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Poverty reduction contributes to better human rights

By Li Lei | China Daily | Updated: 2023-09-20 10:59

Wensu county in Aksu, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, is preparing for its walnut harvest. Wensu walnuts are popular for their premium quality, and are also exported overseas, including Iran and Turkiye. [Photo/chinadaily.com.cn]

Chinese rural researchers have highlighted how poverty reduction and farmer-empowering programs launched by the Chinese government and colleges have bolstered human rights in remote parts of China and beyond.

The comments were made at an international webinar held on Tuesday on the sidelines of the 54th regular session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, which opened on Sept 11 and will run till Oct 13 in Geneva, Switzerland.

It came in the wake of yearslong pandemic disruptions, and overshadowed by the Russia-Ukraine conflict and increasingly frequent extreme weather events, which have made food supply less secure globally.

While addressing the event, Rehangul Imam, council member of China Ethnic Minorities' Association for External Exchanges and an associate professor at Northwest Minzu University, spoke about the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, which not long ago was home to some of China's most intractable poverty.

"Due to historical and natural factors, Xinjiang had been relatively underdeveloped for a long time," she said at the webinar titled "Community Initiatives on Food Sovereignty as Right to Development". It was organized by the China NGO Network for International Exchanges, alongside the United Kingdom's Sikh Human Rights Group.

Rehangul said the anti-poverty drive launched by the central government has lifted 2.73 million Xinjiang residents out of absolute poverty, and more than 3,600 villages formerly labeled as being impoverished have changed their fates as a result.

To make that happen, authorities fostered a sprawling network of fruit-growing operations, processing plants and other labor-intensive workshops, which employed large numbers of less skilled workers and women and improved their financial standing.

Over the past decade, Xinjiang has managed to build up modern industries surrounding its specialties, such as rice and nang bread, which locals have made for generations for razor-thin profits. However, powered by e-commerce, integrated with tourism and sold with a trademark, such specialties are generating much more revenue, she said.

Rehangul said such efforts are translating into better living standards for locals, which have manifested in a lower Engel's Coefficient — a measure of the percentage of income allocated for food purchases — and more meat in their diet.

Li Li, an associate professor at the China Agricultural University, shared how her employer has been involved in poverty-curbing efforts around the globe.

A program led by her colleague Li Xiaoyun, a rural development expert, has helped soybean yields triple in an impoverished part of Tanzania and helped address protein deficiency besetting local farmers with soybean-related products.

The researchers called for the nongovernmental actors, such as universities, to play bigger roles in curbing hunger and dire poverty.

Rehangul said civil society is playing an increasingly pivotal role on those fronts and said more exchanges among nongovernmental entities were needed to address issues such as hunger and malnutrition.

Zhu Jingfang, a researcher with the China NGO Network for International Exchanges, said that international civil society working in tandem can promote fair and sustainable food security for all humankind, address food supply challenges, and make greater contributions to building a world without hunger and poverty.

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