China’s farming ambitions in Mozambique take shape

Chinese rice seeds will be among those tested at the new centre Copyright: Flickr/farmingmatters

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[CAPE TOWN] China is sending its farming expertise to Mozambique in a drive to increase the African country’s agricultural productivity.

The Chinese Agricultural Technology Research and Transfer Centre is being built on a 52-hectare plot near the Umbeluzi Agricultural Station, close to the capital Maputo. It will open in early 2010.

The centre’s aim is to improve farming methods and yields through the training of Mozambican scientists and farmers.

Chinese experts will introduce seeds from maize, rice, vegetables and fruit, and researchers will test them for climatic suitability to Mozambique. Animal husbandry will also come under scrutiny.

The centre, funded with US$55 million, is the first of ten Africa-based agricultural technology centres promised in 2007 by Chinese president Hu Jintao. China has pledged to help modernise the Mozambican agricultural sector and aims to increase rice production five-fold, from 100,000 to 500,000 tonnes a year.

Patricio Sande, president of the Scientific Research Association of Mozambique, says the centre will use scientific research to speed up agricultural development in Mozambique. It will complement the government’s vision to transform agriculture into a productive, high-value market-oriented sector, he adds. Many of Mozambique’s exports are agricultural products.

"When we talk about combating poverty, we are mainly looking to agricultural development," says Sande.

China is increasingly seeking new investment opportunities in Africa’s agricultural sector, with Chinese financiers focusing on Angola, Malawi, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe among other countries, says Martyn Davies, chief executive officer of research and strategy company, Frontier Advisory.

Chris Alden, a China–Africa relations expert from the South African Institute of International Affairs, says the new centre will ultimately help China meet its domestic food demands by buying some of the produce while raising incomes in Mozambique and providing the country with a source of foreign currency.

"In this sense, it is mutually beneficial — the classic tag line to China’s engagement with African countries and one which I think in this case holds," Alden told SciDev.Net.

George Marechera, an agriculture business specialist for the African Agricultural Technology Foundation, says Mozambique will benefit from the centre only if it embraces the technologies on offer.

Moreover, the centre’s training and expertise will be transferred to other regions only if scientists, farmers and agro-processors from across the country participate in the programme.

"The government should be part of the development so it is sustainable once the Chinese leave," Marechera told SciDev.Net.