By Ugo Aliogo with agency report
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Director-General, QU Dongyu, government, ministers as well as civil society organisations and private sector representatives expressed concern over COVID-19’s impacts on the food security and livelihoods of millions of people.
They also called for greater action to overcome the food and agriculture challenges facing the region.
A statement on the FAO website said they spoke during the Ministerial Session of a virtual regional conference, which was hosted by Bhutan and aims to define the region priorities for the coming years.
The conference also elaborated strategies to fight hunger and malnutrition and advance the transformation of agri-food systems, making them more sustainable, productive and resilient.
Delivering the keynote address on behalf of the country’s Prime Minister, Bhutan’s Foreign Minister Tandi Dorji, said: “We need to recognise that the food and agriculture sectors, including fisheries, forestry, crops and livestock, and the families that rely on them for their livelihoods, have been badly affected by the spread of the pandemic.”
The FAO Director-General stated that small and vulnerable farmers must be at the centre of the response.
“Smallholder farmers and their families, food workers in all sectors, and those living in commodity- and tourism-dependent economies are particularly vulnerable. They urgently need our attention,” Dongyu said.
The statement said 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 10 years.
In his remarks, the Bhutan’s Minister for Agriculture and Forests, said: “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.”
Other high-level speakers noted the importance of acting in two fronts simultaneously: revising public policies and implementing practical measures in the field.
The Independent Chairperson of the FAO Council, Khalid Mehboob, said: “The novel coronavirus has implications for local, national, regional and global policies and it is important that global and local conditions alike are recognized when confronting this pandemic.”
The Chairperson of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), Thanawat Tiensin, remarked that the coronavirus pandemic has exposed the vulnerability and weaknesses of already fragile global food systems, adding that there is need to take urgent action to transform the food systems.
Speaking on behalf of the civil society, Secretary General of the Tarayana Foundation in Bhutan, Chime P. Wangdi, lauded farmers across the region as ‘food heroes’ and ‘food frontliners.’
“There is a silver lining though in this pandemic. The health crisis made ordinary citizens realize again the value of farmers producing local, healthy food, and governments, of becoming more self-reliant in domestic agricultural production; of shorter and inclusive food and value chains,” she said.