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Increasing the economic momentum of Africa-Korea partnerships to advance Africa’s agro-industrialization


African Development Bank Group President Akinwumi Adesina has called for increased economic momentum in Africa through partnerships with Korea to advance trade and the industrialization of Africa’s agricultural sector. 

“Africa’s partnership with Korea should be more concrete and more structured. We should connect financial instruments and technologies from Korea with the numerous initiatives on the continent,” Adesina said at a meeting with government and business leaders, diplomats, development experts, and Korea’s leading agricultural scientists in Seoul last week.

President Adesina identified two initiatives of the Bank, Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) and the Staple Crop Processing Zones (SCPZ), as potential joint venture opportunities for Korean agricultural investment in Africa. Through these initiatives, the Bank and its partners seek “to add value to every single thing that is produced, so we can have massive agro-industrialization and value-addition. We must transform our rural areas from zones of economic misery to zones of economic prosperity. And the way to do that is to turn agriculture into a big business that works for the poor,” Adesina said. 

Drumming up support for Africa’s agro-industrialization, Adesina observed that “Korea and Africa have a strong partnership through the Korea-Africa Economic Cooperation (KOAFEC) with joint initiatives in agriculture, technology and several other areas…meanwhile, Korea has one of the highest research and development investment capacity of any country in the world. Africa would do well with Korea’s partnership by raising farming productivity and incomes…and getting Korea to import some of its food from Africa.”

Africa’s population and arable land endowments provide ample trade and technology partnership opportunities for Korea and the rest of Asia. Adesina reminded his audience that by 2050 Africa will have 2.5 billion people in a global population of 9.8 billion. “Yet Africa has 65% of the remaining uncultivated arable land in the world, so what Africa does with agriculture will determine the future of food in the world. In doing so, it must use the most efficient and sustainable technology. That’s why our partnership with Korea is so important”, Adesina stated.

“Korea is eager to share its development experience with Africa. We can work together to develop new rice varieties in Africa. Korea continues to support the Middle East and Africa region with agriculture aid and investment programmes but more cooperation in agriculture R&D is also feasible”, said Chung Il Chung, director of the International Cooperation Bureau of Korea’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

Chung traced Korea’s industrialisation and agricultural productivity to the country’s industrial and green revolution which began in the 1960s and 1970s respectively. “Today, Korea is deploying robotics and other smart technologies in agriculture and across other sectors… Africa can certainly fast-track its development journey through the right partnerships”, he said.

“The question is ‘how do we work together to scale up the technology to millions of farmers?” Adesina asked. “How do we support and encourage Korean agricultural businesses to partner for joint ventures with African food and agri-businesses?”

As the discussions focused mostly around agriculture, technology transfer and industrialisation opportunities, six Korean agricultural experts made brief presentations on agricultural technology initiatives for potential adoption by African farmers. Amongst them was Professor Eun-Pyo Hong, Committee Chairman for industry-university partnerships at Korea’s Sangmyang University, who presented a biodegradable seed film cultivation technology which allows maize or rice to grow without weed interference, produces a higher yield, reduces methane gas production by more than 50%, and uses only 10% of the water used in traditional methods.

A rice farm on a former wheat field in Hebei Province, China, grown using the biodegradable seed film cultivation technology

Professor Eun-Pyo Hong with the photo of a rice field grown with the biodegradable seed film cultivation technology

“For instance, rice farming can be possible with 400mm of precipitation per year, which means this technology can be adapted to the Sahel area of African countries…The seed film technology is already being used in Cameroon and Chad,” Hong said.

The Bank President concluded his remarks by saying: “Agriculture is not a way of life, it is a business, a straight-line business. It’s not just about how much you produce, it’s about the value you add, and how you compete in agriculture, that unlocks the real wealth.”

Left: a rice plot grown with the biodegradable seed film cultivation technology; Right: the control plot, germinated with rice but covered by weeds, preventing normal growth.

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