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Innovation in agrifood systems is needed to feed people and sustain the environment in the NENA region. Opinion

Innovation in agrifood systems is needed to feed people and sustain the environment in the NENA region. Opinion

We can and must take immediate action to address the root causes of the situation and transform the structures that control how food is produced, distributed, consumed and disposed of.

As things stand, protracted crises, including those triggered by conflict and other humanitarian crises, as well a rapidly increasing population, are leading us to increasing dependence upon food imports. These often interrelated risks, combined with economic shocks, can also undermine livelihoods and lead to high acute food insecurity for millions. The situation is exacerbated by poverty, wide-spread inequalities, and the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact.

The region is also under increasing pressure from the effects of the climate crisis, extreme drought, and the degradation natural resources. These factors further aggravate the impact and severity of shocks and reduce resilience.

The NENA region has a long way to go to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 2 – targeting Zero Hunger by 2030.  In 2020, 59.3 million people were undernourished in the region alone, which corresponds to 14.2 percent of the region’s total population.

Around 165 million of the region’s inhabitants live in rural areas, where the majority of the poor have to put up with inadequate basic services, low opportunities for innovation, limited access to productive infrastructure, services and value chains, and a lack of available jobs.

Increased migration to the region’s cities has been fueling the ever-growing number of urban poor. Many are young people who are often unable to find the opportunities they desire.

The NENA region must deal with structural issues that make it difficult to feed a growing population. Our agrifood systems have failed to provide healthy diets. The food is high in calories but not enough nutrition, leading to stunting, obesity, and micronutrient deficiencies.

Our agrifood systems must be transformed to become more efficient, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable. Science is clear: scaling up alone is not enough. We need structural changes and we must ensure that they happen quickly.

It is important to bring everyone to the table as the first priority. It is up to policymakers to find solutions that will help transform the future of the Near East and North Africa agrifood industry. To implement these solutions, it is necessary to form broad partnerships with all stakeholders including academia and civil society.

Only eight planting seasons remain before the 2030 deadline for achieving Agenda for Sustainable Development. FAO has been advocating for a comprehensive and cohesive strategy to reach these 17 goals, with agrifood system at its center. Solutions and problems are interdependent. Future generations will not have access to our natural resources unless we can end poverty and hunger and promote sustainable agrifood systems. We must also strengthen the resilience of rural communities. To change our future, we need to rethink how we agrifood system.

There are many short-, medium-, and long term actions that we can take now to create sustainable, inclusive and healthy agrifood system. To support rural transformation, it is important to harness the potential for technology and innovation across agrifood value chain. To encourage changes in consumption patterns, reduce food loss, increase land restoration, and reforestation, there must be standards and incentives. It is important that water productivity be increased while water withdrawals are limited in agriculture.

If the most vulnerable are not taken care of, we won’t be able reach our shared goal to eradicate hunger. Investing more in agriculture in countries facing complex emergencies, which often have the worst food crises in world, can save lives and help to protect livelihoods. It can also lay the foundations for future resilience and recovery. To ensure sustainable transformation of agrifood, development efforts must be complemented by peace and climate actors.

FAO has decades of experience in both humanitarian and development programmes. FAO’s focus is on strengthening resilience. This allows it to simultaneously address the multiple risks and vulnerabilities that face populations. It also meets immediate humanitarian requirements, enabling them to be better prepared to deal with the next shock or stressful event.

Greater solidarity and cooperation between countries and regions is key to ending hunger, ending food insecurity, and ensuring sustainability. We must work together in a coordinated, efficient, and effective manner. Many of these win-win solutions require peace.

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The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) will continue to support countries in their efforts to work closely with international organizations, academia and the private sector.

The 36th Session at the FAO Regional Conference in the Near East (#NERC36) will offer an opportunity for the Ministers For Agriculture from the region, to meet in Baghdad 7 and 8 February to discuss the issues and priorities, and to take responsibility for transforming agrifood system for the Sustainable Development Goals.

The FAO Strategic Framework 2022-2031 Regional Conference will be an important step towards the implementation. It will ensure better production, better nutrition and a better quality of life for everyone.

* The writer is the  Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

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