While Vietnam's influence in Africa pales in comparison with China's, a conference in Hanoi heard that there has been rapid growth in trade along with expanding Vietnamese assistance for African farming and other areas.

"The growing relationship between Africa and Vietnam is welcome because it has a great potential to develop productive capacity and contribute to the achievement of sustained growth and poverty reduction," UN Under Secretary general Cheick Sidi Diarra told the gathering of African and Vietnamese officials.

Trade turnover has jumped from 360 million dollars in 2003 to 2.1 billion dollars last year, Vietnam's Foreign minister Pham Gia Khiem told the Vietnam-Africa Forum on Cooperation for Sustainable Development.

In addition, Vietnam has sent more than 300 agricultural experts to Africa in recent years under a series of agreements which involve partnership with the UN or a foreign donor, officials said.

"We have turned from a food importer with small-scale production into a... major exporter of agricultural, forestry and fishery products," Diep Kinh Tan, vice minister of agriculture and rural development, told the conference.

Vietnam is the world's second-largest exporter of coffee and rice.

"Trade in agricultural, forestry, fishery and handicraft products has been crucial to the economic growth, job creation and poverty reduction in Vietnam," Tan said.

He added that the country had "basically eradicated hunger" and seen a remarkable drop in the number of poor households.

Mozambique, by contrast, does not produce enough basic foods to feed its people, 35 percent of whom suffer "chronic food insecurity", said the country's vice minister of agriculture, Antonio Limbau.

"The achievements of the government and people of Vietnam over the past 20 years in fighting hunger and poverty show that Mozambique has a lot to learn," he told the conference.

Under a Japanese-funded project this year, Vietnam will train Mozambican technicians and farmers in rice production, Limbau said.

The fraternal ties between Vietnam and some African nations are rooted in their mutual struggles for independence, but prime minister Nguyen Tan Dung said his country now has diplomatic ties with almost all of the continent's more than 50 countries.

Relations with Africa "have become an important part of Vietnam's foreign policy" in recent years, said Khiem, the foreign minister.

China has also steadily built up trade and economic ties with Africa, drawing accusations that it has taken a "neo-colonialist" attitude toward the continent, while befriending the isolated governments in Sudan and Zimbabwe.

Chinese official figures showed trade with Africa at 91 billion dollars last year.

Diarra said Vietnam's smaller presence is not seen in Africa as a counter to China.

"No, I don't think it's perceived that way. It's not one against the other" but rather complementary, he told AFP in an interview.

"The needs in Africa are huge and the resources are very limited," he said.

By Ian Timberlake - Agence France Presse - August 19, 2010