Article by Nigel Brett, Regional Director and Tian Ya, Regional South-South Cooperation Manager of Asia & the Pacific Division at the International Fund for Agricultural Development. The authors contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily.
Five years ago at the 70th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, world leaders unanimously adopted the ambitious Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development. The Agenda was to be accomplished through achieving 17 Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. The SDGs replaced the Millennium Development Goals that would expire at the end of 2015. Among the SDGs, two are directly relevant to the world’s most vulnerable and poorest people, almost all of whom are in developing countries, known as the Global South. These two SDGs are respectively SDG 1″no poverty” and SDG 2″zero hunger”. Both are formidable tasks, but they are achievable if the international community remains committed and united.
Over recent decades, the international community has significantly stepped up efforts to tackle the age-old problem of poverty and made unprecedented progress in poverty reduction. The results are tangible and telling. Data from the UN and the World Bank show that, in 1970, the number of people living in extreme poverty was a record 2.2 billion, equivalent to 59.7 percent of the world’s total population at that time. By 1990, the number of poor people decreased to 1.85 billion, or 36 percent of the total population. The most recent data, for 2015, estimated that roughly 734 million people worldwide－about 10 percent of the population－remained in extreme poverty.
However, progress is highly uneven globally. Some countries, such as China and Vietnam, have made great strides in achieving their poverty reduction objectives. Others, notably countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and in fragile situations, have instead seen limited progress or even an increase in the size of their poor population. Importantly, poverty is largely a rural phenomenon and affects disproportionately certain specific segments of the population. Over 75 percent of the world’s poor people, equivalent to at least 625 million, live in the countryside. Empirical evidence shows that rural women, youth and indigenous peoples are some of the most vulnerable.
As amplified by SDG 17 “partnerships for the goals”, strengthened international cooperation and partnerships are the fundamental pillars for sustainable development including poverty reduction. Cooperation among the Global South, that is, South-South Cooperation, is an integral part of international cooperation, and complements the traditional North-South Cooperation in development assistance. South-South Cooperation enables developing countries to share with each other knowledge, practical experience, development solutions, innovations and investment opportunities. These can be exemplified by the experience of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a UN specialized agency and an international financial institution dedicated to rural poverty reduction.
Enthusiastically advocated by China and other member countries of the IFAD, South-South Cooperation now features prominently in the IFAD’s pro-poor operations. In Vietnam, for example, a project to scale up climate-resilient value chain initiatives is under implementation financed by a China-funded South-South Cooperation facility at the IFAD. Fostering cooperation between Cambodia, China, Laos and Vietnam, the project is facilitating the identification and development of climate resilient value chain initiatives among farmers’ groups, processing units and enterprises. It is also supporting capacity-building and knowledge development on successful climate-smart value chain best practices that can be replicated and scaled up. The South-South Cooperation facility at the IFAD has supported similar field-level poverty reduction operations in African and Latin American countries.
Another useful South-South Cooperation approach is the multi-country knowledge-sharing events. One such example is the Mekong knowledge and learning fair on “Promoting partnerships: smallholder producers with private agribusiness and financial institutions”, held in Bangkok in July last year. The fair was jointly organized by the Thai government and the IFAD, and attracted the participation of more than 150 development professionals, private sector partners, farmer representatives, and government officials from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, as well as some regional organizations and Kenya. The event turned out to be an excellent partnership event for learning and developing solutions that serves the interests of both rural producers and agrifood enterprises in the Mekong sub-region. It shared lessons and innovations, generated common policy issues for actions and converged several partners to improve their development investments for greater impact.
Inter-country learning between developing countries is a sound approach to enhance the development impact on rural poverty reduction. In Pakistan, for example, a seminar held in December last year brought together development practitioners, academics and government officials from Pakistan and China. The seminar introduced and discussed the two countries’ best climate-resilient agricultural practices, with a focus on deforestation/desertification and water management. It generated concrete recommendations in the areas of technical cooperation and exchanges, technical demonstration and piloting, industry building and policy support. These were aimed at creating synergies between the Pakistan-China agricultural cooperation initiative and IFAD-supported projects, to maximize the interests of smallholder farmers in Pakistan.
Among the numerous approaches and practices, these are only a very few examples to showcase South-South Cooperation’s unique, complementary and mutually reinforcing role in the development and rural poverty reduction.
The novel coronavirus outbreak is having unprecedented effects on the global economy. It looks certain that the decade-long trend in sustained poverty reduction will reverse in 2020, potentially undoing the global progress made so far in poverty reduction and threatening to aggravate the already declining food security. Effectively coping with the unparalleled global challenges caused by the global health crisis will require much greater international cooperation. The pandemic will eventually come to an end, but the road to full recovery is bound to be a long one. In the post-pandemic era, the world’s poorest people deserve to have the decent livelihoods promised in the Agenda 2030. Only by showing greater solidarity and reinforcing all forms of cooperation including South-South Cooperation can the international community successfully deliver that goal.
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