The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), held a regional dialogue with the private sector in the Near East and North Africa region, to range over opportunities for further collaborations targeted at transforming agri-food systems, making them extra productive, resilient and sustainable.

The event was held under the theme ‘Transforming Agri-Food Systems to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals – Hand in Hand with the Private Sector’.

In his opening remarks, QU Dongyu, FAO director-general emphasized – “establishing constructive partnerships and engagement with the private sector is key to realizing the objectives of the SDGs,” and that, “the private sector is a key ally in the global fight against food insecurity, malnutrition and rural poverty.”

He then stated that the Near East and North Africa Region are currently facing several major challenges directly linked to the way food is produced, processed, distributed and consumed, noting that, “together we can deal with the challenges of the region.”

Referring to the significance of investments in agriculture the director-general suggested that they can foster innovation towards more sustainable agricultural practices and provide opportunities for decent employment in rural areas through inclusive rural development.

“Since I took office, less than two years ago, I have worked towards developing a transparent result-oriented engagement with the private sector to increase responsible and productive investments in agriculture,” he asserted.

Innovation

The momentousness of promoting innovation was main among the main subjects underscored during the event.

The FAO director-general accentuated that FAO is a firm supporter of digital innovations, including innovative financing to enable access to financial services by Small and Medium Enterprises, especially in less developed areas, and unify producers and consumers through shorter and more resilient value chains.

“The private sector is ideally placed to support innovations and improved technologies. Innovation must be a driving force, for the public and the private sector, as well as civil society,” Qu informed, stating that FAO has recently instituted the Office of Innovation to continue embedding and up scaling innovation in its work.

The secretary general of the Union of Arab Chambers, Khaled Hanafy, who also shared his views at the opening session, emphasized the need for an, “agricultural revolution” in the region through avant-garde tools like blockchain and artificial intelligence. These could aid to address challenges associated with irrigation, mechanization and the environment, as well as the distribution and stocking of food, he mentioned.

FAO work

FAO Members have recently ratified the new FAO Strategy for Private Sector Engagement 2021-2025, to bring about transformative alteration and innovation with measurable, sustainable effect and benefits. The Strategy intends to: i) enhance efficacy in the supply chains; ii) promulgate advancements in data and science; iii) ameliorate the management and dissemination of knowledge; and iv) advocate sustainable business practices.

The Organization has also introduced the FAO Connect portal, an interactive platform that bestows a means to lure and involve the private sector in FAO’s scope of work, profiling opportunities to connect and mechanisms for collaborations.

In addition, FAO carries on supporting its members in reinforcing the enabling environment for responsible agriculture investment, particularly through the Principles for responsible investment in agriculture and food systems, developed by the Committee on World Food Security (CFS).

FAO’s flagship initiative, Hand-in-Hand Initiative, offers a solid framework to bring to fruition meaningful collective influence on the ground. The initiative intends to provide match-making associations with donor nations, development banks, the private sector and others to expedite agricultural transformation and sustainable rural development.

“The private sector is a driving force to boost markets, consumers and farmers. An enhanced engagement of the private sector can provide capacity development, investments and a new professional market-oriented business model,” declared the FAO director-general.

The event

After the opening session, which also witnessed remarks from AbdulHakim Elwaer, Assistant-Director General and FAO Regional Representative for the Near East and North Africa, the dialogue was categorized in two panel sessions-

Panel 1 conversed about how public-private engagements can come up with large-scale solutions for addressing regional priorities and accomplishing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the Near East and North Africa. The panel was composed by Sheikh Majid Sultan Al Qassimi, partner, Soma Mater; Alzbeta Klein, CEO/director-general of the International Fertilizer Association (IFA); Ayman Amin Sejiny, CEO/general manager of the Islamic Corporation for the development of the Private Sector – Islamic Development Bank; and Moez El-Shohdi, president of the Food Banking Regional Network.

Panel 2 was concentrated on the prospects of green and inclusive technologies in agriculture. The panelists include Soud Ba’alawy, executive chairman Enspire (DIFC); Ouiam Lahlou, Professor at “Institut Agronomique et Vétérinaire Hassan II” at Rabat, Morocco; Yousef Hamidaddin, CEO of Agri-Tech Accelerator; Reginald Lee, director of Grow Asia; and Chandra Singh, director of Business Development, for Elite Agro.

The outcomes of this dialogue will be submitted to the Near East Regional Conference in 2022, offering an opportunity for Governments and other stakeholders in the Region to chew over them.

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