FAO Regional Conference calls for greater action to tackle COVID-19’s impacts across Asia & the Pacific
Ministerial Session highlights the importance of supporting the livelihoods of the most vulnerable people through sustained & stronger collaboration
3 September 2020, Bangkok/Thimphu – On the third day of the FAO Regional Conference for Asia-Pacific, the FAO Director-General QU Dongyu, Government Ministers as well as civil society & public sector representatives voiced concern over COVID-19’s impacts on the food security & livelihoods of millions of people, & urged for greater action to overcome the food & agriculture challenges facing the region.
They spoke during the Ministerial Session of the virtual conference, which is hosted by Bhutan & aims to define the region priorities for the coming years, as well as to elaborate strategies to fight hunger & malnutrition & advance the transformation of agri-food systems, making them more sustainable, productive & resilient.
“We need to recognize that the food & agriculture sectors, including fisheries, forestry, crops & livestock, & the families that rely on them for their livelihoods, have been badly affected by the spread of the pandemic,” said Bhutan’s Foreign Minister Tandi Dorji, who delivered the session’s keynote address on behalf of his country’s Prime Minister.
The FAO Director-General highlighted that small & vulnerable farmers must be at the centre of the response.
“Smallholder farmers & their families, food workers in all sectors, & those living in commodity- & tourism-dependent economies are particularly vulnerable. They urgently need our attention,” QU urged.
The Asia-Pacific region is home to more than half of the world’s undernourished people, & with the impacts of COVID-19 the number of hungry people in Southern Asia could rise by nearly a third to 330 million in the next ten years.
“While great strides had been made to reduce poverty & hunger by so many countries, COVID-19 has upended the momentum. We must prepare for higher risks ahead of us & make sure that there is sustainability in the food supply chain,” said the conference’s chairperson Yeshey Penjor, Bhutan’s Minister for Agriculture & Forests.
Other high-level speakers noted the importance of acting in two fronts simultaneously: revising public policies & implementing practical measures in the field.
“The novel coronavirus has implications for local, national, regional & global policies & it is important that global & local conditions alike are recognized when confronting this pandemic,” said the Independent Chairperson of the FAO Council, Khalid Mehboob.
“The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the vulnerability & weaknesses of already fragile global food systems. We must take urgent action to transform our food systems,” stressed Thanawat Tiensin, the Chairperson of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), an international & intergovernmental platform which includes the private sector & civil society & reports to the FAO Conference & the UN General Assembly through the Economic & Social Council (ECOSOC).
Speaking on behalf of the civil society, Chime P. Wangdi, Secretary General of the Tarayana Foundation in Bhutan, acknowledged farmers across the region as “food heroes” & “food frontliners”.
“There is a silver lining though in this pandemic. The health crisis made ordinary citizens realize again the value of farmers producing local, healthy food, & governments, of becoming more self-reliant in domestic agricultural production; of shorter & inclusive food & value chains,” she said.
Sustained & stronger collaboration
The FAO Director-General & many participants also urged for sustained & stronger collaboration, including leveraging agricultural technologies & innovations, to end hunger & tackle COVID-19’s impacts
In this respect, the FAO chief presented the organization’s recently launched COVID-19 Response & Recovery Programme – aimed at mitigating the immediate impacts of the pandemic while building back better – as well as other key initiatives, with focus on innovation, that can accelerate global hunger-fighting efforts.
These include the establishment of an FAO office of innovation & the creation of an international platform for digital food & agriculture, as well as the Hand-in-Hand Initiative, which is supported by “state-of-the-art tools”, namely the Hand-in-Hand Geospatial Platform & the FAO Data Lab for statistical innovation.
“The point of all these initiatives is to get the latest knowledge & tools into the hands of decision makers but also smallholder farmers, fishers, herders & foresters. This is the region where a vast majority of smallholders are producing the food & agricultural products that we rely upon,” said QU.
“We need to take full advantage of the digital age through innovative partnerships with national governments, farmers, the private sector, academia, NGOs & many others,” he urged.
Several participants, including Bhutan’s Foreign Minister, conveyed interest in & support for the organization’s current key initiatives such as Hand-in-Hand. Others acknowledged the important role innovation & technologies could play in improving food production & security.
The FAO Regional Conference for Asia & the Pacific will continue until tomorrow 4 September. All sessions of the conference can be followed live via Webcast. The Timetable can be found here & the Annotated Agenda is here.