30 April 2003, Rome/Abuja -- At first glance the villagers of the southern Chinese province of Sichuan have little in common with the inhabitants of the State of Kano, situated in the north of Nigeria.

Despite the miles that separate these two communities, both share many of the same environmental and climatic challenges and their farmers face similar problems.

A first group of 23 Chinese experts has just arrived in Nigeria to share experience and expertise with their Nigerian colleagues under the South-South Cooperation initiative, within the framework of the country's National Special Programme for Food Security (NSPFS).

Our friends from the South

Just over a month ago China, Nigeria and FAO signed a $22.7 million four-year agreement, with funding provided entirely by the Government of Nigeria, to develop the South-South Cooperation (SSC) component of the Special Programme for Food Security.

Under the SSC tripartite agreement, the Chinese Government has provided some 20 experts and more than 500 field technicians with expertise in various fields of agriculture who will spend three years in Nigeria.

They will work alongside the country's own experts in 109 sites in all 36 states of the country, covering a variety of agro-climatic zones. They will live in the farming communities to which they are assigned.

Nigeria's SPFS, which began in January 2002 with the aim of safeguarding and improving food security and alleviating rural poverty, has a national budget of $45.2 million.

The programme's many projects include activities on:
  • improving household food security, through water control, such as on-farm irrigation and earth dam construction, crop intensification and diversification into small animal production, soil fertility improvement, acquaculture and inland fisheries;
  • animal disease and transboundary pest control;
  • marketing of agricultural commodities;
  • food stock management.
South-South Cooperation is about allowing countries to benefit from the experience and expertise of other more advanced developing countries.

China has already successfully implemented a number of such cooperation programmes as part of the FAO Special Programme under agreements with Ethiopia, Mauritania, Bangladesh, Mali and Ghana. The SPFS in these countries has enabled farmers who took part in the programme to considerably increase their production, incomes and overall food security.

To listen and learn

"The language problem? I'm sure it won't be an issue. The Chinese experts coming to Nigeria mostly speak English and they will also have local interpreters. In addition, upon arrival, the experts and field technicians will undergo language training and attend a briefing on cultural aspects of Nigeria. The most important thing will be the desire to listen and learn," said Nigeria SPFS Field Coordinator Oyebanji.

"We've already experienced this - a few months ago 12 Chinese experts came here to do some groundwork and organize their plan of work. The rural people we spoke to were only too keen to express their problems and their hopes and these were taken into account by both the Chinese and Nigerian experts," he added.

Giving a voice to all the groups involved in the project and establishing the mechanisms for effective participation was one of the key priorities for the SPFS in Nigeria.

"Thanks to this participative approach, we realized that there were marked differences between the men and women in the selected communities. Whilst the men were more concerned with grain production, the Nigerian farming women we spoke to wanted to know about poultry and livestock raising and how to improve food processing," said Oyebanji.

"The opinion of our Chinese colleagues was very important," said Chude, soil fertility and plant nutrition expert with the SPFS programme. "Thanks to their input we decided to broaden the programme - which originally centred on managing water resources - to add elements about raising small ruminants and grain storage."

Gender and water management

Learning and gender focus are fundamental principles of the SPFS. Okoli and Muazu, two of the engineers from the SPFS in Nigeria, travelled to South Africa in March 2003 to take part in a regional workshop for Africa on gender issues and water management organized by FAO on the occasion of International Women's Day.

"The workshop could not have come at a better moment for our programme," said the Nigerian engineers. One of the direct results of the course was that capacity-building in gender and water management will be incorporated into the national SPFS programmes of all the participants.

The workshop, attended by 27 agricultural extension workers and water engineers from nine countries in Africa, where they work in national SPFS projects, analysed the different problems that men and women face in water management and the means of promoting the integration of women in all the activities covered by the Special Programme.

The workshop also addressed ways to improve people's access to economic resources and appropriate technologies that could make farming more profitable and sustainable. The participants also learned how to improved activity planning, monitoring and evaluation.

Nuria Felipe Soria,
FAO Information officer,
(+39) 06 570 55899