China is deepening its involvement in agriculture in Africa and Cabo Verde (Cape Verde) and Guinea-Bissau are to benefit from this diversification of cooperation, according to a survey of Chinese projects in West Africa.
The study “Beyond the extractive industries: The case of Chinese agricultural assistance in West Africa”, published by the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), argues that these countries, including the two Portuguese-speaking ones, “have much to learn from China” in agriculture, an area that the Chinese authorities have defined as a priority for cooperation.
China “intends to apply a model of South/South cooperation calling for reciprocal gains and the exchange of best practices” after in “the last two decades building a strong domestic agricultural sector and have developing it faster than any other sector”, said the authors of the study, Emanuele Santi and Maxime Weigert.
Many of the recent projects they added, are led by public companies and focused on cash crops, as in other regions of the continent, such as Southern Africa, where there are also significant examples in Angola and Mozambique. Among the projects of this kind in West Africa, the authors highlighted cashew cultivation in Guinea-Bissau, along with cocoa in Ghana, sugar and cotton in Benin, sugar in Sierra Leone, cotton in Burkina Faso and sugar and cotton in Mali, in partnership with local authorities. More recently bio-fuel projects have also been launched in Benin, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.
“These projects are export-oriented – to China, in the case of cotton, to Europe, in the case of other crops and include technical assistance from China, involving training, inputs and machinery, in order to increase productivity and the quality of local production,” said the authors, who also identified some difficulties on the ground.
Under supervision of the Ministry of Trade, China donates agricultural machinery and participates in financing of agricultural programs and rural infrastructure projects, such as the Poilão dam in Cabo Verde, dedicated to irrigation, similarly to another dam built in Ghana. China has also set up four training centers in the region within the framework of technical assistance, one in Guinea-Bissau, where Chinese experts “provide technical training to local farmers,” said the authors.
China’s cooperation with African countries they added, is guided by a focus on “greater diversification” and these investments “benefit the region,” as several countries have “expressed their willingness to increase agricultural development and modernize their agri-industrial sector”. Agriculture accounts for the largest portion of the Africa region’s economies, which is the case of Guinea-Bissau, and Cabo Verde is one of the countries that is least dependent on this sector.
The authors also gave some recommendations, such as promoting local employment, long-term involvement and profit sharing, broader participation of local partners, to ensure cultural and social norms are taken into account and benefits provided by local authorities, access to capital, land lease, legal incentives and institutional support.
“China could also provide vital opportunities for greater access to finance, which are traditionally lacking in the region and the sector and, at the same time a solid alternative and a complement to the resources channeled by traditional donors,” added the authors.