Strong support for innovation & digital technologies in Latin America & the Caribbean | FAO News

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Strong support for innovation & digital technologies in Latin America & the Caribbean

FAO Regional Conference breaks attendance record with more than 540 participants & close to 30,000 following it through digital platforms

21 October 2020, Managua/Santiago/Rome – The 36th Session of FAO’s Regional Conference for  Latin America & the Caribbean  ended today with FAO Members in the region agreeing to join efforts to fight COVID-19 & promote sustainable agri-food systems through innovation, digital technologies, partnerships & enhanced data, particularly to strengthen food value chains & support smallholders farmers & the most vulnerable communities.

During the three-day virtual meeting (19 – 21 October) hosted by the Government of Nicaragua, all 33 Members, as well as representatives from civil society & the private sector, highlighted the importance of developing & applying innovative approaches to overcome the challenges facing food & agriculture in the region, particularly in relation to scaling up the use of digital tools.

“We need innovation, science & digital technologies to reach the Sustainable Development Goals,” said FAO’s Director-General, QU Dongyu, during the event, stressing that innovation & digital technologies “are the only way out for us to go forward.”

Several Latin American & Caribbean countries stressed that policies & programmes to promote digital solutions should mainly target small & medium-sized family farmers & poor & vulnerable rural communities, bridging the gaps in the rural population & leveraging their potential for inclusive & sustainable development. The International Platform for Digital Food & Agriculture, whose development has been led by FAO, was mentioned as an important tool for the exchange of experience & coordination among countries.

The Director-General noted that digital technology also contributed to make the Regional Conference a tremendous success in terms of attendance. The level of participation was unprecedented. The event was attended by one Prime Minister, three Ministers of Foreign Affairs, 50 ministers & 40 vice-ministers, & 346 other government officials, as well as 103 Observers from a wide diversity of sectors & organizations. Furthermore, close to 30,000people are estimated to have followed the Conference through digital platforms.

“The Digital FAO is more transparent, more open to dialogue, more inclusive, &, above all, more responsive to the needs & priorities of its Members,” Qu said.

Enhanced partnerships & data

The Regional Conference affirmed that in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is fundamental to strengthen partnerships, multilateralism & international solidarity. In this sense, countries welcomed FAO’s comprehensive COVID-19 Response & Recovery Programme & requested support from the UN agency for the design, implementation & assessment of public policies & programmes. These, they noted, should focus  on job creation, social & productive inclusion, healthy food for the whole population, school feeding, access to water for production & consumption & increasing productivity.

“The FAO COVID-19 Response & Recovery Programme is now in motion. We must work together to minimize the impact that the pandemic will have on our food systems, livelihoods & health,” the Director-General said.

The importance of data collection & analysis for the development of a new generation of public policies & programmes was also highlighted by countries, as well as agreements & alliances between the public, private, scientific, academic & civil society sectors, to promote governance of food systems that enable healthy diets & sustainable food systems.

In this context, countries supported the Hand-in-Hand Initiative to promote effective cooperation mechanisms between recipient & donor countries, as well as to mobilize resources from financial institutions & the private sector, particularly to reduce the development gaps that affect lagging rural territories in the region. The initiative is equipped with state-of-the-art tools – the Hand in Hand Geospatial Platform & the Data Lab for Statistical Innovation – to support countries & other stakeholders with data collection & analysis for decision-making & impact assessment.

Transforming food systems towards better nutrition in the region 

The Regional Conference held a special event organised by the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) to discuss ways to transform food systems & ensure healthy diets for all, entitled “Driving Transformation Toward Sustainable Food Systems & Healthy Diets.”

The region of Latin America & the Caribbean is undergoing a rapid nutritional transition. Since 2014, hunger has grown again by 13 million people, & the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to lead to an increase in the incidence of hunger. Today, almost 48 million people suffer from hunger in the region. At the same time, obesity levels are also on the rise affecting around 25 percent of the population.

“We need to join all our efforts & work together, now more than ever before”, said FAO Director-General QU Dongyu opening the special event. “Because, we are not on track to eradicating hunger, food insecurity & all forms of malnutrition by 2030. & because the COVID-19 pandemic comes at a time when food insecurity was already increasing in the region”.

He noted that the pandemic & the related containment measures are especially damaging for Small Island Developing States, which heavily depend on food imports, & called on the countries in the region to step up efforts to make their food systems more efficient, healthy & sustainable, stressing that agri-food systems transformation should be country-owned & country-led.

For his part, the CFS Chairperson & Permanent Representative of Thailand to the Rome-based Agencies, Thanawat Tiensin, noted that the CFS Voluntary Guidelines on Food Systems & Nutrition are currently under negotiation by all CFS members & are expected to be adopted at the next CFS Plenary session in February 2021. He urged all stakeholders including governments, parliamentarians, private sector & civil society to improve cross-sectoral policy coordination & join efforts to turn policies into action.

During the event, the FAO Director-General & the CFS Chairperson were joined by Senator Jorge Pizarro of Chile, President of the Parliament of Latin America & the Caribbean (PARLATINO); Marisa Macari, El Poder del Consumidor, Mexico, Representative of the CFS Civil Society Mechanism; & Maria Nelly Rivas, Cargill, Representative of the CFS Private Sector Mechanism, as well as regional policy-makers & experts. 

The CFS was established in 1974, hosted by FAO, as an intergovernmental body to serve as a forum in the United Nations System for review & follow-up of policies concerning world food security. It is considered the most inclusive platform in the UN System.

In his closing remarks to the Regional Conference, the Chairperson & Minister for Agriculture & Livestock of Nicaragua, Edward Centeno Gadea, highlighted the importance of FAO’s work to support rural families, particularly the most vulnerable ones, & affirmed that “fighting against poverty is an act of peace.”

More information about the Regional Conference for Latin America & the Caribbean can be found here.

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