“We meet in trying times, but the opportunities ahead of us give me hope,” Director-General Qu said. “Africa is the continent of untapped potential and remains a key priority for me. I am convinced that agricultural and rural development are the keys to winning the battle against poverty and hunger in Africa.”
Hosted as a virtual event by the Government of Zimbabwe and in collaboration with FAO, the Conference brings together more than 95 Ministers and government officials from 48 countries – a record attendance. Representatives from observer countries, donor organizations, civil society and the private sector are also attending, making it FAO’s largest meeting in Africa.
“This year’s FAO Regional Conference for Africa is a unique multi-sectoral platform,” President of Zimbabwe Emmerson Mnangagwa said in his opening address. Zimbabwe is the Conference Chair, taking over from Sudan. “We must share experiences and proffer solutions to common problems affecting the African region…The elimination of hunger in Africa and the response to the different structural challenges we face as a continent require strong partnerships, collaboration and commitment among the various stakeholders,” he said.
Solutions in difficult times
The Conference comes amid rising hunger in Africa, driven by climate change, conflict and economic slowdowns. The COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating existing food insecurity.
Amid several challenges, the Director-General mentioned concrete examples of partnerships among FAO, Members and donor partners, such as the Global Action for Fall Armyworm Control to ensure a strong coordinated approach at country, regional and global levels as well as the good progress in the control of the desert locusts.
“In East Africa, the anticipatory action approach was quite successful with national Governments in collaboration with FAO and partners, protecting over 580 million USD worth of crops, enough to meet the annual cereal needs of 13 million people,” Qu said.
The Director-General also pointed to gender equality as part of the solution. “We must give equal opportunities and rights to rural women,” he said. He also set out Africa’s opportunities to transform its agri-food systems, including new jobs stemming from growing food markets, the continent’s growing urban middle class, and the rapid adoption of digital technologies particularly by Africa’s young people.
He reiterated FAO’s agenda of transformative action to build a dynamic, inclusive and agile Organization that serves its Members to achieve the “four betters”: better production, better nutrition, a better environment, and a better life.
The Director-General acknowledged African leadership for having prioritised the agenda of agriculture development through the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) and the 2014 Malabo Declaration on Agriculture Transformation, and showed his appreciation for the contribution of Members to the Africa Solidarity Trust Fund at FAO.
He invited country delegations to nominate locations to take part in FAO’s new 1 000 Digital Villages Project which will convert villages or towns into digital hubs, recognizing that digital linkages and rural tourism could be engines to increase resilience, diversify farmers’ incomes and build back better.
“This is your conference – the regional Governing Body session. My colleagues and I will be listening closely,” Director-General Qu said.
He invited the delegations to share the priorities they wish to see included in the new FAO Strategic Framework that is under preparation, as well as their expectations for the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit, and encouraged countries to identify and rally behind regional champions in the lead up to it.
The Director-General also alluded to the national priorities for the transformation of agri-food systems and the strong political commitments of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially SDG2 and SDG1 at country level.
FAO has been supporting governments across Africa in carrying out predictive analysis for the potential secondary impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on food systems, markets and agriculture. It is estimated that 12 million people across the continent have so far benefitted from this effort.
For FAO to continue to carry out its actions to address the pandemic in a holistic and comprehensive manner, the Director-General stressed the importance of the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Program, which aims to mitigate immediate impacts, while strengthening the long-term resilience of food systems and livelihoods - in line with the United Nations approach to “build to transform” and in pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals.
The Programme is also closely linked to the Hand-in-Hand Initiative, FAO’s new business model for collaboration that uses a broad spectrum of partnerships and leverages the technical and data capacity of the Organization to determine the best options to reach the most vulnerable and have the greatest impact on poverty and hunger.
We are in this together
Mark Lowcock, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, called for action on several fronts: fully fund all humanitarian response plans, invest in disaster risk reduction, and refocus multilateral cooperation to address the root causes of hunger. “All of this is achievable if we agree to work together, with an understanding that it is in all of our shared interests to do so. We really are all in this together,” he said.
Representing the private sector, Lucy Muchocki from the Pan African Agribusiness and Agroindustry Consortium, said: “We want to commend the efforts of FAO in engaging the private sector to address some of the most important issues in agriculture and trade in Africa. We hope Dialogues of this sort become regular events, as we must maintain momentum to develop practical and action-oriented solutions that require collective efforts.”
Josefa Sacko, Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture of the African Union Commission commended the strong collaboration with FAO to lead a multi-stakeholder response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including establishing a joint taskforce.
Other speakers at the opening session included Khalid Mehboob, the Independent Chairperson of FAO’s Council and Thanawat Tiensin, Chairperson of the Committee on World Food Security.
A historic Regional Conference
The Conference is hosted a virtual for the first time because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The modality has allowed more people to connect, making it the largest ever Regional Conference for Africa. Hundreds of delegates have joined the Zoom sessions, and many more were watching the live webcast.
Other sessions have focused on the pandemic’s impacts on food security and nutrition, and FAO’s Hand-in-Hand Initiative. The Conference ended on Wednesday 28th of October.
By Modou Kanteh, Information Officer MoA