With focus on science, technology and innovation, Central Asian countries can contribute to agri-food systems transformation and serve as a model for other regions facing similar challenges amid the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, FAO Director-General QU Dongyu said today at the Third Meeting of the Ministers of Agriculture of Central Asia. The virtual event, hosted by the Government of Kyrgyz Republic, focused on innovations in agri-food systems.
"The pandemic is giving us a rare opportunity to reset, rethink and redouble our efforts to build forward better and greener, using coordinated approaches that are inclusive, holistic, and coherent," the Director-General said alluding to the region's major potential for establishing innovative models for cooperation fostering game-changing solutions to common challenges.
He stressed the importance of making agri-food systems capable of providing access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food for all, while ensuring environmental sustainability. To this end, he encouraged Ministers to revisit their development strategies with a focus on innovation, policy, investment and infrastructure, including roads, food storage and research facilities. The FAO chief also underscored the need to carry out holistic feasibility studies in order to attract more investment.
The Director-General reiterated FAO's support to the region with innovative and transformative approaches, including FAO's evidence-based, country-led and country-owned Hand-in-Hand Initiative.
He also encouraged the Central Asian countries to strengthen ties with the Joint FAO/WHO Centre which integrates workstreams on food safety, animal diseases and antimicrobial resistance, the Joint FAO/IAEA Centre on Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture, as well as the FAO Investment Centre.
Furthermore, the FAO Director-General pointed out that FAO stands ready to support the countries in the UN Food Systems Summit 2021 preparatory process and in the implementation of the Summit's follow-up actions and recommendations, highlighting the vital role of national, regional and international partnerships in agri-food systems transformation.
For his part, the Minister of Agriculture, Water Resources and Regional Development of the Kyrgyz Republic, Askarbek Janybekov, noted that the pandemic unveiled the vulnerability of food systems and the immediate need for introducing new technologies in the sector. Given how interconnected food systems in the region are, these issues cannot be addressed in isolation, the Minister stressed. Today's meeting proves that the countries in Central Asia share the common vision, and are ready to tackle the challenges together in line with the global and regional agendas, the Minister added.
The Minister of Agriculture of the Republic of Tajikistan, Suleymon Ziyozoda, noted that the agricultural sector is one of the key priorities of the national policy underscoring the importance of strengthening innovative agricultural development, diversifying agricultural production, and improving food production infrastructure. He also pointed to the need for establishing regional centres for exchanging and distributing technical solutions with FAO playing a key role in coordinating these developments and platforms.
The Minister of Agriculture and Environmental Protection of Turkmenistan, Allanur Altyyev, noted that strengthening cooperation with international organizations plays an important role in the development of the multi-vector foreign policy course in the country and expressed satisfaction with the intensified exchange and cooperation between his country and FAO. He also highlighted the need to develop a close cooperation among the agriculture ministers of Central Asia as well as the importance of having such exchange of views on issues related to international and regional cooperation on a regular basis.
The Minister of Agriculture of Uzbekistan, Jamshid Khodjaev, said that the food and agriculture sector should serve as a major platform to demonstrate innovations - from the creation of new fertilisers, animal and plant species to the production of safe and nutritious food. He pointed out that companies that would be able to offer solutions at affordable prices would become leaders in the digitalization of agriculture, adding that state authorities should support any such development.
The First Vice-Minister of Agriculture of Kazakhstan, Aidarbek Saparov, stated that the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the weaknesses, gaps and inequalities in food systems and demonstrated the urgent need to ensure their sustainability, inclusiveness, and flexibility. He noted that this, however, required agri-food systems transformation which could not happen without innovation in policy, technology, and business models.
Representatives from the World Bank, the Islamic Development Bank and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) intervened as well.
Meetings of the Ministers of Agriculture of Central Asia are facilitated by FAO with the aim to provide a forum to deliberate on important and relevant topics related to agriculture and jointly reflect on agricultural development trends in the region.
They are attended by the Ministers responsible for Food and Agriculture from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan Uzbekistan and FAO as well as by the regional representatives of International Financial Institutions and Organizations (EBRD, IDB, IFAD, World Bank, Eurasian Development Bank, ITU etc.).
The first meeting of the Ministers of Agriculture of Central Asia was held on 19 May 2020 on "Food Security and Agricultural Development under COVID-19: Sharing Good Practices and Coordinating the Response". The meeting was hosted by the Minister of Agriculture of Uzbekistan.
The second meeting took place on 8 December 2020, on the theme of "Digital Agriculture: Opportunities and Challenges" and was hosted by the Minister of Agriculture of Kazakhstan.