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China’s achievements for food security and poverty alleviation are extraordinary: FAO expert

By Han Shuo, Xian Jiangnan (People's Daily Online)    17:27, November 23, 2020

Rice-fish culture dates back over 4000 years as the earliest example of aquaculture, and yet remains a relevant practice that increases income and decreases negative environmental impacts. (Photo credit: FAO)

China has made extraordinary achievements in food security and alleviation of poverty, both within the country and around the world, Dr. Matthias Halwart, Head of Aquaculture Branch of Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, said in a recent interview with People’ s Daily.

“China has lifted more than 700 million people out of poverty, which represents over 70 percent of global poverty reduction. The Chinese government has made poverty alleviation a national priority, promising to wipe out extreme poverty by 2020, ten years earlier than the deadline set by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” the expert said, adding that China has become the “undisputed global leader in aquaculture development”.

The FAO official’s work on integrated farming systems in China began in the 1990s, with field work starting in 2001. After studying the value of aquatic biodiversity from rice fields for local households and communities of the Dai ethnic group in Xishuangbanna prefecture, southwest China’s Yunnan Province, Halwart found that the “innovative approaches to conserve the essential aquatic biodiversity and at the same time to upscale fish farming” have resulted in life-changing improvements to local people’s well-being.

Learning, studying and teaching hand-in-hand with those people as they make their living farming their terraced fields left Halwart with powerful memories. “I keep a framed poster of our work above my office desk so that I am reminded often,” he said.

As it turned out, his work on fisheries and aquaculture development continued to bring Halwart back to China regularly over the years. More recently, in 2017, he worked with local partners on a regional workshop on integrated agriculture aquaculture, during which participants from Bangladesh, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Philippines and Vietnam gathered to discuss and share lessons through meetings and visits to field sites in Yunnan’s Honghe County.

Impressed by the concept of “targeted poverty alleviation” put forward by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, Halwart noted that “targeted poverty alleviation” covers all aspects of human life including improved education, jobs, incomes, social insurance, medical services, cultural life and living conditions, and importantly also addresses the environment”, which is key for achieving the SDGs.

Citing rice-fish farming as an example, the official said the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs has been promoting this model in China, seeing it as a contribution to the “targeted poverty alleviation” as well as the policy of “one village one product”.

Following its recognition as a Globally Important Agriculture Heritage System (GIAHS), rice-fish farming has become a significant model in China’s rural areas, promoting organic rice, fish and their various products, as well as ecological tourism, he noted.

According to Halwart, FAO and Shanghai Ocean University jointly organized two international symposia on integrated rice and fish systems in 2018 and 2019. “Given the big upscaling potential of these systems beyond China, recent developments and innovations are shared with representatives from other rice-producing countries, also from Africa and Latin America,” he noted.

Last year, FAO signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Chinese Academy of Fisheries Sciences, and activities will cover a range of systems and farming practices from integrated freshwater to coastal and marine systems, he added.

The FAO official also commended China’s active involvement in FAO’s Hand-in-Hand Initiative, which is “an evidence-based, country-led and country-owned initiative to accelerate agricultural transformation and sustainable rural development to eradicate poverty and end hunger and all forms of malnutrition”.

‘Sharing of successful Chinese aquaculture development stories and lessons will definitely help shape the vision and attract the interest of the stakeholders from government, business, academia and civil society,’ said Halwart, adding that he greatly looks forward to returning to China next year as one of the conveners of FAO Members’ requested Global Conference on Aquaculture Millennium+20, the fourth such conference held only every 10 years, and to work in the collective fight for sustainable development, food security and poverty alleviation.

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(Web editor: Xian Jiangnan, Bianji)

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