The China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation (CFPA) is a non-governmental, non-profit organization that was established in 1989 as one of China’s largest charity organizations dedicated to poverty alleviation.
The foundation, among other things, provides healthcare and nutritious food to vulnerable populations, with a focus on mothers and children; supports education programs; provides scholarships; builds infrastructure; and distributes stationery to help communities thrive.
The Ethiopian Civil Society Organizations Authority registered the Foundation in 2019, and it has been actively working since 2015 by collaborating with local and international non-governmental organizations on various projects such as school feeding, clean water, women’s economic empowerment, and refugee support. Sisay Sahlu of The Reporter spoke with Emma XiaocenXuang, the country director of the foundation’s Ethiopian office, about some of the project activities in Ethiopia.
The Reporter: It is unusual to see the Chinese government involved in such areas, particularly in poverty alleviation. What are the goals of establishing this foundation?
Emma XiaocenXuang: This is the basis of a total charity organization founded in 1989.
The Chinese government’s fund for social enterprises provides 99 percent of its funding. In China, the foundation works in the fields of health, education, rural development, and livelihood. We are now investing in similar international engagement areas.
In Ethiopia, our official implementation agreement began in 2015 in collaboration with Ethiopia’s First Lady, Roman Tesfaye, specifically to begin school feeding in Addis, in over 43 schools.
We were collaborating with a local organization called E-network at the time, but they changed the name to Hailmariam and Roman Foundation. We were officially registered as a civil society organization in Ethiopia in 2019 after working with this foundation for about four years.
We started the registration process in 2017, but the government changed, so we put it on hold. We restarted in July of 2019.
What is the foundation’s international experience?
In 2005, we began working as an emergency aid provider, and in 2015, we officially began in Myanmar and Nepal as our first steps in Asian countries, with Ethiopia becoming our first African destination.
We began our project in Ethiopia and Sudan in 2015. However, we chose Ethiopia as the location of our regional office.
The Chinese government has extensive experience in poverty alleviation. What is the secret to their success? Are there any suggestions?
One component of the foundation is poverty alleviation. The People’s Republic of China has a very strong system, and China is very good at mobilizing all of the parties involved, such as companies, non-governmental organizations, the public, the government, schools, and research institutions, to engage in poverty alleviation.
All of those parties are working within this system, and there are numerous methods and areas for collaboration in the education and nutrition sectors. We incorporated the school feeding system into children’s basic rights and the education system, not just the Zero Hunger plan.
We also give quotas to poor areas, particularly at China’s two best universities, Tsinghua and Peking. According to policy, we provide a quota for the poor. This is because if you want to end poverty, you have to invest in education.
Similarly, we must construct a very strong housing system to ensure that all citizens receive the full package so that they won’t have to stress over things like, “Oh, I’m sick right now, so I’m going to the hospital and spending a lot of money, since the government is covering most of the cost.”
Both the government and non-governmental organizations offer benefits like insurance.
For instance, I was born in China. Both the government and my company provided insurance for me. However, I believe that identifying the poor is the most difficult task because doing so is the first step in providing aid to the underprivileged.
In this regard, the Chinese government created a system that can store all of a person’s information on a card that serves as an ID card. You can discover a person’s complete information using this card.
A person also has a complex set of criteria and evaluation standards.
If you have an income of up to 2300 Chinese RMB, that means you are getting out of poverty, and the next step is to observe and follow-up for a few years until you make steady progress out of poverty.
If they are in an accident or become ill, they will be forced to return to poverty and their names will be added to the poverty list again. So this is a national system implemented with strong leadership and complex evaluation criteria to identify, follow-up, and evaluate the entire system.
How can we balance the demands of the expanding population with the available resources? Is there any advice, particularly with regard to the food system?
You know, it could be the geographical location, but if you look at China, we have a very large land area. Even the climate in the north and south is vastly different. People in the south, for example, prefer rice as their main food, whereas people in the north prefer wheat. The majority of Ethiopians consume Enjara.
I believe it is about food diversity and nature’s gift. I couldn’t find any seafood in Ethiopia. Everything is imported. So, in comparison to geography and location, it is the gift of nature that I want to emphasize.
The second point to mention is that China has made substantial investments in its agricultural sector. We simply devised a number of methods for producing more food while working with limited resources.
For example, there is a well-known Chinese man who developed a type of improved seed by changing the genetics and received an international award. In the same situation, this new seed can produce more than ten times the yield of the original local seed.
Thus, we put more time, effort, technology, and other resources into our endeavors. The northwest region of China is characterized by extremely dry land devoid of any water. In order to effectively use rainwater for farm work during the dry season, we constructed a water sailor.
The other thing we do is drip irrigation, and we make good use of all the available resources. There are just too many aspects to it for me to list them all now.
When the land is distributed in pieces, the government in some places tries to use the entire land and bring all of the necessary equipment to do the farming all at once, saving money, time, and human resources while producing more products.
What can Ethiopia learn from Chinese agricultural practices in order to make better use of its resources?
The most important industry is agriculture. Ethiopia is also dependent on it.
I noticed teff is a main product, and it appears that farmers are having difficulty making a living from it. I recently traveled to the Amhara region, Somalia, Oromia, and other parts of the country. I noticed how friendly and hardworking the people are.
Their farming equipment, however, only uses cows; such farming was abandoned in China more than 30 years ago.
When I see this practice, I think to myself, “Is it possible for Ethiopia to develop without using adequate technological instruments?” And I believe it is preferable to bring more technology and do it more efficiently.
I want to be modest. I sometimes admire how they learn this from their ancestors and local wisdom, even knowing the direction of the wind and when it might rain.
However, because I am not an expert in the field, it is difficult for me to speak out without conducting an assessment and a survey. In China, there are numerous agricultural universities with a large number of professors and college students working in the sector.
They are professionals who are learning from both abroad and at home, and they provide an excellent representation of Chinese planting culture. Farmers are constantly being introduced to new cultures, technologies, and skills. We also organize farmers into groups to teach them how to plant properly in order to produce more products.
Another experience is that you are aware that individual farmers are extremely vulnerable and lack the clout and knowledge to bargain with the market and the upper chain. They only sell the original fruit for a very low price. They put in a lot of effort and got very little in return.
There is something in China known as a “cooperative” or “organization.”
It is a unified organization made up of all farmers, and the farmers choose just one or two people to lead their organization and send representatives to determine the prices of all products.
They bargain to determine the market price, and if they work together and make a profit, they split it.
The majority of Chinese practical and recognized engagement in Africa mostly takes the form of investments, loans, and credit provision. Humanitarian commitment to Africa is little known, particularly in comparison to the Western world. What prompted the Chinese government to get involved in such foundations and poverty-relief efforts?
The first point I’d like to make is that the China Foundation is a non-governmental, non-profit organization, and we take great care when discussing political issues. We are always neutral and on the side of the vulnerable.
My personal observation is that, initially, international aid is provided all over the world, particularly after World War II. So there is a tradition, and 40 years ago, China suffered greatly and received significant assistance from Western and other developed nations.
They invested heavily and brought some goods to China. You know, for example, for people like me, I have received an English education from the UNDP.
China was the first recipient of aid, and now that the country has matured and can no longer ignore these countries, it is time for China to accept responsibility.
So, doing business is one thing, and taking on social responsibility is quite another. There is no conflict, and we must proceed.
You earn money and support your people there, but you must invest locally to support the local community, which is natural. Here, we share common sense and concepts with both the government and the general public.
But, you know, because we only recently developed our economy to support the Chinese public, the concept of social responsibility is something that comes from a good heart. China has done a lot to eradicate extreme poverty, but poverty still exists, and people are becoming wealthy in a very short period of time. We sometimes solve the poverty problem, but we still need to work on the nutrition problem.
We can’t solve it quickly because it’s a long-term process.
However, the Chinese government is always concerned with the need to do something for the locals, and they encourage businesses to assist the locals and take more responsibility. It also encourages companies to invest abroad while also taking on social responsibility.
The funds for this foundation did not come from the government; rather, they came from the South-South cooperation initiative.
How much money have you put into Ethiopia?
We used USD two million this year, but depending on the project, the fund may grow if the situation allows us to move forward.
What have you done in Ethiopia thus far?
We want to do a lot of things, but some of our plans have to be put on hold, not only because of the COVID-19 outbreak, but also because of the conflict in Ethiopia.
We are now investing in education, especially in school feeding, panda bag, wash, and solar light projects. But school feeding is the first thing we’ve focused on because we believe the children deserve it and that it’s a basic human right.
In addition, we intend to construct the school kitchen and provide cooking supplies for the students.
We have received funding for it, but we have yet to make a decision.
The city of Addis Ababa has adopted the full standard of cooking that we developed based on Chinese experience combined with the first lady’s local experience. Initially, it was 40 birr for two meals (breakfast and lunch) per child.
We recently visited the Oromia region and plan to visit the Amhara region; we simply want to share our limited resources’ experience, models, and any other relevant information.
Our main goal is to create a model and share it with the government and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that want to get involved and contribute to the local community.
Do you believe this school meal can be sustained?
Of course, we will conduct an evaluation, and once we see how the school feeding program is working, we will not suspend it for at least three years. We need to ensure that once the program is running smoothly, we can extend it for more than three years.
But our aim and goal is to keep this school feeding program running from kindergarten to grade eight, and that is how we will proceed.
However, if the government says, “We have money and we don’t need you anymore,” we suspend it and shift our focus to other sectors.
Addis Ababa has started the program, but if you look at mothers’ cooking, you will notice that they only use three stones in the pot to cook the sauce, which consumes a lot of energy and is bad for their health.
They must get up early and are paid very little. As a result, we are attempting to provide more integrated and comprehensive support, such as building and maintaining the kitchen as well as providing cooking materials.
We commissioned some Chinese construction firms to create the design, which we have already implemented in one school.
It is a pilot project, and if it is useful and effective, we will undoubtedly expand it. However, the first step is to obtain electricity in order to provide modern cooking materials, which can also save energy.
How are schools chosen for this project?
We communicate and collaborate with the government, and they know which areas and schools require the most attention. We will go there on the ground and compare one school to another based on their recommendations.
Are you planning anything else?
Yes, there is a Panda Bag project that aims to provide kids with school bags that contain more than 100 school supply items, such as lunch boxes, water bottles, hygiene items such as soap and toothpaste, and all the necessary materials for the students.
Every year, we conduct an assessment by asking children, teachers, parents, and members of the local community what kinds of items they most need and which items they do not want.
We need to make more adjustments if any item is more needed. We make every effort to avoid any political or religious content in this gift. The donation was made in collaboration with the Ministry of Education.
We will send the entire quota to the Afar and Amhara regions this year because they are affected by the conflict.
What exactly is the challenge?
Of course, there are numerous challenges. Each project has its own set of implementation challenges. We have to buy the panda bags from local factories when we need to provide them to the children. We talked, argued, and bargained about the price and shipment from China with them during this process, because we couldn’t find the item in the local market.
Actually, we made it easier for you to invest in it in the local market, but you couldn’t find the right quality.
And something that worries me is that when we try to collect some items from the local market, I notice that they are coming from India or Turkey, and I believe that if we need to invest in the local market, we should get the materials from here, because buying imported materials is very expensive.
Of course, not this year. We paid nearly one million birr per year for the damage in the previous three years because we did not receive the tax-free letter. However, we received this letter this year. This entry was published on August 1, 2010.
In the last three years, for example, the panda bag arrived in Djibouti and stayed for more than a month, and we were required to pay tax. We would not pay that money if the Ethiopian government was facilitating faster. We occasionally lose bags or items in a warehouse where we keep the bags.