Iran calls for global scientific capacities to rebound from COVID-19 damage

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TEHRAN – To tackle damages caused by COVID-19 and the ongoing effects of chronic undernourishment, it requires the use of international and regional scientific capacities, Kazem Khavazi, the Minister for Agriculture said in the 35th Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific, hosted by Bhutan.

The Conference organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), held on September 1-4.

Innovation, solidarity, coherence, and strong partnership among and within countries of Asia and the Pacific are required for the region to rebound from the damage caused by COVID-19 and the ongoing effects of chronic undernourishment.

That was a call made by more than 40 member countries of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations concluding a four-day regional conference. About 750 participants, including representatives of the private sector and civil society, pledged to work to transform food systems, making them more sustainable, productive, and resilient and to feed a hungry world in a way that is profitable for farmers yet produces healthy food that is accessible to all.

Briefing the participants of the conference on the achievements that Iran has secured in the agriculture sector, Khavazi highlighted that “Iran has followed adaptive strategies such as changing the cultivating season, changing cultivars, using new technologies, transferring cultivation from outdoor to indoor, limiting the cultivation of some crops such as rice in some geographical areas, increasing the volume of annually stored water through watershed management operations, soil erosion control, and also increase of forage production.”

“However, tackling these problems requires the use of international and regional scientific capacities. I hope this meeting will take the necessary steps in this direction,” the Minister for Agriculture added.

“To transform food systems for sustainable healthy diets we must have coherence, partnerships, and solidarity to reduce the costs of production,” FAO Director-General QU Dongyu said.

“Big data, a digital economy, and mobile technology will help producers achieve that.” Today, mobile technology is leading innovation “and a smartphone in the hands of a smallholder farmer is his new farming tool,” Dongyu added.

The Conference also learned more about the establishment of FAO Office of Innovation and the creation of an International Platform for Digital Food and Agriculture.

The Conference heard that agricultural innovation can reduce back-breaking drudgery, and that food chains in the Asia-Pacific region are increasingly benefitting from technological innovation such as drones, satellite imagery, big data, and blockchains.

“Leveraging data, innovation, and technology have shown that, here in Asia and the Pacific, we have brilliant minds, scientists, and an entrepreneurial spirit that will lead us through the challenges presented by COVID-19 and help us conquer malnutrition and poverty,” the Director-General said.

A special session also was held dedicated to the application of new technology and innovation in agriculture, which are wooing back young people and empowering women in the sector, according to participants. It was agreed that new and innovative food and agricultural policies, processes, investment, and learning could get the region back on track to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 2 (ending hunger and promoting sustainable agriculture) by 2030.

COVID-19 underscores the need to redouble efforts to end hunger and poverty

The Asia-Pacific region is home to more than half of the world’s undernourished people, and with the impacts of COVID-19, the number of hungry people in Southern Asia could rise by nearly a third to 330 million in the next ten years.

The participants heard how FAO’s recently launched COVID-19 Response and Recovery Programme, would help countries mitigate the immediate impacts of the pandemic while build back better, accelerating global hunger-fighting efforts through a focus on innovation.

The Conference was chaired by the Minister for Agriculture and Forests of Bhutan, Yeshey Penjor, who called for strengthened collaboration: “While great strides had been made to reduce poverty and hunger by so many countries, COVID-19 has upended the momentum. We must prepare for higher risks ahead of us and make sure that there is sustainability in the food supply chain,” he said.

“Ironically, the fact that COVID-19 has driven us to meet remotely has, in some ways, helped us to move away from formalities and get closer together,” said QU, referring to the fact the Regional Conference was held entirely in virtual mode for the first time in FAO’s history. “So while we are separated by some 11 time zones, we have still managed to come together, have thought-provoking discussions and reach consensus on a number of important issues.”

There were a number of other firsts and achievements. The private sector joined for the first time FAO Asia and the Pacific Regional Conference. Civil society organizations also continued to have an important voice. Prior to the conference, which is part of FAO’s regional governance structure, national consultations were held in member nations across the region – another first.

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