Opening remarks by the IFAD Country Director and Representative for China & Mongolia at the "China International Poverty Reduction Forum" - Beijing, 23 May 2018
Distinguished Mr Chen Zhigang,
Distinguished Mr Feng Zhenghui,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Ni Hao/ Good morning
It is a great pleasure for me to be here to share my views on how partnering and sharing knowledge can contribute to achieve sustainable development.
Let me start by recognizing the enormous progress that humanity has made towards eradicating poverty and achieving sustainable development.
If you consider there were about 1.8 billion people living in poverty in 1990 and only half of them today, we must acknowledge the enormous progress we collectively made in reducing poverty and pursuing sustainable development over the past thirty years.
Yet, about 800 million people still live in poverty and are food insecure [836 m and 815 m respectively]. This is about the population of the European Union and the US together.
In response to this challenge, the world has committed to eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable development by 2030.
However -- even without taking into consideration the effects of new and unpredictable challenges such as climate change, conflicts, pandemics, etc. -- if the current trends persists, we already know that the development objectives we set for ourselves will not be achieved, and that – by 2030 – about 240 million people will still be living in poverty, and about 345 million people will be food unsecure.
But who are these poor?
We know that about ¾ of them live in rural areas, are smallholders, and depend on smallholder agriculture for their livelihoods.
It is thus intuitive that we need to focus on addressing the problems in the rural areas if we want to achieve our sustainable development objectives.
Experience worldwide show that agricultural development and inclusive rural transformation are cost-effective means to address poverty and inequality, and that investing in agricultural and rural development has a number of payoffs across most of the sustainable development goals (SDGs):
A growing and transforming rural sector in fact generates multiplying effects in the rural economy, creating on-farm and off-farm opportunities that – in turn - provide new opportunities for the rural population.
It thus does make sense to invest in rural areas to reduce poverty and pursue sustainable development.
However (according to the Rural Development Report, the IFAD's flagship publication on relevant topics in agricultural and rural development), it's not automatic that investments in rural areas do automatically translate in poverty reduction. For rural transformation to be inclusive and truly benefit the poor, certain conditions have to happen:
An enabling policy and regulatory framework has to be put in place, institutions must acquire the adequate capacity to implement changes, there must be a right mix of policies and investments, etc.
In this context, the case of China is, in many respects, exemplary.
Forty years ago China was a prevailing rural/agricultural-based economy: more than 80% of the population lived in rural areas; 70% of the population was employed in the agricultural sector, and agriculture contributed to 30% of the GDP.
More than 800 million people (or 88% of the population) lived below the poverty line.
The story is well known by everyone. Thanks to a series of policy reforms (the land reform and the establishment of the Household Responsibility System, the market reform and trade liberalization, the fiscal and administrative decentralization – among other reforms), and thanks to a series of investments, both productive investments (roads, irrigations, etc.) and social investments (in health and education), China is today close to eradicate poverty and hunger, and has significantly improved most of the human development indicators among its population.
Given these achievements, the question is:
How can China contribute to the global efforts and commitment of ending poverty and hunger, and achieve sustainable development in the next decade?
And how can China participate and contribute to the global efforts of building a 'peaceful, safe and prosperous world', in line with President Xi Jiping's vision for China?
We all know that ODA (Oversea Development Assistance) will be insufficient to meet the financial requirements to meet the SDGs: the requirements are far beyond the available public funds [it is estimated that as much as USD 4.5 trillion per annum are required to eradicate poverty and meet the SDGs].
Technology (transfer of technologies) can only represent a partial solution to attain the SDGs, as development is not only (or it is far more than) a technological problem that can be addressed with a technological solution.
The answer is "knowledge", in the broad sense of the term.
Better knowledge (better awareness, better know-how, better information…) leads to better decisions, which leads to better outcomes. Development is about having an adequate set of knowledge to take the right decisions.
Since the 1950s, when international development cooperation started, a central question in development has been how knowledge can be best generated, shared, and used/adopted – for the sake of human development.
As I mentioned earlier, China' successful experience in reducing poverty, and advance human development has generated a bulk of knowledge that China can share to the rest of the developing world. This knowledge could be the immediate, tangible contribution that China can make to the global commitment to end poverty and achieve sustainable development by 2030.
In this context, the Global Portal for Inclusive Growth & Poverty Reduction (GPIG) - and, as part of the Global Portal, the Global Poverty Reduction Knowledge Sharing Database - are concrete contributions that China made towards sharing knowledge, reducing knowledge gaps, and address information problems -- or, in other words, to promote knowledge for development.
However, an important element that makes in my view these knowledge sharing tools (the Portal and the Database) particularly valuable is that they have been built with the contribution of many partners.
Knowledge is not a prerogative of a single organization or of a single institution. Nowadays, no organization can claim to possess the entire knowledge on a specific topic, and the value of a knowledge sharing tool is how participatory and inclusive it is.
Knowledge cooperation, partnering for knowledge sharing are thus necessary to achieve results.
And in this context, we appreciate and praise the organization of this Annual Forum as a moment to gather different partners that share the same commitment to ending poverty and offering them the opportunity to share their knowledge and experience.
Let me conclude by sharing how my organization, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), actively contributes to the global knowledge agenda.
IFAD, an international financing institution and UN agency that provides concessional loans and grants to developing countries to finance rural development projects and programs, has progressively moved towards being a knowledge institution as much as a financial institution.
IFAD generates knowledge from its projects by systematically reporting on the results of its activities. IFAD systematically measures (through rigorous, scientific impact assessments) the attributable impact of its operations.
It actively promotes innovation, learning from innovation, and sharing knowledge through its grant program. About 6.5% of IFAD program resources, or about US$ 600-700,000 per annum, are granted as grants to support research and knowledge generation.
IFAD regularly publishes the Rural Development Report, which provides evidence-based analysis of topics related to rural development processes.
Finally, IFAD is about to launch the Rural Solutions Portal, a web-based knowledge-sharing platform that collects a number of successful rural development solutions (innovations, technologies, processes, etc.), promoting knowledge sharing and peer-to-peer learning.
The Rural Solution Portal will be linked to the Global Portal for Inclusive Growth & Poverty Reduction, providing another example of partnering for knowledge sharing.
Let me conclude by quoting an African proverb that in my view well captures the spirit of this Forum: "Knowledge is the only thing you can give away entirely without running out of it".
I thank you for your attention, and wish you a fruitful workshop. Xie Xie.