By Siddharth Chatterjee
Resident Coordinator of the United Nations in China
Terraced rice farms in Southern China
On May 14, 2021, a conversation titled "SDG Partnership Platform: Towards Rural Revitalization and Food Systems Transformation in China and Beyond" was conducted by the UN system in China in cooperation with the Embassy of Ireland in China.
In this meaningful moment, multiple stakeholders with different visions from government, international organizations, academia, think tanks, and the private sector convened and connected to exchange ideas on the issue of food security.
SDG Partnership Platform: Towards Rural Revitalization and Food Systems Transformation in China and Beyond
With the ability to bring to bear high-level Chinese government officials from bodies such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Agricultural and Rural Affairs, and the National Rural Revitalization Administration, the UN system in China in this event showcases its unique position to enable a new arena of partnerships in this vital public policy area.
As the old saying goes in China, "For a country, people are the most important; for its people, food; and as for food, safety."
Agricultural development has been a top priority for China throughout its' history. The emphasis on building a more robust food system became even more evident with its' rise as China's population expanded to 1.4 billion people.
Over the past four decades, China has made remarkable achievements in poverty reduction, lifting over 750 million people from extreme poverty. This outcome could not have happened without a stable food system, with poverty reduction closely related to food security.
This truth is reflected by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals adopted by all UN Member States in 2015 and the centrality of the first and second goals of 'No Poverty' and 'Zero Hunger'.
The COVID-19 pandemic has endangered and hampered decades of socio-economic progress. According to the World Bank, the number of people pushed into extreme poverty is estimated to rise to 150 million by 2021. In addition, the World Food Programme estimates that 296 million people in 35 countries now face a shortage of food.
The pandemic revealed the deep inequalities and fragilities of the world. Similarly, adverse consequences such as disruption of availability and accessibility in the international food market emphasize the importance of food as a vital resource.
Considering this context, attendees discussed the shift in focus towards achieving stability in China's 14th Five-Year Plan and its' emphasis on rural revitalization and food production capacity as critical development objectives.
In her opening remarks it was the Ambassador of Ireland to China, Ann Derwin, who said “No government is able to address these exceptional global challenges – particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change – alone”.
Opening Remarks by
Opening Remarks byAnn Derwin, Ambassador of Ireland to China
With less than ten years to achieve the SDGs in the Decade of Action, the task ahead requires us to flip the orthodoxy with determined political will, bold public policy, and new partnerships in deep alignment with the 2030 Agenda.
As former UNFPA Representative and UN Resident Coordinator in Kenya, I witnessed how the UN family, along with Huawei (China), Merck (USA), Philips (Netherlands), GlaxoSmithKlein (UK), Safaricom (Kenya) and Kenya Health Care Federation forged a public-private partnership in this spirit.
This partnership supported the Government's efforts to reduce maternal deaths in some remote and highest-burden counties. There was close to a one-third reduction in maternal mortality in these counties. This partnership hailed as a best practice when invited to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
These efforts, which promoted collaboration and the use of emerging technologies, formed the basis of the UN Kenya SDG Partnership Platform launched in 2017 by the then Foreign Minister of Kenya at the UN General Assembly.
With innovation now advancing development processes, what China has achieved in decades can be completed in Africa in a significantly shorter time frame. Still, all parties must work together to catalyse and enable potential progress.
“We hold this belief that agriculture must be put at the forefront in China’s opening up and international cooperation priorities”, said Sui Pengfei, Director General for International Cooperation of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, during his intervention at this conversation.
Speech bySui Pengfei, Director General for International Cooperation of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs
The prospect for a new iteration of this SDG Partnership Platform facilitated by UN China is a potential opportunity to advance the cause of rural revitalization in China while helping the world achieve sustainable development in agriculture.
As discussed during the conversation, the transformation of food systems is a critical topic for China and other developing countries, especially in Africa.
Over 40 per cent of Africa's agricultural produce is wasted every year due to post-harvest loss. Africa should be the world's breadbasket, yet it imports nearly US 60-70 billion dollars of food. There is massive potential for agribusiness in Africa, which will rise to US 1 trillion dollars by 2030.
Here, China can make significant contributions to realizing a better and more prosperous world as envisioned in the ‘2030 Agenda', which can and should be shared with the world, focusing on the Global South.
In a recent example of Chinese know-how and work with relevant partners in action, high yield Chinese hybrid rice in the fields of Mozambique have set new national records, achieving production yields more than six times the national average.
As we enter a new post-pandemic era, full of challenges, we must envisage similar actions in a renaissance of multilateralism to respond to our global challenges.
At the recently concluded 'Boao Forum for Asia', four development deficits were highlighted, health, infrastructure, green, and digital. As I stated at the time, addressing these deficits will require us to close the deficit in trust and the deficit in multilateralism.
Closing these deficits with new public-private partnerships as envisaged by the proposed UN China SDG Partnership Platform, can unlock human potential for each side, create more public good and benefit the world.
Just as President Xi emphasized food security in China and the concept of 'China's grain, China's rice bowl', let us start this journey and work with hands joined together to ensure the world's grain and rice bowl.