Excellencies, Distinguished Colleagues, Delegates,
My colleague, Mr. Jong-Jin Kim, Assistant Director-General and FAO Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific,
Ms. Agnes Kalibata, UN Special Envoy for the UN Food Systems Summit,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Welcome to the Asia-Pacific Regional Food Systems Dialogue.
We are pleased to co-organize this Dialogue with the regional offices of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
I also welcome the participation of the National Convenors who will share the strategies of their countries.
The COVID-19 pandemic and climate change remain the most critical threat to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
Many countries have experienced new challenges to their food security.
The FAO food price index has been rising over the past months, causing disruption in agricultural operations in the region.
Moreover, the restricted movements of food supplies made it challenging for producers to sell perishable produce, raised financial losses to farmers and jeopardized the nutrition security of consumers.
The Secretary-General has noted that “the pandemic has highlighted the fragility of our food systems.”
Small farmers, fishers and rural workers are among the population most at risk during this crisis.
We need to safeguard food value chains, prevent future breakdowns and ensure food security for all.
There is a need to improve operations and livelihoods of small producers, informal workers and SMEs across sectors that can ensure production of, and access to, food and other essential goods and services.
As of 2020, the number of people in the region facing acute food insecurity nearly doubled to about 265 million.
Governments have an important role to play in the development of new pathways for food systems.
Our region is not only the most populous, and home to the largest number of smallholder farmers, but its smallholders produce most of the world’s food.
The steady depletion of water resources, deterioration of soil quality, inadequate logistics and inefficient farming practices and land usage are factors for the lower yields compared to most other regions.
We need to act urgently, so that our policy measures can make a difference in the lives of our citizens.
I would like to take this opportunity to highlight three policy priorities for your further consideration and deliberations.
First, let us focus on scaling up the digital agriculture market.
The market is projected to witness significant growth in the region.
Labour shortages and supply chain disruptions are expected to raise the need for digital agriculture, while leveraging new and emerging technologies.
I recognize that member States have increased farm mechanization and the development of digital agriculture infrastructure by adopting innovative technologies for farmers.
Sustainable agricultural mechanization not only enhances productivity and facilitates the processing of food, but also has a high innovation potential through ICT-enabled mechanization and post-harvest mechanization.
These tools are essential to facilitate recovery from crises and building the long-term resilience of farmers, especially the smallholder farmers.
Second, to focus on restoring the health of agroecological systems.
Strategies must also be undertaken to address zoonosis and the links between the wildlife trade, food systems and health in reducing the risk of future pandemics.
Improving essential food and nutrition services will also allow us to focus on infants and young children, women and particularly vulnerable populations.
Third, we must strengthen regional cooperation to achieve the improvement of how we produce, process and consume food.
ESCAP, along with stakeholders, is working to facilitate integrated policy making to achieve sustainable food systems, biodiversity and ecosystem health.
Our focus has been on reducing food loss resulting from international trade in the region, including through food safety and quality control strategies which will facilitate cross-border trade.
Time has now come to strengthen our work with member States and move beyond our “business as usual” scenario.
At the regional level, ESCAP is engaged in supporting food systems through the modernization of the agricultural sector with the work of one of its regional institutions, the Centre for Sustainable Agricultural Mechanization or CSAM.
We are fully committed to working with the regional and subregional frameworks to recover better and transform the food systems in the region.
I am pleased to inform you that we will convey your valuable recommendations through the Summit convened by the United Nations Secretary-General later this year.
I wish you a very successful Dialogue.