Dhaka/Rome – The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has wrapped up its largest-ever regional conference in Asia and the Pacific, with more than 1,100 participants from 42 Member nations.
The 36th Session of the FAO Asia and the Pacific Regional Conference, a combination of in-person and virtual participation, was hosted by the Government of Bangladesh, 8 – 11 March, in the capital Dhaka.
The historic, record-breaking participation underscored the concerns Member Nations have in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic and other existing and emerging threats such as the impact on food production from the climate crisis and the spread of animal and plant diseases across the region.
In order to effectively address these issues, the FAO Director-General, QU Dongyu, called for a holistic and combined approach, together with all relevant key partners, not only with Ministries for Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, but also bringing in Ministers responsible for Welfare, Women, Children, Environment, Science, Education, Health, Trade, Finance and Investment.
“We have to help the farmers with our enabling policies, responsible investment, innovation and science, and information technology,” said Qu. “The world is evolving. In the agrifood sector, we must not simply follow – we must lead,” he added. “Agriculture, food and nutrition are at the core of our humanity’s needs – and the world looks towards the Asia and Pacific region for leadership.”
Developing better agrifood systems that are greener, resilient and sustainable
The final day of the conference (APRC36) focused on two high-level Ministerial discussions.
The first, a Round Table on “greener and better agrifood systems after COVID-19”reviewed examples from four countries about their experiences in battling through the pandemic – China, Japan, Philippines and Samoa – and their responses to help their people.
Harnessing big data, digitalizing agricultural production and food services from source to the retail and consumer sectors has played a big role in helping some countries begin the transformation of their agrifood systems during the pandemic. But it was clear there would be no one-size-fits-all solution, and more would need to be done, in a systematic way, to ensure food and nutrition security by 2030 in a post-COVID-19 Asia and the Pacific.
“There has been a clear call from Members for deeper collaboration, between and among countries and for international development partners like FAO to continue providing technical support as the lead global specialized agency on food and agriculture,” said FAO Deputy Director-General Beth Bechdol in concluding remarks. At the same time, she stressed the need for “strengthening and prioritizing social protection for the vulnerable, especially through the use of enhanced data (while) leveraging inclusive digitalization and for rural transformation that supports all marginalized households.”
The second Ministerial Round Table discussion focused on “climate actions for resilience and sustainability”.
Agrifood systems are facing difficult challenges, and the participants acknowledged the need to address them quickly and collectively. Participants noted the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on “Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability” as the most recent warning that the climate crisis is a threat to human, animal and plant wellbeing and the health of the planet, and delegates welcomed FAO’s New Strategy on Climate Change.
“Agrifood systems are both contributing to, and affected by, the climate crisis, ecosystem degradation and biodiversity loss. The COVID-19 pandemic has further intensified existing inequalities. There is, however, hope and there are solutions,” said the FAO Director-General in his remarks to the Ministers.
“Green and climate resilient agriculture that enhances adaptation and resilience, reverses biodiversity loss, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions is essential to address the climate crisis, poverty and hunger. And the FAO Strategic Framework 2022-31 guides our support to Members to transform agrifood systems to become more efficient, more inclusive, more resilient and more sustainable,” he said.
It would be important to promote innovative solutions that enable agrifood systems to adapt to, halt or lower their greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts. The role of smallholders, Indigenous Peoples, local communities, women and youth in driving these solutions is key, Qu added.
“The new FAO Strategy on Climate Change is a major undertaking and a crucial way to ensure that FAO continues to meet the needs of our Members to tackle this issue. And it is for this reason that we have worked to make the process to develop a strategy as inclusive and consultative as possible,” said Maria Helena Semedo, FAO Deputy Director-General, in her summation of the Ministerial Round Table.
During the four days, the conference discussed FAO initiatives such as the Hand in Hand Initiative, the One Country, One Priority Product (OCOP) and the 1000 Digital Villages Initiative, and held a Special Event on innovation, science and digitalization – transforming agrifood systems in the Asia-Pacific region.
Ultimately, a coordinated convergence of all of these actions is necessary to ensure better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life for all, leaving no one behind!