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UN, Sep 6 (Canadian-Media): Transforming food systems in Asia and the Pacific to make them more sustainable, resilient and productive, is vital for countries to rebound from the impact of COVID-19 and address chronic undernourishment, a UN regional forum on food security has heard.
Gathered virtually at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)’s thirty-fifth Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific, governments, civil society organizations and the private sector highlighted the importance of innovation, solidarity, coherence and partnerships among and within countries.
A tea grower walks through a tea garden in Viet Nam where sustainable farming techniques are used to prevent land degradation. Image credit: UNEP/Lisa Murray
Big data, digital economy and mobile technology will help producers achieve such transformations, Qu Dongyu, FAO Director-General said on Friday, the Conference’s final day.
For instance, a smartphone in the hands of a smallholder farmer is a “new farming tool”, he added.
“Leveraging data, innovation and technology has shown that, here in Asia and the Pacific, we have brilliant minds, scientists and an entrepreneurial spirit that will lead us through the challenges presented by COVID-19 and help us conquer malnutrition and poverty,” said Mr. Qu.
Agricultural innovation can also reduce back-breaking drudgery, and regional food chains can benefit from innovations such as drones, satellite imagery, big data and block chains, the Conference heard.
The Regional Conferences, held every two years, are a platform for ministers of agriculture and senior officials, NGOs, private sector and other stakeholders in the field to explore joint and coherent solutions to shared challenges confronting food security and agriculture. The 2020 Regional Conference was held from 1 to 4 September.
COVID upended efforts to fight hunger According to FAO, the Asia-Pacific region – the planet’s most populous – is also home to over half of the world’s undernourished people, and the number is feared to rise, with the impact of COVID-19. In southern Asia alone, the figure could rise by a third, to some 330 million in the next decade.
Conference Chair Yeshey Penjor, Minister for Agriculture and Forests of Bhutan, reiterated the need to strengthen collaboration to deal with the challenges.
“We must prepare for higher risks ahead of us and make sure that there is sustainability in the food supply chain,” he said.
Working ‘Hand in Hand’
New solutions, such as the FAO’s Hand in Hand Initiative, which “matches” stakeholders, bringing the right partners together at the right time, can help.
According to FAO, some 44 countries with limited capacity or hit by crisis have been invited to join the Initiative as beneficiaries, 80 as contributors, and some 20 have expressed interest to join as both.
The rollout of the Initiative coincided with the onset of COVID-19 and the urgent need to deal with its complex impacts on agri-food systems, said FAO, adding that the Initiative is helping support evidence-based efforts to prevent breakdown of and address emerging threats to food systems.
“The HIH approach to analysis and partnership-building has proven to be a useful model for coordinating integrated rapid response to COVID-19 impacts on food systems, particularly at the local or territorial level,” it added.
FAO Director-General Qu also said that while the COVID-19 has hit countries and societies, innovations are bringing people closer together.
“So while we are separated by some 11 time zones, we have still managed to come together, have thought-provoking discussions and reach consensus on a number of important issues,” he concluded.
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UN, Sep 5 (Canadian-Media): Agnes Kalibata, the former Rwandan Minister for Agriculture, has been tasked with leading the first-ever UN Food Systems Summit. In an interview with UN News, she outlined her vision for a transformed international system that is more resilient, fairer, and less harmful to the planet.
Food systems involve all the stages that lead up to the point when we consume food, including the way it is produced, transported, and sold. Launching a policy brief on food security in June, UN chief António Guterres warned of an “impending food emergency”, unless immediate action is taken.
Ms. Kalibata told UN News that her commitment to improving food systems is closely linked to her early life as the daughter of refugees.
“I was born in a refugee camp in Uganda, because my Rwandan parents were forced to leave their home around the time of colonial independence in the early 60s.
Thanks to the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), were given land, which allowed my parents to farm, buy a few cows, and make enough money to send me and my siblings to school. This allowed me to experience, first-hand, how agriculture, in a functioning food system, can provide huge opportunities for smallholder communities.
I took this appreciation with me when I eventually returned to Rwanda, as Minister for Agriculture, working with smallholders and seeing them grab every opportunity to turn their lives around against all odds. This was probably the most fulfilling period in my life.
But, I have also seen what can happen when threats like climate change, conflict and even more recently, a pandemic like Covid 19, hit the world's farmers, especially those who are smallholders, like my parents were.
As a daughter of farmers, I understand how much people can suffer, because of systems that are breaking down. I often reflect that I, and other children of farmers my age that made it through school, were the lucky ones because climate change hits small farmers the hardest, destroying their capacities to cope.
My experience has shown me that, when food systems function well, agriculture can provide huge opportunities for smallholder communities. I am a product of functional food systems, and I am fully convinced of the power of food systems to transform lives of smallholder households and communities, and bring about changes to entire economies.
I’m extremely passionate about ending hunger in our lifetime: I believe it’s a solvable problem. I don’t understand why 690 million people are still going to bed hungry, amidst so much plenty in our world, and with all the knowledge , technology and resources.
I have made it my mission to understand why this is the case, and how we can overcome the challenges we see along the way. That is why I gladly accepted the offer by the UN Secretary General to be his Special Envoy for the Food Systems Summit.
Why food systems need to change
Today’s food systems do not respond to what we need as people. The cause of death for one in three people around the world is related to what they eat. Two billion people are obese, one trillion dollars’ worth of food is wasted every year, yet many millions still go hungry.
Food systems have an impact on the climate. They are responsible for around one third of harmful greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change, which is interfering massively in our ability to produce food, upending farmers’ lives, and making the seasons harder to predict.
We have built up a lot of knowledge around the things that we’re doing wrong, and we have the technology to allow us to do things differently, and better. This isn’t rocket science: it’s mostly a question of mobilizing energy, and securing political commitment for change.
Galvanise and engage
The main impetus behind the Food Summit is the fact that the we are off track with all of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that relate to food systems, principally ending poverty and hunger, and action on the climate and environment.
We want to use the Summit to galvanise and engage people, raising awareness about the elements that are broken, and what we need to change; to recognize that we’re way off track with the SDGs, and raise our ambitions; and to secure firm commitments to actions that will transform our current food systems for the better.
Pulling together the UN System
The UN system is already doing a lot of work in this area, and we’ve pulled together several agencies and bodies to support the Summit.
We have formed a UN Task Force to channel the existing research, so that nothing falls through the cracks, which will work closely with a core group of experts we have assembled, which is looking at scientific data pooled from institutions all around the world. At the same time, we are examining national food systems, to see what is and isn’t working.
We are going to pool all the information, evidence and ideas we receive, and create a vision for a future food system that benefits all."
At a briefing on the Food Systems Summit held on Friday, Amina Mohammed, the UN Deputy Secretary-General, noted that a transition to more sustainable systems is already underway, with countries beginning to “take action and change behaviours in support of a new vision of how food arrives on our plate.”
UN Member States, she continued, are increasingly aware that food systems are “one of the most powerful links between humans and the planet”, and bringing about a world that "enhances inclusive economic growth and opportunity, while also safeguarding biodiversity and the global ecosystems that sustain life. "
The Summit objectives