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Kyrgyzstan|opinion & analysis|April 22, 2024 / 10:50 AM
Fostering sustainable agrifood systems: united for a more people-centered, prosperous, and shared future - FAO Director-General


Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

Europe and Central Asia have a great potential for the global contribution to food security by producing more with less. However, the challenges to our shared vision of a more people-centered, prosperous, and equitable future are as diverse and expansive as the terrains of the 50-plus countries that make up this region.

The complexity of issues in areas like food security, health, conflict, and the environment require a holistic transformation. Take for example the impacts of the climate crisis, with rising temperatures, shifting precipitation patterns, and escalating climate uncertainties, among others. Particularly vulnerable are the agrifood systems, and rural areas that face heightened exposure to floods, earthquakes, landslides, storms, droughts, and other natural disasters.

The World Bank estimates that if no action is taken, economic damages from droughts and floods in Central Asia alone could reach up to 1.3 percent of its gross domestic product per year, while crop yields may decrease by as much as 30 percent by 2050 — resulting in as many as 5.1 million climate migrants.

Other European countries are also at risk. Without adaptation and resilience, it is estimated that more than 400,000 jobs could be lost annually by 2050, with the overall cost of climate-related extreme weather reaching 170 billion euros by the end of the century.

Although the prevalence of hunger and food insecurity has been relatively low in Europe and Central Asia, there has been a significant increase in childhood overweight and adult obesity rates. The affordability of nutritious foods is a significant factor contributing to this trend: an estimated 25 million people in the region were unable to afford a healthy diet in 2021.

At FAO, we believe that the solution lies in the aspiration of the “Four Betters” - Better Production, Better Nutrition, a Better Environment, and a Better Life, leaving no one behind.

First, we need to strive for better production. Decision-makers and actors within the food value chain must be willing to forego short-term economic gains in favour of increased resilience, sustainability and reduced climate impact. We must improve inefficient farm structures, excessive land fragmentation and land abandonment and ensure the generational renewal of family farms. We must increase investment in rural infrastructure for resilience, embrace green and digital agriculture and ensure accessibility for smallholders and vulnerable populations, and improve the competitiveness of agrifood systems. We must catalyse and expand innovation efforts, regenerative agriculture, and other nature-positive solutions. Improved water management – particularly beneficial for the region’s landlocked developing countries, most of which are in Central Asia – also can significantly help rural areas. Recognizing that science, technology, and innovation are the driving forces behind evidence-based policies and the transformation of agrifood systems, we must continue to integrate data, technology, and innovation as cross-cutting actions to strengthen our mandate, making them available to policymakers and assisting in translating them into normative and policy guidance and practical tools.

Second, we must ensure that all populations of Europe and Central Asia have access to better nutrition, which continues to remain out of reach for too many people. FAO stands ready to help address these challenges while safeguarding the livelihoods of farmers and other agrifood partners. Better food distribution and consumption patterns, reduced food loss and waste, increased community self-sufficiency and improved food and agriculture policies are key.

Third, concerted efforts for a better environment are needed to safeguard and restore terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, as the region’s agrifood systems are threatened by long-term environmental and human-driven stresses such as climate change, deforestation, biodiversity loss and natural resource degradation. Well-managed local livestock breeds can empower rural communities to sustain traditional livelihoods, and climate-smart agricultural practices can help bolster farmers’ resilience. Given their ecological significance and biodiversity, the region’s forests are of global importance, and preserving them provides essential services to local and mountainous communities.

To have a better life for everyone, it is vital to address inequalities and promote inclusive economic growth. This includes ensuring that smallholders and family farmers receive fair wages for their work in providing us with food. It also means guaranteeing secure land tenure, particularly for women and youth, who often have less secure land rights than men, as well as Indigenous Peoples. The reduction of gender inequalities in rural areas is also crucial. Additionally, it is necessary to enable the youth to participate in meaningful ways and with new hopes, as their futures are at stake.

Aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals and the FAO Strategic Framework 2022-31, these four steps offer a path towards conquering the overlapping crises facing the region. The Thirty-fourth Session of the FAO Regional Ministerial Conference for Europe – set to take place on 14–17 May 2024 – will bring together FAO Members from the region in striving for more efficient, more inclusive, more resilient, and more sustainable agrifood systems to ensure that no one is left behind.

By dismantling silos, collaboratively designing solutions, and fostering a cadre of forward-thinking agents, we can navigate towards agrifood systems that are efficient, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable.

Realizing these objectives is a shared responsibility. As the Director-General of FAO – the United Nations specialized agency leading global efforts to combat hunger and malnutrition – I invite all of you to join me in taking solid steps forward. Working together, we can help ensure a people centered and prosperous world for all.

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