Laurent Thomas & Indroyono Soesilo
When a massive food crisis affected sub-Saharan Africa in the 1980s, causing wide-spread hunger and severe malnutrition, four million Indonesian farmers came together to sell 100,000 tons of paddy rice and raise money to help their fellow farmers in Africa.
That was 1985 — a turning point for Indonesia’s agricultural sector. From being the world’s largest rice importer the country had become a self-sufficient rice exporter.
Two decades of concerted efforts on agriculture intensification, irrigation and water system development, fertilizer plants, high quality seed plants, troops of agriculture trainers supported by FAO experts, village cooperatives, direct credits for farmers and fishers, village infrastructure, medical facilities and schools, had paid off. From a mere 11.7 million tonnes in 1968, rice production had reached an astonishing 25.8 million tonnes in 1984 — a 121 percent increase.
When Indonesia’s President Suharto received an award for this feat in November 1985 at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s headquarters in Rome, he proudly announced that the Indonesian farmers had voluntarily raised money in response to the crisis in Africa and donated the money to FAO to set up the Indonesian Farmers Fund. “People were dying and we wanted to help”, said H. Oyon Tahyan, former chairman of the Fund, “But we did not just want to give food or money. What we really wanted to do was to help them help themselves.”
Since its founding in 1985, the Fund has established two Agricultural Training Centers, one in Tanzania and one in Gambia, training hundreds of small-scale farmers, most of them women, who in turn trained thousands of farmers at village level. It also offered agricultural apprenticeship programs in Indonesia for African farmers and has funded more than 80 agricultural development projects across the African continent, ranging from support to women’s cooperatives in Madagascar and women market gardeners in Guinea to training farmers in animal husbandry in Zambia.
That moment exemplified South-South Cooperation at its best. It was a reminder of what had happened 30 years before, in Bandung, when the first large-scale Asian-African Conference took place in April 1955, orchestrated by President Sukarno. The 29 countries that participated in the conference, most of which were newly independent, produced the Bandung Declaration that aimed to promote Afro-Asian economic and cultural cooperation and to push forward the decolonization processes.
Again, almost 30 years have passed since the Indonesian farmers showed the power of solidarity among farmers in developing countries. The world is gathering a new momentum. The Cold War threat has disappeared, the Berlin Wall has collapsed and regional economic cooperation blossoms.
The traditional world economic power houses, in North America and Western Europe have shifted to Asia, the Pacific, Latin America, the Near East and South Africa. However, 870 million people are still living in hunger and food insecurity, particularly in Asia and Africa. The time to revitalize the South-South Cooperation spirit is now. Those, who 30 years ago, were developing countries, have now become the 20 largest global economic powerhouses. Among them: South Africa, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, China, South Korea, India, Indonesia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
The time is now to join efforts to eradicate global hunger once and for all. Developing countries that have succeeded in expanding food production, preserving natural resources and fighting hunger, have valuable experiences to share with other nations that want to follow their example. Partnerships should be built in the spirit of cooperation and must be showcased.
The Indonesian aquaculture experts, for example, could assist rice farmers in the region to combine their rice planting activity with fresh water fish production. Seaweed farmers in Africa could produce high quality dried seaweed ready to be processed to become alginate, carrageenan, gelatine and 350 other end-products. They may learn from their fellow farmers in Indonesia and the Philippines. Other countries can learn from the Brazilian poverty eradication and “zero hunger program.” These, among others, are models of the South assisting the South.
As a global knowledge organization, FAO is a facilitator and an interlocutor for its 191 member countries working toward the common goal of eradicating global hunger once and for all. FAO intends to scale up its support to South-South Cooperation partnerships to defeat hunger and malnutrition and to build a world where food and agriculture contribute to the well-being of all, especially the poorest. Together with partners such as Indonesia, FAO can turn this vision into concrete changes for the hungry.
Laurent Thomas is assistant director-general for technical cooperation at the FAO. Indroyono Soesilo is the director of the FAO’s fisheries and aquaculture resources use and conservation division. The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the FAO or those of its collaborating organizations.