MA XUEJING/CHINA DAILY
South-South agricultural cooperation is a collective action to provide common-pool resources
Since the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, South-South cooperation has been an important kind of collective action to provide common-pool resources (CPR) as global commons. Improvement of agricultural productivity and food nutrition is in great need.
In sub-Sahara Africa, there is an undernourished population of 1.02 billion. In the 1980s, a research team led by Li Xiaoyun, a professor from China Agricultural University carried out systematic participatory field research into rural development in villages in Liberia, Tanzania and Zambia to explore ways to tackle poverty. In 2009, a comparative field study between China and Africa was launched. After that, two consecutive projects were implemented--a maize enhancement project and a maize-soybean inter-cropping project--with the aim to help tackle the problems of poverty, malnutrition and hunger.
As South-South collective action toward the Sustainable Development Goals of poverty reduction, zero hunger, nutrition for health and well-being, and global partnerships, the projects have three key factors driving their progress of mutual trust, common values and reflexive learning.
First of all, mutual trust has been gained based on agronomic sciences, participatory research and experimental facts. A set of six-procedure low-cost labor-intensive agronomic technologies were introduced, namely soil preparation, high-quality local seed selection, sowing with tether ranging, thick planting, and close spacing, thinning with one seedling in each hole, fertilizing in a controlled way and weeding three times per quarter. When the project plan was first carried out in 2011, only one agricultural extension worker would like to have a try, insisting on cultivating a small plot of public land in Pea Pea village in Kilosa District, instead of using his own land. After one year, this experimental plot's output had doubled. Later, more demonstration farmers were enrolled. After a decade's efforts, there were a total of 1,432 demonstration farmers in 10 villages of seven districts in Morogoro Region, Tanzania, cultivating 1,667 acres. China's agronomic technologies have been recognized locally and been shared as a public good, based on hard data, confidence and mutual trust.
Second, common values have been established during the cross-cultural interactions and communications. A Merit-Based Public Management System was proposed in Wa Simba village, to emphasize the governments' roles to encourage all stakeholders to actively participate in the project. The meticulous management made a big difference from the traditional practices. By applying training sessions, competitions, prize-awarding ceremonies, etc, suitable standards and benchmarks were set for "best practices" among real-life cases. Besides, information communication technology is significant for networking effects. Social media and online meeting apps, such as WeChat, Zoom, Webex, DingTalk, TikTok and YouTube, have been indispensable and effective in sustaining the China-Africa communications, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through transnational exchanges of views on increasing agricultural crop productivity, common values such as "by working with our own hands, ample food and clothing can be attained" were formed.
Third, reflexive learning takes place within the collaborative innovation networks. The projects could not have been successful without the support of both the Chinese and Tanzanian governments, including the central government of Tanzania, the Morogoro regional administrative secretariat, district councils and 10 villages. Coordination between the Morogoro regional administrative secretariat and district councils was a prerequisite for local field research and plantation trials. Together with Sokoine University of Agriculture, China Agricultural University tentatively selected the locally-adapting technologies in a "learning by doing" approach together with local farmers, which was tailor-made, innovative, and dynamically adjusted according to varying situations. With the guidance and assistance of local agricultural technology extension workers, farmers could acquire the relevant know-how and push the projects steadily toward their goals. It's a co-evolutionary process of "coexistence" and "win-win", just like the "maize-soybean" inter-cropping rationale, a "co-evolving" way to make full use of the land, sunshine, ventilation, insects, secretion, to form an ecological system to prevent risks of natural disaster, crop failure, and to increase farmers' incomes in one planting season.
Li Li is an associate professor at the College of International Development and Global Agriculture/China Institute of South-South Agricultural Cooperation, China Agricultural University. Xu Xiuli is a professor and dean of the division. The authors contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
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