31st Session of the Regional Conference for Africa
by FAO Director-General QU Dongyu
Distinguished delegates and friends,
1. This first virtual session of the Regional Conference for Africa was a success we can all be proud of.
2. Let me start by thanking HE. President, Dr. Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, and our Chair, the honorable Anxious JONGWE MASUKA, Minister for Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement, the Republic of Zimbabwe.
3. And my gratitude goes to all the honorable Ministers and delegates who joined us in these past days.
4. Together you have new historical record.
5. Nearly 900 participants from 48 countries registered for this conference. That is an impressive achievement.
6. We were honored to have the Ministerial Segment opened by His Excellency the President of Zimbabwe.
7. It was attended by 95 Ministers including 11 Deputy-Ministers as well as 50 observers from the private sectors and civil society.
8. Numerous FAO Members, UN Agencies and other international organizations attended as observers.
9. Well over 110 000 people engaged on social media and there were nearly 2 000 page views of the webcast.
10. FAO along with all agri-food sectors in the world should be from people, by people and for people.
11. In the past, FAO Regional Conferences were mostly limited with a relatively small number of delegates in the meeting room. But now, through virtual and digital modalities, we can have more than 110 000 people engaged through social media. This is an approach of going out from the castle to the crowd.
12. Your presence and engagement are strong sign of support and commitment to this new FAO. We appreciate and value this.
13. In these difficult times it is more important than ever to come together to hold these important discussions on the way forward for Africa’s sustainable food future.
14. I would like to acknowledge ADG Abebe, the colleagues at the Regional Office in Accra and all our employees across the continent. And especially extend my gratitude and appreciation to the Republic of Zimbabwe for agreeing to host this conference under these extraordinary circumstances. Again, if you do not challenge your limits, you won’t know what your potential is.
15. Africa is full of potential. Try your limits first, as an individual, as a family, as an institution and as a country. Through this meeting, I also find that FAO staff in your regional and country offices have a lot of potential. They have tackled a lot of difficulties to make this conference successful.
16. I would have certainly loved for us all to meet in beautiful Zimbabwe and visit the famous Victoria Falls which is one of my dreams to go. Do you know why? As you can see from my CV, I spent several years working in China’s Three Gorges Dam Corporation, building one of the biggest dams in the world for generating hydropower.
Honourable Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,
17. With Africa’s rising food insecurity concrete actions are urgently needed, to reverse the trends and work towards meeting the commitments under the Malabo Declaration and the Sustainable Development Goals.
18. The discussions of the last two days made it clear: by transforming agri-food systems we can reduce poverty, increase access to healthy and diverse diets for everyone, develop new digital-led jobs for young people and women, help to rebalance gender inequalities, and build sustainable, resilient livelihoods.
19. I was in particular impressed by the interesting exchanges on the impacts of the pandemic on Agri-food Systems, Food Security and Nutrition in Africa and the concrete actions taken by many already to address this crisis. We know there is more to be done and we have taken note of your comments.
20. No matter what the exact word you would like to use, you can request, you can encourage, you can call upon, but please remember, it is your conference! You own this regional conference! To be clear, it is an African Regional Conference.
21. We can work together on the necessary transformations towards an enabling policy environment to achieve intra-regional trade and food safety within the African Continental Free Trade Agreement.
22. I strongly encourage you to use the African Continental Free Trade Agreement as a new engine to transform agri-food systems in Africa. This will enable member countries to make use of your advantages to produce competitive agricultural products with national characteristics and then market them to the whole African continent and beyond.
23. We have also heard how the engagements in the Hand-in-Hand Initiative are progressing well in Burkina Faso, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe and how the partnerships in place with the World Bank Group, the private sector and civil society make this a consultative initiative, owned and led by the countries.
24. I fully agree that we should include all the partners: government, private sector, international organizations, financial institutions, academia and civil societies to work together as one big team.
25. I warmly welcome the other Members, who have signaled their interest in the initiative, and invite their representatives in Rome to get in touch with the Chief Economist.
26. We also heard from many of you about the importance of innovation, which will help transform agri-food systems.
27. The very modality of this virtual meeting is a reminder that we are in a new era where modern technology can transform our lives. It can bring us closer together even though we’re further apart physically. It can open access to new markets and facilitate easier trade, it can provide vital information for a farmer right into his or her hand, and it can help end hunger and improve lives in ways the world is only beginning to discover.
28. In that respect, I look forward to receiving your nominations for villages and locations to participate in the 1 000 Digital Villages Initiative we are preparing.
29. Food systems transformation underpinned many of the discussions at this Conference, and next year’s UN Food Systems Summit will be another important opportunity to drive progress forward. I warmly anticipate the spirit of engagement from your countries.
30. On behalf of the Secretariat for this Conference I would like to thank you for your deliberations on the strategic changes we are making inside FAO to deliver.
31. I have listened intently to the views and priorities raised during this Conference and have taken note of your recommendations in how FAO can serve you better. The inputs from the region are vital in shaping FAO’s strategic outlook and actions.
32. Thank you to all the distinguished delegates, the civil society organizations, the private sector and other partners for your instrumental contributions and guidance for our continued collaboration in Africa.
33. An African proverb says: Prepare now for the solutions of tomorrow.
34. Our virtual gathering in these days certainly helped us in preparing solutions for a better tomorrow. Let’s grow, nourish and sustain, together for modern African Continent!
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