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[COTONOU, BENIN] China plans to build a centre for agricultural research and technological demonstration near Bamako, Mali, to carry out experiments and technical training, and to contribute to the development of sustainable agriculture in the country, according to an agreement between the two governments announced last month (11 July).

The announcement came ahead of the fifth Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in Beijing (19–20 July), at which the Chinese president, Hu Jintao, pledged to build further agricultural technology demonstration centres and to expand scientific collaboration with Africa.

The centre — to be built this year on a 20 hectare site in Baguinéda in the region of Koulikoro, 40 kilometres from the country's capital, Bamako — will focus on developing rice, maize and horticultural production.

It will be built at an estimated cost of 55 million Chinese yuan (around US$8.6 million), with a loan from China.

Anastase Hessou Azontondé, head of the soil science, water and environment laboratory at the National Institute of Agricultural Research of Benin (INRAB), said the centre would use Chinese funds to "bring to Mali technologies developed by Chinese talent and experience".

It is part of China's soft power diplomacy and research strategy, according to Azontondé, who said: "The results will be most useful to Africa".

Speaking at FOCAC, Chinese leader, Hu Jintao, said that that China had built over 100 schools, 30 hospitals, 30 anti-malarial centres and 20 agricultural technology demonstration facilities across the African continent.

China "will build more agricultural technology demonstration centres […] to help African countries increase production capacity," Hu added.

Euloge Agbossou, a professor of agricultural sciences and director of the Laboratory of Hydraulics and Water Management at the University of Abomey-Calavi, Benin, said "the proliferation of research centres is not a bad thing".

"But the various research centres must specialise to allow a good mix of researchers and scientists around a given theme," he said.