FAO: Azerbaijan is a food-secure country

Vladimir Rakhmanin, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Europe and Central Asia tells Azernews about the FAO-Azerbaijan cooperation, activity of the FAO, touching upon many other issues of global importance.
 
Question: How do you assess the FAO-Azerbaijan partnership? How can you evaluate the country’s role in addressing the challenges faced by FAO?
 
Answer: The partnership between Azerbaijan and FAO has steadily grown over the past two decades. Since last year, this partnership has entered into a new phase through signing agreements on FAO-Azerbaijan Partnership Programme and Establishment of FAO Partnership and Liaison Office in Baku. Consequently, Azerbaijan has become a new resource partner to FAO and will fund FAO projects in Azerbaijan as well as other selected countries. In this regard, I am happy to acknowledge the important role of the FAO Goodwill Ambassador – Ms Leyla Aliyeva – in increasing public awareness on FAO's goals and policies and supporting FAO activities.
 
Q.: What are the FAO recommendations to countries in terms of securing their own food security? Can you please specifically speak of cooperation between your organization and the Azerbaijani government in this regard?
 
A.: We appreciate the fact that Azerbaijan is a food-secure country. The challenge in Azerbaijan is to make agriculture more competitive and resilient. FAO’s cooperation with Azerbaijan is shaped by the 2016-2020 Country Programming Framework (CPF) which sets 6 priority areas including animal health and plant protection; supporting investments in agriculture; capacity development; strengthening the policy and institutional framework; improved crop, fisheries and livestock production; and sustainable, equitable and efficient forestry; land and water resource management. These are the areas where FAO and Azerbaijan plan their joint initiatives.
 
Q.: Recently, the Azerbaijani government took major steps to fight against genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and prevent potential negative effects on the environment. What is FAO's position on this issue [approach towards GM technology from safety to benefits to impacts on food security]?
 
A.: Biotechnologies are often wrongly equated with GMOs. It is true that GMOs are among the biotechnologies available, but many biotechnologies have nothing to do with GMOs.
 
The production of vaccines and bio-pesticides, or the use of molecular markers to develop new plant varieties, all involve biotechnology without the use of GMOs. Processes ranging from fermentation and artificial insemination, on the low-tech end, to advanced DNA-based methods on the high-tech end, are all ways to help farmers improve plant and animal varieties and increase yields.
 
Earlier in 2016 FAO convened a three-day symposium on agricultural biotechnologies. About 500 scientists, along with representatives of government, civil society, the private sector, academia, farmers' associations and cooperatives participated in this forum.
 
We also published our model for ecosystem-based agriculture, called "Save and Grow in Practice."
 
At FAO, we believe that to eradicate hunger and build more sustainable food systems, we need to consider all tools at our disposal. Those tools include both agroecology and biotechnology. We believe that these approaches can work side by side and complement each other.
 
We recognize that genetic modification can help in some circumstances to increase production and productivity and thus contribute to food security. We are aware of people’s concerns about the potential risks that GMOs may pose for human and animal health and the environment. We promote careful evaluation on a case-by-case basis of the potential benefits and risks associated with the application of modern technologies to improve plant and animal production. But the final conclusion is left with the national governments.
 
Q.: Climate change is already affecting food security for tens of millions of people throughout the world, and it is getting worse due to weather-related disasters. Do you believe the Paris Climate Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is achievable to prevent the global catastrophe?
 
A.: The Paris Agreement is a landmark: for the first time it brings all nations together to tackle climate change. The agreement will strengthen the global response and commitment of staying below a 2-degree Celsius temperature rise. It is certainly an ambitious goal and it is for this reason that the international community is putting in place the financial mechanisms, and the technology and knowledge transfer needed if these targets are to be met. As we are already seeing changes in climate, we must adequately address both mitigation and adaptation responses. For example, FAO is advocating an integrated approach through its Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) concept. The global Sustainable Development Goals are challenging. Since they are cross cutting, they actually provide us with an excellent opportunity to undertake actions – actions that take into consideration all three pillars of sustainability – social, economic and environmental. In 2016 FAO dedicated its flagship publication, The State of Food and Agriculture, to climate change, and how to handle its effects in agriculture. The report, issued on October 17, contains the latest assessments and practical recommendations.
 
Q.: How the global economic conditions affect the food security targets of the countries, and what are the responses from FAO to unpredictable changes?
 
A.: Since the main reason for falling poverty and hunger in this region has been economic growth, any changes in the economic environment which decreases growth can theoretically lead to falling living standards, thereby increasing risk of both poverty and food insecurity. However, households always have coping mechanisms in relation to food insecurity that they utilize in such conditions. This includes substituting cheaper foods for more expensive ones, cutting back on high cost foods, etc. Thus, a fall in incomes of 10 percent does not lead to an increase of hunger of such a magnitude. Moreover, only a relatively small portion of the population is in the high-risk zone where a decrease in living standards can lead to a substantial risk of food insecurity. For Azerbaijan, the portion of the population suffering from food insecurity is below 5 percent, according to FAO figures.
 
Q.: Could you give us a brief summary of the latest FAO report on world hunger? According to the last statistics brought in the FAO report 2015, there was actually a drop in the world hunger statistics. What were the major factors for such a descending figure? (Sedik, based on global SOFI 2015)
 
A.: The principal reason for the fall in poverty and hunger during the period measured by the MDGs in the Europe and Central Asian region (and not just this region) has been economic growth.
 
Q.: FAO reports that people annually waste more than 1.3 billion tons of food – enough to feed all the hungry people in the world. How can we prevent such enormous waste?
 
A.: Up to one third of all food is spoiled or squandered before it is consumed. Almost half of all fruits and vegetables are wasted. This is a shameful waste of the labour, water, energy, land and other inputs that go into producing our food. We cannot afford this level of loss and waste – particularly in a world where 780 million people do not get enough to eat.
 
We also need to consider the environmental costs. The production, processing and distribution of food that is lost or wasted accounts for a significant share of global greenhouse gas emissions. Additional emissions are linked to rotting food in landfills, which releases methane – a gas about 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide.
 
To understand the enormity of the problem, think about this: if food waste were a country, it would be the third largest greenhouse gas-emitting country in the world.
 
Everyone has a role to play in reducing food waste and mitigating the effects of climate change. By being conscientious or ethical consumers and changing simple day-to-day decisions, for example by wasting less food or eating less meat and more nutritious pulses, we can reduce our “food print” and make a difference.
 
As an intergovernmental organization, FAO is in a position to play the role of a neutral and independent facilitator. We can coordinate, at global level, the initiatives, activities and projects on food losses and waste reduction by partnering with UN agencies, other international organizations, and worldwide stakeholders, including the private sector and civil society.
 
FAO supports 47 countries in the area of food loss and waste. It provides technical support to countries to help identify loss levels and promotes cooperation between national and regional organizations and public and private partners to reduce food loss and waste. This includes the Global Initiative on Food Loss and Waste Reduction (SAVE FOOD), a unique partnership with the private sector, which comprises over 600 companies and organizations active in food losses and waste reduction. SAVE FOOD aims to drive innovations, promote interdisciplinary dialogue and spark debates to generate solutions across the entire value chain “from field to fork.”