Europe and Central Asia discuss solutions to promote sustainable agrifood systems
- FAO’s Regional Conference for Europe kicks off hosted virtually by Uzbekistan.
The 32nd Session of the FAO Regional Conference for Europe started today as FAO Members from Europe and Central Asia discuss several challenges facing the region on food and agriculture, particularly how to promote sustainable agrifood systems and healthy diets as well as solutions for youth, employment and developing rural areas.
Hosted by Uzbekistan in collaboration with FAO, the Conference - held entirely virtually for the first time - brings together over 31 ministers and deputy-ministers, in total over 270 representatives from 51 Members in Europe and Central Asia, making it the highest attendance at a Regional Conference for Europe. The Azerbaijani delegation was attended by the Minister of Agriculture Inam Karimov, Deputy Minister of Agriculture Ilhama Gadimova and other representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture. Representatives of international organizations, the civil society and the private sector are also participating in the Conference, which is held biennially.
In his opening address, the Director-General thanked Uzbekistan for their flexibility in hosting the Conference virtually, and welcomed the representatives from civil society, private sector and other partners, stressing that their presence and contribution enriches the discussion.
The FAO Director-General, QU Dongyu, also highlighted that the region is an economic and agricultural powerhouse but also faces many enduring and new challenges.
These include “pressure on natural resources, land degradation and water scarcity in large parts of the region, persisting food insecurity but also growing levels of obesity, increasing gaps between rural and urban areas, gender inequalities and enduring pockets of hunger and poverty in many rural areas,” he said, noting that innovation and digital technologies are crucial to promote modern sustainable agriculture and rural development.
“Digital technologies such as satellite imaging, remote sensors and mobile and blockchain applications promise revolutionary changes for smallholder farmers and consumers,” he said, pointing out that “they can help optimize food chains, increase access to markets, reduce food loss and waste, improve water management and fight pests and diseases.”
Innovative tools and approaches for tailor-made support
In response to challenges facing the region, the FAO Director-General highlighted some key achievements, such as a strategy for accessing the Green Climate Fund, FAO’s normative and field work on land consolidation, as well as the Regional Gender Strategy and country gender assessments that are contributing to the empowerment of rural women across the region.
Qu also noted the compounding effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on existing challenges and highlighted the recently launched FAO’s comprehensive COVID-19 Response and Recovery Programme, “which aims to mitigate immediate impacts while strengthening the long-term resilience of agrifood systems and livelihoods.”
FAO Director-General Qu also alluded to FAO’s flagship Hand-in-Hand Initiative - an evidence-based, initiative aimed at ending hunger and poverty in countries that cannot be left behind. The Initiative deploys sophisticated tools and analytics such as the Hand-in-Hand Geospatial Platform and Data Lab for Statistical Innovation to accelerate agricultural transformation and sustainable rural development.
Healthy diets and sustainable agri-food systems
Agri-food systems in Europe and Central Asia are diverse, at different stages of development and experiencing different external pressures and challenges. These include limited public spending, natural resources constraints and socio-political considerations. COVID-19 has exposed these fragilities but it also reinforced the importance of resilient food systems.
The 32nd Session of the Regional Conference for Europe ends on 4 November, and it is the last of a series of virtual FAO regional conferences that included Asia and the Pacific; Near East; Latin America and the Caribbean and Africa.