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[OUDTSHOORN] Africa can learn lessons from China about how technology can make better use of fertile agricultural land to feed people, according to a new report.

A section of the report, which was commissioned by the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), was published online last month (4 June). The full report will be released in August.

The section, written by researchers at South Africa's Stellenbosch University, says the Chinese government's investment in rural economies is now paying huge dividends. The country can feed its 1.3 billion people despite only nine per cent of its land being arable, and it provides food security for 20 per cent of the world's population.

Technologies have driven this agricultural boom, says the report, and many of these are appropriate for Africa, particularly water-saving technologies and soil-related techniques such as tillage and planting methods and mulching. Chinese aquaculture methods could also be used in Africa.

George Marechera, an agribusiness specialist at the AATF, told SciDev.Net that African small-scale farmers face similar challenges to Chinese farmers and can learn from their success.

He says that technology and skills will be transferred from China to Africa by 14 demonstration centres being established in African countries. These focus on effective small farmer technologies like seed development, improved fertiliser and education.

In Mozambique, a 52 hectare agricultural demonstration centre is planned west of Maputo, at Boane. The Stellenbosch report says crops will be planted this year and Chinese technicians will test whether the Mozambican climate is suitable for various varieties of seeds, including maize, rice, vegetables and fruit.

In Uganda's capital, Kampala, Chinese contractors are building an aquaculture demonstration centre. Fish is a staple protein in Uganda, with many people subsisting on the fast-diminishing stocks in Lake Victoria.

The challenge for Africa, says the report, will be using the technologies without much policy support. "Few African governments prioritise agriculture in their policies, spending or attention," write the authors.

A key element of Chinese agricultural success, they say, was sharing finance between rural and urban environments. In Africa, urban areas have received the lion's share of government funding.

The research will feed into the Forum on China–Africa Cooperation, to take place in Cairo, Egypt, in October.

Link to section of the report by University of Stellenbosch[2.19MB]