02/12/2011, 00.00
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Africa, China's bread basket

For rapid industrialization, pollution and natural disasters, China increasingly lacking in agricultural land, which Africa has in abundance. But agriculture needs funding, technology, machinery. This could create a new fruitful collaboration.

Beijing (AsiaNews / Agencies) – Olives from Tunisia, Uganda's coffee, sesame from Ethiopia: China opens up to agricultural products from Africa. Beijing needs more and more of agricultural products for domestic consumption and African agriculture needs investment and technology. A partnership that could reshape the world's agriculture.

For years now, China has been plundering Africa of oil and precious minerals, which constitute over 90% of its imports from the Continent. Agricultural products were only 3% of its imports between 2006 and 2008. After all, Beijing has always sought food self-sufficiency, and many African countries only have sufficient agricultural production for domestic consumption.

But in China's cultivated land is disappearing, because economic development for new industrial zones and residential neighbourhoods: 1996 to 2009, 8 million hectares of agricultural land was lost.

Many agricultural areas are also polluted. In addition, for years there have been continual natural disasters: this year the worst drought for 60 years in the north, floods in recent years, record snowfall or other episodes.

As a result of industrialization, pollution and drought, food prices are rising fast.

Africa has 733 million hectares of agricultural land, six times more than China, according to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.

The South China Morning Post analyst Andrew Leung Kinpong noted that "Africa could become a bread basket of food for 1.3 billion Chinese." "There is much room for China to start agricultural production in Africa."

Among other things, some African countries like Burundi, are also poor in minerals and other resources and are unable to balance the imports from China. But the country tries to stimulate valuable and easy export crops like cotton, coffee and tea, and analysts believe it is interested in receiving funding, equipment and technology from China to improve production.

Lesotho has a similar situation, only barely meeting domestic consumption needs with the current agricultural production. Makhotsofalang Lekaota, the country's ambassador in Beijing says "training centres and equipment to improve product quality" are needed.

But the problem is common to many African countries that have agricultural land but lack of investment, technology, technical assistance.

Beijing itself is concerned. Lin Yi, secretary of the Chinese-African Friendship of Peoples, said that in China there is great potential for African agricultural products such as coffee, tea, meat and flowers. " China also has resources and experience to optimize the export of agricultural products. Meanwhile, it is creating agriculture training centres throughout the continent.

South Africa is China’s  2nd largest trading partner after Angola. Agricultural products constitute less than 1% of its exports to China, but with 64.3 million dollars in the first nine months of 2010 it more than doubled compared to 2009.

Experts agree that this collaboration would be beneficial to both China and African countries. Concerns focus on the kind of cooperation that Beijing will propose. The example of Mines of Zambia is underlined: Chinese companies own the mines, provide funds, managers and technicians. But in the depths of the tunnels the inhabitants of the country dig, often on Chinese working shifts and wages.

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