Ministers from Near East & North Africa commit to strengthen collaboration on food & agriculture
Ministerial declaration adopted by FAO Regional Conference endorses FAO’s COVID-19 Response & Recovery Programme & Hand-in-Hand Initiative to help transform food systems
22 September 2020, Muscat/Rome – Ministers from the Near East & North Africa (NENA) approved a historical Ministerial Declaration that sets a foundation for strengthened collaboration across the region to build lasting solutions to the most urgent & pressing food & agricultural challenges, aimed at recovering from COVID-19 impacts & transforming food systems.
The Ministerial Declaration was adopted during the 35th FAO Regional Conference for the Near East (21-22 September), virtually hosted by the Sultanate of Oman, in which 30 FAO Members, as well as representatives from partner organizations, civil society, the private sector & academia, gathered to discuss innovative policy solutions related to this year’s theme “Transforming Food Systems to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals”.
The Declaration focuses on how governments, the private sector, civil society & communities can work together to end hunger & poverty, ensure healthy diets for all & address the growing challenges of water scarcity, climate change & transboundary pests & diseases.
It also recognizes the need to mobilize financial & technical support & cooperation to fund the much-needed investments & innovations in agriculture, water management, food value chains & institutions that will drive these solutions.
In his address to the Regional Conference, the FAO Director-General QU Dongyu listed four important elements to kick start rural transformation, fuel economic growth & help transform the region’s food systems: well-designed multi-sectoral policies that create an enabling environment; innovation of processes & agricultural inputs; well targeted public & private investments; & vital agricultural activity.
NENA countries also acknowledged the importance of small-scale family farmers & fishers, the central role played by women all along the food value chain, & the need to generate more employment opportunities for youth in agriculture.
Hand in hand to address COVID-19 challenges
In light of the COVID-19 impacts, ministers stressed the importance of regional & global solidarity in responding to the global pandemic, welcomed the assistance & resources they had received from FAO in recent months & reaffirmed their support for FAO’s COVID-19 Comprehensive Response & Recovery Plan & its Regional Response Plan, confirming that the areas of priority actions are both highly relevant & consistent with the needs & priorities of the countries of the region.
The declaration also welcomed & endorsed FAO’s Hand-in-Hand Initiative as an umbrella partnership initiative to promote & strengthen bilateral & multilateral cooperation to foster innovation & technologies in food & agriculture systems, mobilize resources & forge solidarity, accelerate the achievement of the SDGs, & transform food systems.
Such transformation, according to the Conference, should come along through gender-sensitive value chain development, technological innovation for all, digitalization that links farmers & their organizations to markets, & targeted initiatives to promote the socio-economic empowerment of rural communities, in particular women & youth.
The Chairperson of the Regional Conference, His Excellency Mr. Saoud Hamood Al Habsi, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries Wealth & Water Resources of the Sultanate of Oman, referred to the Conference as “strategic”: “I congratulate the Director-General’s efforts for a new vision for FAO towards more efficiency in its programmes & initiatives at country & regional levels, including the innovative approach adopted by the Hand-in-Hand Initiative. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the centrality of food security for the economic development of the countries of the region, & I call for a coordinated response to COVID-19 pandemic, as countries have been struggling to ensure agricultural productivity & food accessibility,” he said.
During the conference, the Director-General announced the recent nomination of Ms Ismahane Elouafi from Morocco as FAO’s first ever Chief Scientist, a new position that will further strengthen the technical & scientific dimension of FAO’s work. Elouafi’s background & extensive knowledge of the NENA region will be an asset to respond to the challenges facing Near East & North Africa countries.
FAO Members in Near East & North Africa meet every two years to discuss issues of common concern & guide FAO’s work in support to the region’s food & agriculture.