Ministers and high-level delegates from across Asia and the Pacific met today (10 March) with a focus on improving nutrition, lives and livelihoods in the wake of the global pandemic, while taking aim at ongoing climate and severe weather-related threats, and tackling diseases and pests that are affecting crops and livestock in the world’s most populous region. Improved ecosystem responses in the Pacific Islands is another key topic.
The 36th Asia and Pacific Regional Conference (APRC), convened by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and hosted by the Government of Bangladesh, is taking place in the capital, Dhaka.
The FAO Director-General, QU Dongyu, attending the regional conference in person, acknowledged the toll the global pandemic has inflicted on lives and livelihoods of the people of Asia and the Pacific. He noted there was a long way to go for the region to eliminate hunger and improve nutrition, pointing to a FAO report from last year that found 40 percent of the population were unable to afford a healthy, nutritious diet.
Reversing many years of progress, hunger in Asia and the Pacific is on the rise again, and inequalities are increasing, particularly between rural and urban populations, while too often women and youth are being left behind.
SOUNDBITE (English) QU Dongyu, FAO Director-General: “The pandemic has forced us to reconsider our priorities and approaches and has highlighted the importance of more sustainable and resilient societies, as well as of the urgency to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals to secure food, health, education, a healthy environment, and a decent life for all.”
A key area of interest in this APRC is the digitalization of agriculture and food processes that are sweeping across Asia and the Pacific, and the potential they have for the region and the world, if scaled up further, to help transform agrifood systems in ways that also benefit smallholder farmers. This would support achieving the “Four Betters”, as set out in the FAO Strategic Framework 2022-31: Better production, Better nutrition, a Better environment and a Better life for all – leaving no one behind.
FAO has been a leader in promoting digitalization and innovation in agricultural processes – from producers, to processers, transporters, retailers and consumers – through FAO’s 1,000 Digital Villages Initiative, as one prime example, and the creation of a SIDS Solutions Platform as another.
SOUNDBITE (English) QU Dongyu, FAO Director-General: “The 1,000 Digital Villages Initiative aims to convert villages across the world into digital hubs to support the acceleration of rural transformation.”
Qu said, noting that the initiative has been rolled out in 15 countries across the Asia-Pacific region and will facilitate smallholder producers’ access to knowledge and markets, while reducing the digital gap, including the gender and rural divides.
SOUNDBITE (English) QU Dongyu, FAO Director-General: “The initiative facilitates the small producers access knowledge, market, to reduce digital gap include gender and rural development. And it is also good for young farmers and women will leverage the entrepreneurial spirit of youth and women in the villages that can improve their livelihoods and also their productivity and market accessibility.”
The Director-General emphasized that he has initiated institutional reforms to give FAO’s regional and subregional offices more agility to help them deliver on flagship initiatives and support the Organization’s Strategic Framework 2022-2031.
More actions are forthcoming, the Director-General added, as FAO develops its regional strategy on digital innovation and completes the Regional Technical Platform on Aquaculture, which will become a knowledge hub on the subject, allowing countries around the world to benefit from the vast experiences acquired in the Asia-Pacific region.
At its headquarters, FAO is also hosting a Coordination Hub to shepherd follow-up actions on the ground after the UN Food Systems Summit 2021.
While the Asia and Pacific Regional Conference is convened every two years to seek the views and direction of the governments of FAO Member Nations in the region, it has expanded to become more inclusive of other actors, such as civil society organizations and the private sector, both of which participated to the conference.