Bangkok/Thimphu – 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.
"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 on the final day of the 35th Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific, hosted by the Government of Bhutan.
"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," the Director-General added.
The Conference also learned more about the establishment of a 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 block chains.
"Leveraging data, innovation and technology has 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.
The Conference held a special session 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.
The Conference also appreciated the FAO Hand in Hand Initiative that aims to enable matchmaking, bringing the right partners together at the right time, to help the region move forward and meet the needs of member countries. The Initiative has already seen the launch of state-of-the-art tools such as the Hand-in-Hand Geospatial Platform and the FAO Data Lab for statistical innovation.
"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 Director-General 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 a 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.