#Rome; #FAO; #DigitalFinancialTransfers
Rome/Canadian-Media: In another step towards creating a "digital FAO", the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is committing to increasing by 50 percent its delivery of digital financial transfers and vouchers to beneficiaries.
Identity verification for a benefits program in Burkina Faso. Image credit: FAO
As part of joining the Better Than Cash Alliance, FAO is also pledging to expand its use of digital payments in at least ten more of its Decentralized Offices.
Director-General QU Dongyu set these ambitious targets, while officially joining the Better Than Cash Alliance. The Alliance is a United Nations-hosted partnership of governments, companies, and international organizations that accelerates the transition from cash to digital payments in a way designed to generate savings and boost transparency and efficiency while also reducing poverty and driving inclusive growth.
"We must make sure that farmers and rural population are empowered to participate in and benefit from the digital world," said the Director-General. "This partnership is a signal of our commitment to leave no one behind. Cash in the digitized form will open numerous doors for people engaged in small-scale agri-food activities and offer great benefits. It is a high road to resilience."
"FAO's announcement today is a landmark for the agriculture sector in emerging economies. FAO's visionary leadership means that millions of small-holder farmers will now get the assistance they need more quickly, safely, and transparently. It also means those farmers - many of whom are women - will have access to a wider range of related services to improve their livelihoods", said Dr. Ruth Goodwin-Groen, Managing Director of the Better Than Cash Alliance. "We are delighted that FAO is joining other member UN agencies, including UNHCR, UNICEF, and WFP, in their bold commitment to responsible digitization of financial transfers to those most in need. This is even more important now as the COVID-19 pandemic is increasing poverty and inequality."
Under Director-General QU's leadership, FAO is taking big steps to embrace and produce digital solutions, as they are destined to affect every actor in the global agri-food systems and can be designed to offer opportunities to address the challenges of poverty, hunger, inequality, and climate change.
FAO already uses mobile money transfers. One example is in Somalia where its Mobile Money and Livelihood Assistance platform delivers cash directly to beneficiaries' cell phones, allowing farming families to purchase goods and services they need most in their local markets. Recipients are registered with the use of biometric data, which is evolving into a voice-recognition system, making this a safer, cheaper, and better-targeted means of conveyance than physical delivery and distribution.
Joining the Better Than Cash Alliance represents a step-change in scaling up such efforts on all levels, and participating in an exchange on best practices in a fast-moving sector.
The new partnership holds significant promise, as FAO has already reached more than 19 million people in 58 countries with cash and voucher programs. In 2019 alone, FAO transferred almost $50 million - a bit under half in digital form - to 2.8 million beneficiaries in 29 countries.
As FAO's field activities - aiming to strengthen the resilience of rural livelihoods to shocks by supporting productive investment in agriculture - tend to engage vulnerable people living in rural dispersed and remote areas with limited infrastructure access, its digitalization experiences and needs will complement those of other Alliance members.
On the ground
Scaling up digitized financial transfers enables direct contact to beneficiaries, many of whom have no bank account, and avoids the need for physical cash distribution, which entailed transporting banknotes to hard-to-reach areas - especially amid conflicts or in the wake of natural disasters - and engaging agents to act as distributors.
Today, digital payment options continue to grow, accelerating our ability to reach the unbanked while mitigating financial risks. Building broader digital networks allows broader participation, thus intensifying the pace of adoption and transformation of local economies.
"Cash injects value in local economies, and digital cash is likely to produce an even stronger effect through financial inclusion, by fostering greater access for the beneficiary to credits, loans, and other financial instruments that have typically been scarce in rural economies and have curbed investment as a result," says Étienne Juvanon du Vachat, from FAO's Office of Emergencies and Resilience specializing in cash and voucher design. "A mobile wallet opens the door to more services."
Compared with traditional rural finance systems reliant on trust and authority, e-money can bolster programs aimed at fostering opportunities for women and youth. At the same time, it is quite adaptable to diverse existing community savings and loan institutions such as tontines or hawala, he added.
FAO's showcase project in Somalia proved invaluable when the COVID-19 emergency disrupted movement. Since March 2020, FAO has transferred the equivalent of $38.1 million to over 187 000 households, providing them the means to acquire food and agricultural inputs to support local food security and supply.
In Mozambique, in 2020, FAO deployed an adapted version of the ecosystem initially developed in Somalia to move an existing voucher system onto a 100-percent digital foundation. Beneficiaries, in particular targeted women farmers, use the vouchers to access seeds and fertilizers.
Digitization adds incentives to suppliers to adapt to the technology, helping consolidate system-wide digital literacy and protect beneficiaries' personally identifiable information, which in turn can enhance factors of production and marketing opportunities for broader communities. The process can take time but adoption is rapid, and pandemic containment measures appear to have accelerated recognition of the merits of digitization.
"The greatest challenge in this effort is successfully bridging the last mile connecting FAO to the most vulnerable. There is no single widely accepted means of digital payments. However, we are on the cusp of significant change. Complexity will diminish and as it does, the impact will grow," says William Marvin, Deputy Director of FAO's Finance Division.
As Members pursue measures such as digitizing their social protection systems, synergies for FAO will grow, he says. "Sometimes digital payments work better in the developing world as they are leaping a whole generation. There's a lot of potential for leveraging partnerships between the private and public sectors," he adds.
Russian Federation, WFP provide support to families of most vulnerable school children in Tajikistan
#UN; #WFP; #RussianFederation
UN/WFP/Canadian-Media: The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has begun delivering fortified wheat flour and vegetable oil to the families of vulnerable schoolchildren in the Khatlon Region of Tajikistan, supported by USD 1 million from the Russian Federation.
The 1,200 tons of wheat flour and 50 tons of vegetable oil were purchased will meet the needs of around 22,000 households. Families living in Sughd and Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous (GBAO) regions, Roghun town as well as the districts of Rasht Valley will receive similar support.
“For many years, Russia has been helping build an effective national school feeding system in Tajikistan. In the context of the coronavirus pandemic, it was important for us to provide additional targeted assistance to schoolchildren and their families who need it most. We believe that this will not only enrich their diet, but also contribute to their educational outcomes,” said the Russian Ambassador to Tajikistan Igor Semenovich Lyakin-Frolov.
“We are thankful to the Russian Federation for its contribution to the WFP School Feeding Programme. COVID-19 has impacted household food and nutrition security, especially among the vulnerable population. The additional contribution comes timely, which allowed us to deliver the food assistance at the peak lean season when household food insecurity is at its highest due to high food prices and limited income generating opportunities.” said WFP Deputy Country Director and Representative, a.i. in Tajikistan Mariko Kawabata.
This food assistance remains part of the WFP School Feeding Programme, reaching over 600,000 students from grades 1 to 4 in 2,000 schools across 52 rural districts of Tajikistan with regular healthy and nutritious meals. In 2020, Russia allocated USD 5 million to WFP to purchase 3,000 tons of fortified wheat flour and over 300 tons of vegetable oil for schools in Tajikistan. As part of its response to COVID-19, WFP provided one-off take-home food rations to 24,000 vulnerable families whose children are part of WFP’s School Feeding Programme.
In addition to providing food, the School Feeding Programme is also supporting the technical modernization of Tajikistan's school feeding system, including the renovation and construction of school canteens, bakeries and greenhouses, for which the Russian Federation has allocated more than USD 28 million since 2012.
Russia is a strategic partner of Tajikistan in the field of humanitarian aid. Since 2005, the Government of the Russian Federation has allocated USD 83.5 million for the supply of food to vulnerable people in the country.
Since 1999, the World Food Program has been collaborating with the Government of Tajikistan to improve the national school feeding system. This reflects WFP's strong commitment to changing the lives of the country's population for the better. Providing schoolchildren with healthy meals not only improves nutrition and health, but also improves access to education.
#Rome; #FAO; #OneHealthForAll; #biodiversity; #Agriculture; #EnvironmentalSustainability
Rome/Canadian-Media - Speaking at the One Planet Summit, held on 11 January 2021, the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), QU Dongyu, highlighted FAO's track records leading the work on biodiversity across agriculture and food sectors, recognizing the importance of environmental sustainability as a key determinant of a long term "One Health for All."
Women at a community-based natural reserve at Kholy-Alpha, Senegal - one among FAO's Great Green Wall projects. Image credit: FAO
The Summit, hosted by the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, was the fourth in a series that started as follow-up to the Paris Agreement on combating climate change, aimed to raise the level of ambition of the international community on the protection of nature, while responding to the new questions raised by the COVID-19 crisis.
The focus of the Summit this year was on biodiversity. 2021 is considered a big year on biodiversity for the international community. FAO has been on the forefront of the international efforts preserving biodiversity and protecting our planet.
Maria Helena Semedo, FAO Deputy-Director General, explains FAO's work on biodiversity, and on protecting our planet, including combating climate change.
Why biodiversity? And why 2021 is considered important for biodiversity?
Biodiversity is experiencing dramatic losses at the hands of humans. Unsustainable farming practices, agri-food systems and uncurbed urbanization are all taking a terrible toll on our natural resources. If left unchecked, the alarming pace of biodiversity losses will have devastating consequences for humankind and our capacity to feed the world.
For example: around three out four emerging infectious diseases in people originate from domestic or wild animals, and there is growing evidence that the key drivers are landscape changes and biodiversity loss. We have seen how COVID-19, a zoonotic disease that spreads from animals to humans, has jeopardized human health and upturned the global economy, putting lives, livelihoods and general well-being and security at risk the world over.
The One Planet Summit comes at a crucial moment, kicking off a series of key events throughout 2021 - notably the 26th UN Climate Change Conference, the UN Food Systems Summit, the UN Ocean Conference, and the 15th UN Biodiversity Conference - where all players must come together and commit to firmly placing both climate and nature at the core of global recovery actions. The UN Biodiversity Conference is expected to adopt a new post-2020 global biodiversity framework for the coming years to ensure that biodiversity contributes to the nutrition, food security, and livelihoods of people, especially for the most vulnerable.
Dealing with a growing climate emergency and diminishing biodiversity, we need to see a bold paradigm shift. Climate and environmental factors must be an integral part of economic models and plans. But political commitment alone is not enough. We must build partnerships, alliances and coalitions for low-carbon and green solutions. These must go hand-in-hand with employment, innovation, and socio-economic opportunities for everyone. These efforts are also crucial for achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.
What are FAO's priorities on these?
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted areas of inequalities across agri-food systems. Business cannot continue as usual. This means we need to rethink our relationship with nature, allowing us to tackle diseases wherever they emerge in humans, animals, plants or the environment.
With an overall mandate of ending hunger and alleviating poverty - underpinned by the aspirational vision of better production, better consumption, better environment and better lives - FAO promotes the transformation to resilient, sustainable agri-food systems that foster healthy ecosystems and inclusive socio-economic models.
FAO supports countries to both adapt to climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from food and agriculture through in-country development of national climate plans and research-based programmes and projects. The focus is on adapting and improving smallholder production sustainably, to ensure that the livelihoods of rural populations are more resilient.
FAO also promotes Nature-based Solutions, Energy-Smart Food Systems and Climate-Smart Agriculture to transform and reorient agriculture towards climate resilience and sustainability.
FAO views biodiversity as the basis of food security and promotes its sustainable use for food security, human well-being and development worldwide. It hosts the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. Both aim to reach international consensus on policies for the sustainable use and conservation of genetic resources for food and agriculture.
So, this important summit was a unique opportunity for leadership to align both towards a healthy and sustainable future and a sharp focus on how to demonstrate commitment and change on the ground. The current crisis and the necessity to transform agri-food systems represent a unique opportunity for Leaving No One Behind in our efforts for building back better. Transforming our agri-food systems can transform our future.
What concrete actions does FAO promote?
We know that landscape changes - both permanent due to deforestation, land-use change or urbanization, or temporary due to flooding or drought. These are major drivers of the (re-)emergence of a number of zoonotic diseases like malaria, dengue fever, Ebola, and Lyme disease.
Furthermore, the degradation of land and marine ecosystems undermines the well-being of over three billion people and costs about 10 per cent of the annual global gross product in loss of species and ecosystems services. Key ecosystems that deliver numerous services essential to food and agriculture, including supply of freshwater, protection against hazards and provision of habitat for species such as fish and pollinators, are declining at a sharp rate, as revealed in FAO's State of the World's Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture report in 2019.
To reverse the situation, we need to restore our forests, farmland, pastures, wetlands and marine environments - not only to halt the erosion of biodiversity but also to fight climate change. So, FAO's work on biodiversity aims at supporting countries in balancing the need to guarantee food security, improve nutrition and safeguard the livelihoods of the poor, especially in rural areas, while at the same time preventing the degradation, contamination and loss of natural resources.
The ‘UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration' (2021-2031), led by FAO and the UN Environment Programme, is a global call to massively scale up to protect and revive ecosystems all around the world, from mountain forests to lakes to coastal areas. Research shows that more than two billion hectares of the world's deforested and degraded landscapes offer potential for restoration. By restoring degraded ecosystems, we not only restore productivity and enhance biodiversity, we also create jobs and livelihoods, increase food security, and mitigate and adapt to climate change.
FAO has been working with countries for decades to scale up climate and biodiversity investment for the agricultural sectors, leveraging partnerships including with the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and more recently the Green Climate Fund (GCF) to build climate-resilient development pathways.
The FAO-GEF portfolio, worth over $250 million in 2020, cuts across FAO's broad range of work and acts as a vehicle for cross-sectoral efforts to unlock the potential of food supply chains through the sustainable use of natural resources and climate-smart practices. To date, projects have benefitted nearly five million people, created 350,000 jobs in rural communities, safeguarded biodiversity in close to 200 vulnerable marine ecosystems, and saved some 1000 crop varieties, animal species and breeds from extinction.
As an accredited entity to the GCF, the world's largest dedicated fund for climate action, FAO uses its vast technical expertise and knowledge to mobilize large flows of climate finance to help mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change. With projects amounting to $796.2 million last year, FAO works around the world, from combatting deforestation in Argentina to rangeland restoration in the Sudan, to support the transition towards low-emission, sustainable food systems through climate-smart approaches, practices and techniques that preserve the environment and biodiversity, and at the same time, help build the resilience of millions of poor family farmers.
You mentioned the link between biodiversity loss and the emergence of new diseases. What can we do?
We need to better understand the root causes of zoonotic diseases, in order to prevent future outbreaks and support a green recovery. A single spillover from animal to human can trigger a global pandemic. This means that we need to work on multiple fronts to reduce the likelihood of spillovers of potential pandemic agents at every crossroad.
Integrating ecosystem health with human, livestock and wild animal health is essential. This is the sure path to mitigating future pandemics. We must promote an ecosystem approach that preserves biodiversity, builds resilience and leads to sustainable food systems. Yet, connecting all these pieces is very challenging and calls for great collaboration and coordination at all levels.
The need for integrated surveillance in human, wildlife and farmed animal populations is an emerging priority to assess and manage the risks. Greater foresight of where, when and how spillovers occur will enable greater targeting of prevention efforts in communities likely to be first affected. And we must support indigenous peoples to secure and exercise their territorial rights to sustainably manage the wild resources they depend on for food, income and cultural identity.
In this way, FAO is working on the frontline to address and tackle emerging infectious diseases at the animal-human-environment interface, including assessing and responding to its potential impacts on people's lives and livelihoods, veterinary public health and occupational safety, global food trade, markets, food supply chains and animal health.
The Director-General and many leaders spoke at the Summit of the "One Health" approach. What is it and why?
We really need to adopt, accelerate and scale-up "One Health", an integrated approach that recognizes the fundamental and interconnected relationship between the health of people, animals, plants and the environment. It ensures that specialists in multiple sectors work together to tackle associated health threats, while protecting biodiversity.
The One Health approach should be a cornerstone strategy to prevent other zoonotic pandemics while providing the long-term resilience, sustainable agri-food systems, healthy environments we need to better re-orient, reshape and rebuild our future.
FAO, collaborating closely with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), promotes One Health in work on food security, sustainable agriculture, food safety, antimicrobial resistance (AMR), nutrition, animal and plant health, fisheries, and livelihoods. Ensuring a One Health approach is essential for progress to anticipate, prevent, detect and control diseases that spread between animals and humans, tackle antimicrobial resistance, ensure food safety, prevent environment-related human and animal health threats, as well as combatting many other challenges.