The event was held under the theme ‘Transforming Agri-Food Systems to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals – Hand in Hand with the Private Sector.
In his opening remarks, Qu Dongyu, FAO director-general, stressed that “establishing constructive partnerships and engagement with the private sector is key to realizing the objectives of the SDGs,” and that, “the private sector is a key ally in the global fight against food insecurity, malnutrition, and rural poverty.”
He then added that the Near East and North Africa Region are currently facing several major challenges directly linked to the way food is produced, processed, distributed, and consumed, noting that, “together we can deal with the challenges of the region.”
Alluding to the importance of investments in agriculture the director-general noted that they can foster innovation towards more sustainable agricultural practices and offer opportunities for decent employment in rural areas through inclusive rural development.
“Since I took office, less than two years ago, I have worked towards developing a transparent result-oriented engagement with the private sector to increase responsible and productive investments in agriculture,” he said.
The importance of promoting innovation was chief among the main subjects highlighted during the event.
The FAO director-general stressed that FAO is a strong supporter of digital innovations, including innovative financing to facilitate access to financial services by Small and Medium Enterprises, particularly in less developed areas, and bring together producers and consumers through shorter and more resilient value chains.
“The private sector is ideally placed to support innovations and improved technologies. Innovation must be a driving force, for the public and the private sector, as well as civil society,” Qu said, noting that FAO has recently established the Office of Innovation to continue embedding and upscaling innovation in its work.
The secretary-general of the Union of Arab Chambers, Khaled Hanafy, who also spoke at the opening session, referred to the need for an “agricultural revolution” in the region through innovative tools such as blockchain and artificial intelligence. These could help to address challenges related to irrigation, mechanization, and the environment, as well as the distribution and stocking of food, he noted.
FAO Members have recently endorsed the new FAO Strategy for Private Sector Engagement 2021-2025, to bring about transformative change and innovation with measurable, sustainable impact and benefits. The Strategy seeks to: i) enhance efficiency in the supply chains; ii) disseminate advancements in data and science; iii) improve the management and dissemination of knowledge; and iv) encourage sustainable business practices.
The Organisation has also launched the FAO Connect portal, an interactive platform that provides a means to attract and engage the private sector in FAO’s scope of work, profiling opportunities to connect and mechanisms for partnerships.
Furthermore, FAO continues to support its members in strengthening the enabling environment for responsible agriculture investment, especially through the Principles for responsible investment in agriculture and food systems, developed by the Committee on World Food Security (CFS).
FAO’s flagship initiative, Hand-in-Hand Initiative, provides a solid framework to achieve meaningful collective impact on the ground. The initiative seeks to provide match-making partnerships with donor countries, development banks, the private sector, and others to accelerate agricultural transformation and sustainable rural development.
“The private sector is a driving force to boost markets, consumers, and farmers. An enhanced engagement of the private sector can provide capacity development, investments, and a new professional market-oriented business model,” said the FAO director-general.
Following the opening session, which also saw remarks from AbdulHakim Elwaer, Assistant-Director General and FAO Regional Representative for the Near East and North Africa, the dialogue was divided into two-panel sessions.
Panel 1 discussed how public-private engagements can provide large-scale solutions for addressing regional priorities and achieving the SDGs in the Near East and North Africa. Panelists included Sheikh Majid Sultan Al Qassimi, partner, Soma Mater; Alzbeta Klein, CEO/director-general of the International Fertilizer Association (IFA); Ayman Amin Sejiny, CEO/general manager of the Islamic Corporation for the development of the Private Sector – Islamic Development Bank; and Moez El-Shohdi, president of the Food Banking Regional Network.
Panel 2 was focused on the potential of green and inclusive technologies in agriculture. The panel was composed by Soud Ba’alawy, executive chairman Enspire (DIFC); Ouiam Lahlou, Professor at “Institut Agronomique et Vétérinaire Hassan II” at Rabat, Morocco; Yousef Hamidaddin, CEO of Agri-Tech Accelerator; Reginald Lee, director of Grow Asia; and Chandra Singh, director of Business Development, for Elite Agro.
The results of this dialogue will be submitted to the Near East Regional Conference in 2022, providing an opportunity for Governments and other stakeholders in the Region to discuss them.