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FAO aims to unlock Africa’s potential to end hunger and malnutrition

The director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), QU Dongyu, says that the potential of Africa gives him hope that the fight against poverty and hunger can be won

He made remarks at the opening of the ministerial segment of the 31st Session of the Regional Conference for Africa.

“We meet in trying times, but the opportunities ahead of us give me hope,” Dongyu said. “Africa is the continent of untapped potential and remains a crucial priority for me. I am convinced that agricultural and rural development are the keys to winning the battle against poverty and hunger in Africa.”

Virtually hosted by the government of Zimbabwe and in collaboration with FAO, the conference brings together more than 95 ministers and government officials from 48 countries-a record attendance. Representatives from observer countries, donor organisations, civil society and the private sector, are also taking part, making it the largest FAO meeting in Africa.

“This year’s FAO Regional Conference for Africa is a unique multi-sectoral platform,” President of Zimbabwe Emmerson Mnangagwa said in his opening address. Zimbabwe is the Conference Chair, taking over from Sudan. “We must share experiences and proffer solutions to common problems affecting the African region...The elimination of hunger in Africa and the response to the different structural challenges we face as a continent requires strong partnerships, collaboration and commitment among the various stakeholders,” he said.

Solutions in difficult times

The conference comes in the midst of rising hunger in Africa, driven by climate change, conflict and economic slowdown. The current food insecurity is exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the context of a number of challenges, the Director-General mentioned concrete examples of partnerships between FAO, Members and donor partners, such as the Global Action for Fall Army Worm Control to ensure a strong coordinated approach at country, regional and global level, as well as good progress in the control of desert locust.

“In East Africa, the anticipatory action approach was quite successful with national governments in collaboration with FAO and partners, protecting over US$580mn worth of crops, enough to meet the annual cereal needs of 13 million people,” Qu said.

The Director-General also pointed to gender equality as part of the solution. “We must give equal opportunities and rights to rural women” he said. He also set out Africa’s opportunities to transform its agri-food systems, including new jobs stemming from growing food markets, the continent’s growing urban middle class, and the rapid adoption of digital technologies, particularly by Africa’s young people.

It reiterated the FAO’s agenda of transformative action to build a dynamic, inclusive and agile organisation that serves its members to achieve the four best: better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life.

The director-general acknowledged African leadership for having prioritised the agricultural development agenda through the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) and the Malabo Declaration on Agriculture Transformation 2014 and expressed appreciation for the contribution of members of the Africa Solidarity Fund to the FAO.

He invited country delegations to nominate locations to take part in FAO’s new 1000 Digital Villages Project, which will convert villages or towns into digital hubs, recognising that digital links and rural tourism could be engines to increase resilience, diversify farmers’ incomes and better rebuild.

The Director-General also referred to national priorities for the transformation of agri-food systems and strong political commitments to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular, SDG2 and SDG1 at country level.