From Ikenna Emewu in Beijing
Recently at the China Ministry of Agriculture Information office, the Director, Department of International Cooperation, Mr. Ye Anping, gave a response that was as shocking as it was true to a question from Daily Sun.
At the interactive with African journalists in his office on Monday last week, Ye was asked what agricultural skills from Africa China has learnt or adopted if any. The question also required him to explain if there are crops from Africa China has adopted or is cultivating now as part of the cooperation the country has with the continent.
But in the course of the interview, Ye who had noted after his briefing and prior to the questions and answers session that he is not the type that tells the press he has no response to a question and with an assurance to take on all questions thrown at him later justified his vaunt.
He was frank and blunt. He never played on any diplomacy to make anyone feel good. He tackled hard truths and gave very frank answers, especially with his deep knowledge of Africa agriculture and policies, even problems.
Ye has been to Nigeria several times as he explained and knows where the problem of the country in agriculture lies.
To the Daily Sun question, he said: “I have to admit to you that we have not actually adopted any agriculture techniques from Africa to modify as you asked. Also, we have hardly got or started cultivating any African crops. But China buys African agriculture exports, and in fact one of the countries that buy most African agriculture exports. Generally, China agriculture balance of trade is in serious deficit. We only export just 3 per cent of our agriculture produce.
But most of all, China has learnt and benefitted much from African examples in agriculture. An exchange implies give and take, and one of the greatest you can take away in an exchange is experience. That is also the major thing we want Nigeria and Africa to take away from China.
“Few weeks ago, your president, Muhammadu Buhari was here on official visit, and I don’t need to inform you that Nigeria and China have very good relationship and cooperation in several ways. So during the meeting with the Nigeria president, I was one of the persons that discussed agriculture issues with his team. Certainly, we had very fruitful discussions on co-operations that would benefit both sides.
Yet, away from the meeting here with your president, there are facts we know about Nigeria and its agriculture. As at last week, it was officially announced that China’s population is 1.37bn people. That number is just too large for anybody to entrust their feeding in the hands of another country. So we have a compelling obligation to feed our people. It is a major duty. Nigeria I know is just about 160m people. Compared to China, it is not a large country, but the largest in Africa no doubt. What I mean is that we have a larger food security obligation.
“In the very beginning of the nation, even in the 1950s and 1960s, when China was in food crisis, Nigeria had food sufficiency. We know the history of Nigeria’s agriculture exploits and how the sector sustained her economy. No doubt, even today, Nigeria’s agriculture potential remains its highest resource but that was abandoned many years ago after the country found oil in the 1950s in the southern part of the country.
Oil find made Nigeria develop its economy around oil, and the facilities for the oil sector are advanced and developed. But they did this in neglect of agriculture. Today, and in for some years back, Nigeria has battled to feed the people.
We examined and listened to the story and decided that we don’t want to copy that example of growing from food sufficiency to scarcity. It is what China can never risk having or doing. So even if we did not borrow crops or farming methods from Africa, we have borrowed the Nigerian example and have vowed that we don’t want to go the way of Nigeria. I have to tell you that I sincerely believe that is a great benefit. What I have said doesn’t mean that Nigeria has not done well in so other fields, but the agriculture example has not been good, reason the country is investing so much today to revive agriculture. And with time, with the right political will I am sure they will get it right once again. That is why China assures Nigeria of our readiness to align with them to reinvent agriculture as our friends.”
Cultivating with Africa
Ye in the course of the interactive explained that China has agriculture exchange agreements with at least 40% of the continent’s countries in diplomatic relationship with her. He also noted that in the past years, China’s agriculture investment has been machinery and technology advancement with about 55 per cent of agriculture investment in tachnology. And towards Africa, the target of China has been in seeds improvement, technology acquisition and plant breeding for improved species and the volume of agriculture exports of Africa to China last year was about $6b.
He also revealed that while China wants to buy more food from Africa, some conditions on quarantine, food safety, competitiveness and other international regulations and standards must be observed. He advised that if Africa would take better precaution on these issues, there would be steady improvement of agric trade between the two sides that operate free trade rules on agriculture products.
However, the extent of trade is affected seriously by volume that is not enough from Africa arising from low productivity which pushes the cost of the transactions because low volume affects cost of handling. Ye advised that Africa should do its best to advance its agriculture outputs and farming methods to be a better beneficiary of the deficit trade volume China suffers in agriculture products with a trade volume of $120b last year.
He also coached that the contribution of agriculture to China’s GDP has been on the drop for some years, although China still provides about 85% of its food requirement and can boast of food sufficiency. “Less than 3% of China agriculture produce is exported and in the past five years, the contribution of agriculture to China’s GDP has been between 8.5% and 8.9%.
But every year, China spends so much to encourage farmers with tax free incentives to be sure they produce as much as possible to feed the country. Although the policy and its implementation has worked well, but it has its failings as many complain that they encourage the farmers to be less productive for refusing to work as hard as they should if those incentives were not there. “Also, we often hear of complaints by farmers of the hardship in having access to credit facilities from banks, reason the government intervened to introduce the agriculture development bank and agriculture fund for farmers, he said.”
Concerning the vexed issue of gene manipulated agro products, he noted China has regulations on that and approaches it with caution. While it advises and encourages research and development in the field for knowledge, he said the country has rules on embarking of researches and works in the area and punishes any researcher that does not observe the rule.”