Ukraine-Russia war will affect food security
While the world was already passing through various challenges including Covid-19 pandemic, climate change that affected food production and supply chains, Ukraine war has further complicated the global situation in the food sector. This is more so as Russia and Ukraine are major food suppliers of the world. The Daily Star reached out to UN Food and Agriculture Organization Director-General Qu Dongyu, who toured Bangladesh early March,via email to understand the crises and ways out.
DS: With Russia-Ukraine war, energy supplies are being disrupted and prices are going up. What are its implications and what is FAO's strategy to face this new situation?
Dongyu: Russia and Ukraine play a substantial role in global food production and supply. Together, they provide 19 percent of the world's barley supply, 14 percent of wheat, and 4 percent of maize, making up more than one-third of global cereal exports. The global fertilizer supply is also highly concentrated, with Russia as the lead producer. Supply chain and logistical disruptions on Ukrainian and Russian grain and oilseed production and restrictions on Russia's exports will have significant food security repercussions around the world. This is especially true for some 50 countries that depend on Russia and Ukraine for 30 percent or more of their wheat supply. Many of them are least developed countries or low-income, food-deficit countries in Northern Africa, Asia and the Near East. Many European and Central Asian countries rely on Russia for over 50 percent of their fertilizer supply, and shortages there could extend to next year. FAO has five policy recommendations to address this situation: keep global food and fertilizer trade open; find new and more diverse food suppliers; support vulnerable groups, including internally displaced people; avoid ad hoc policy reactions; and strengthen market transparency and dialogue.
DS: What is the FAO's strategy for Bangladesh and South Asia, a densely populated region that faces the threats of climate change and decline in farmland amid rapid urbanisation and industrialisation?
Dongyu: FAO's mission for the next 10 years is to support the 2030 Agenda through the transformation of agri-food systems and making them more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable. The approach to agriculture is now not production-oriented approach but much more holistic. While production needs to increase to meet the demands of a growing population, agriculture needs to reduce its carbon footprint, use natural resources optimally and provide decent livelihoods. FAO's updated strategy on climate change takes a sustainable agri-food systems approach and places small holders and family farmers at the centre and promotes country-driven climate actions for sustainable results.
DS: With the new farmingtechnologies, food productivity level has almost reached its peak. How far can food productivity increase through use of modern technology to feed the ever increasing population?
Dongyu: Many exciting farming systems innovations to increase productivity and technologies such as digitalisation to improve efficiencies have emerged in the last decade. Traditional knowledge such as about good cultural practices, enhancing biodiversity and cropping patterns is contributing to enhancing resilience. FAO promotes both old and new innovations that are relevant to various country contexts and is developing a science and innovation strategy to upscale work in this area. Besides, we can produce more food by using less resources, these innovations can also conserve natural resources and mitigate adverse environmental impacts. No size fits all. Countries with ageing populations will need solutions such as smart farming while those with young populations need more emphasis on skill development and entrepreneurship.
DS: How is FAO working and how should the countries work in tackling climate change-related challenges in terms of food production?
Dongyu: FAO is developing a five-year Action Plan in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). To respond to the growing number of climate and food security challenges, countries need to increase biodiversity, implement actions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions as committed at COP26 and other agreements, improve policy and governance on climate actions and mobilise more funding for climate finance including from the private sector.
DS: Bangladesh has significantly increased food production in the last few decades. Do you think that it has equally improved the level of nutrition and food safety? If not, why and what can Bangladesh do?
Dongyu: The Asia-Pacific Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition in 2020 showed that more than 40 percent of the population in the region cannot afford a healthy diet. This, in turn, contributes to multiple burdens of malnutrition in a region which otherwise has shown good economic growth even during the Covid-19 pandemic. Countries in the region including Bangladesh need to do more to ensure that all citizens can access healthy diets through a judicious mix of nutritious crops and sources of protein such as meat and fish. Bangladesh should be justifiably proud of having achieved the MDGs and ensuring availability of safe and nutritious diets will be vital to achieve the SDGs.