FAO Director-General cites inclusiveness, market access & innovations as key to food security in the COVID-19 context
QU Dongyu outlines ways to minimize the impacts of the pandemic on agri-food systems at Mediterranean Dialogues 2020
3 December 2020, Rome – Ensuring the free movement of food across the world & well-functioning markets has been a central pillar of the global response to COVID-19 pandemic but difficulties with access to food at national level still remain, FAO Director-General QU Dongyu said today at a high-level panel discussion. Entitled “People first: the human security paradigm in a time of pandemic,” the event is part of Mediterranean Dialogues 2020, an initiative of Italy.
“In general, food systems have been proven fairly resilient to the effects of the pandemic,” the FAO Director-General said, noting that international food markets are relatively stable & international trade in food is functioning well thanks in part to the early calls made by FAO jointly with World Health Organization (WHO) & World Trade Organisation (WTO) in March, urging countries to prevent a repeat of the mistakes made during the 2007-08 food crisis.
FAO has also taken early measures to help countries dealing with the challenges the pandemic presented to food & agriculture, including establishing early warning systems, introducing Big Data tools in agri-food systems, & timely information sharing.
The FAO Director-General stressed, however, that despite the relatively stable global picture, the situation is more complex across countries & regions, especially in relation to perishable products supplies & price increases.
Qu said that in order to cope with these challenges, it was crucial to have interaction at different levels with different groups. He expressed his appreciation to all key players who had worked with FAO dealing with the challenges. He thanked Italy, the UN agency’s host country, for launching with FAO the Food Coalition, aimed at helping countries tackle the impacts of the pandemic on their agri-food systems.
Qu underscored the need for more solidarity, more coherence & more passion to overcome the pandemic within the coming months.
Three aspects of innovation for Africa
On the situation in Africa, the FAO Director-General said that the continent is facing multiple challenges on top of the pandemic. For example, East Africa is struggling with the surge in Desert Locust & Fall Armyworm populations; some countries are facing conflicts; & some others are facing devastating droughts. However, he noted that Africa has a lot of potential to produce enough food if we introduce three major aspects of innovation to the continent: technological innovation, policy innovation & innovative business models.
Linking the need for establishing a more country-tailored policy & capacity building, the Director-General alluded to the FAO Hand-in Hand Initiative as a game-changing business model – a country-owned & country-led matchmaking approach aimed at reducing poverty through investing in innovative, inclusive & productive value chains & building human capital.
Qu highlighted the importance of stepping up the Hand-in Hand Initiative implementation to help vulnerable countries – in particular the Least Developed Countries, the Land-locked Developing States & the Small Island Developing States – build resilience in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic & other crises.
As another example of innovative business models, he cited FAO’s new 1 000 Digital Villages Project which seeks to convert villages or towns into digital hubs. The initiative is designed to help villages transform agri-food systems towards better inclusiveness to benefit, first & foremost, smallholder farmers & producers, facilitate their access to international markets via e-commerce in line with international food standards & trade regulations.
He also singled out investment in infrastructure & capacity building as well as providing access to broadband connections in rural areas as key drivers to boost rural development in Africa & build back better post-COVID-19.
The Director-General also stressed the need to respect indigenous knowledge & agricultural practices. Agricultural technology & digitalization should be localized & tailored to local environments, he said, noting that the only way we can modernize agri-food systems & improve food security in less developed countries is to benefit their smallholders & help them sell their unique produce online to other regions.
The panel discussion also featured Ahmed al-Mandhari, Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean, WHO; Baiba Braže, Assistant Secretary General, NATO; Serwan Esmaeil, Secretary General of the Council of Representatives, Iraq; Valerie N. Guarnieri, Assistant Executive Director, WFP; Nasser Kamel, Secretary-General, Union for the Mediterranean; Washio Eiichiro, State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Japan; & WU Hongbo, Special Representative of the Chinese Government on European Affairs.
MED – Mediterranean Dialogues is an annual high-level initiative promoted by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs & International Cooperation & the Italian Institute for International Political Studies, with the aim to rethink traditional approaches to the area & complementing analyses of current challenges.