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By Katie Taft

The American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Our best thoughts come from others.” This resonates with what I have heard in China during the Fourth South-South Cooperation Workshop on rural development and poverty reduction.
Attendees at the Fourth South-South Cooperation
Workshop, held in Beijing, China.
While the workshop in Beijing has focused on countries sharing experiences and highlighting solutions for agricultural development, many of the participants say they are also taking away a new mind set.

“The size of the fruits and vegetables we saw on the field visit represents not just high yields, but for me, it represents the commitment of the Chinese Government to support their rural areas,” said Syed Bilal Khisro, who works with Pakistan’s Planning and Development Department. “This is not just an event but something we want to continue, so that we can see our own fruits from these exchanges,” he added.

Food security and markets
Workshop participants came from 12 countries across Africa and Asia to learn about how China has been able to pull more than 500 million people out of poverty over the past 30 years by developing its agriculture sector.

“The world has an interest in seeing countries like China feed themselves,” said Adolfo Brizzi, Director of IFAD’s Policy and Technical Advisory Division, which supported the workshop along with China’s Ministry of Finance. “At a time when food security and agricultural commodity prices have become an international issue, it is important that large countries like China can ensure their own food security and be a stabilizing factor in international markets.”
Adolfo Brizzi, Director of IFAD’s Policy and Technical
Advisory Division, speaks at the South-South Cooperation
Workshop. © IFAD/Katie Taft

During seven days together, workshop attendees engaged with leaders from the government and the private sector, as well as researchers and academics, to explore how China is organizing small farmers into cooperatives and linking them to local and national markets. Many of the participants presented their own country experiences, describing best practices for rural development in Indonesia, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Sri Lanka.

‘An idea whose time has come’
As Wu Jinkang, Deputy Director General of the International Department at China’s Ministry of Finance, told me, this kind of sharing is exactly what south-south cooperation is about. It is a mutually beneficial exchange. And it goes beyond technical issues, to advance thinking and learning from the realities that national governments face as they work to properly support smallholder farmers.

“We learned a lot from the participants,” he said, “like the participant from Nigeria who shared how his country’s focus on oil production has hurt its agricultural production, which is important for China to remember.”

IFAD’s Country Programme Manager for China, Sana Jatta, agreed. “I believe it was Victor Hugo who said that ‘even an army cannot step on an idea whose time has come,’” Jatta noted. “The time has come for south-south cooperation. We must gather together and use this process as a way to promote smallholder farmers as businesses. I have seen this in China, and I look forward for this idea to grow.”