Current global food shortages, which have been worsened by the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, have led to a serious introspection on how the world can feed itself sustainably.
With shortages and skyrocketing prices reflecting bitter realities of economics characterised by laws of supply and demand, on the one hand, there are attempts to find the best explanations (and excuses) for the crisis.
On the other hand, progressive countries and authorities are looking for solutions.
In the former premise, the situation has been lent to propaganda, with Western countries blaming Russia for the shortages and accusing it of using food as “weapon of war” in its conflict with NATO countries and Ukraine.
Western countries have also previously castigated countries such as India for making strategic decisions on export of grains.
Meantime, various narratives are increasingly painting Africa as susceptible to bearing the brunt of the food crisis situation.
Unfortunately, in all this, very few solutions have been proffered to help the world out of what could be one of its dire crises yet.
To date, only China has proposed the most comprehensive plan to ensure global food security, which stakeholders across the world should consider because of the plan’s wide-ranging scope and applicability as well as emphasis on global synergies and multilateralism.
On July 8, 2022 during the G20 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, in Bali, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi put across eight-point proposal on food and energy security, and put forward a cooperation initiative on global food security on behalf of the Chinese side.
Wang explained that food and energy had an important bearing on the sound performance of the world economy and the effective implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The proposal by China includes, inter alia, supporting the central and coordinating role of the United Nations (UN) and its arms such as Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, and the World Food Programme.
China proposed that there should not be an imposition of export restriction on humanitarian food purchases by the WFP; and that major food-producing and net food-exporting countries should release their own export potential, reduce trade and technical barriers, and control making fuel out of crops, so as to ease the tight food supply in the market.
According to China, emergency measures taken by countries for food trade should be short-term, transparent, targeted and appropriate, and conform to the rules of the World Trade Organization.
Further, China is advocating the support the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research and the cooperation on agricultural science and technology innovation among countries, and reduce restrictions on high-tech exchanges. Related to this, rich countries must help developing countries enhance their capacity for food production, storage and loss reduction in terms of capital, technology, market and others.
Another key solution, according to the submissions by the Chinese envoy, lies in the reduction of food loss and waste.
The most important feature of these proposals is China’s insistence on global cooperation and multilateralism, which speaks to its philosophy – under President Xi Jinping – of fostering a “global shared future”.
This is in deep contrast with the approaches of Western countries that have sought to divide the old, even when faced with dire situation of global food shortages.
Salutarily, in the afore-referenced proposal, China advised against blacklisting commodities from countries such as Russia and Belarus.
China has demonstrated that not interested in playing politics with food.
A local Zimbabwean newspaper this week reported that the country, barely recovering from a hike in food prices and limited access to everyday staples due to transportation difficulties during the COVID-19 pandemic, was suffering the effects of the Ukraine-Russia conflict, which has halted wheat exports out of two countries once ranked among the world’s biggest exporters of the grain.
“Zimbabwe imports about 130 000 tonnes of wheat every year to cover the deficit,” Tafadzwa Musarara, chairperson of the Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe, is quoted as saying of the country’s wheat requirements pegged at 400 000 metric tonnes.
Above wheat, maize is Zimbabwe’s most important grain, with production level of between 2.5 to 2.8 million metric tonnes last year.
The country also produced 360 000 metric tons of traditional grains.
However, the country still has its vulnerabilities, made worse by climate change.
As such, Zimbabwe will benefit from the practical global cooperation framework proposed by China.
China’s proposed initiative is also important in that apart from lofty policy ideals, Zimbabwe and China already cooperate in agriculture and scientific research, as Zimbabwe hosts Chinese agriculture demonstration centre, one of 53 that China has on the continent.
Zimbabwe and China will need to broaden these exchanges and implement solutions to assist Zimbabwe to beat hunger.
On the other hand, China would do well to continue to support relief efforts and drought mitigation through the United Nations.
In 2019, World Food Programme (WFP) and the Government of China signed agreements to provide emergency food assistance to Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe to respond to food insecurity.
Under the framework dubbed South-South Cooperation Assistance Fund, China’s support would enable WFP to procure food including rice, maize, pulses, fortified cereals, vegetable oil for more than 477 000 of the most vulnerable people in these three countries, mainly women and children.
By the following year, China was receiving plaudits for assisting vital food assistance to almost 250 000 people who were affected by cyclone-induced floods and droughts.
China has worked at multilateral, regional and bilateral levels to ensure that it cooperates with other countries in ensuring food security.
As stakeholders debate solutions to global food security challenges, China’s blueprint is demonstrably practical, inclusive and progressive.
Madhake is a researcher on China-Africa affairs based at a Harare-based think tank