The Eighth Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation held in Dakar, Senegal, in November marked China’s new commitment to Africa for the next three years on the theme of “strengthening partnership and sustainable development for a Chinese-African community with a shared future in a new era”.
In this ambitious cooperation program, agriculture, food security, and overall sustainable rural transformation have a central place given their importance to the development of African countries.
There is much that Africa can benefit from China’s experience in rural development. China has succeeded in feeding 1.4 billion people－about one-fifth of the world’s population－with less than 10 percent of the world’s arable land and less than 7 percent of the world’s water resources. On the other hand, although the African continent has 60 percent of the world’s potentially arable land and although agriculture production in Africa has increased 160 percent over the past 30 years, many African countries still suffer from food insecurity and a low-productive agricultural sector.
At the International Fund for Agricultural Development, we are well placed to see how Africa can benefit from this cooperation.
For two decades, the IFAD, China and Africa have been working together on South-South cooperation programs, which have facilitated the transfer of technologies and good practices between China and Africa. For instance, successful biogas digester technologies for rural households introduced by the IFAD in China’s Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region in early 2000 were later replicated in several African countries through IFAD-funded projects.
Transfer of knowledge, technologies and development solutions between countries from the Global South－including between China and Africa－have also been pursued by IFAD through the establishment in 2018 of a South-South Cooperation Facility with the financial contribution of the Chinese government. The small-scale dryers for post-harvest management project funded under the facility, for instance, facilitates the adoption of, and adaptation to, food dryer technologies already available in China in the African context.
The public sector could support smallholder farmers to develop the required quality to enter into these types of contracts with the agro-enterprises. This type of “contract farming” between smallholder farmers and large agro-enterprises is also promising in Africa, as proved during the past decades in the cotton, cocoa and market gardening sectors. And it can be extended to many other sectors in agriculture and livestock, as shown by the recent success of the poultry sector in Senegal.
Such cooperation between the public sector, the private sector and small-scale producers can lead to enormous production gains, which Africa needs in the next 30 years. But despite African agricultural growth averaging 2 percent a year over the past three decades, it has failed to catch up with population growth.