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On World Food Day, The Asia-Pacific Region Faces Multiple Challenges To Reach Its Most Disadvantaged And Malnourished

17/10/2022, Bangkok – Global conflicts, a lingering pandemic, inflation, erratic swings in the price of energy, fertilizers and basic foods – these are just some of the major challenges facing countries and people in the Asia-Pacific region as it marked World Food Day on 16 October, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) reported today.

The world’s biggest region – home to most of the planet’s hungry – has been backsliding in its quest to end hunger and malnutrition in all its forms, one of the world’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG2 – Zero Hunger). Indeed, a recent UN report predicted that the region, as a whole, is so far off-track from meeting the SDG 2030 deadline, it would need an additional 35 years to hit all 17 SDG targets.

While the pandemic, inflation and the other challenges are a major influence on the present situation, successive annual editions of FAO’s flagship publication, the State of Food Security and Nutrition had warned the fight against hunger and malnutrition was failing in Asia and the Pacific. By 2021, more than 400 million people in the region were malnourished, most of them in South Asia, with 40 percent of all the region’s inhabitants unable to afford a healthy diet.

At a regional World Food Day observance ceremony in Bangkok, speakers discussed the need for a revitalized effort – involving multiple stakeholders – to reset the region on a path to end hunger, poverty and inequalities.

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“We need to empower the most vulnerable, including small-scale producers, by investing in global agrifood systems. This means improved access to training, incentives, science, data, technology and innovation, so that small-holders can be at the centre of this transformation,” said FAO Director-General, Dr QU Dongyu, in a recorded video statement, to open the event. “We need decent rural employment and services, and to end child labour, while fostering gender equality and supporting rural and Indigenous Peoples who are the custodians of much of the earth’s biodiversity. At the same time, governments need to provide timely and well-targeted social protection programmes that protect the most fragile.”

Several hundred participants joined the virtual event from across the Asia-Pacific region, as well as many more from the Near East, Africa and the Americas.

FAO’s Special Goodwill Ambassador for Asia and the Pacific, Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand, also addressed the ceremony with a video message.

“Agrifood systems should be transformed to be more resilient to shocks and stresses, including natural disasters and pandemics such as COVID-19. This would require innovative and cost-effective measures aimed at providing social protection to reduce vulnerabilities, particularly of women, Indigenous Peoples and socially marginalized smallholders. Leaving no one behind, regardless of age, gender, race, ethnicity, location, disability or migratory status, remains the central commitment of the 2030 Agenda,” Her Royal Highness said.

Leaving no one behind in Asia and the Pacific

The theme of this year’s World Food Day is “Leaving no one behind.” A guest speaker from Nepal, Bonita Sharma, co-founder and CEO of the group Social Changemakers and Innovators, spoke about the importance of engaging the region’s youth to elicit their ideas on how to achieve better nutrition through innovation.

A panel discussion followed considering ways to reach the region’s most vulnerable, particularly rural women and youth, indigenous communities, persons with disabilities and others. The panelists included Lenny N. Rosalin, Indonesia’s Deputy Minister for Gender Equality in the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection. She is also Chair of the ASEAN Committee on Women (ACW). Other panelists were Panudda Boonpala, Deputy Regional Director of the ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, and James Leyson, Managing Director of the Scholars of Sustenance (SOS) Foundation.

FAO’s “Four Betters” approach to leave no one behind

FAO is working with its Member Nations in Asia and the Pacific to help them achieve the SDGs through a systematic approach known as the ‘Four Betters’.

“FAO’s goal is a sustainable and food-secure world for all. We are supporting our Member Nations in their efforts to achieve the 2030 Agenda through a transformation to more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable agrifood systems, leading to better production, better nutrition, a better environment, and a better life, leaving no one behind,” said Jong-Jin Kim, Assistant Director-General and FAO Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific.

“Leaving no one behind means working on many fronts at the same time. For FAO, that includes promoting decent rural employment and services, ensuring social protection, ending child labour, and supporting local food production for vulnerable populations in food crisis countries. It also means fostering gender equality and supporting rural and Indigenous Peoples who are the custodians of much of the Earth’s biodiversity,” Kim added.

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