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[HANOI/BEIJING] Vietnam has "huge potential" for further collaboration with Africa on agriculture as part of its policy towards the continent, one of its leaders has told a forum on cooperation with Africa in Hanoi.

More than 300 Vietnamese agricultural experts have worked in African countries since 1996, Diep Kinh Tan, vice minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, said at the three-day forum 'Vietnam–Africa: Cooperation for Sustainable Development' held last month (16–20 August).

"We have huge potential for further cooperation," Tan added.

Vietnam is the world's second-largest rice exporter after Thailand. African delegates said they hope to learn from Vietnam's agricultural example.

"We are impressed by the way Vietnam has changed from a net importer of food, particularly rice, to the second-largest exporter of rice just within ten years," Moses Adewuyi, director of agro-processing in Nigeria's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, told SciDev.Net.

Promoting food security in Africa is consistent with Vietnam's "expansion and deepening of cooperation" with African nations, deputy prime minister Pham Gia Khiem told the meeting.

Khiem said he hoped that Vietnamese companies will build infrastructure, hospitals and schools, as well as extract oil, gas and precious metals in African countries.

Jean-Paul Adam, minister for foreign affairs of the Republic of Seychelles, told the forum that the rise of China and India as important players in global trade is now followed by Vietnam, which is becoming an economic force in Africa.

But how far Vietnam's role in Africa will extend is unclear.

David Koh, a senior fellow at the Institute for Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore, said that Vietnam's "forays into Africa" are likely to be part of its foreign policy of "widening cooperation and making as many friends as possible".

"Vietnam has also been quite successful in its agriculture — especially in higher productivity rice. It can share its experiences, and Africa does need help," Koh told SciDev.Net.

The forum followed soon after a Beijing meeting of the China–Africa Agriculture Forum last month (11 August), in which Chinese vice premier Hui Liangyu also proposed stepping up agricultural cooperation with Africa.

Delegates there agreed to enhance cooperation in the fields of agricultural technologies, information, and produce processing; crop varieties; the fostering of talent; and infrastructure.

The meeting, which was attended by
about 400 representatives from Chinese and African political parties, government departments and enterprises, established guidelines for cooperation, according to Guo Jianjun, a researcher from the Development Research Center of the State Council.

"Our goal is to help African countries solve their own food problems, make them less dependent on the international food market, and strengthen Africa's food security," he told SciDev.Net, adding that this would stabilise the international food market, thus benefiting China.

A core message that emerged from the forum was that China's private sector should be encouraged to do business in Africa, he said. The forum proposed a China–Africa agriculture cooperation fund to help Chinese companies who intend to enter the African market.

African representatives proposed that this fund should also provide help to African companies.