TEHRAN – Iran called on the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to move forward to collective policies and response programs for member countries in the region to place food and agriculture at the center of the COVID-19 socio-economic response, at the 35th FAO Regional Conference for the Near East.
The two-day conference, held virtually by the Sultanate of Oman, gathered 30 FAO Members as well as representatives from partner organizations, civil society, the private sector, and academia, to identify innovative policy solutions to transform food systems and materialize poverty reduction and zero hunger, amid COVID-19 pandemic.
The Iranian delegation, represented by the country’s ad interim envoy to FAO, Shahin Ghoraishizadeh, also shared the main adaptive strategies implemented by the Government to tackle challenges posed by COVID-19 to food and agriculture activities of the country.
According to Ghoraishizadeh, “in [this] region, the spread of COVID-19 has affected the vulnerability of millions of small producers and agricultural workers and intensified challenges for this large part of the population.”
“If this situation is not effectively addressed in the region, the risk is that all the progress made in overcoming poverty and hunger and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will come to nothing.”
Iran hopes “FAO, through this conference, provides a starting point to move forward collective policies and response programs for member countries in the region; to place food and agriculture at the center of the COVID-19 socio-economic response strategies,” Ghoraishizadeh said in his concluding remarks.
COVID-19 affects both food security and livelihoods
The Near East and North Africa region is not on track to eliminate hunger and malnutrition; hunger is on the rise in the region; overweight and obesity levels amongst adults and children are spiraling upwards, and the COVID-19 pandemic affects both food security and livelihoods; these were among the major challenges highlighted at the 35th FAO Regional Conference for the Near East.
Mentioning the heavy burden caused by the pandemic on food and agriculture sectors, FAO Director-General QU Dongyu asserts that it “is primarily a health crisis, but its impact has touched all parts of our lives, most importantly food security and incomes,” FAO Director-General noted that the pandemic, and measures to contain it, pose significant challenges, especially to the most vulnerable communities, as a compounding threat to existing crises such as conflict, natural disasters, climate change, pests, and plagues. “This underscores the need for evidence-based, coordinated policy action and investment to make food systems healthier and more sustainable,” Qu added.
Underscoring the need to change the region’s food systems to ensure sustainable and healthy diets for the region’s growing population in a context of water scarcity and advancing climate change, Qu indicated four important elements to kick start such transformations: well-designed multi-sectoral policies that create an enabling environment; innovation of processes and agricultural inputs; well-targeted public and private investments; and vital agricultural activity.
At the end of the first day of the conference, members approved a Ministerial Declaration confirming their commitment to further strengthen regional collaboration and effectively address common challenges, including food security and nutrition, water scarcity, climate change, and challenges of transboundary pests and diseases, mobilizing support to mitigate the adverse impacts associated with these challenges.
On the second day, the meeting reviewed the recommendations and conclusions of the Regional Consultative Technical Meetings, a series of preparatory technical sessions that took place earlier this year, gathering senior officers from the ministries of agriculture, water, environment, and health from 30 countries, as well as Permanent Representatives of governments to FAO, FAO staff and representatives of regional organizations, private sector, and academia. The Conference agreed on the final set of recommendations and actions for countries, FAO, and other stakeholders.
FAO Members in Near East and North Africa meet every two years to discuss issues of common concern and guide FAO’s work in support of the region’s food and agriculture. This year’s Regional Conference will further strengthen FAO’s impact across the region, as well as defining its work priorities in the coming two years.