By Professor Ali Abdalla Ali
July 19, 2009 — On the third of June 2009, an important conference was held in the Friendship Hall in Khartoum, which was built by the Chinese as a gift to the Sudanese people in the good old days of President Mao. The conference that continued for a few days was attended by most of those concerned about the issue of agricultural development as well as the Sudanese Chinese relations in general. A large Chinese delegation headed by the lady Minister of State for agriculture representing the Chinese government as well as Chinese companies specialised in the production of agricultural machinery and related products. The members of delegation got busy taking pictures of each other inside the conference hall in a very amused manner possibly for documentation purposes! On the Sudanese side the head of the delegation was the Minister of Finance and National Economy as well as the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry. The intention of the conference prepared for by the Ministry of Finance, was to explore the possibilities of cooperation and partnership in the area of agricultural development in Sudan. This to many had constituted a very interesting qualitative change in the nature of Chinese assistance as we shall see later. The conference was also held within the frame of fifty years of continued friendly relations between the Sudan and China which started by Sudan’s recognition of China’s entry in the United Nations in 1959 (Ali 2005).The Minister of Finance as well as the Minister of Agriculture confirmed the intention of Sudan to establish an strategic partnership between the two countries in the area of agriculture (both plant and animal) and agri-business and to satisfy the need of both countries in the area of food production and to export the surplus to the rest of the world in a real sustainable partnership between the two countries. This is in brief was the main purpose of the conference for which a number of papers were prepared by the Sudanese side.
No one can deny the fact that this sort of cooperation between the Sudan and China indicates to the fact that it is a qualitative change in the way the Chinese do their business as they force their way into Africa. Such a cooperation cannot be expected from a country such as the USA for example to help Sudan to produce Wheat since the USA had always been using its surplus Wheat as an instrument of foreign policy by way of providing Wheat under PL480 to many countries of the world. Not only that but such aid made some countries dependent on the USA on a permanent basis. Moreover, the very Wheat assistance given to some countries had destroyed the incentive on the part of local farmers to produce Wheat! India would have remained dependent on PL480 had it not achieved its Green Revolution which helped it to produce enough Wheat even for the Rats of India!! Even the local counterpart of the Wheat value which is usually deposited with the central banks of the receiving countries , yet there were often silent hints that such funds were sometimes used for other purposes than the development of the receiving countries!!
That is why when a country such as China negotiates such a strategic partnership in Sudan and in Africa in areas that affect people’s lives, Chinese assistance appears to be more relevant, superior and fitting than that provided by some Western Europeans countries and its well controlled financial institutions. I state this in spite of a number of reservation I always held on the way Chinese conduct their relations with African countries specially after the adoption of economic reforms of mid seventies (Ali 2005).This sort of partnership was explained by both the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Agriculture as being a partnership between the natural resources of the Sudan in terms of fertile land water, farmers, accumulated expertise/research and farmers to be combined with the financial resources , acquired technologies and Chinese expertise. However, the details of the components of such a joint effort were not immediately stipulated. This was left for one of the papers presented by the Ministry of Finance which was written by the Acting Undersecretary (Hafiz Atta Al Manan) .The paper set in very clear terms that the land of the country will not be for sale and explained the types of partnership and their necessary components and the role of Sudanese fertile land in such a partnership. If this paper is taken seriously and accepted as a policy ruling it will greatly appease and satisfy the ordinary Sudanese as well as the forthcoming generations who are really worried as regards the continued behaviour of some of the States Governors who got into the unacceptable habit of selling land to investors specially from the Arab countries, instead of applying the lease system. If this habit of selling fertile land continues there will soon be no fertile land left for the coming generations of Sudanese. Instead the future generation will become serfs in the land of their own country!! Such a policy should be immediately stopped since it will have very serious social implications in decades to come. The land is not without limit. Moreover, it has its own value when it enters as a factor of production. That is why the analysis made by Hafiz Atta Al Manan and the ideas involved constitute a sensible alternative to the habit of selling fertile land to Arabs and other investors. In fact some of those investors who were given large tracts of land misused such a facility and sold many acres in squire meters from within. Moreover, one wonders whether if a Sudanese tries to get some few squire meters in any Arab country whether he would be allowed to get such an area. Why is it that our land is that cheap and easy to get and their land is so dear?!
As for the Chinese delegation and those of them who had the chance to state their minds one did not get the impression at all as regards purchase of land. On the contrary the statements made were directed towards a clear strategic partnership between the resources of both countries which at least meant to me fertile land, water (which is in short supply in China) Sudanese accumulated experience and the financial abilities and accumulated technical know how of China. Moreover, the Chinese shall be expected to train the Sudanese and also leave behind for the Sudanese the secrets of their agricultural technologies. We are encouraged to propose this idea because the Chinese usually make it a condition for those Western European firms that wish to invest in China! In fact it will in addition to obtaining part of the fruits of this joint venture in the form of part of the overall profits of such joint projects. In fact it seemed that the Chinese are aware of Sudanese sensitivities as regards such issues ,that is why the representative of Ministry of Trade in China made it very clear by saying ,” Whatever comes out of this strategic partnership ( meaning agricultural output) nothing will be exported to China unless the Sudanese get satisfied first (i.e. their bellies are full)!!”. This is a very clear commitment, but it does not mean that the Sudanese side to neglect the strict follow up and monitoring of all agricultural activities as agreed between the two parties.
If this combined effort really comes out in a positive way on the basis of a win-win attitude, it will be surely a venture worth giving attention to. Moreover, it will definitely be a much better venture than the policy of selling fertile land to investors (traders and speculators) whether Arabs or others!!Professor Ali Abdalla Ali, Sudan University of Science and Technology, Economic Advisor, Khartoum Stock Exchange can be reached at [email protected]