Accelerating the transformation of agri-food systems in the MENA region

QU Dongyu
Wednesday 28 Feb 2024

The MENA region faces severe water scarcity and climate shocks. As a result, we must prioritize the adaptation to climate change, as well as mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.

 

The world is facing a major challenge in achieving the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goal 2 (SDG2), which seeks to eliminate hunger and all forms of malnutrition by 2030. This is particularly true in the Near East and North Africa (NENA) region, which in recent years has experienced a worrisome surge in food insecurity.

This dire development can be attributed to a multitude of factors, with the impact of conflicts, the climate crisis, and other calamities being the most prominent. The recent crises in Gaza, Sudan, and Yemen, coupled with prolonged pressures in other countries such as Syria and Iraq, are of great concern, and immediate action is necessary to overcome these challenges and safeguard food supply chains to ensure food security for all.

For that, we need to accelerate the transformation of agrifood systems to make them more efficient, more inclusive, more resilient, and more sustainable. This will be one of the main issues under discussion at the  37th session of the FAO Regional Ministerial Conference for the Near East to be held in Amman, Jordan, on 4-5 March 2024. During this biennial governing body meeting, ministers from the NENA countries will gather to assess the situation in the region’s agrifood systems and create a plan of action going forward, as well as to identify key priorities for FAO's programme of work in the region.

At FAO, we have realigned and refocused our efforts towards supporting Members in accelerating the transformation needed. We have adopted agile operating strategies, offered tailored and timely data and analytical support, enhanced our engagement with governments, the private sector, civil society, academia, and international financial institutions, and have established transformative partnerships with all key players. The reformed and restructured FAO is now better equipped, fit-for-purpose, and already working towards this transformation.

Ownership and leadership by FAO Members, and collective efforts by all development partners and stakeholders, are crucial. Shared vision, foresight, responsibilities, and implementation arrangements are needed to achieve our goals. I would like to emphasize the significance of collaborations and partnerships, especially in the NENA region.

The challenges faced by agrifood systems across the region, and beyond, are enormous and constantly increasing. With a growing population and dwindling agriculture resources, we must strive to improve productivity and efficiency as much as possible. We must produce more with less. To this end, we need to leverage the potential of cooperation, trade, investment and the utilization of innovation and technology within the region and with other regions. The priority should be to establish food corridors, which ought to harness the potential of production, regional value chains, intra-regional trade, storage, and reserve systems. We need to safeguard supply chains and trade to ensure food availability, accessibility, and affordability for all.

The region also faces severe water scarcity and climate shocks. As a result, we must prioritize the adaptation to climate change, as well as mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. Agrifood systems are solutions based on science and data. We should recognize and acknowledge the efforts made by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates to encourage collective action and pathways during the UNFCCC COP27 and COP28, for advancing the agenda of agrifood systems and food security, as well as the food-water-energy nexus.

In support of this process, at COP27 FAO initiated a process, which culminated at COP28, by launching a Global Roadmap for Achieving SDG2 without breaching the 1.5C threshold, which aims to make the case that accelerated climate actions can transform agrifood systems and help to achieve good, nutritious food for all for today and tomorrow.

At FAO, Members have endorsed a Strategic Framework for 2022-2031 based on the aspiration of the Four Betters: better production, better nutrition, a better environment, and a better life, leaving no one behind. This comprehensive framework provides us with an opportunity to take a wide-ranging look at our agrifood systems, identify areas that need improvement, and take appropriate actions. Members benefit from FAO's technical expertise, assistance, and support through its headquarters, as well as regional, subregional, and country offices, to ensure effective implementation in support of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the SDGs. My focus is on strengthening FAO’s country offices to maximize their impact on the ground and support the work of Members at the country level.

In support of our Strategic Framework, we have in place a number of flagship initiatives to support transformation, including the FAO Hand-in-Hand Initiative that supports the implementation of nationally led, ambitious programmes to accelerate agrifood systems transformations by eradicating poverty (SDG1), ending hunger and malnutrition (SDG2), and reducing inequalities (SDG10); and the One Country One Priority Product (OCOP) Initiative that supports countries in the development of more sustainable food value chains of Special Agricultural Products and improved rural livelihoods.

Proactive measures designed to tackle the challenges of agriculture and food security play a crucial role here. This is not only important from a social and economic point of view but also for maintaining peace and stability. In recent times, this region has experienced social and political unrest caused by lack of food security. The consequences of such developments should be enough to prioritize addressing this challenge and prevent potential future surges. Currently, over half of the region's population cannot afford a healthy diet, which is a serious concern. Governments should work towards improving access to affordable, healthy diets for their population. FAO will continue to support these national efforts, including by acting as a professional platform for dialogue and knowledge exchange.

I would like to emphasize the significance of not only efficient and effective, but also inclusive transformation. We must tackle both structural and societal gaps and inequalities. To achieve this, we must focus on rural development, empowering women, mobilizing youth as key players in agrifood systems, promoting agriculture entrepreneurs and local knowledge, and involving communities and groups in marginalized situations. Farmers must be at the center of our work.

It is time to mobilize all efforts to transform agrifood systems. Let's prioritize resources to ensure food security and better nutrition for all, with no one left behind. FAO is committed to this noble pursuit.

*QU Dongyu is the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

 

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