Focus on agriculture is key to ensure that Belt and Road initiative promotes sustainable development »
May 15, 2017
Will salvation in terms of development, food security and global governance come from China? This is how it seems after the partnerships entered into by China since 2013 and the launch of the Belt and Road initiative aimed at structuring China's diplomatic, scientific and trade relations with Asia, Africa and Europe. A milestone in this initiative, based on the symbolism of the “Silk Road”, was held in Beijing on 14th and 15th May at the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation.
In a press release1, the FAO has welcomed the Belt and Road initiative as a potential new model for development and international cooperation, in particular in terms of the central position given to agriculture and agricultural trade. The FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva reminded us that “agriculture is an essential sector. It represents more than 25 per cent of GDP and over 40 per cent of the employment rate in many countries affected by this initiative”, before stressing that it “was not only important for generating and promoting sustainable livelihoods, but also essential to ensuring food and nutritional security, preserving natural resources and biodiversity, and achieving an ecological civilization”.
Through this initiative, China is positioning itself even more clearly as the hub of South-South cooperation. Moreover, as stated in an official statement by the Chinese ministries of agriculture, development, trade and foreign affairs, China wants to take its full place in the conduct of world affairs: “Being committed to taking on more responsibilities and obligations to the extent of its capabilities, China is ready to use its wisdom for global governance of food and agriculture and to share experiences with countries of the ‘Belt and Road’ so as to contribute more to the agricultural and economic growth of the world”2.
As a recent IFRI report noted, the “Belt and Road” initiative has become “a tool for promoting China's ambitions in global governance”3 and a “means of influence in Asia and beyond to counter American domination”4.
At a time when it is no longer necessary to point out that the WTO has failed to organize global governance for food security and cooperation between stabilizing agricultural policies, this soft power can only be seen as the beginning of China’s will to be an essential actor in the redefinition of a new world agricultural and food order. Moreover, the rapprochement with the FAO certainly translates the desire to include this approach within the framework of the UN institutions.
Momagri Editorial Board
The Belt and Road initiative linking China and the Eurasia region can help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, provided it addresses the needs of millions of farmers and fisher folk in the countries involved, according to FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva.
"Agriculture is a crucial sector. It accounts for more than 25 percent of GDP, as well as for more than 40 percent of employment in many countries involved in the Initiative," he said in Beijing on Sunday.
Graziano da Silva made the remarks at the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation. The event, he said, provided a unique impetus for an international concerted effort to promote "a more balanced, equitable and inclusive development along the Belt and Road".
Leaders from 29 countries were participating in the May 14-15 Forum which, under the initiative called "One Belt, One Road", focuses on expanding development and trade links between Asia, Africa, South America and Europe, as mentioned by the Chinese President Xi Jinping in his opening remarks.
The FAO Director-General underscored that agriculture is not only important for generating and promoting sustainable livelihoods, but it is essential for ensuring food and nutrition security, preserving natural resources and biodiversity, and for promoting rural development.
FAO has been the first international organization to develop a specific framework to reinforce policy coordination in the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative with relation to the agriculture sector.
The framework seeks to promote four flagship programmes: i) one health approach for sustainable agriculture and trade; ii) sustainable food production and value chain development; iii) science and technology for agri-food innovation to combat climate-change; and iv) smart agriculture and information and communications technology (ICT) application in the food industry.
China - a leading role in South-South Cooperation
The Belt and Road, according to the FAO Director-General, opens a "great opportunity" among all countries involved to engage in South-South Cooperation, a FAO-promoted model of development which has proven effective in creating jobs, building infrastructure and promoting trade among developing countries across the "global South".
"Let me take this opportunity to thank the Chinese Government for playing a leading role in the support of FAO's South-South cooperation programme. It has benefitted over 30 countries and produced strong impacts in developing countries," Graziano da Silva said.
President Xi's keynote speech indicated that China will provide an additional one billion US dollars to support international organizations to implement a series of projects to benefit countries along the Belt and Road. This will allow linking the Overseas Development Assistance already provided with policy advice, trade and long-term investments, which is what is particularly relevant for developing countries' deprived rural areas.
1 The entire press release is available from
3 Three years of China’s new silk roads: from words to (re)action?, Alice EKMAN, Françoise NICOLAS, John SEAMAN, Gabrielle DESARNAUD, Tatiana KASTOUEVA-JEAN, Serif Onur BAHCECIK, Clélie NALLET, IFRI, February 2017