The Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations QU Dongyu says Africa’s potential gives him hope that the battle against poverty and hunger can be won. He made the remarks at today’s opening of the Ministerial segment of the 31st Session of the Regional Conference for Africa.
“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 virtually 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 requires 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 locust.
“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 prioritized 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