Lessons from China and beyond: exploring the opportunities in South-South cooperation

AGRF 2020

Thursday 5th, 2019

South-South cooperation provides a large and growing opportunity to support inclusive agricultural transformation on the African continent. 

Over the past 40 years, China has pursued a successful path of agricultural and economic development that has lifted 700 million of its farmers out of poverty. Something no other country has achieved in such a timeframe. Israel and Brazil also offer valuable lessons on transformation, including advanced, digital-enabled agritech and irrigation and mechanization technology.

By leveraging the experience and learnings of these countries and other regions across the global south, it’s hoped that Africa can accelerate along its own agricultural transformation pathway. 

But why the focus on the global south? According to Dr Peter Carberry, Director General, ICRISAT, there is a long history of bringing northern technologies to Africa which then fail. “It’s not just about tech transfer,” said Dr Carberry. “It has to be appropriate.” 

So, by focusing on lessons and technologies from comparable and suitable southern regions, Africa can maximize opportunities for developmental progress. “What Africa and India have in common is ecology,” explained Dr Carberry. “The same crops growing in the same ecologies.”

Joao Bosco, President of the Africa Brazil Institute, also highlighted the importance of ecological comparability in establishing intercontinental collaborations. “There are so many similarities between Africa and Brazil,” said Bosco. “The climatic conditions are very similar, and we should take advantage of this.” A Brazilian cassava training centre hosting young students from Nigeria was just one example Bosco shared of South-South cooperation in action.

Outlining the remarkable achievements China has made over the last four decades, Prof. Jikun Huang, Economist, from the Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy at Peking University, explained that the reform of institutions, policies and investments (IPIs) has been key to his country’s agricultural transformation. 

Offering valuable insights and examples, Prof Huang described how a clear pathway of IPIs enabled impactful wholesale market investment in China. Targeted investment in food processing, staple food production, diversification and commercialization was also crucial. 

At local level, China prioritized village enterprise development and township expansion. “Now,” said Prof Huang, “every village in China has a demonstration farm for different crops or livestock, with a strong system of peer-to-peer demonstration farming.”

Incentivizing government officials to promote agricultural growth has been another core component of China’s transformation program. 

Offering ideas and perspectives from Israel, Dr Wendy Singer, Executive Director of Start-Up Nation Central, explained that from day one, “building out agriculture infrastructure was a government priority” in her country. The first Israeli Prime Minister was a farmer, she said, which meant there has always been strong government support for agricultural start-ups and pilots. What’s more, “agricultural research in Israel is not theoretic or abstract; it’s targeted at solving real problems.”

But can Africa emulate these examples to achieve its own green revolution and leapfrog into the future? For South-South cooperation to work for Africa, said Mr Bosco, “we need to understand and respect the individuality of each African country. We can’t just ‘plug and play’” and offer a catch-all continental solution. 

Further, vocational training is essential. “We need management alongside tech,” said Bosco. “Big machinery cannot be brought in without the necessary training and instruction.” And the voice of the private sector has to be present alongside government involvement and support. 

But if we do it right, concluded Bosco, “we can achieve South-South cooperation and change people’s lives.”