FAO calls for collaboration & innovation in Latin America & the Caribbean
Regional Conference kicks off virtually with focus on COVID-19 responses & strong political support & participation from Members
19 October 2020, Managua/Santiago/Rome – The 36th session of FAO’s Regional Conference for Latin America & the Caribbean, hosted virtually by the Government of Nicaragua, started today with Members exchanging their experiences, strategies & ideas on the fight against COVID-19 pandemic, while the FAO Director-General QU Dongyu stressed the importance of strengthened collaboration & innovation, particularly to support the most vulnerable people highly affected by the pandemic.
From the outset, the Director-General praised the efficient response of the region so far to keep food supply chains working amid the impacts of the pandemic.
“I have seen that your countries adopted a slogan in this pandemic: Agriculture will not stop!” Qu said. “I pay tribute to the millions of farmers, entrepreneurs, food processors, workers, traders & merchants, who made sure that every single day food was available in every city, town & village from the Rio Bravo to the Patagonia,” he added.
Qu noted, however, that Latin American & Caribbean countries need to strengthen their efforts as COVID-19 continues its rampage, mainly affecting the poorest & most vulnerable people. “Over 34 million jobs have been lost is this region, & the UN projects that up to 28 million people could fall into extreme poverty, which means a high likelihood of also suffering severe food insecurity,” he said.
In this context, Qu highlighted how FAO has been at the forefront of addressing the challenges posed by the pandemic through the COVID-19 Response & Recovery Program, aimed at preventing a global food emergency, while strengthening the resilience & inclusiveness of food systems & livelihoods. “The Program enables donors to leverage the Organization’s convening power, real-time data, early warning systems & technical expertise to direct support where & when it is needed most,” he said.
The Director-General also referred to the Hand-in-Hand Initiative as a new approach & platform to promote enhanced collaboration among national & local authorities, the private sector, civil society scientists, NGOs, & many others.
“It is a new business model for collaboration, which uses a broad spectrum of partnerships & leverages the technical & data capacity of the Organization, to determine the best options to reach the most vulnerable & have the greatest impact on poverty & hunger,” he said.
Qu noted that the region is a pillar of global food security & encompasses a very large share of the world’s biodiversity, forests, water & productive soils & has pioneered important policies to eradicate poverty & reach zero hunger.
To unleash the region’s full potential in terms of food & agriculture, the Director-General called on Members to promote innovation & digital technologies; create new opportunities for rural people by taking advantage of the new demands of urban consumers; & expand trade & access to markets for farmers & agri-food entrepreneurs, through science-based & fair multilateral rules.
The FAO Director-General also stressed that the UN agency is making profound changes to address the global challenges of food & agriculture. As an example, he mentioned the establishment of a dedicated Office for Small Island Developing States (SIDS), Least Developed Countries (LDCs) & Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDCs) & noted that 18 of the 33 countries in the region belong to one or more of the aforementioned groups. Qu also spoke of the new FAO Office for Innovation & the Office of Climate Change, Biodiversity & Environment.
A historic Regional Conference
The first virtual Regional Conference in Latin America & the Caribbean kicked off with an unprecedented level of political support & participation. More than 50 ministers are registered to participate – including all the region’s ministers of Agriculture – 40 vice-ministers & 360 other delegates, as well as observers from civil society, the private sector, the scientific & academic worlds, the Parliamentary Fronts against Hunger, & 37 sister organizations of the United Nations system & the inter-American system.
Denis Moncada, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the host country Nicaragua, spoke on behalf of President Daniel Ortega & expressed the hope that the region’s economies & agricultural sector make a fast recovery after the impact of the pandemic. The Chairman of the Conference & Minister for Agriculture of Nicaragua, Edward Centeno, highlighted the key role that the Regional Conference plays in the region’s efforts towards the Sustainable Development Goals.
Among high-level participants in the first day of debates, the Prime Minister of Haiti, Joseph Jouthe, praised FAO’s assistance in supporting Haiti’s food security & nutrition policies, & its climate change adaptation plan.
The First Lady of Colombia, Maria Juliana Ruiz, emphasized the need to drive innovation & technology to improve nutrition throughout the region, while ensuring the protection of its invaluable ecosystems.
The Vice-President of El Salvador, Félix Ulloa, highlighted the FAO Hand in Hand Initiative as a proactive response to the pandemic, & noted how El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele has put forth an ambitious plan to reactivate the agricultural sector & boost Blue Growth with FAO’s support.
In his intervention, Khalid Mehboob, Independent Chairperson of the FAO Council, underscored how Latin America & the Caribbean was the first region to commit to completely eradicating hunger by 2025, & eight of its FAO member nations have managed to fully eradicate hunger. However, he also noted that the region has seen a rise in hunger in the past few years, with the number of undernourished increasing by 9 million between 2015 & 2019.
For his part the FAO Regional Representative for Latin America & the Caribbean, Julio Berdegué, warned that: “Agriculture must be sustainable or it will have no future.” FAO, he noted, will strive to support the region’s countries to make agriculture more sustainable & resilient, reducing its environmental footprint, & emissions of greenhouse gases. “This change will be an engine of innovation, new investments, & new & better jobs”, he said.
FAO Members in Latin America & the Caribbean meet every two years to discuss issues of common concern, define priorities & guide FAO’s work in support to the region’s food & agriculture.