development cooperation. The China-Africa Agricultural Cooperation Forum in 2019 ushered in the formation of the China-AU Agricultural Cooperation Commission which plays a crucial role in utilizing China's multifaceted resources to enhance African agricultural capacity.

Historically speaking, food security and agricultural development have been at the forefront of China's own poverty alleviation and development policies. As such, China's practical experience and expertise, financial capital and technological infrastructure make it the best partner Africa could have to leapfrog toward its desired destination. One major reason is China's direct and more often bilateral approach effectively constrains the unnecessary vertical and lateral spillage of development assistance.

In March, the World Food Program announced that up to 20 million people could go hungry this year as delayed rains worsen extreme drought in the Horn of Africa. The effects of climate change are already stressing Africa's populations and causing acute hunger and mass displacement. The recent Russia-Ukraine conflict has further exposed just how dependent most African countries are on food imports and its dire consequences.

A continent-wide problem needs a continent-wide solution to reach long-term resilience. China-AU cooperation has the potential to improve long-term resilience to food and water scarcity in Africa, especially in the context of the present challenges of resource scarcity and climate risks. It has never been more critical for China to continue to invest in Africa's underutilized agricultural resources to contribute to reversing the effects of climate change and malnutrition on the continent and enhancing global food security. On its part, the AU has the convening capacity to accelerate these efforts, maximize their reach and achieve win-win cooperation.

The author is the executive director of the Center for East African Studies at Zhejiang Normal University. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily.


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