By Gabriel Ewepu – Abuja

The United Nations, UN, has commended the Food and Agriculture Organisation, FAO, on its approach and effort to boost Agri-food systems in West Africa and Sahel.

This was contained in a remark by the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator (a.i) in Nigeria, Matthias Schmale, at the Sub-Regional Office for West Africa 13th Multidisciplinary Team Meeting in Abuja.

While speaking Schmale,  pointed that it is a big concern that over the years, countries in West Africa and the Sahel have witnessed negative impacts of climate change, declining natural resource base, recurrent natural and human-induced disasters, and rising insecurity.

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He further stated that all these have adversely impacted on agri-food systems and causing the agricultural production and yields in the sub-region to be the lowest in the world.COVID-19 significantly worsened the food security situation of many households in the region, especially poorer households.

He said: “Changes in food demand in the sub-region is becoming conspicuous both in total quantities needed, food preferences and quality.

“I am informed that the sub-regional food economy, is the biggest employer in West Africa and is projected to reach USD 480 billion in 2030 with the non-agricultural sector expected to represent 49 per cent of the value added. These are significant changes that provide great prospects for the West African food system to increase production, value added, job creation and food security.

“I commend the systemic approach undertaken so far by FAO for securing not only the development gains in the fight against hunger and poverty, but also for progressing on the delivery of all other SDGs.

“FAO’s New Strategic Framework 2022-2031 which seeks to support the 2030 Agenda through the transformation to more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable agri-food systems for the “Four Betters” (better production, better nutrition, a better environment, and a better life, leaving no one behind) is a giant step at supporting member states towards transformation of agri-food systems.

“The focus of FAO’s new strategic framework on sustainable natural resource management, coupled with social aspects that must be addressed if the system is to be fair and inclusive is well founded on the principle that the more diverse an agricultural system, the greater its ability to adapt to climate change and other shocks.

“I believe, therefore, that this meeting could not have come at a better time, given the need to align the FAO strategic frameworks with the priorities of the governments in the subregion to address a number of structural policy constraints which continue to threaten the ability of West Africa to seize these opportunities for building resilient Agrifood Systems in the region.”

He also maintained that, “At the UN system in Nigeria, our priority is to work with government and partners in a coordinated (One UN) approach to ensure transformative partnerships that make capacities available to the host government to fast track the implementation of actions that accelerate SDGs achievement.

“Specifically, to the SDG2 (ZeroHunger), all efforts are geared towards mobilization of financing support and helping to provide guidance on the importance of the underlying market-oriented food systems approach to support agriculture and food systems transformation.

“This transformation is an integral component of the structural changes required to achieve the economic, social and environmental dimensions of national sustainable development objectives.”

FAO resolves to change narrative in agri-food systems in West Africa, Sahel

The Assistant Director General FAO RAF, Abebe HaileGabriel, in an address of welcome, made a resolve that the FAO will change narrative in agri-food in West Africa and the Sahel through collaborative efforts on its new approach to tackle climate change and other challenges in the agri-food system.

According to HaileGabriel, West Africa and the Sahel is a region with ever-looming challenges but also opportunities; the sub region has varied bioclimatic zones, economies are also diverse across many dimensions of development, and it is the region with some of the continent’s least developed countries.

He also acknowledged that overall, the region has made impressive gains in recent decades, but still has a long way to go to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals on eradicating poverty and ending hunger and Africa’s priorities spelled out in Agenda 2063—and further elaborated in the Malabo Declaration on Accelerated Agricultural Growth and Transformation for Shared Prosperity and Improved Livelihoods.

He pointed that while West Africa is a pioneer of regional integration, robust economic outlook, the gap between the set of standards adopted by regional organizations and the functional reality especially in border areas persists. Security in border areas remains a key challenge and a concern.

Climate change and environmental degradation driven by population growth, extensive production methods intensifying competition over natural resources, together with the increasing incidence and severity of conflict, continue to hinder efforts by governments to achieve their development objectives, including the commitments to advance the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and leave no one behind.

He also identified the challenge of youth employment and women’s empowerment has been heightened, because Africa is not taking sufficient advantage of the demographic dividend. Young people and women continue to have difficulty accessing productive resources

He said: “COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated challenges while the escalation of the unfolding conflict in Ukraine would affect food and nutrition security in the Region particularly for the most vulnerable people.

“Agriculture is very crucial in many regions of the world and particularly West Africa and the Sahel and cannot wait for other priorities to be addressed first

“Accelerating actions for results and impacts for Resilient Agri-Food Systems call therefore for continued political commitment and engagement as well as better planning

“We need to join effort for an extraordinary thinking, ways of doing business and extraordinary efficiency and effectiveness to fast track the delivery of SDGs

“The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in West Africa and Sahel must make “extraordinary” efforts, Hand in Hand with the Governments and partners, to achieve tangible on-the-ground progress towards reducing hunger, making agrifood systems more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable, and to ultimately achieve the Four Betters – Better Production, Better Nutrition, a Better Environment and a Better Life for all

“FAO at the Regional,Sub-regional and country level, work with governments, Regional Economic Communities, United Nations Country Teams (UNCTs) and other development partners.

“FAO’s support to countries in West Africa and the Sahel include engaging policy-makers, advocacy, priority to programmatic investments in food agriculture and nutrition, with the support of development partners, provision of the foremost technical expertise and knowledge to strengthen countries’ capacity to address food crisis impacts rapidly and effectively and mobilizing resource for the agri-food systems transformation.”

Meanwhile, the Sub Regional Coordinator FAO West Africa, Robert Guei, in a remark highlighted various challenges affecting the agri-food systems in West Africa and Sahel, however said there is hope with the steps FAO is taking to solve these challenges in the sub-region.

“The United Nations Summit on Food Systems defined an action plan in which the FAO strategy is built on: “Four upgrades!” This is the hallmark of the FAO Strategic Framework 2022-2031. These are improvements that aim to transform agri-food systems to make them more efficient, more inclusive, more resilient and more sustainable for better production, better nutrition, better environment and better living conditions, without leaving nobody aside. They reflect the interrelated economic, social and environmental dimensions of agrifood systems and encourage the adoption of a strategic and systemic approach in all FAO interventions.

“It is; Improvement in production; This means establishing sustainable consumption and production patterns through efficient and inclusive supply chains in the food and agriculture sectors at local, regional and global levels, ensuring resilience and sustainability of agri-food systems in the context of climate and environmental change. FAO has chosen to focus on the following priority areas: Innovation for sustainable agricultural production; blue transformation; “One Health” approach; equitable access to resources for small producers; and digital agriculture

“Improvement in Nutrition; At this level, FAO aims to improve nutrition in all its forms, in particular by promoting nutritious foods and increasing access to healthy diets. In terms of program priorities, FAO emphasizes healthy food for all, nutrition for the benefit of the most vulnerable; safe food for all, reduction of food loss and waste, and transparent markets and trade.

“Environmental Improvement; For the environment, the FAO aims to protect and restore terrestrial and marine ecosystems, promote their sustainable use and facilitate adaptation to climate change (reduction, reuse, recycling and waste management). In terms of program priorities, FAO emphasizes the development of agri-food systems that contribute to mitigating climate change and are adapted to its effects; the bioeconomy for sustainable food and agriculture; biodiversity and ecosystem services in support of food and agriculture; building sustainable urban food systems

“Improvement in living conditions; In this context, FAO intends to promote inclusive economic growth by reducing inequalities (between urban and rural areas, rich and poor countries, men and women). The priority areas selected by FAO are: gender equality and the empowerment of rural women, inclusive rural transformation, the establishment of sustainable urban food systems, agricultural and food emergencies, agri-food systems resilient, the Hand in Hand initiative and increased investment.

“FAO will also use four converging and cross-cutting “accelerators” – i) technology, ii) innovation, iii) data and iv) complements such as governance, human capital and institutions”, Guei added.

Vanguard News Nigeria

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