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China takes the world stage in fighting hunger

By David Beasley | China Daily | Updated: 2018-11-02 07:03
A farmer reaps crops in a field in Xiaogang village, Anhui province. [Photo/VCG]

With hunger on the rise over the past two years because of conflict and the impact of climate change, the world needs some success stories to keep all of us optimistic and encouraged. China is one of those stories, not just for what it has achieved in the past, but what it is doing now and will do in the future to help the world achieve "Zero Hunger".

I came to China this week as executive director of the World Food Programme to learn about these success stories and form new and stronger partnerships to help us achieve the global goal of Zero Hunger by 2030.

That goal is No 2 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals set out by world leaders and adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015. Getting there will be challenging, but China helps show us a path. With only 9 percent of the globe's arable land, China feeds 20 percent of the world's population, so I know there is something being done right here.

China devotes a great deal of attention to rural students, something that is important for the entire globe. As we know at the WFP, students who have the right nutritional support are ready to learn and more likely to achieve their true potential in the years and decades to come. Since 2011, China's National Nutrition Improvement Program for Rural Compulsory Education has helped 36 million students in rural areas.

The WFP continues to work with China on these efforts. Just this year, we began work on a nutritious lunch project for pre-school age children (ages 3-5) in Hunan province. More than 1,500 children are getting meals through this program, about one-third of the food for these meals comes from local smallholder farmers.

It is this kind of efficiency and focus that has seen 800 million Chinese lifted out of poverty since 1978. The country is working toward an ambitious goal of ending poverty by 2020, 10 years ahead of the No 1 Sustainable Development Goal: No Poverty.

Building on these successes, China is playing a greater role in helping the world learn from its expertise. Africa, plagued by conflict and hunger, has especially benefited from Chinese expertise and aid. China is training young African researchers in agricultural science and encouraging African entrepreneurship in agribusiness. China is also providing agricultural assistance programs across Africa and supporting emergency humanitarian food assistance programs around the globe.

This is what experts call South-South cooperation, and learning more about how the WFP can work more with China on such projects is why I am here this week. What I hear and learn from Changsha in Hunan province when I attend the Ministerial Forum on Global South-South Cooperation in Agriculture will help pave the way for even more work together to defeat hunger.

Well before this week, the WFP's work in 80 countries feeding 91 million people was a major beneficiary of Chinese government support and expertise. And now it is not just the government, as the Chinese private sector is playing a larger role.

The WFP has more than 50 years of experience and expertise across a wide variety of categories, including logistics and a deep knowledge of food security and nutritional needs. And since I became executive director in April 2017, we have focused even more attention on our digital capabilities. Here is where Chinese companies are stepping up to the plate to work with us, in areas such as cloud computing, so we can create even more digital solutions to fight hunger.

One major example for us is the Alibaba Group, which has a mission to leverage its advanced technology for good. I will meet with Alibaba officials this weekend to discuss more work together, especially in ways we can use technology to respond more quickly, efficiently and effectively to emergencies. That kind of work may sound simple, but quicker response when disaster strikes is the difference between life and death in many instances.

Quicker, more efficient, more effective-this is the task ahead for all those fighting hunger. Like China, the world had been making progress against hunger in the past decade, but in the last two years, wars and other conflicts have caused hunger to go back up. The number of severely hungry people-those who do not know where their next meal is coming from-is up 55 percent in two years.

Therefore, world leaders must double their efforts to end conflicts, because without peace, defeating hunger by 2030 will be difficult. But I am an optimist, and I believe we can defeat hunger if the nations of the world work together more closely, apply what they've learned and share experiences and expertise. That's what has been happening with the WFP and China, and I look forward to seeing the next great achievement that's right on the horizon.

The author is executive director of the United Nations World Food Programme.

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