The path to development

CHINA has demonstrated that poverty can be slashed through developing agriculture.

Book Review:
Title: Up and Out of Poverty
Author: Xi Jinping
Pages: 223
Price: $22.17
Publisher: Foreign Language Press

TITLED Up and out of Poverty, this is an interesting and indeed an important rich knowledge empowering book to read, learn and act on, on several fronts.
It is a compilation of thoughts, past and current activities by the current Chinese President, Xi Jinping, on a subject that has been with mankind for much longer than any reader would care to remember – the subject of poverty.
Even Jesus, the son of God, once said “the poor shall always be among us.”
The book, however, goes a step further and offers various solutions on how to get out of the poverty rut.
Living in a country like Zambia, whose leadership is trying hard to uplift many of its citizens out of poverty, I reckon that this is a great book for decision makers and civil society leaders to read, more so, a recommended book for the emerging leader.
There is a mountain of knowledge in it.
The author, President Xi Jinping, sets the book against the background of Ningde, also known as Mindong, a prefecture-level city located along the North Eastern coast of Fujian Province, in the People’s Republic of China.
I have never been there (Shanghai being the only city I’ve visited thus far). But my research, within and without the book, shows that Ningde borders the provincial capital of Fuzhou to the south, Wenzhou to the north, and Nanping to the west.
Back in the days, it was one of the poorest areas in the People’s Republic of China, but now, it has a bustling and growing economy which can only be attributed, I suppose, to the resilient leadership of China as a whole and a young man who worked the area in his younger days but now is China’s most powerful man, President Xi Jinping.
What I find uplifting about the book, is President Xi Jinping’s clear focus on the development message which he outlines in the book on a normally heavy subject which he still makes palpable.
This time, like in the times past, when I have done a review, I have focused on President Xi Jinping’s opinion on what he calls ‘The path to developing big agriculture’ set in 1990 that starts on page 185.
Any student of agriculture or indeed a country that wants to slash poverty and create jobs through agriculture must find this section enriching.
The President, in his writing, proclaims that developing big agriculture is the path the Ningde Prefecture must follow to reduce poverty.
He calls for scaling up in the sector by moving away from small self-sufficiency agriculture to ‘big agriculture’ which means a planned commodity driven type of agriculture that looks beyond the backyard to the bigger market of commerce.
In short, agro-business for an improved, better, bigger economy; to look at grain in a bigger way than just wheat, corn and rice but grain as all foods above all that cannot just be consumed in a local set up but sold beyond the borders of where it is sold. In this case, beyond the then impoverished land of Ningde that back in the day imported annually about 50 million kilogrammes of grain to meet local consumption needs.
I mark this as huge milestone.
President Xi Jinping underpins the importance of sustainable food production and food sufficiency by citing profound quote of Chairman Mao Zedong, perhaps one of China’s greatest leaders who said: “a handful of grain puts one mind at ease.”
The above quote is self-explanatory and makes me see why, in our local set up, President Edgar Lungu, has been pushing for an agriculture revolution, reviving the co-operatives, growing fish and sinking dams around the country.
President Xi Jinping candidly discusses the challenges of developing or opening countries with different time zones and locations all at the same time.
One developmental plan cannot fit all. Zambia can learn from this and use the China approach of ‘regional situations and regional strengths’ as prescribed by President Xi Jinping in the book.
You read of him tackling poverty using “soft-ware, where we lack the hardware” and warns against “imitating big cities’ style” of development by building huge institutions and instead reduce fees and improve the quality of services in the rural areas in order to bolster growth.
I found an interesting quote in Up and Out of Poverty by President Xi Jinping who says of Ningde back in the day: “We are poor because of agriculture but we can also get rich because of agriculture.”
Can Zambia learn from this with regards to copper? Are we poor because of copper and can we be rich because of it?
Without telling the entire story, I recommend that our African decision and law makers, and certainly students of development read this book.
We have a lot to learn from China and we must start taking the bitter with the sweet and open ourselves to other modes of development as a continent.
The book fits well into a story I read sometime last year, in my quest to grow my wealth of literature, “that, China has big plans for 2017, including moving 3.4 million people living in poverty into more developed communities as part of their ambitious vow to stamp out poverty in the country by 2020”.
It will be an impressive feat even by China standards if they did that, based on what I read. China in 2016 removed 2.49 million people from poverty-stricken communities and settled them in places with better social services, like schools and hospitals, or with better roads and water supply.
They have managed to end urban poverty or reduce it drastically.
President Xi Jinping has vowed to leave nobody behind in creating a “moderately prosperous society,” promising to end extreme poverty in China by 2020. Considering that there are still an estimated 45 million in China living on less than 3,000 Yuan a year, that is quite an ambitious goal.
At the same time that Beijing is trying to end poverty, as I read, it is also seeing the wealth gap widen in its country, which can raise a concern in the near or far future. A report from Peking University in 2016 warned that China has reached a ‘level’ of income inequality that bodes ill for the country’s social stability, with the top one percent of society now owning a third of Chinese wealth.
But then, the above can be discussed another time; for now, I will restrict myself to Up and Out of Poverty. I deliberately chose, an angle of agriculture alone, in this review, hoping that I can do a part two that focuses on lessons on Industrialisation and how it got China from a borrower to a heavy funder.
(Reviewed by Bernadette Deka, executive director of the Policy Monitoring & Research Centre of Zambia)

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