China helps meet goal of food for all

By Su Qiang (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-02-01 07:14

It is a remarkable achievement that China, with only 7 percent of the world's arable land, is able to feed its 1.3 billion peope a quarter of the global population.

And, while working for more accomplishments at home, China is also reaching out to help other countries overcome disadvantages.

In an exclusive interview with China Daily last week, Victoria Sekitoleko, Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) representative in China, Mongolia and the Democratic People Republic of Korea, not only spoke highly of what China had achieved, but also had high expectations of China meeting more challenges ahead.

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The most important feature of the food market in 2006 was the surge in the price of cereals, in particular wheat and maize, which had reached levels not seen for a decade.

Poor harvests in key producing countries, especially in drought-stricken Australia, and a growing demand for biofuels, which consumed a large slice of the agricultural produce, were the main factors that hit the grain markets.

"Considering China's strategy of grain self-sufficiency, and the fact that it can feed its large population testifies how important a role China has played in stabilizing the world food market," she said.

China's recent move to stabilize grain prices by pouring State reserves into the market should be recommended, she said.

But given the fact that today more than 23 million rural people in China are still poor, Sekitoleko warned poverty eradication is a long-term battle and has an influence far beyond borders.

A drop of 1 percentage point in China's grain output means extra imports of nearly 5 million tons or 2.5 percent of the world's total grain trade volume.

"Therefore, food security in China is more than just economics and trade," she said.

In spite of three consecutive years of bumper harvests, China's grain production could only meet 97 percent of the nation's need. Stockpiles and imports will ensure that there will be no threat to food security in the short term, even though consumption has been outpacing production.

"China's food supply will become a more pressing problem in the long run because of an irreversible increase in food demand as a result of population and income growth as well as accelerating urbanization," she said.

Lack of arable land, water resources, capital and support services, particular for those living in the remote areas, have increased the difficulties in poverty relief, she said.

FAO will continue to support China in the implementation of coherent and effective programs, and for the mobilization of domestic and external financing, she said.

"But I am confident that with the necessary political will and the synergies of all forces, China will be able to rise to the challenges of economic development and rural poverty in this new millennium," Sekitoleko said.

The confidence comes from not only what China has achieved within its own borders, but also what it is contributing to the world.

China has much to offer and many practical and cost-effective technologies in various technical fields can be shared by other developing countries, she said.

And "China is very supportive of FAO's food program China does what it promises," Sekitoleko said.

"If we follow the steps, we will reach goals set by our two sides."

Sekitoleko was referring to a letter of intent signed between China and FAO last May, which includes providing at least 3,000 experts and technicians within 6 years to help improve the productivity of small-scale farmers and fishermen in developing countries.

The South-South Cooperation initiative is part of the FAO's Special Program for Food Security (SPFS) designed to improve lives in some of the world's poorest countries by rapidly increasing food production, improving people's access to food and reducing their vulnerability to climatic events such as droughts and floods. China is a major player in this initiative.

"With its rich experience in cutting down the number of people living in poverty, China has become an international platform for exchange and collaboration on poverty reduction among developing countries," Sekitoleko said.

Up to now, more than 700 Chinese experts have been sent to about 20 countries. In addition, China also provides tools and equipment for the technologies being introduced by its experts.

Following the agreement or FAO/China Strategic Alliance for South-South Cooperation, China has carried out its duties by disseminating detailed information of the initiative to many developing countries through diplomatic missions and important events such as the Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, which was held last October in Beijing, she said.

On February 6, officials from the FAO, Ministries of agriculture and commerce and all African ambassadors in Beijing will share their views to ensure a smooth implementation.

"We have sent invitation letters to all African ambassadors in Beijing and are looking forward to a full and fruitful discussion," she said.

Sekitoleko, however, is concerned about the state of world food market and the way food aid is managed and delivered, although the FAO is expecting international wheat prices to return to more moderate levels.

"Once the market gets past the present uncertainties associated with the short-term supply and crop prospects in the southern hemisphere countries, focus will shift to the new crops in the hemisphere," she said, adding that the sharp increase in winter plantings and good growing conditions have raised expectations for a strong rebound in this year's harvests.

But good grain harvests do not ensure there would be fewer hungry people in the world.

In the latest edition of its annual report, the State of Food and Agriculture, FAO says attention should be paid to the timing and targeting of food aid, warning that it could distort local markets especially if it arrives at the time when local crops are being harvested or it reaches people who do not actually need it.

The world's leading donors spend as much as half their food aid budgets on domestic processing and shipping by national carriers, according to research quoted by the report.

International food aid currently provides about 10 million tons of commodities a year worth about $2 billion to about 200 million people, with roughly a third of the global food aid budget, or $600 million being spent in donor countries and never reaching beneficiaries.

"The receiving countries are telling the giving countries: 'Don't give us physical food aid because it is our market', while donor nations say that they could only produce these food, and they don't have the money," she said.

"So that is not going to be easy but we are confident that sooner or later, we are going to find a solution."

(China Daily 02/01/2007 page12)

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