A seminar on knowledge sharing in South-South cooperation was held at the UN premises in Beijing on 15 May. ChinAfrica sat down with one of the speakers David Kaatrud, director of Programme – Humanitarian & Development Programme & Policy Department, World Food Programme (WFP), to hear his opinion on global food security situation and the role of South-South cooperation in addressing food security challenges. Edited excerpts of the interview follow.
ChinAfrica: What is the general situation we are facing today regarding food security in the world? How can South-South cooperation help?
David Kaatrud: Unfortunately, we’ve had three or four years of dramatically growing numbers of people in acute food insecurity categories. Last year, about this time of year, we reported 193 million people who were acutely food insecure in 2021, and in 2022, it’s up to over 250 million.
First, we do have to stop this trend and deal with some of the urgent issues because some of these people are really close to starvation and hunger. So, there’s a need to get enough resources to deal with the humanitarian requirements for life-saving activities.
If we don’t do something to reduce those numbers with some longer-term investments, they will only get worse. What we try to do in the WFP and other agencies is to bring in certain measures that can allow for the development of greater agricultural production and greater access to food commodities in the longer term.
This involves the transfer of skills, knowledge and technology, and this can be done through South-South cooperation, because so many of the solutions that have been done in countries like China can be transferred and adapted to those environments in countries of the global South that are feeling these stresses now on food security.
How do you evaluate China’s practice in food production, processing, storage, etc., based on your experience in China during the past days?
China’s history in this regard is vast, and I do learn quite a bit every time I visit the country. This is not my first time visiting China. In the last few days, I’ve learned an awful lot about specific value chains such as cassava and some of the latest thinking. I was also exposed to some of the evolution of that thinking over the past decades and even centuries.
What is clear is that there has been an intention to food security as a priority, the agricultural sector in production as a priority; but we must look at not only producing food, but also what happens after you harvest, taking care of the food in terms of storage and processing to make it ready for actual consumption.
You mentioned the value chain of cassava. We also noticed that in Africa, the WFP has launched China-Africa Rice Value Chain Development Initiative. What is the significance of reinforcing the value chains of agricultural products?
In Africa, the majority of the food is produced by smallholder farmers, as opposed to big industrial agricultural enterprises. These smallholder farmers face a variety of challenges in getting inputs like fertiliser, seed and even fuel. Then, after they’ve produced and harvested, they face a lot of challenges in storing a product like rice and then connecting with the market to eventually get it to the final destination of the consumer.
So, if you look at food system of putting the inputs, putting them into the ground, harvesting and protecting the harvest, taking that to the market, and then, of course, the prices in the market, this is a value chain. The usefulness of looking at it as a value chain is that before, many actors would look only at production, just maximise how much can be produced and not pay attention to how to make sure that it doesn’t get lost from the weather or pests and so forth. And in Africa, still to this day, the figures that we quote in terms of smallholders and what they lose after the harvest is 30 percent or more. In China, it’s way below – just 2 percent or so. Think of all the investment and effort to realise the harvest, only to lose 30 percent.
WFP can help in that chain – primarily in the area of post-harvest losses. We also work in connecting the smallholder farmers to the market so that they can sell their commodities, and consumers can access those at reasonable prices.
The WFP has built the South-South Cooperation Knowledge Sharing Platform in cooperation with China International Communications Group (CICG). How can such platforms promote knowledge sharing among developing countries?
This partnership with CICG has been very strong, and it has led to the initial phase of this knowledge platform for about a year now, where we have posted technical studies, and information on a variety of subjects that are searchable. There are also online facilities for asking questions and getting clarification and so on. But what’s exciting now is we’re beginning to explore offering online courses, e-learning, through this same platform as it really expands now into another phase.
For the moment, we’re posting materials that relate to the interventions that we’re doing through our centre of excellence here in Beijing: reducing post-harvest losses, climate resistant approaches for disaster risk reduction, value chain interventions, and so on. One could see that as this progresses, we will deepen the materials in those particular areas because technology changes; there will be innovation and new material, always, so it evolves.
There are also interesting materials because there’s expertise here in China for dealing with water-stressed environments, another area that I think will develop further because so much of the world, whether it’s Africa, Latin America or Asia, is now affected by climate change and extreme weather conditions, including drought. And there’s a lot of research and useful approaches China has developed that can be shared and transmitted through this platform. So that’s part of deepening the material we already have.
We noticed that some African countries may have food security concerns due to factors such as inflation and drought. What are WFP’s measures to address such concerns?
First, there’s an imperative to provide assistance for lifesaving. And we have, of course, been doing that for decades. And we’re essentially a bit of an international safety net in that regard, working again with local communities and other actors on the ground.
However, as we do that, we can do certain things that can be helpful in the longer term, like if we are moving food to an affected area where the response is going on, we can buy food on the African continent not too far away and help smallholder farmers there, as opposed to importing grain from Australia or Argentina or something.
In terms of the climate issue, there are many techniques in terms of different crops that can be introduced, such as millet that is more drought resistant and climate friendly. Sorghum is another one. This type of crop choice in what we do in terms of our school feeding or some of our programmes is another measure we’re taking to help to ease the situation as well.
African Times (AT News) has published the article in partnership with ChinAfrica Magazine. Helping the Vulnerable– ChinAfrica