NEVIS Review No 21
July 15, 2013
Lessons from China's success in reducing hungerBy José Graziano da Silva
The latest undernourishment figures estimate that there are 868 million hungry people in the world today, 132 million fewer hungry people than there were in 1990/92, a reduction of 13.2 percent.
China is the biggest single factor for this result, having rescued almost 100 million people from hunger, a reduction of 37.6 percent over the past two decades that puts it in track to achieving the Millennium Development Goal of halving the prevalence of hunger by 2015.
The progress that countries have made against hunger and extreme poverty show that we can reach the hunger-free and sustainable world that we are committed. To get there, we need to reinvigorate broad-based economic growth by creating the conditions for development of the productive sectors, including smallholder agriculture. It will also mean designing, financing, and implementing social protection for the most vulnerable since the main cause of hunger today is not insufficient production but lack of access to food.
The experience of China offers valuable lessons in this regard.
Economic growth in China has been rapid for the past three decades. Growth has been especially buoyant in urban areas, but over the past ten years, real incomes have also grown nearly 8 percent per year in rural areas, and there are now signs that the urban-rural gap in incomes is narrowing. Because of this broad-based economic growth, “dollar-a–day” poverty declined from 84 percent in 1981 to just 12 percent in 2009.
China, already known for its manufacturing prowess, has focused attention on boosting agricultural growth. In 2013, China is likely to complete its 10th consecutive year increasing cereal production. Its milk production more than tripled during the last decade. Production of vegetables and fruits were up nearly 60 percent, and meat production rose by 30 percent. All of these rates outstripped population growth (6 percent over the same period), leading to large increases on a per-person basis.
Increased availability of food and improved access to that food through higher incomes help explain the dramatic reduction in the number of malnourished people. Growth across a broad range of food products has also led to improved nutrition. The prevalence of stunting in children under the age of five, a measure of chronic undernourishment, has dropped from more than 30 percent in 1990 to less than 10 percent today.
These achievements have not been inevitable or accidental; a number of key policy reforms and investments have made them possible.
In 2006, China abolished its, agricultural taxes, after more than two and a half millennia. Subsidies have encouraged farmers to adopt modern technologies. At the same time, the government has lifted controls over the buying and selling of grain, allowing agricultural markets to provide greater incentives to stimulate farm outputs.
China has also enhanced research and training in agriculture, and boosted overall investment in the agricultural and rural sectors, including infrastructure.
At the same time, China has worked hard to improve rural social services, with free (and compulsory) education for rural students, a new rural cooperative medical care system that covers 97% of the rural population, and basic living allowances for over 53 million rural people. These safety nets make it possible for the rural poor to take risks in adopting new technologies, thus further spurring economic growth.
Of course, China still has much work to do, if it is to make further economic gains and eradicate poverty and hunger in an environmentally sustainable and equitable manner.
As one of the powerhouses of the world’s economy, many eyes turn to China to see how they have managed such impressive economic growth. This interest also extends to the fields of food security and agriculture.
That is why, in view of China’s rapid growth in agricultural production, consumption and trade, and in the context of the issues the country may face in the future and their implications for the rest of world, OECD and FAO decided to produce a special chapter on China in its 2013-2022 Agricultural Outlook. FAO, OECD and the Chinese Government worked together to produce this chapter of the outlook, publication that will be launched on June 6 2013 in Beijing in a seminar in which the OECD Secretary-General Ángel Gurría and I will attend.
Even though each country is different, I believe that many countries around the world would benefit by taking a closer look at the broad spectrum of investments which China has made in rural areas and has allowed it to make important strides in fighting hunger.
To achieve similar, sustainable results in other countries around the globe, we will all need to work together - governments, civil society and the private sector - in co-operation with the hundreds of millions of men and women who work in farming, fisheries, forestry, and other agriculture-related areas.
To truly make a difference, we must choose policies and investments that will ensure that research and technology – and the opportunities they represent – are accessible to those who need them the most.
(The author is the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.)