As COVID-19 continues to cause havoc to the health, nutrition, lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people across the world’s largest region, it has also offered an opportunity to rebuild a global, agri-food system that was already not fit for purpose in providing proper nutrition for the masses.
World Food Day, observed each year on 16 October, offers an opportunity in 2021 – with the Asia-Pacific region still caught in the grip of the pandemic – a chance to come together to build momentum on recent global efforts to transform agri-food systems by completely rethinking the traditional approaches to the sectors that support those systems.
That was the main message at an Asia-Pacific World Food Day Webinar hosted by the Regional Office of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in Bangkok, Thailand.
“The solution to ending hunger needs to be bigger than the problem itself,” said Jong-Jin Kim, Assistant Director-General and FAO Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific. “It needs to ensure Better Production, Better Nutrition, Better Environment and a Better Life. The way forward is a transformational approach that results in more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable agri-food systems and leaves no one behind.”
A Guest of Honour
The Asia-Pacific World Food Day regional event also heard from its Guest of Honour, FAO’s Special Goodwill Ambassador for Zero Hunger, Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand, who delivered a keynote video address.
“That is the main takeaway message of this year’s World Food Day – we must do better. Nearly 40 percent of the world’s population cannot afford a healthy diet. And while we can blame the global pandemic for making matters worse, much of the problem existed even before this pandemic,” Her Royal Highness said.
“We promised ourselves – indeed the world promised itself – that by 2030 we would reach the Sustainable Development Goals. And yet, globally, 20 percent more women than men aged 25 – 34 live in extreme poverty and more than 18 percent of indigenous women live on less than one-dollar-and-ninety-cents a day. We promised to leave no one behind. So we should keep our promises.”
“Transforming our agri-food systems will be a necessary challenge to building back better – to ensuring those four ‘Betters’ are achieved. It’s a big challenge, but as we’ve heard just last month at the UN Food Systems Summit in New York, it is actually a challenge many players are keen to take on – from governments to private sector and civil society – there’s a role for everyone.”
The agri-food system transformation has already begun in the Asia-Pacific region
During the Webinar, moderated by Atsuko Okuda, Regional Director, Asia and the Pacific, International Telecommunication Union (ITU), insights on present and future innovations for agri-food transformations, were gained from panelists including Asian Farmers’ Association for Sustainable Rural Development (AFA), Esther Penunia, Secretary-General, Grow Asia’s Paul Voutier, Senior Advisor on Innovation, Ram Kiran Dhulipala, Theme Leader for Digital Agriculture and Youth from International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Irene Yee Chief, Instructional Designer at the University of South Pacific in Fiji, and Rita Bromo, President of Madhya Rakudiya Farmers’ Organization in Bangladesh.
The panelists discussed how innovations are already occurring throughout food systems: from production to consumption. The ongoing food e-commerce revolution taking place in the Asia-Pacific region is happening at the same time that mobile-based business models are emerging to provide advisory, marketing and financial services at scale to smallholder farmers, whereas a parallel revolution in Industry 4.0 technologies is taking agro-industries to new levels of efficiency.
Asia-Pacific: Moving forward with science and innovation – and rediscovering good practices
Advances in science and physical innovations are also reshaping the way in which food is grown, packaged and sold. At the same time, the utility of traditional knowledge and good cultural practices is being rediscovered to enhance sustainability and resilience of food systems. In fact, digitalization provides an opportunity to revive and disseminate these practices widely. Together they offer great potential for improving the efficiency and sustainability of agri-food systems in Asia-Pacific as highlighted during the recent SIDS Solutions Forum held on 30 and 31 August and the launch of the SIDS Solutions Platform and its other outcomes.
“We are a resourceful people. We have thousands of years of agriculture-based systems and hundreds of generations of know-how that have been handed down to us,” Kim noted, confident that, with the right will-power, achieving agri-food transformation in the Asia and Pacific was not just possible, it was probable.
The Asia-Pacific World Food Day Webinar concluded with closing remarks by JohnAylieff, Regional Director of the World Food Programme.