The current nutritional situation in Asia and the Pacific is difficult in many parts of the region. Around 40% of its inhabitants cannot afford healthy food, and in some areas the fight against hunger has seen setbacks rather than progress. Progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of ending both poverty (SDG 1) and hunger (SDG 2) has been skidded amid the Covid-19 pandemic, which has devastated the both lives and livelihoods.
Fortunately, the picture is not all bleak and there are signs of optimism and dynamism. Advances in the region’s agri-food systems are changing the way food is produced, marketed and consumed sustainably. This transformation reflects greater awareness among Asia-Pacific producers and growing consumer demand for healthier and more nutritious foods.
Farmers and ranchers, fishers, ranchers, other producers and retailers – large and small – are successfully turning to innovative ideas and digital technologies. These improvements in production and sustainable resource management allow them to keep more money in their pockets, while helping to reverse environmental degradation.
All of this is helping to create a paradigm shift that is also taking shape in other parts of the world. In Asia and the Pacific, there is a clear and growing movement towards innovation and digitalization along the agrifood value chain.
Retail grocery and food stores are an important example. It’s not just a phenomenon of well-developed economies, with four out of five sales of online food and grocery shopping taking place in the Asia-Pacific region.
This is just one aspect of the reshaping of agrifood systems that is rapidly reshaping countries in Asia and the Pacific, West Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia and from the east to Pacific island countries.
In the Pacific Small Island Developing States (SIDS), grassroots entrepreneurs are increasingly emerging. Their innovative smartphone apps help producers and consumers make informed, nutritious choices. The private and development sectors are also harnessing increasingly available data to make the supply chain of agricultural products to markets more efficient and faster, and to map areas vulnerable to extreme weather events. Several of these innovations were presented at the “SIDS Solutions Forum”, the first of an event to be held every two years, co-organized in August 2021 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations ( FAO) and the Government of Fiji.
There are still challenges in accessing data on demand and without interruption, as we saw when Tonga’s undersea communications cable was severed during the eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano. But these setbacks will bring forth the new ideas needed to overcome them!
At FAO, we work with our members across Asia and the Pacific to transform agrifood systems to be more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable – for the benefit of all. Through the Hand-in-Hand initiative, we support policy makers in their plans to further leverage data, technology and innovation to achieve the SDG targets by 2030.
We proactively identify and support digital villages across the region as part of FAO’s 1000 Digital Villages Initiative. We continue to foster and promote country-led SIDS solutions and hand-in-hand partnerships, which includes advising on mitigation and adaptation to climate events, and helping to overcome damage to lives and livelihoods by the pandemic and climate crisis.
These topics are among the topics to be debated at the 36th session of the FAO Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific in Dhaka, Bangladesh, from March 8-11. FAO members from the region – 46 in total – will come together to leverage transformational agendas and actions under the FAO Strategic Framework 2022-31, as well as the recommendations of the UN Food Systems Summit 2021.
FAO is leading the hosting of the newly established focal point for the follow-up to the Summit, which will support countries to develop and implement national pathways to agrifood systems transformation in line with national priorities.
By working with our members in Asia and the Pacific, we will create even stronger partnerships with academic and research institutions, civil society organizations, cooperatives, parliamentarians and the private sector, with the inclusion of women and youth, as part of our commitment to global development. efforts to build back better.
FAO helps the region think big and act. We bring a constructive hand, but we need many more hands to achieve our collective goals. For a better world with a better future for our children, we need better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life for all, leaving no one behind.
To do this, we need strong political will and efficient, effective and coherent multilateral action.
(QU Dongyu, Director General, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.)