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China shows the way to improve food security in Horn of Africa

By Alexander Ayertey Odonkor | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2023-05-29 10:26

A farmer works in a field in Shayu village of Panzhou city, Guizhou province, Feb 9, 2023. [Photo/Xinhua]

In a meeting with Demeke Mekonnen Hassen, Ethiopia’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister, on May 25, Qin Gang, Chinese foreign minister, said China had already delivered two batches of food aid to the Horn of Africa and plans are underway to send a new batch of food aid to help Horn of Africa countries alleviate their urgent needs. Prior to this meeting, China engaged representatives of Horn of Africa nations, development partners and relevant stakeholders on how to address food insecurity in the region.

Earlier this month, the United Nations in China with support of the Food and Agriculture Organization in China hosted a dialogue titled ‘‘Toward a more food secure Horn of Africa (HoA).’’ The dialogue, built on strategic discussions held recently under the China-HoA-UN Transformative Partnership Initiative, was attended by various participants, including representatives of the Horn of Africa countries, the government of China, UN country teams in the region, along with members of financial institutions, foundations and research institutes.

The discussions, which focused on the current drought and food security emergency in the Horn of Africa and the resulting impact on lives and livelihood, were built on drawing on China’s experience, expertise and resources via the TPI to build concrete, locally driven projects – emulating China’s efforts in the region – with agricultural development being central to improving food security. China, over the years has prioritized agricultural cooperation with Horn of Africa countries, contributing enormously and consistently to efforts dedicated to accelerate agricultural productivity.

Through this means, China’s input, thus, expertise, experience and financial support strengthens institutions and organizations in the agriculture sector – contributing significantly in providing sustainable solutions to formidable challenges such as multiple droughts that have led to consecutive lost harvests.

In fact, China’s contribution under agricultural cooperation with Horn of Africa countries, which includes Chinese agricultural experts sharing experiences and technologies with farmers – introducing early maturing, disease tolerant, high-yielding crop and climate-resilient varieties through joint-agricultural research with Horn of Africa countries, has been essential to the framework needed to underpin sustainable, locally driven projects with the capacity to tackle the region’s food insecurity.

For example in Kenya, one of the eight Horn of Africa countries, there are several footprints of agricultural projects supported by China – located in Egerton University’s Confucius Institute, the China-Kenya Joint Laboratory for Crop Molecular Biology, inaugurated in 2016, in Kenya’s oldest institution of higher education, is East Africa’s most advanced molecular biology laboratory. Funded by the Chinese government and jointly constructed by Nanjing Agricultural University and Egerton University, the China-Kenya Joint Laboratory for Crop Molecular Biology is an invaluable resource, bolstering agricultural productivity and improving food security in the region.

The laboratory, which mainly produces food crops, has over the years released several disease tolerant, early maturing and high-yielding crops including four chickpea varieties, two groundnuts varieties and three bean varieties (Kenya’s highest-yielding variety) – these crops boost farm yields, ensure environmental sustainability, improve food security and increase income of farmers – a remarkable achievement, inseparable from the input of the Chinese government and researchers from Nanjing Agricultural University.

In addition, the China-Kenya Joint Laboratory for Crop Molecular Biology is an epicenter for training postgraduate students from eastern and southern Africa – developing adequate human capital for agriculture modernization – advancing scientific research to solve pertinent challenges pertaining to climate change and low agricultural productivity.

In a similar fashion, in Kenya, the Sino-Africa Joint Research Center, established in 2013 at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology and affiliated with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, conducts joint research in various areas including geographic science and remote sensing, biodiversity investigation, high-yield and high quality crop cultivation demonstration, pathogenic microorganism detection and land and water resource management – through these agriculture-focused scientific research the center addresses pressing challenges that impedes agricultural productivity, environmental sustainability and food security – by leveraging its long-term relationships with more than 20 universities and scientific research institutions in over 10 African countries, the center has made significant inroads in providing climate-resilient solutions – enabling farmers in the Horn of Africa to recover from consecutive lost harvests.

Recent reports have shown that providing farmers in Horn of Africa countries with climate-resilient varieties is central to boosting agricultural productivity.

A 2021 report from the African Development Bank showed that in Ethiopia, one of the Horn of Africa countries, adoption of new wheat varieties have bolstered wheat production, raised farmers’ income and fostered job creation.

In another example, in 2020 Sudan, one of the Horn of Africa countries harvested 1.1 million tons of wheat from 315, 500 hectares of farmland – this was achieved after farmers were provided with heat-tolerant wheat varieties, productivity-enhancing technologies and training in production techniques – a major improvement from 5 years before, when farmers in the country harvested 0.5 million tons of wheat on 250,000 hectares of land.

To add more, the latest AfDB report (2023) revealed that climate-resilient technologies have increased agricultural productivity and food security in Horn of Africa countries. In 2022-23 Ethiopia’s irrigated-wheat area which expanded rapidly from less than 5000 ha in 2018-19 to more than 650000 ha in 2021-22, led to national irrigated wheat yield increase from 2.0 t/ha to 4t/ha – contributing in Ethiopia becoming self-sufficient and for the first time, the country exported surplus wheat to two Horn of Africa countries, Djibouti and Kenya.

To build on the gains and further foster agricultural productivity and improve food security, the United Nations, Food and Agriculture Organization, governments in the region and relevant stakeholders should focus on developing climate-resilient solutions for Horn of Africa countries, drawing on China’s experience, expertise and resources to realize this goal.

Alexander Ayertey Odonkor is a global economist with keen interest in the social, environmental and economic landscape of both developing and developed countries, particularly in Asia, Africa and Europe.

The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of China Daily and China Daily website.

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