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The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has recently wrapped up its largest-ever regional conference in Asia and the Pacific, with more than 1,100 participants from 42 Member nations

FAO regionalcon2022Ministers discuss upscaling digitalisation of agriculture, greater mitigation efforts against the climate crisis and tackling animal, pest diseases. (Image source: FAO)

The 36th session of the FAO Asia and the Pacific Regional Conference, a combination of in-person and virtual participation, was hosted by the Government of Bangladesh, from 8-11 March 2022, in the nation’s capital Dhaka.

According to FAO, the record-breaking participation underscored the concerns member nations have in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic and other existing and emerging threats such as the impact on food production from the climate crisis and the spread of animal and plant diseases across the region.

In order to effectively address these issues, the FAO Director-General, QU Dongyu, called for a holistic and combined approach, together with all relevant key partners, not only with Ministries for agriculture, food and rural affairs, but also bringing in Ministers responsible for welfare, women, children, environment, science, education, health, trade, finance and investment.

“We have to help the farmers with our enabling policies, responsible investment, innovation and science, and information technology,” said Qu. “The world is evolving. In the agri-food sector, we must not simply follow, we must lead,” he added. “Agriculture, food and nutrition are at the core of our humanity’s needs – and the world looks towards the Asia and Pacific region for leadership.”

Developing green, resilient and sustainable agrifood systems

A round table on “greener and better agri-food systems after COVID-19” reviewed examples from four countries about their experiences in battling through the pandemic – China, Japan, Philippines and Samoa – and their responses to help their people.

According to FAO, harnessing big data, digitalising agricultural production and food services from source to the retail and consumer sectors have played a big role in helping some countries begin the transformation of their agrifood systems during the pandemic. But it was clear there would be no one-size-fits-all solution, and more would need to be done, in a systematic way, to ensure food and nutrition security by 2030 in a post-COVID-19 Asia and the Pacific.  

“There has been a clear call from Members for deeper collaboration, between and among countries and for international development partners like FAO to continue providing technical support as the lead global specialised agency on food and agriculture,” said FAO deputy director-general Beth Bechdol in concluding remarks. 

The second Ministerial round table discussion focused on “climate actions for resilience and sustainability”. Participants noted the recent intergovernmental panel on climate change report on “Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability” as the most recent warning that the climate crisis is a threat to human, animal and plant wellbeing and the health of the planet, and delegates welcomed FAO’s new strategy on climate change.

“Agrifood systems are both contributing to, and affected by, the climate crisis, ecosystem degradation and biodiversity loss. The COVID-19 pandemic has further intensified existing inequalities. There is, however, hope and there are solutions,” said the FAO director-general in his remarks.

“The new FAO Strategy on Climate Change is a major undertaking and a crucial way to ensure that FAO continues to meet the needs of our members to tackle this issue. And it is for this reason that we have worked to make the process to develop a strategy as inclusive and consultative as possible,” said Maria Helena Semedo, FAO deputy director-general, in her summation of the round table.

During the four days, the conference discussed FAO initiatives such as the Hand in Hand Initiative, the One Country, One Priority Product (OCOP) and the 1000 Digital Villages Initiative, and held a special event on innovation, science and digitalisation – transforming agrifood systems in the Asia-Pacific region.