africa Agriculture Mozambique Opinion

Opinion: Rice, China and the power of Africa’s agriculture

Much comes to mind when one speaks about Africa’s natural resources: the likes of Oil, Gas, Minerals and so on. A lot of capital is devoted to such endeavours and with it, a lot of effort to develop an environment that at least tries to be inclusive of local human resources.

I only wish that Agriculture in Africa would get the same attention. Admittedly, the challenges are many, and the sub-existence nature of the majority of local farmers are usually discouraging to most foreign investors.

Well, fasten your set belts, China is at it again!
Last week a workshop on China-Africa cooperation took place in Beijing themed “Tapping into the Potential of China-Africa Rice Cooperation“.
Many African countries were represented, among them Nigeria and Mozambique. The first an African oil power house and the latter a gas giant in the making.

Despite the usual hype surrounding hydrocarbon related investments, it seems to me that there’s a new Chinese interest brewing towards Africa: Rice!

China has the challenge of feeding the world’s largest population and with very limited farmland, it is poised to look at Africa as a long term solution for its food supply.

While rice is mostly an alternative crop in Africa, it is the cornerstone of the Chinese diet. Mozambique for instance has very good conditions to grow rice, yet, due to funding and technological challenges the country actually imports an average of over 365k tons of rice a year from Asian producers. It has been doing it so for nearly 20 years.  The country faces bottlenecks like high-cost machinery, low degree of agro-processing and limited market access of final products.

“African countries expect to innovate based on China’s experience in transforming smallholder agriculture into farming as a burgeoning business”, said Thomas Arokoyo, country manager for Nigeria of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) on the event.

I would listen carefully to this statement. Specially as it annoys me that no matter how obvious Agriculture is a key economic driver, it has been taking a back seat on foreign investors wish list for decades.

I can see an improvement in overall food security for the continent (an item in most African government agendas), economic development and a better life for small farmers through clustering agriculture.

Last time I checked, it was a lot easier to teach a farmer planting rice a trick or two about… plating rice, then qualifying him to play a role in an oil rig.
Not to mention that Social and economic inclusiveness becomes a lot easier to structure when you help farmers to “keep on farming“.

I have witness first hand China’s investment impact in Africa and we all agree that it is not always positive and transparent (Don’t get me started on the “good guys” investing in Gas).

I am not defending anyone by any means, but I am saying that its time to pay some serious attention to the obvious power of Agriculture before it’s too late (note the word “POWER” not “POTENTIAL”).

The Chinese get it, do you?

Fabio Scala

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