food security in ChinaFor about 65% of the Chinese population, rice is the most essential part of a good diet. In fact, rice is a key part of food security in China. For thousands of years, families in China have farmed rice in large fields called paddies.  Surprisingly, the methods for growing and harvesting have remained the same for thousands of years with farmers still using hand cultivation and livestock-drawn plows. In recent years, soil salinity and overuse of fertilizers have presented challenges to rice production, and thus, food security in China. Fortunately, a Chinese scientist has discovered a way to revolutionize food security through a type of grain called “sea rice.”

How Does Rice Grow?

Fresh, clean water is absolutely essential to rice cultivation and farmers construct rice paddies with that in mind. The rice paddies are made with a relatively watertight subsoil on the bottom and at the borders. This allows for the paddy to hold around five inches of water for most of the growing season. Because the rice-growing field must stay flooded for months on end, if it is not naturally filled with rain or floodwater, it must be irrigated. Rice is also very sensitive to soil salinity (salt content) and pH (acid/base content), and as such, rice cannot grow in what agronomists refer to as saline-alkali soil — earth that is too salty and chemically basic.

Why is Rice Farming in Trouble?

Unfortunately, China has a large amount of this saline-alkali land that cannot be used for agriculture, spanning about 100 million hectares. That is a little more than 386,102 square miles; roughly the size of Egypt.

There is currently a lack of food security in China. According to the World Food Programme, around 150.8 million people endure malnourishment in China. Further, more than 186 million people face the impacts of floods and other crop-destroying national disasters.

Additionally, Chinese farmers have dramatically. increased the amount of fertilizer use in recent decades. As of 2014, the average application rate was 434.3 kg/hectare, which is almost twice the internationally recognized safe upper limit. This plays into a vicious cycle; such excessive long-term use of fertilizer turns previously fertile land saline-alkali, providing an incentive to use even more fertilizer to meet previous productivity levels.

Discovery of Sea Rice

Since the 1950s, there has been a consensus among scientists that these problems could be fixed if farmers could grow rice in saline-alkali soil. In 1986, a Chinese scientist named Chen Risheng finally had a breakthrough. While studying mangrove trees at a beach, he stumbled across a single green stalk sticking out of the ground.

Against all odds, there was a wild rice plant actually growing in saline-alkali soil. Chen collected around 500 grains and began a painstakingly precise breeding process. By 1991, that breeding resulted in about 3.8 kg of precious salt-tolerant grains. Chen named his cultivar “sea-rice 86” and continued selecting, planting and harvesting the seeds for years.

The result? A variety of rice with remarkably valuable characteristics. Chen’s research confirmed that sea-rice 86 (also called SR86) can be planted in heavily saline-alkali soil for six years. Not only does the rice survive but it also improves the soil quality in half that time. This variety of rice can withstand up to three times the amount of salt than other strains.

SR86 is also more resistant to flooding and waterlogging, and in strong conditions, the stem does not break as easily. Thus, the strain is less delicate and more resistant to natural disasters in comparison to regular rice varieties. This rice does not require fertilizer, it is naturally resistant to pests and disease. Furthermore, it is significantly more nutritious than other major rice strains.

Recent Progress with Sea Rice

Since the discovery of SR86, scientists have been working to identify the exact genes that make it so desirable. These efforts have been largely successful, and now, the scientific community has a starting point for future projects involving genetic rice modification as they now know the precise genes that give SR86 its astounding properties. In this way, sea-rice 86 has the potential to strengthen food security in China.

Currently, SR86 and other salt-resistant rice strains have yet to be introduced into the mainstream farming community and market, although rapid progress is in motion. In the autumn of 2021, the Chinese district of Jinghai (a location filled with saline-alkali soil) was able to harvest more than 100 hectares of salt-resistant rice.

The research team that led the harvest has since received 400,000 hectares for the purpose of continuing farming and observation. Additionally, the team is confident that it will be able to cultivate salt-resistant rice across 6.7 million hectares by October 2031.

Risheng, the original pioneer of SR86, has also expressed a desire to turn the area where he found the original rice plant into a preserve where SR86 can be grown all over the beach as a permanent commemoration of the advent of sea rice.

500 Grains Toward Food Security

It is strange to think that a single stalk of rice could provide such a natural solution to enhance food security in China. Because of one plant, the Egypt-sized portion of Chinese land now has agricultural potential. In the future, people will have access to a grain that does not waste freshwater, improves the quality of the soil it grows in, stands strong against the elements, needs no fertilizer and is very nutritious. SR86 provides agronomists today with the tools necessary to solve tomorrow’s problems regarding food security in China.

– Mia Sharpe
Photo: Flickr

China’s Global Development Initiative
China has proposed global goals for improving the process of global development amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping at the opening of the 76th session of the U.N. General Assembly in September 2021, China’s Global Development Initiative (GDI) has support from nearly 100 countries and international organizations. Zhang Jun, China’s permanent representative to the United Nations has emphasized that the initiative is just one action of many that will accelerate the U.N. 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

The U.N. 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has ambitious goals of eradicating poverty and hunger everywhere, combating inequalities, building inclusive societies, promoting human and gender equality and more by 2030. While these goals are hefty and require immense work, China’s Global Development Initiative is opening doors for the U.N.’s 2030 Agenda to become a reality.

In China’s initiative, the goals of “re-prioritizing development, renewing commitments to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), revitalizing global partnerships and reactivating development cooperation” are consistent with the U.N.’s Agenda. Many working with the U.N. greatly support China’s goals. For example, U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed has remarked that China’s Global Development Initiative will keep the U.N. 2030 Agenda’s pledge of leaving no one behind.

What is China’s GDI?

As with the U.N.’s Sustainable Development agenda, China’s Global Development Initiative involves international cooperation and efforts to support less developed countries, especially those the pandemic hit particularly hard. For example, the initiative’s goals could include alleviating poverty, managing food security, aiding COVID-19 support, financial development, green development and more.

To make the goals successful, the GDI will work with other organizations and countries to build a community-based network to assist struggling countries. Building strong networks will allow the performance and value of countries to flourish. The organization is only beginning to develop plans of synergy and a strong global community to assist fellow countries.

COVID-19 has been the source of tremendous hardship and struggles for many people globally. The World Bank Blog has reported that a 2015-2021 figure of projected poverty in 2021 was estimated to be 613 million pre-COVID-19. Since the pandemic began, that projection has spiked to 711 million people estimated to live in poverty for the same year. That is 98 million more people who could experience poverty as a result of the pandemic.

Numbers in relation to poverty in lower-income countries may see a reduction with help from the GDI, which some have dubbed “China’s contribution to global development, prosperity and humanity.”

Support From UNIDO

One of the organizations supporting the GDI is the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). China has already made connections with UNIDO regarding the initiative. Cooperating with the China International Development Cooperation Agency (CIDCA) developed in 2018, UNIDO’s work with CIDCA would serve as the intent to promote aid to developing countries.

Both organizations see promise in the partnership in support of China’s Global Development Initiative, with the Chairman of CIDCA, Luo Zhaohui, noting that he looks forward to “developing concrete projects together.”

UNIDO’s director-general Gerd Muller commented that the initiative “is in line with UNIDO’s mission to promote inclusive and sustainable industrial development.” UNIDO and China’s Global Development Initiative share similar goals for global community development and both strive toward supporting fellow countries financially.

While to some, the objectives laid out by the U.N.’s 2030 Agenda may seem far-fetched, those working alongside China’s Global Development Initiative believe otherwise. There is hope and promise for those struggling against poverty and hunger and officials around the world are banning together to fight against these issues with tangible optimism.

Michelanie Allcock
Photo: Flickr

Food Security in China
On January 24, 2022, China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs published new guidelines for the approval of gene-edited crops. These guidelines come amid an influx of measures “aimed at overhauling China’s seed industry” and ensuring the nation has the ability to provide enough food for its own people as the world’s largest population. Given the Chinese government’s strong investment in gene-editing, it is important to examine the impact of this technology on food security in China.

Barriers to Food Security in China

  • Limited Fertile Land: China has about “20% of the world’s population” to provide food with only 7% of arable land. In 2016, Beijing established a “red line” with the aim to set aside a minimum of “120 million hectares of arable land” for agricultural purposes. However, industrialization, urbanization and the growing preference for the cultivation of cash crops over grains and legumes have “accelerated the loss of agricultural land since then.” With soil fertility becoming increasingly poor, China is at the risk of falling below its red line.
  • Lack of Self-Sufficiency in Food Production: Greater self-sufficiency in grains, soybean and oil crops production is a policy priority for the Chinese government in efforts to maintain food security in China. For example, as of 2020, China has relied on imports to supply about 85% of its soybeans. While this has allowed China to stock up on other staples, such as rice, wheat and corn, many view the nation’s reliance on imported soybeans as a weakness for stability and food security in China. In 2021, “China imported a record 164.5 million tonnes of grain,” an 18.1% increase from 2020. China’s weak influence in global supply chains has caused its food self-sufficiency rate to decrease from 101.8% in 2000 to just 76.8% in 2020. This is a percentage experts predict will decline further to 65% by 2035. Also, the pandemic-induced setbacks for food exporting nations have heightened concerns about the reliance on imports for stability and food security in China. With the increasing demand for measures that allow for self-sufficiency and import diversification, the Chinese government has turned to gene editing for a breakthrough.

What is Gene Editing?

Simply put, gene editing is the altering of a plant’s genes to adjust or enhance its performance. Unlike its counterpart, gene modification, which introduces a foreign gene into a plant’s DNA, gene editing tweaks existing genes in plants to make genes more efficient.

The process involves the use of biological catalysts, such as “transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs), Zinc Finger Nucleases (ZFNs) and CRISPR/Cas systems” that can “be engineered to bind to any DNA sequence.” The main advantages of gene editing are affordability, precision and efficiency. With gene editing, plant breeders can achieve results comparable to traditional breeding methods but within a shorter period of time and “with greater precision than ever before.” In addition, gene editing can curb hunger and malnutrition by providing higher-yielding, nutritious crops that are resilient to pests, diseases and environmental changes, thus sustaining the agricultural economies of areas that rely on farming produce for both food security and income. In crop science, genome editing has shown the ability to create less sugary potatoes and “a soybean containing high levels of omega-3.”

China’s Gene Editing Guidelines

Although China has performed more extensive research on gene editing than any other country, none of the gene-altered crops have yet reached commercialization. However, the new guidelines may change that. The guidelines “stipulate that once gene-edited plants have completed pilot trials, a production certificate can be applied for, skipping the lengthy field trials required for the approval of a [genetically modified] plant.” This means that approval for a gene-edited plant could range from one to two years in comparison to about six years for genetically modified plants. The crop must “also pose no danger to the environment and China’s food security.” Researchers are confident that these new trial rules will significantly boost the “yields, taste and resilience” of crops, thereby strengthening food security in China.

Looking Ahead

In light of this, many researchers are actively working to research and develop a successful gene-edited crop. For example, Caixin Gao, a plant biologist and an employee of the Chinese Academy of Science’s Institute of Genetics and Development Biology, worked “on developing a strain of wheat that combats mildew since 2014.” Although Gao’s research team could remove the gene that “makes wheat prone to fungal growth,” the wheat’s post-editing growth faced stunting. However, since realizing that the issue stems from the inadequate repression of the sugar-producing gene, the researchers strongly believe that they have managed to isolate a high-yielding, fungal-resistant wheat strain. Therefore, this crop may be among the first to receive approval for commercialization. Overall, gene-edited crops show potential to enhance food security in China and across the world.

– Divine Adeniyi
Photo: Unsplash

Water Quality In China
Water quality in China poses challenges as water is generally unsafe for residents to drink. However, a clean and safer future lies ahead with the promise of reduced pollution, increased filtration and clean drinking water.

Current State of China’s Water

As of July 2021, 70% of China’s rivers and lakes were not safe for human utilization. However, since the COVID-19 pandemic restricted movement and led to lockdowns during 2020, water quality in China has seen significant improvements. For example, PH levels increased from mid-March to early May 2020.

Economic Impact of Water Systems

Unsafe water systems negatively impact the fishing and marine business inside of China. Pollution can decrease PH levels and make water toxic for fish and other sea life, which is essential for a strong marine business. Fifty-three coastal cities in China provided data from the years 1994 to 2018, describing the damage that pollution caused in agriculture and industrial businesses in China.

“As the main source of high-quality proteins in China, the yield of seawater cultured products reached 20.65 million tons in 2019, accounting for about 31.8% of the total aquatic products. Meanwhile, the proportion of seawater fishing products has decreased to about 18.7%,” according to the study.

Water is essential to the survival of an entire country. Low PH, pollution and other dangerous contaminants can damage ecosystems. This causes a ripple effect that impacts the livelihood of citizens, wildlife and the overall economic structure of a country. Fishermen need a safe work environment to catch and sell fish. The marine economy plays an important role in the nation’s growth and clean drinking water is necessary for the health of a nation.

The World Health Organization (WHO) states that “safe and readily available water is important for public health, whether it is used for drinking, domestic use, food production or recreational purposes. Improved water supply and sanitation and better management of water resources, can boost countries’ economic growth and can contribute greatly to poverty reduction.”

Plans to Improve China’s Water Quality

In December 2021, the World Bank approved a $400 million loan for decontamination and removal of pollutants in China’s Yangtze River Basin. This, along with $6 billion of China’s own resources will go toward water treatment for the 19 provinces in China and almost 600 million people who receive water from this basin.

The Yangtze River Protection and Ecological Restoration Program aims to improve water quality in China. This will support agriculture, livestock and waste management for townships. Approved in 2022, the latest update shows the beginning of a groundbreaking project.

Public participation in the management of water is beneficial. The University of California wrote an article showing a decrease of 19% in pollutant levels in quarterly reports that became possible with the help of Chinese citizens. Citizens collected data twice a month.

The Future of China’s Water

Water quality in China may not be at its best right now, but the positive feedback shows early signs of improvement inside the country. Baiyangdian, North China’s largest freshwater lake, received an upgrade to Class III in 2021, meaning that its surface water is of good quality. This is the lake’s best condition since the initial monitoring in 1988, with the classes ranging from a scale of between one and five.

Water has a significant place in the economy of China. Clean water is essential to promoting a steady marine market, economy and livelihood for all citizens in China.

– Kyle Swingle
Photo: Px Here

EU’s Global Gateway
In competition with China, the European Union (EU) pledged in December 2021 to give €300 billion to countries around the world in order to help them rebuild their infrastructure. The EU’s Global Gateway is a ‘global investment plan’ that will offer options to countries that are currently dependent upon China’s Belt and Road Initiative and also provide different opportunities through the United States’ and G7’s Build Back Better World initiative. These three different strategies and initiatives will all work in cooperation but also compete with each other to increase infrastructure in underdeveloped countries around the world and bring jobs and opportunities to raise people out of poverty.

The announcement comes after the meeting of the G7 in June 2021, where the members had agreed to launch an infrastructure partnership to meet global infrastructure development needs and will build off of the success of the 2018 EU-Asia Connectivity Strategy. The EU announced on December 1, 2021, that it will direct €300 billion equal to $340 billion to public and private infrastructure investments over the next six years through 2027.

Global Gateway Projects

With the announcement of the Global Gateway Strategy, the EU has also laid out how it will divide the money into different sectors such as digital, transport, energy and health. In a press release from the European Commission, it is written that the Global Gateway will “boost smart, clean and secure links in digital, energy and transport and strengthen health, education and research systems across the world.” Europe is also hoping that the Global Gateway will help improve its strategic interests and most importantly boost its supply chains which Europe noticed the instability throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The plan will focus on providing physical infrastructure such as “fibre optic cables, clean transport corridors and clean power transmission lines.”

EU’s Global Gateway Strategy vs. China’s Belt and Road Initiative

Although the official announcement of the Global Gateway did not mention China or its economic development plan called the Belt and Road Initiative, this new deal comes into direct competition with China’s economic development plan which critics question for forcing already underdeveloped countries into unsustainable levels of debt. Further, the EU’s version will provide financing for countries “under fair and favorable terms in order to limit the risk of debt distress.”

How China’s Belt and Road Initiative Works

China’s Belt and Road Initiative focuses mainly on offering assistance to foreign countries in the form of loans and thus the loans are the only way the countries can improve their infrastructure. Compared to the EU’s $340 billion plan, China plans to spend up to $1 trillion for its plan, which began in 2013. The projects approved with funds from the Global Gateway must support high standards to keep workers safe and properly paid for their work. The money for the plan will come from the European Fund for Sustainable Development Plus. This can provide €40 billion guaranteed while giving grants up to €18 billion through external programs.

How the Global Gateway Works

The Global Gateway is bringing together the EU and its member states with financial and development institutions such as the European Investment Bank (EIB) and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) while also mobilizing the private sector to create an even larger impact. In addition to financial contributions for projects, the EU will also offer technical aid to their partners to enhance their ability for credible projects. The Global Gateway will provide a much-needed option to countries that have limited choices for foreign economic development aid. In the case of Sri Lanka, it had taken part in China’s Belt and Road Initiative to build the Hambantota Port. However, when it turned out that Sri Lanka was unable to repay its loan, China forced the nation to “hand over a majority stake and 99-year lease on the port to a Chinese firm.”

Conclusion

The EU’s Global Gateway is a necessary achievement for the advancement of progress for countries and their citizens around the world. This is a true achievement of the G7 and will go a long way in supplying sufficient projects and infrastructure to lift people out of poverty around the world. With the support of the European Union and its focus on lifting people out of poverty and competition building foreign countries, the Global Gateway should be able to aid in the reduction of poverty around the world.

– Julian Smith
Photo: Flickr

Food Waste in China
By November 1, 2021, China reported more than 97,000 COVID-19 cases and 4,636 deaths. Graphic representations of this data seem to show an upward trend as COVID-19 numbers continue rising. Apart from the direct health impacts of COVID-19, the pandemic has also exacerbated existing social strife, such as nationwide hunger. Along with high rates of hunger, China also reports high rates of food waste, with a recent report from July 2021 stating that the nation discards about 350 million tonnes of its farm produce. Addressing the issue of food waste in China provides a solution to growing rates of hunger in the nation. China’s Clean Plate campaign aims to tackle these two issues simultaneously.

Food Waste Globally

With the global population possibly expanding by 2 billion people by 2025, totaling more than 9 billion global citizens, the United Nations stated that “food production must double by 2050 to meet the demand of the world’s growing population.” Yet, about “one-third of the food” the world produces “for human consumption” annually, equating to 1.3 billion tonnes, goes to waste. Fruits and vegetables account for the greatest portion of food waste. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), “if just one-fourth of the food currently lost or wasted globally could be saved, it would be enough to feed 870 million hungry people in the world.”

Food Waste in China

In China, specifically, food waste or loss amounts to “more than 35 million tonnes of food.” This amount of food can “feed 30 to 50 million people.”

In August 2020, President Xi Jinping pressed for the nationwide Clean Plate campaign in response to food waste and the economic and food-centric devastation that COVID-19 caused. At the time of Jinping’s address, the southern end of China had suffered immense flooding, ruining crops and leaving the rest of the nation without a sufficient supply of produce.

In essence, the campaign directs that diners must finish the food on their plates. Encouraging empty plates may lead to less food waste. In response to the Clean Plate campaign, “the Wuhan Catering Industry Association urged restaurants in the city to limit the number of dishes served to diners” to reduce instances of over-ordering, thereby reducing food waste. Culturally, there is a traditional understanding that a clean plate is indicative of “a bad host,” implying that there is “an insufficient amount of food” for diners.

Jinping’s initiative encourages people to be more conscious of food waste in order to address food insecurity in the nation. The Clean Plate initiative has proven to be successful, continuing in an entrepreneurial and consumerist sense. Prior to the Clean Plate initiative, taking leftovers home was unheard of, but has since become a commonality.

Looking Ahead

To avoid past crises of food insecurity, initiatives like Clean Plate encourage consumers to approach food consumption more consciously. Traditionally, in China, ordering more food than necessary is an indicator of power, wealth and status. However, the Clean Plate challenges these traditions in the name of reducing food waste to address hunger in China.

– Maia Nuñez
Photo: Flickr

Disability and Poverty in ChinaIn China, many perceive a lack of access to social infrastructures, such as healthcare and impoverishment due to healthcare expenses as critical issues. It is crucial for populations to understand the inequity that exists among disability and poverty in China, as well as the disadvantages of people within the disability population. Persons with disabilities often experience poverty and lack equal access to social security, education, vocational training and employment opportunities.

High Disability Populations

According to the Second National Sampling Survey on Disability from 2006, the population of people with disabilities hit 82.96 million, or 6.34% of the population of China. Of the number of disabled individuals, approximately 14.86% have visual disabilities, 24.16% have hearing disabilities, 9.07% have a physical disability and 6.68% have an intellectual disability. About 75% (62 million) of the 85 million live in the countryside, and 21% (13 million) of these live in poverty.

Lack of Financial Support

A two-way, negative relationship exists between income and disability. In one direction, poverty can lead to a higher risk of impairment. Low-income households may have difficulty supporting family members with medical impairments. In the other direction, households with family members with disabilities tend to face greater economic challenges and social pressure because people with disabilities are often incapable of fully participating in the economy and society.

Social researchers often describe the double-way relation between disability and poverty in China as a ‘vicious cycle’. People with disabilities fell into the trap of poverty because of the exclusion of social and economic opportunities and the financial burden due to their medical impairment. According to a survey conducted in Nantong city, Hebei Province in north China, one-third of the poor households have one or more family members with disabilities, most of whom are unable to work. People with disabilities continue to be a vulnerable group and may encounter various difficulties in a society whose economy is going through a market-oriented rise such as China.

The Invisible Disabled Community

The Chinese authorities have primarily focused on welfare services concerning poverty relief for people with disabilities and their families, giving the impression that disability is something for individuals to overcome rather than something they should receive accommodation for through accessible infrastructure. In China’s public spaces, people with disabilities are largely invisible. In China, legal recognition of disability comes in the form of a certificate that the China Disabled Persons’ Federation (CDPF) issues. While 85 million Chinese received certificates stating they were disabled in 2010, only 32 million people were disabled as of 2020. However, the certificate functions as an identification that allows disabled people to access a range of welfare services or regional benefits.

To blend into a social environment in which people receive encouragement to carry an “able-ism” mindset, disabled people try to overcome their disability at the expense of their regular participation in society. Consequentially, significant numbers of disabled people experience discouragement from seeking out opportunities and continue to face substantial barriers to poverty relief.

Making Progress

Chinese authorities have primarily focused on establishing general welfare services regarding disability and poverty in China. In recent years, the authorities have launched several welfare programs to address the problems of disability and poverty. The systems that provide living allowances for people with disabilities in poverty and nursing subsidies for severely disabled persons cover more than 24 million people. In the system of subsistence allowances, China currently includes 10.67 million people with disabilities.

The General Office of the State Council issued an outline that encouraged development-oriented poverty reduction starting in 2012. The outline stated that assisting poor rural people with disabilities to join the workforce and increase their income is fundamental for them to minimize poverty. The government managed to build a quota system to take care of the employment need of people with disabilities. According to the laws of the certain provincial government, all private and public employers are required to reserve a minimum of 1.5% of the job opportunities for people with disabilities. Furthermore, there is a range of legal incentives for companies to hire people with disabilities – the government support companies’ recruitments through a variety of means such as tax incentives or financial assistance.

Those with disabilities require greater institutional protection and assistance despite the progress China has made to improve their circumstances. However, continued momentum should help reduce poverty among China’s disabled people.

– Beibei Du
Photo: Flickr

TikTok Brings Prosperity for Rural Farmers in China and IndiaSocial media app TikTok has turned some rural farmers in China and India into content-creating celebrities. The platform also provides many people with considerable income, giving some farmers an escape from poverty. However, it is uncertain whether this form of agricultural entrepreneurship will become widespread.

TikTok Brings Prosperity for Rural Farmers

TikTok is an app that allows users to watch, create and share short videos on their phones. Its parent company is ByteDance, based in Bejing. TikTok is quickly becoming one of the most used social media platforms. CNBC reports that by July 2020, TikTok had more than 680 million global users. TikTok’s popularity has spread even to rural areas, notably in China and India. In the past few years, many rural Chinese and Indian farmers have made profits, sometimes in the millions, from ad sponsorships and selling crops through the app.

Improved internet and smartphone access in rural China and India partially account for TikTok’s success among these farmers. According to the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), 70.4% of China’s population had access to the internet in 2020. In just four years, between 2016 and 2020, internet access in rural areas went up nearly 23%. Of Chinese internet users, almost 100% use their phones to access the internet. While the number of internet users is smaller in India, there have been large increases in internet access. In 2020, India’s rural internet users increased 13% according to the ICUBE 2020 report. Now about 43% of India’s population has internet access and all active internet users use phones.

Visual Appeal and Good Timing

TikTok utilizes primarily audio and visuals, rather than text, allowing those with less education to easily navigate the platform. In China and India, there are education gaps in low-income agricultural areas. Thus, influencers in rural areas with low education have been able to create popular content. COVID-19 travel restrictions also necessitated that farmers find new ways to sell their goods. Many turned to video creation. Quarantine meant that more consumers were not only watching farmers’ TikTok videos but also desiring fresh produce for homecooked meals.

TikTok Stardom and Urbanization

TikTok provided several benefits to low-income rural farmers in China and India. TikTok allows growers to sell directly to consumers. This has been especially popular in China, where e-commerce is widely used. In addition to increased income, the possibility of TikTok stardom offers respect often denied to low-income rural people. The LA Times quotes rural Indian TikTok sensation Gaikwad, who states, “But I got respect, legitimacy and confidence. We are poor people. We have never received any attention in life. All we have gotten is disdain and scorn. TikTok turned it around.”

Agricultural TikTok videos enticed consumers too. The number of rural TikTokers boasting 10k+ followers was six times higher in 2019-2020 than it was in 2018-2019, Bloomberg reports. Videos of open spaces and abundant fields provide a quaint image of country living — a mental escape from bustling cities. This comes at a time in which people in China and India are continually moving into urban areas. Between 2000 and 2020, the percentage of China’s population living in urban areas increased about 26%, according to the World Bank. In India, the percentage of people in cities increased about 7% during that period.

TikTok Bans

While TikTok continues to benefit many Chinese farmers, India banned the use of TikTok on June 29, 2020, allegedly for national security reasons. This ban followed a 2019 ban, which the government claimed was due to TikTok’s lack of regulation regarding pornographic content. India lifted the 2019 ban after TikTok took down videos of concern. The 2020 ban however appears to be permanent. Indians cannot access their terminated accounts.

Other countries worldwide have also banned or are considering banning TikTok due to concerns about personal data security and possible inappropriate content. Because of this, it seems the platform may have a limited reach in rural areas outside China for now. China also has technological advantages that other developing nations do not yet have, including 56% internet accessibility in rural areas and a strong e-commerce system. Both contributed to Chinese farmers’ TikTok success.

Utilizing Creativity for Prosperity

Relying on TikTok as a means of income in low-income agricultural areas has its drawbacks. Yet, this phenomenon demonstrates how rural farmers in China and India can harness creativity, adapting to a changing world. Farmers found ways to share agricultural knowledge and convey humor, crossing class divides. After India banned TikTok, rural influencers quickly switched to other platforms, including YouTube, Instagram and Indian-based apps. While it may not be exclusively through TikTok, as internet and smartphone access increase, perhaps more gregarious growers will soon find abundance through social media.

– Annie Prafcke
Photo: Unsplash

End to Poverty in China
In a speech on February 25, 2021, Chinese President Xi Jinping declared that China had eliminated extreme poverty. China defines extreme poverty as surviving on $1.69 a day. Over an eight-year period, President Xi Jinping stated that almost 100 million individuals rose out of poverty in China, ultimately putting an end to poverty in China. As the news of President Xi Jinping’s official declaration of China’s successful fight against poverty spreads worldwide, China’s anti-poverty legislation has become a popular topic for anti-poverty advocates, especially considering the vast history of poverty in China. China’s anti-poverty initiatives and reports have also acquired a fair amount of international criticism as the country continues to claim victory in eliminating extreme poverty.

China’s Battle Against Poverty: A Brief History

Following the impact of Chairman Mao Zedong’s failed Great Leap Forward initiative in the 1950s, approximately 10 to 40 million people died between 1959 to 1961 in what is labeled as the “most costly famine in human history.” However, economic reforms beginning in 1976 reshaped the economy as Deng Xiaoping granted farmers rights to their own plots, which led to better living conditions and more food security.

Since China opened up its economy in 1978, GDP growth has averaged about 10% a year and an estimated 800 million people have been lifted out of poverty over the past 40 years, according to the World Bank. After China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001 and lifted trade barriers and tariffs, growth increased even more as China grew into the economic superpower it is today.

Under President Xi Jinping’s leadership, eliminating extreme poverty in China became even more of a priority. Over the last eight years, China has spent 1.6 trillion yuan, or $248 billion, to put an end to poverty in China. Local officials even traveled door-to-door in some communities, delivering assistance either in the form of loans or farm animals. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterreś describes China’s anti-poverty efforts within the last decade as the “greatest anti-poverty achievement in history.”

China’s Anti-Poverty Infrastructure

China has issued a large number of subsidies to create jobs and build better housing over the last decade in order to put an end to poverty in China. Since 2015, local governments have constructed “more than 700,000 miles of roads.” As the most impoverished province in China, the Guizhou province alone spent RMB 1.8 trillion ($280 billion) on anti-poverty projects. Beijing has invested $700 billion in loans and grants for poverty reduction efforts in the past five years, amounting to about 1% of the nation’s annual economic output, according to The New York Times.

Critics and Sustainable Solutions

With China’s tremendous recent success in ending extreme poverty, critics globally questioned the sustainability of China’s anti-poverty strategies. The World Bank country director for China, Martin Raiser asserts the World Bank’s standing that “China’s eradication of absolute poverty in rural areas has been successful.” However, due to the resources utilized, Raiser is uncertain whether the poverty reduction is “sustainable or cost-effective.”

Critics also point out that China’s poverty relief programs only aid people in extreme poverty and do little to help the population just above the poverty threshold. The government’s poverty aid program eligibility excludes car owners, people with more than $4,600 in assets, homeowners and people who recently rebuilt a house. According to a New York Times report, “people hovering just above the government’s poverty line struggle to make ends meet, but are often denied help.”

The World Bank reports that China’s growth from “resource-intensive manufacturing, exports and low-paid labor” has reached its limits and has led to social and economic imbalances across society. The World Bank also reports that while China is the only major economy that has achieved positive growth in 2020, that growth has been uneven as wealth inequality and other societal imbalances in China have increased throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

China’s Influence and Anti-Poverty Progress

While organizations, including the World Bank, are urging China to focus on societal imbalances informing sustainable anti-poverty solutions, the recent success of China’s anti-poverty legislation is a significant accomplishment for the nation and the world. As reported by the United Nations, China’s anti-poverty efforts contribute significantly to advancing global efforts to alleviate poverty by 2030, the U.N.’s first Sustainable Development Goal.

China’s anti-poverty work has raised the current standard for all world leaders aiming to combat poverty within their own nations, especially when understanding how far China has come in anti-poverty efforts over the last few years and even the last century.

– Lillian Ellis
Photo: Flickr

Fishmeal Factories in The Gambia
Aquaculture is a unique practice comprising the farming of aquatic animals and plants to produce food and assist endangered species. Aquaculture is currently the fastest-growing tool of global food production. It creates job opportunities for Asian women and releases fewer carbon emissions than beef and pork agriculture. Aquaculture is viewed as a sustainable solution to the overexploitation of fish species such as tuna, which are overfished for human consumption. However, in an effort to meet the rapidly growing demand for seafood around the world, the current system of aquaculture is actually decreasing The Gambia’s food security. Since feeding farmed fish leads to overexploitation of different, smaller fish species, the solution to fixing fishmeal factories in The Gambia is underway.

Fishmeal Factories in The Gambia

Fish farmed for human consumption, such as tuna, tilapia and salmon are fed a protein-rich powder supplement called fishmeal. About 25% of all wild fish caught globally end up as fishmeal. Bonga and sardinella fish, herbaceous species that Africans depend on for 50%-70% of their protein, are the primary constituents of fishmeal. Foreign-owned fishmeal factories in The Gambia capture large quantities of bonga and sardinella fish to cook and grind into the coarse golden powder known as fishmeal.

China is currently the world’s largest producer of farmed fish, supplying the U.S. with the majority of its seafood. More than 50 foreign-owned fishmeal factories currently exist along Africa’s coast in The Gambia, Mauritania, Senegal and Guinea Bissau. China owns the vast majority of these factories. One factory alone can produce an average of 600,000 kg of fishmeal per day, requiring 7,500 tons of fish per year.

The United States, Asia, China and Europe all import fishmeal from The Gambia. This high reliance on trade hurts the locals, who depend on this fish as a source of food and income. As a result, some have called the industry’s fish-in, fish-out ratio (FIFO) – the total weight of forage fish compared to the total produced mass of farmed fish – unsustainable.

Effect on Food Security and Livelihoods

Fishmeal factories in The Gambia are developing a monopoly on bonga and sardinella fish. Local fishermen are unable to compete with commercial fishing vessels and therefore return to shore with fewer and fewer catches. The women who buy fish to dry and sell are likewise receiving less supply. Younger fishermen have also refused to sell women their products as fishmeal factories can pay in advance and buy fish in bulk.

Fishmeal factories in The Gambia are taking away the food security of African fish traders. Moreover, herbaceous fish support incredible biodiversity. With over-fishing, extinction can destabilize the entire marine ecosystem. Populations of larger fish species, on which Gambians also depend for sustenance, may then begin to collapse as well. As aquaculture businesses in developed nations are destabilizing The Gambia’s food security, they simultaneously profit from overexploitation.

Impact on Tourism

The Gambia’s tourism industry accounts for the majority of its employment opportunities and foreign exchange profit. Water pollution, smoke emissions and the acrid stench of rotting meat which the fishmeal factories in The Gambia emit are already affecting the industry. Coastal areas in The Gambia tend to attract tourists with recreational activities and ecotourism. Overfishing can decrease the biodiversity of Africa’s marine environment, specifically regarding bird and plant life. Golden Lead, a Chinese fish-processing plant, has already caused the extinction of a Gambian wildlife reserve.

Yet, fishmeal factories in The Gambia continue to install waste pipes that pollute African waters. Aquaculture’s goal was to offer a more sustainable alternative to marine fishing in the hopes that this practice would meet the growing demand for fish while allowing overexploited fish populations to replenish themselves. However, these effects are currently happening at the expense of Africa’s marine ecosystem, food security and the locals’ livelihood.

A Developing Solution

Researchers have identified multiple alternatives to fishmeal factories in The Gambia. Their goal is to make aquaculture truly sustainable. Fish-free feeds such as seaweed, cassava waste, soldier-fly larvae, viruses and bacteria proteins and even human sewage could become the norm if their cost-effectiveness is increased.

Algae-based aquafeeds in particular are very promising alternatives. With a high feed conversion ratio and the feeding of algae to tilapia and salmon, this solution can have promising results. Multiple companies have made breakthroughs in algae-based aquafeeds in recent years and the cost comparison to fishmeal is improving. Aquaculture can become a sustainable method of seafood production if it adopts algae-based feeds.

– Serah-Marie Maharaj
Photo: Flickr