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Planting the Seeds of Development
FOCAC initiatives improve Sino-African agricultural cooperation
By Cui Xiaoqin | ChinAfrica December 2015

Liu Xiaohui (third from left) shows Zimbabwean famers how to use a mobile milking machine

On a farm in Marirangwe in suburban Harare, an octogenarian dairy farmer watched Chinese agricultural expert Liu Xiaohui spellbound as he operated a mobile milking machine.

Though a newfangled contraption to her, she and other dairy farmers in her village are learning how to run the machine under the tutelage of the Chinese experts so that they can be more productive.

The mobile milking machine is a new innovation for many Zimbabwean dairy farmers. A Chinese agricultural experts' group sent by the Chinese Government to assist Zimbabwe's agricultural development brought six of these machines with them. Liu, Director of the Division of International Cooperation, National Animal Husbandry Service under the Ministry of Agriculture and leader of the team, is a Zimbabwe veteran. Since 2009, he has led Chinese agricultural experts' teams to the Southern African country on three occasions.

Sending agricultural experts to African countries is one of the cooperation agreements made under the framework of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC). At the First FOCAC Summit in Beijing in 2006, the Chinese Government announced they would send 100 agricultural experts to African countries and establish 10 agricultural technology demonstration centers on the continent in three years. It's a commitment that is reaping mutual benefits.

Rapid progress

Agricultural cooperation between China and African countries is not new, going back to 1956, when the first batch of Chinese experts were sent to work in Africa. After that, Sino-African agricultural cooperation has been expanding, especially after FOCAC was established in 2000.

According to the white paper on China-Africa Economic and Trade Cooperation by the Chinese Government in 2013, from 2009 to 2012, China's agricultural exports to Africa grew from $1.58 billion to $2.49 billion, an increase of 57.6 percent. During the same period, China's agricultural imports from Africa grew from $1.16 billion to $2.86 billion, a 146 percent increase. One of the major reasons for the whopping increase is that in January 2012, China granted 30 least developed African countries with diplomatic relations with China zero tariff treatment for 60 percent of their exported items. It provided a substantial incentive to the beneficiaries to export their unique agricultural products to China.

In recent years, Chinese enterprises have increased investment in seed production, grain and cash crops, and processing agricultural products in Africa. From 2009 to 2012, China's direct investment in African agriculture grew from $30 million to $82.47 million, a 175 percent increase. By 2014, China had signed 28 agricultural agreements with 16 African countries and established nine bilateral cooperation mechanisms.

"Agricultural cooperation will be one of the major topics at the Second FOCAC Summit in Johannesburg," Jiang Zhida, Associate Research Fellow at the Center for Belt and Road Studies, China Institute of International Studies, told ChinAfrica .

According to Jiang, with China and Africa promoting cooperation in infrastructure construction to facilitate connectivity among African countries, the infrastructure bottleneck hampering Africa's agricultural development and China-Africa agricultural cooperation will be eased. "Sino-African agricultural cooperation will enter a golden period," he said.

Zimbabwe's needs first

Sending senior agricultural experts to African countries is an important measure to promote cooperation, according to observers. In 2009, Zimbabwe welcomed its first batch of 10 Chinese agricultural experts. It was the biggest group sent by China to an African country that year.

The group, led by Liu, consisted of experts on livestock raising, aquaculture, rice growing and gardening. "These experts were selected according to the requirements of the Zimbabwean Government," Liu said. "Compared with the past, Sino-African agricultural cooperation has become more focused on African countries' needs under the FOCAC framework."

In Zimbabwe, Chinese experts worked with their Zimbabwean counterparts. Liu helped to develop the local livestock industry. Zimbabwe has a lot of small dairy farmers, but they lack experience and technology. As a result, on an average, they would get only 5-10 liters of milk from a cow a day. However in China, a cow can produce about 20 liters of milk daily on average because of advanced technology.

Liu and other Chinese experts often went to remote areas to train Zimbabwean farmers collectively. He found they were in urgent need of improving their dairy farming methods.

"The facilities for the training classes were usually very poor," Liu reminisced. The classes were usually held under a big tree with desks and wooden benches arranged on the ground. But despite the constraints, Liu enjoyed the sessions as they clearly benefited the farmers. He gave out small tools as prizes to encourage farmers to learn new technologies. He also compiled training manuals in English and distributed them among the farmers.

"Though the conditions were poor, we were very glad to impart our knowledge and technologies to our African brothers, especially when local people told us our projects had improved their livelihood," Liu said. "This is our goal, as well as our impetus for working in Africa."

Encore on request

In 2010, Liu and his colleagues completed their term and returned to China. However, on the request of the Zimbabwean Government, the group was asked to return and continue with the program. Liu subsequently returned twice, proud of the fact that his and his colleagues' work was being appreciated.

The Chinese experts' attitude to work influenced their African counterparts. Makodza Bothwell, Director of Livestock Development Department of Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanization and Irrigation Development of Zimbabwe, told Liu that previously, the department focused only on sanitation during the production of milk and ensuring farmers were following laws and regulations. "But now I know that farmers need production technology as well as support," Bothwell told Liu. The official subsequently made a plan to train and support farmers in remote areas and asked the Chinese experts to participate in the plan.

While helping Zimbabweans improve their agricultural technology, Liu and his group also learned a lot from the country in return. "Zimbabwe has very comprehensive agricultural laws and I think China can learn from Zimbabwe in this regard," he said. He also said that though small family farms in Zimbabwe usually lack technology and management expertise, there are a lot of large-scale farms with advanced irrigation and breeding technologies.

"The Zimbabwean Government's recognition of Chinese agricultural assistance reflects the demand of the entire African continent in terms of agricultural development," Liu said. "Today, Africa is in the fast lane of development and every country attaches great importance to agricultural development. China-Africa agricultural cooperation has a promising future."

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