by Nabil Gangi, deputy regional representative for Europe & Central Asia of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

The Europe and Central Asia region may be an economic and agricultural powerhouse but it faces many enduring and new challenges.

Extreme weather events are putting a strain on food production and security, while the ecological footprint of agriculture continues to grow.

In 2015, more than 150 world leaders adopted the United Nations’ Agenda for Sustainable Development, which describes the 17 goals that must be achieved by 2030 to end poverty, encourage peace and prosperity for all, and protect the planet.

On the surface, food-related goals may only be related to 4 out of the 17. However, upon deeper inspection all the goals are either directly related to the global food system, or tied to it in an indirect way.

6 years on, while significant progress has been made, momentum seems to be revived with the political commitments of all leaders, in the UNFSS Pre-Summit in Rome, the UNGA, UNFSS Summit, as well as the G20 and COP26 in a unique year, 2021.

The role of FAO

Nowadays, it is fundamental to stimulate a broad and global dialogue involving all the actors along the food value chain, from farm to fork, to help lead in the transformation of food systems by implementing actions in companies, value chains and key sectors.

“One-Health” approach, source: UN

As FAO, we promote the need to work together to present creative, cutting-edge solutions for policy makers, and a deeper understanding of the challenges and solutions for society as a whole.

I would like to highlight the key achievements that demonstrate the response to the regional challenges and the regional diversity. To name some of them:

  • Before the pandemic, FAO had launched the “Hand-in-Hand Initiative”, which aims to matchmake donor and recipient countries to accelerate innovation, investment, institutional change, agricultural transformation and sustainable rural development based on data and information.

  • The strategy for accessing the Green Climate Fund resulted in two large projects for Kyrgyzstan and Armenia, which are starting in 2021.

  • The work on land consolidation in the region as well as the legal guide on land consolidation provide normative support to countries.

  • The Food Loss and Food Waste Initiative along the whole value chain in the region.

  • Likewise, FAO’s work, alongside the World Health Organization (WHO), on food safety, animal diseases and anti-microbial resistance is a testament to our commitment to researching, responding and understanding these issues from a holistic “One Health” approach, whereby human and animal health are understood as a nexus and from which humanity’s relationship with nature is recognized. This approach also recognizes humankind’s nexus with fragile, yet essential ecosystems, and is based on sustainability, restoration and protection.

  • Many European countries set a goal for halving post-harvest food loss by 2030 through the “Food is Never Waste” coalition.

source: The International Food Waste Coalition (IFWC)

Food production is a big driver of ecocide and Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions and yet farmers are the first to suffer due to climate change, so we must act now:

1. we need to reduce GHG across all sectors

2. we need to protect 30% of land and sea and allow nature to restore itself

3. by 2030 we will halve the use of pesticide and farm ¼ of land organically.

The consumer’s role

Using the agri-food systems approach, FAO focuses on profiling agriculture beyond production and macro-economic purposes to ensure food security and resilient livelihoods, promoting innovations, and better catalysing investment and partnerships.

The policies are aligned with the 4Betters (Better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life) framework and give special attention on what actions can everyone take, including consumer choice.

The food we choose and the way we consume it affects our health and that of our planet. It has an impact on the way agri-food systems work. So we all need to be part of the change.

Everyone is a consumer, and it is time to shift old patterns so as to transform agri-food systems for the better. We can influence the market by opting for nutritious and environmentally and socially responsible products. This will pressure governments to design more sustainable policies, promote improved agricultural methods and motivate greater investment in sustainable healthy diets.

Digitalization is the key

Worldwide, more than 4 billion people are employed or earn their livelihoods in processing, distribution, consumption and disposal of agri-food products.

The agri-food sector is one of the largest economic sectors in the EU.

Around 44 million European jobs in food processing, food retailing and catering depend on agriculture, in which around 12 million farmers are currently employed.

About half of EU territory is dedicated to farming; rural areas make up half of Europe and are inhabited by about 20% of the EU’s population.

Digitalization is the foundation on which we can build social and economic resilience.

Europe and the Central Asia region, throughout the years, made significant progress, becoming world leader in broadband connectivity.

However, a lot remains to be done to bridge connectivity, affordability and digital skills divides across the countries.

In Europe, an increase of 10% in digitization results in 1.4% growth in GDP per capita.

In order to build back better, now is the time for a great reset – and in order to achieve that, we need to reset the agendas of the food industry and of the finance sector to help the agri-food sector become a game-changer ensuring positive impact on ecosystems and society as a whole.

We can truly transform food systems while prioritising the health of our Planet.

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The article of Nabil Gangi is based on his speech at the 4th International edition of the AgriBusiness Forum, Athens, October 2021 and was published in the November/December 2021 of Greek Business File,  available here.