A decade on and initiative continues to increase its international trade in food
This aerial photo shows machines working during an activity organized by the local government to demonstrate agricultural machines in Caigongzhuang Township of Jinghai District, north China's Tianjin, June 11, 2023. (PHOTO / XINHUA)
China is seeking to expand agricultural exchanges and trade ties with its partners under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative, which a senior official said was aimed at stabilizing the global food supply and promoting sustainable development.
This year marks a decade since the initiative was put forward by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Ma Youxiang, a vice-minister of agriculture and rural affairs, said the country is willing to work with BRI participants so that together they can become a hub for global food security and a showcase for sustainable development.
"We're glad to work with BRI partners, learn about and respect each other's needs, and work hard to advance food-related cooperation," he said at the Belt and Road Agricultural Cooperation and Development Forum in Beijing on Thursday.
Addressing the event's opening ceremony, Ma spoke of the mutual benefits generated through such collaborations since 2013, a period filled with challenges including extreme weather events, pandemic-related disruptions and geopolitical headwinds.
He said through BRI programs, many countries have overcome such difficulties, achieved bumper harvests and slashed poverty. The programs helped ease the squeeze that could have otherwise gripped such countries due to turbulent global food prices and supply chain woes.
Ma said that over the past decade, China had forged partnerships with more than 90 countries and international organizations and inaugurated 650-plus investment projects worth $14 billion. China's food trade with countries involved in the BRI expanded at an annual rate of 9.9 percent in that time, and has reached over $139 billion.
Wheat from Kazakhstan, sesame seeds from Tanzania and honey from Zambia have made it into China's ultra-large market, and in turn, more fruit and vegetables from China are being served on dining tables in those countries, he said.
The past decade has also seen a leap in many countries' agricultural know-how. China sent more than 2,000 agricultural technicians to teach the growing techniques for hybrid rice, fungi and many other crops to more than 70 countries. More than 100,000 farmers have received training, and more than 1 million have reaped benefits indirectly.
Ma said China is willing to expand its imports of quality food products in the next decade, and supports a more free and convenient trade environment.
China has plans to help build overseas food industrial parks and high-tech farming demonstration zones, as well as promote extreme weather-resistant and smart farming technologies, he added.
While speaking at the forum, Fu Wanjun, president of the Agricultural Bank of China, one of the forum's organizers, said his bank has established overseas offices in countries such as Singapore, Vietnam, the United Arab Emirates, Russia and Tajikistan, so that financial services are readily available to aid agricultural collaborations under the BRI framework.
Some $84 billion in food trade has been transacted through the bank since the start of this year, he said.
Representatives from developing countries expressed their desire at the forum for more food-related investments, especially from technologically advanced countries like China.
Rahamtalla Mohamed Osman, permanent representative of the African Union to China, told the forum that his continent has 65 percent of the world's remaining uncultivated arable land, and at least one-sixth of global plant species, including many food crops of African origin such as wheat, barley, millet, sorghum, teff, coffee, cowpea and oil palm.
"What does this mean? This means that we have the potential to feed 9 billion people in the world by 2050, far more than the current world population," he said.
With the removal of barriers to agricultural development achieved by new investments, Africa's annual agricultural output could increase from $280 billion to $1 trillion by 2030, he added.
Many agricultural projects require large technological, technical and policy expertise, which may come more easily from China compared to Africa's other development partners, especially given China's experience with smallholder farming and successes in rural poverty alleviation, he said. "China also offers new potential market access for African agricultural products."
HONG KONG NEWS