African countries need to focus on agricultural cooperation with China in their efforts to realize industrialization, experts say.
According to Zhou Yuxiao, China's ambassador for the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, agriculture is not on the development priority lists of many African countries, despite being a key focus area for FOCAC.
Zhou says that, during his recent visit to Africa, the key proposals put forward in meetings with senior government officials included cooperation on industrialization, capacity building, personnel training and education. But, to his dismay, none mentioned agricultural cooperation.
"I don't know why agriculture is not emphasized, despite the fact that it is FOCAC's No 2 priority. Having a strong agricultural base is the first step on the road to industrialization. Africa should focus first on having enough food to feed its population of 1.2 billion," he says.
Zhuo encourages African government leaders to prioritize the sector, saying no country can realize industrialization without transformation of the agricultural sector.
These sentiments are shared by Moochikal Ramesh, president and regional head for South and East Africa for Olam International Ltd. He says that, when talking about industrialization, many Africans think only about factories, despite the fact that 65 percent of Africa's population is engaged in agriculture, producing only 19 percent of the continent's GDP.
"It's unfortunate that many African countries spend a lot of money to import food, despite having good weather and human capital. Asian countries have done a lot to help small-scale farmers increase their productivity. The same can be replicated in Africa," he says.
According to the World Bank, despite the fact that Africa has vast amounts of land suitable for agriculture, yields from the continent's farms are one-third those achieved by Asian and Latin American farmers. China, for instance, feeds more than 20 percent of the world's population using only 7 percent of the arable land.
Ramesh says farming should be the first step toward industrialization, adding that China is willing to help the continent navigate the challenges.
"China can transfer cheap and robust technology to Africa, which can play a key role in developing the sector," he says. "Africa can use Chinese mastery in farming, agricultural modernization, logistics and storage of farm produce."
If the right amounts of water, fertilizer and labor are brought together in Africa, Ramesh says, the continent has the highest global potential for growth. He says agriculture in Africa is expected to become a $1 trillion sector by 2030.
According to Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank, 65 percent of the uncultivated arable land left in the world lies in Africa, and when Africa manages to feed itself, within a generation, it will also be able to help feed the 9 billion people who will inhabit the planet in 2050.
"Africa is wasting vast amounts of money and resources by underrating its agriculture sector. For example, it spends $35 billion in foreign currency annually importing food, a figure that is set to rise to over $100 billion per year by 2030," he said in an opinion piece published by Inter Press Service.
Through FOCAC, China has committed to improving African agricultural capacity and productivity, primarily through experience-sharing, technology transfer, encouraging Chinese agricultural investment, and setting up new exchange frameworks and programs to bring Chinese experts to African countries.
During the Johannesburg FOCAC summit in 2015, China and African countries agreed that realizing agricultural modernization on the continent by strengthening cooperation was an important way to contribute to food security in Africa.
Toward that end, China is committed to carrying out agricultural demonstration projects, building or upgrading agricultural technology demonstration centers, and using these centers to focus on agricultural research, demonstration and training. In addition, transferring technologies and cooperating with African countries to increase productivity are seen as crucial.