Bold new thinking and decisive action will be needed to reshape and re-engineer food systems in Asia and the Pacific to make them more responsive, more dynamic and more equitable to meet the nutritional and other needs of the most populous — yet most undernourished — region of the world, a specially convened high-level meeting heard today.
The Asia-Pacific Regional Food Systems Dialogue was organized by six United Nations agencies in response to strong interest from governments and other stakeholders in re-examining how food is produced, processed and consumed, prompted in part by the COVID-19 pandemic and its related impacts. The recovery process from the coronavirus is seen as the beginning of that transformation leading up to the 2030 deadline of meeting the Sustainable Development Goals.
Without addressing the weaknesses in our food systems, we cannot address the broader issues
The Dialogue was opened by Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP, and Jong-Jin Kim, Assistant Director-General and FAO Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific.
They explained that the global pandemic has helped to lay bare something that was already becoming very clear in recent years – that without addressing the aggravating factors that stymy progress toward SGDs 1, 2 and 10 – poverty, hunger and inequality – the world, and this region in particular, cannot hope to achieve the other 14 SDGs.
Even before the pandemic engulfed the region, Asia and the Pacific was facing a number of challenges to food and agriculture including, climate change, rapid urbanization and land degradation, scarcity of natural resources such as water, trans-boundary pests and diseases such as desert locust, Fall Armyworm and African Swine Fever.
The Asia-Pacific region is therefore ripe for food system transformation as a number of UN flagship reports have noted. Yet, while it has been, economically, the fastest growing region in the world for two decades, it is still home to the largest number of malnourished people, and even countries with rising incomes are struggling with multiple burdens of malnutrition.
The Dialogue was a high-level virtual event, and was joined by Agnes Kalibata, the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the global 2021 UN Food Systems Summit set to take place later this year in New York.
She indicated that in preparation for the global UN Food Systems Summit it had become clear just how interconnected the world had become, and how COVID-19 had grown from one country at a time and then crossed to other countries while climate change had brought with it other challenges to food systems and these needed to be addressed together. This regional dialogue had provided an opportunity for participants to talk together as a region and to understand the inter-connectedness as a region, but also to push outside of the region and how to contribute to the world as a whole.
Asia and the Pacific – a diverse region with a lot to offer the global Summit
The Asia-Pacific region is very diverse. Some countries have an ageing population which is reducing the numbers of those involved in farming and food production. Other countries have large youth populations, all of whom cannot make their living from agriculture.
The region is also very economically diverse, with highly developed economies alongside some of the poorest and most food insecure.
The Dialogue heard that there exists a variety of solutions that can be found in this region – policy-based, evidence-based, regenerative, innovative and technological. All are needed to overcome the diversity of problems that exist to meet the challenges of food systems transformation. It was agreed that social safety nets and opportunities will be needed for reskilling and retraining for those who will potentially lose out due to transformative change and no one should be left behind.
The Dialogue agreed that the Summit is not a means to an end, but the beginning of a process, and this regional discussion was an opportunity to form an inclusive coalition of partners who would work to re-imagine and re-shape food systems leading up to the realization of the SDGs and beyond.
The Asia-Pacific Regional Food Systems Dialogue was made possible through a coordinated effort by the United Nations, its regional Commission ESCAP and five specialized agencies FAO, UNDRR, UNEP, WFP and WHO.