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China’s potential in agriculture

The major elements of China’s ‘miracle growth’ were the rural and agricultural improvements brought about through the Household Responsibility system. Put simply this scheme served to increase output from Chinese farms by allowing farmers to sell excess production on the market. In the case of China what was needed was an institutional change. Technical innovation in agriculture has a very long history in a culture whose early successes owed much to successful improvement of rice grains leading to multiple harvest each year.

China has long been a net importer of food products, which is perhaps unsurprising in such a densely populated country. As world food prices rise Africa’s fertile but underemployed land has been increasingly thought of as a valuable asset. The UN and the World Bank have revisited the idea of agriculture led development, and its potential for poverty reduction. What is needed now is better agricultural technology, and significant training to make the most of it.

China has a long history of agricultural aid to Africa, in the early years of its relationship in the 1960s and 1970s China had little else to offer Africa. Its advantage today is in the low cost and high availability of Chinese agricultural experts in providing training. However there is also risk involved as Chinese farmers emigrate to countries like Zambia and set up successful farms. The lessons from Zimbabwe and South Africa do not offer encouragement to foreign elites taking prime farmland and creating successful enclave economies.

This week there are two stories in the press about China’s positive engagement. The Economic and Commercial consular at the Chinese Embassy in Kigali Li Yaohong reported,  “China is willing to share her experience in agricultural technology and skills, and adapt the agricultural technology to local conditions to enable local farmers accept it, and to improve yield of crops and provide solutions in food security,” said the the centre China has established in Rwanda intends to train about 600 technicians and 3000 farmers in the next three years.

China will also provide nearly $185,000 for the Center for Research and Technology Transfer Umbeluzi (CITAU), in Boane district, Maputo province, Mozambique. China has enormous potential to bring poverty reduction in rural areas through these schemes but it is also important that Beijing pays attention to the potential damage that could be done if the government does not retain sufficient control over Chinese individuals who have equal ability to damage China’s reputation.

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