What Role Can South-South Cooperation Play in Post COVID-19 Recovery?

By Matteo Marchisio
BEIJING, Mar 2 2021 – Five years ago, at the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the United Nations, world leaders adopted the ambitious Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development. The Agenda was to be accomplished through the achievement of 17 Sustainable Development Goals by 2030: eradicating poverty, ending hunger, addressing climate change – just to name a few.

Matteo Marchisio

The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 suddenly disrupted advancement toward meeting this goal, in many cases rolling back years of progress. The World Bank, for example, estimated that COVID-19 has pushed an additional 88 to 115 million people into extreme poverty last year, bringing back the total number of poor in the world to the level of 2014-2015.

According to The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020 report, the pandemic may have added between 83 and 132 million people to the total number of undernourished in the world in 2020. It is as if COVID-19 had suddenly brought the world back to 2005, eroding in a few months 15 years of progress in food security.

The measures implemented to contain the COVID-19 spread (i.e. lockdown and movement restrictions) affected the entire food systems, disrupting production, processing, marketing and distribution. Rural communities and smallholder farmers– particularly in developing countries – were the most affected by the implementation of such measures; their livelihoods primarily depend on agricultural production and sales.

Considering that smallholder farmers produce over 70% of the world’s food needs, the impact of COVID-19 on smallholder farmers may possibly have severe repercussions on global food security eventually. It is thus our joint interest (beside our joint responsibility) to support developing countries – and, within developing countries, rural communities and smallholder farmers – to recover from the pandemic.

International development cooperation is an important channel for the global community to support developing countries. Within this framework, South-South cooperation – that is to say cooperation among developing countries (‘the Global South’), has increasingly emerged as a form of international cooperation that complements the traditional North-South cooperation. South-South cooperation enables developing countries to share with each other knowledge, practical experience, development solutions and investment opportunities.

South-South cooperation is a particularly suitable cooperation modality for developing countries, as many developing countries share similar development pathways, and many experiences, solutions or innovations can be relevant or more easily adopted in similar contexts.

What role can South-South cooperation play in supporting developing countries in their post COVID-19 recovery? An interesting example is offered by the South-South Cooperation Facility managed by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a UN multilateral development organization whose mission is to promote inclusive rural development in developing countries.

The South-South Cooperation Facility at IFAD was established three years ago with a contribution of US$ 10 million from China to mobilize expertise, knowledge, and resources from the Global South to reduce poverty and enhance the livelihoods of poor people in rural areas.

The Facility finances competitively-selected proposals submitted in response to periodic call for proposals. Since the establishment of the Facility, 15 proposals for a total amount of about US$ 7 million have been approved and are currently under implementation. The proposals promoted cooperation between countries in different regions and covered a broad range of themes, from value chain initiatives among farmer groups and enterprises in Cambodia, China, Laos and Vietnam, to the transfer of sustainable aquaculture technologies in Ghana and Nigeria – just to name a few.

The third call for proposals for the Facility was launched precisely at the time of the COVID-19 outbreak. Given the magnitude of the challenge presented by the pandemic, it was decided that the Facility would be used to contribute to the global response to COVID-19. The remaining funds of the Facility were therefore designated to facilitate the exchange of approaches, solutions, innovations that could be of value for developing countries to build more resilient societies, and recover from the impacts of the pandemic.

Considering one of the major impact of COVID-19 was the disruption of food systems, the Facility intended to specifically support rural communities and smallholder farmers to cope with situations of disrupted access to agricultural inputs or labour, or disrupted markets. The Facility will support activities aimed at diversifying income-generating opportunities, thus reducing the dependence on agriculture as main source of livelihoods, or facilitating access to markets – including through the adoption of innovative digital solutions. The proposals submitted in response to the third call for proposals are currently being appraised, and will be selected soon.

Effectively coping with the impact of the pandemic will require even greater international cooperation. As a complement to traditional North-South cooperation, South-South cooperation is arguably more important today than ever. Knowledge about solutions to COVID-induced problems, such as food system disruptions, are as important as financial support.

Across the world, every country has unique experiences of the direct and indirect impact of the pandemic, and the experiences of developing countries are different from those of the Global North, and may be more suitable to other developing countries. Only by learning from these experiences can effective solutions be found, and the international community successfully deliver the Agenda 2030.

The author is Country Director and Representative for China, and Head of the East Asia Regional Hub and South-South Cooperation Center, UN International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).


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