BEIJING/COTONOU -- On the land of the Oueme department in southeast Benin, Chinese maize thrives under the sun; in a soybean oil production factory in China, workers are processing soybean seeds imported from Benin in an orderly manner.
As China-African cooperation continues to deepen and strengthen, agricultural cooperation between China and Benin is also warming up, with a "dialogue" between soybeans and maize closely connecting the two countries.
In 2022, the volume of bilateral trade reached 1.95 billion U.S. dollars, an increase of 33.7 percent from the previous year. In that year, China was the second-largest source of imports and the third-largest destination for Benin's exports, according to figures from China's Foreign Affairs Ministry and the Chinese embassy in Benin.
"My ambition is not only to see an increase in my production every agricultural season but also to sell all my produce in the market, whether it be national, regional, or international," said Alidou Ayouba, a soybean producer in Bante, a town located approximately 450 km northwest of Cotonou, Benin's economic capital, in a phone interview with Xinhua.
"If the Beninese government can find us a reliable market, especially in China, we will only rejoice," he added.
In September 2019, China and Benin signed a protocol on the export of Beninese soybeans to China. In July 2020, the first batch of Beninese soybeans arrived at a port in China's Jiangsu Province. In 2022, Benin exported more than 210,000 tons of soybeans to China, accounting for over 60 percent of its total exports.
Orou-Yerima, an expert from Benin's Ministry of Economy and Finance, said that in recent years African products have become increasingly popular in the Chinese market.
"Soybeans, pineapples, and other Beninese products have entered the Chinese market thanks to China's convenient customs policies, providing development opportunities for Benin and many African countries," he said at the third China-Africa Economic and Trade Expo held recently in Changsha, capital of China's Hunan Province.
Benin has more than 6.5 million farmers, accounting for 54.8 percent of its total population. The national agricultural census of 2019 showed nearly 80 percent of Benin's farmers cultivated maize in that year. However, the lag of technologies and the lack of marketing channels have long been bottlenecks for the country's maize production.
In September 2010, the China-Benin Agricultural Pilot Center was launched in the city of Seme-Kpodji in Oueme Province with an aim to help Benin overcome technology difficulties. The center soon introduced 10 different varieties of Chinese maize to Benin and finished experiments in local test fields. In 2014, three of the highest yielding varieties were provided to local farmers for wide-spread cultivation.
Last month, a training session on high-yield maize technology, organized by the Chinese government and undertaken by China's Longping High-tech International Training Center, was held in Benin. Beninese farmers participating in the training communicated with Chinese experts on-site and through seminars, sharing professional technical knowledge about maize cultivation, such as seed selection, planting, organic fertilizer production, and pest and disease control.
Adolphe Adjanohoun, the director-general of the National Agricultural Research Institute of Benin, praised Chinese experts, valued Chinese maize and called on both sides to continue strengthening technological cooperation in maize cultivation to help resolve Benin's food security issue.
"China has rich experience and expertise in agricultural technology," said Xu Xiangping, president of the China-Africa Economic and Trade Promotion Council in Hunan Province, adding that exchanges of agricultural technology between the two sides would enhance Benin's agricultural production capacity and the quality of its agricultural products, thus strengthening trade cooperation between the two countries.
"China-Benin agricultural cooperation is a microcosm of Sino-African agricultural cooperation. Through technology transfer, investment cooperation, and trade exchanges, China and Benin can both achieve economic benefits and development opportunities, leading to shared prosperity," he said.