Agricultural experts from China and Algeria have a conversation on saline-alkali land treatment on March 23, 2014, in Relizane Province, Algeria (XINHUA)
When she was young, Victoria Sekitoleko had no idea what she would do when she grew up. The one thing she was sure of, however, was that she would never marry a farmer.
The former Ugandan Minister of Agriculture shared this anecdote at the opening ceremony of the Poverty Reduction and Development Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in Beijing on August 14.
Growing up in a farming family where money was scarce, one value young Sekitoleko took away from her upbringing was that she needed to get as much education as possible to escape the poverty of rural life.
However, it was not until she entered Makerere University to pursue a bachelor's degree in agriculture that she understood the value of agriculture and the need for developing the capacity of this sector to alleviate poverty in her country.
In 2011, as a representative of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in China, Sekitoleko was inspired by the Chinese method of poverty reduction. "Today, under the framework of FOCAC, I'm happy to see China and African countries [have] strengthened [their cooperation] in poverty relief," the rural development professional told Beijing Review.
Out of poverty
According to Justin Yifu Lin, Counselor of the State Council of China and former Chief Economist of the World Bank, when China's reform and opening up started in late 1978, Sub-Saharan Africa's GDP per capita was more than three times that of China. At that time, 84 percent of Chinese people lived on less than $1.25 a day, the international poverty standard.
However, World Bank statistics show that since the reform and opening-up policy began, China has seen a dramatic decrease of its impoverished population. Its poverty rate dropped to 1.9 percent in 2013 from 88.3 percent in 1981.
Over the past four decades, some 700 million rural residents across China have shaken off the yoke of poverty. In 2017, the per-capita yearly disposable income of rural residents in poverty-stricken areas reached 9,377 yuan ($1,359), an increase of more than 50 percent over 2013, according to Liu Yongfu, head of the State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development.
Chinese people have derived great benefits from the country's economic growth due to strong government support, the active promotion of industrialization and urbanization, as well as an emphasis on infrastructure construction in poverty-stricken areas.
In December 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced a poverty reduction program as one of the 10 major China-Africa cooperation plans at the 2015 FOCAC Johannesburg Summit in South Africa. Xi pointed out that China's experience in poverty alleviation could be used to help African countries complete their poverty reduction target.
In recent years, China has made great efforts in sharing its poverty alleviation experience with African countries in areas such as agriculture, technology and skill, and infrastructure construction.
As Sekitoleko realized, in many African countries, developing agriculture and increasing farmers' income are vital to poverty reduction.
According to Josefa Leonel Correia Sacko, Commissioner of Rural Economy and Agriculture of the African Union Commission, Africa has about 600 million hectares of uncultivated arable land, roughly 65 percent of the world's total. However, many African countries are among the most affected globally by food insecurity and low agricultural productivity.
Transforming the agricultural systems in Africa demands the need to empower poor farmers with technology, improve their access to agricultural knowledge and provide them access to markets, according to experts.
The priorities in agricultural cooperation between China and African countries were therefore established during the Johannesburg Summit. This included carrying out agricultural demonstration projects, transferring technologies and cooperating with African countries to increase productivity. Leaders reaffirmed their commitment to collaboration in the agricultural sector at this year's Beijing Summit.
For decades, China's Ministry of Agriculture has been dispatching Chinese agricultural experts and teachers to African countries to provide help in agricultural development. For example, in October 2015, a 10-member mission was sent to Zimbabwe to implement the second bilateral agricultural cooperation program. The experts conducted the first experiment on hybrid rice cultivation in Zimbabwe's history. The six rice varieties tested yielded more than 10 tons per hectare, setting a new record for the country.
Enjoying a demographic dividend, Africa will be home to 200 million young people aged between 15 and 24 by 2025, taking up 20 percent of the total population of the continent, according to data released by the United Nations. However, the lack of skills is still one of the three major bottlenecks in Africa's development, with the twin challenges of backward infrastructure facilities and shortage of funding.
In 2017, Jack Ma, Executive Chairman of Alibaba Group, a multinational technology conglomerate, said Alibaba would work with several African universities in collaboration with governments to develop training programs on e-commerce, the Internet, Big Data and cloud computing. "The objective is to train as many young people as possible across Africa," said Ma.
Moreover, Chinese enterprises are playing a bigger role in helping African countries' capacity building. For example, in Chinese shoemaker Huajian Group's Ethiopia factory, 3,800 of its 4,000 employees are locals. With good training, workers can skillfully complete the full shoemaking process of leather cutting, bonding, sewing and modeling and produce more than 8,000 pairs of shoes daily. Apart from learning advanced shoemaking skills, some of them were sent to China to learn the Chinese language and management skills.
"Capacity building could make a contribution to improving the local workforce quality, helping promote Ethiopia's economic development," said Zhang Yunqi, General Manager of Huajian International Light Industry City (Ethiopia).
According to Liu, China is still facing the heavy task of lifting 30 million people out of poverty, and Africa's poverty reduction task is even tougher. Eliminating poverty for sustainable development is a shared goal and historic task of both Chinese and African peoples.
Liu suggested at the Poverty Reduction and Development Conference that in the following years, China and Africa should strengthen their anti-poverty cooperation in three aspects under the framework of FOCAC. First, the two sides should further communication to share their experiences of poverty alleviation and work together to conduct research in the field. Second, China should continue its help in training poverty relief workers from Africa according to the needs of African countries. Finally, pilot projects should be jointly launched as examples of or technical support for poverty relief efforts.
Copyedited by Francisco Little and Rebeca Toledo
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