Around 40% of the population living in Asia and the Pacific cannot afford a healthy diet, and in some regions the fight against hunger has seen setbacks rather than gains during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ahead of a four-day FAO Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific (APRC) that Dhaka is hosting for the first time in hybrid mode, the Director-General of the Food Organization of the United Nations and Agriculture (FAO), Qu Dongyu, wrote in a newspaper article: “Progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of overcoming both poverty (SDG 1) and hunger (SDG 2) have been diverted amid the Covid-19 pandemic, which has devastated both lives and livelihoods.
“The current nutrition situation in Asia and the Pacific is difficult in many parts of the region,” he said.
Fortunately, during a meeting with the Minister of Agriculture of Bangladesh, Dr Muhammad Abdur Razzaque, yesterday in Dhaka, on the sidelines of the 36th APRC, the DG of the FAO assured him of providing investments and support to that Bangladesh, as a key agrarian economy, can absorb future food price shocks and transform its agriculture from subsistence to commercial level.
The conference, which kicked off at a hotel in Dhaka on March 8 with participants from all Asia-Pacific countries joining physically or virtually, will be officially opened by Bangladesh‘s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Wednesday morning. Now touring the United Arab Emirates, the Prime Minister will open the Dhaka conference virtually.
Meeting Qu Dongyu-Razzaque
During his meeting with the Minister of Agriculture, the DG of the FAO said that the specialized organization of the United Nations would organize a conference on investment in October this year. He assured the minister to provide investment support to Bangladesh from different development partners during the October conference.
When they met at the Bangladesh Secretariat, Qu Dongyu said he hoped the Prime Minister of Bangladesh would be able to attend the October conference. Dr Razzaque sought support from FAO as Bangladesh had done its best to advance its agricultural development under the stressful conditions of hilly and salt-prone areas.
Agricultural transformation is essential for greater resilience
During the two-day deliberations at official and expert level on March 8 and 9, conference participants attached utmost importance to agricultural transformation and innovation so that countries in the Asia-Pacific region can develop greater resilience.
Delegates from Bangladesh spoke about the resilience of the country’s agriculture in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, but again the brewing war in the Russian-Ukrainian region is impacting global food prices.
A representative of the private sector, Dr FH Ansarey, emphasized the release of agricultural land, too much of which (70% of the country’s total cultivated land) has been occupied by rice, for others to crops can grow. Otherwise, import dependency for other crops would not decrease.
Deputy Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture, Abdur Rouf Talukder, spoke about Bangladesh’s plan to gradually shift to a commercial farming system from the current subsistence farming. All speakers attached importance to greater investment by the agricultural sector – both public and private – particularly in research and development.
In another session, FAO officials as well as delegates from Thailand and Vietnam stressed the need to take ownership of transboundary water sharing, as they foresee a future scarcity of clean and unpolluted water resources, which are essential for agricultural production.
For Bangladesh, a lower riparian country that shares many common water resources with its upper riparian neighbour, India, ensuring fair shares of common rivers is crucial for its future food security.
Advancing the application of innovation, science and digitalization to help transform agrifood systems in the world’s largest and hungriest region is among the key considerations.
“This CAP is unique. This is the first time that FAO has organized a regional conference in Asia and the Pacific in a hybrid mode. I hope this also sends a signal that although Covid-19 is still with us and around us, we are slowly coming out of its grip,” said Jong-Jin Kim, Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative of FAO, during the opening session. . “We now see light at the end of the tunnel, with a possible return to a more traditional meeting and working environment,” he added.