By Fatouma Seid*
ADDIS ABABA – On 16 October 2020, Ethiopia joins the rest of the world to commemorate World Food Day. The Day aims to heighten public awareness of world food problems and strengthen solidarity in the struggle against hunger, malnutrition, and poverty.
On this year’s World Food Day, we also commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Ethiopia is one of the oldest Member Nations of FAO, having joined the Organization in 1948. In 1981, FAO opened a Representation Office in Addis Ababa, which also hosts the Organization’s Sub-regional Office for Eastern Africa.
The theme for this year’s World Food Day is – “Grow, nourish, sustain. Together. Our actions are our future.”
The theme calls for global cooperation and solidarity to help all populations, including the most vulnerable, recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. It also calls for building back better, by making food systems more resilient and robust.
We are commemorating World Food Day during a very exceptional time as countries, in particular, Ethiopia are dealing with the widespread effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and battling the worst Desert Locust invasion in 25 years. Climate-related shocks including floods and drought also continue to affect the agriculture sector – a livelihood for millions of people in the country. According to the latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) findings, about 6.7 million people (in the Belg production regions – Afar, Amhara, Oromia, SNNP, Somali and Tigray) are expected to be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse, between October – December 2020.
Despite these challenges, there are people who have continued to plant, fish, harvest, or transport our food to where we need it. They are our “Food Heroes”. As we commemorate World Food Day, I therefore call upon you to thank our “Food Heroes” who, no matter the circumstances, continue to produce food and get to where it is needed. They include our farmers, pastoralists, traders, fisher folk, processers, transporters, plus a range of actors across the agriculture and food value chains.
We also recognize the tireless efforts of the team that is responding to Desert Locusts and other shocks in the country. Some have stayed away from their families for a long time and endured multiple mandatory quarantines as they travelled.
As the world and Ethiopia continue to face multiple challenges in the food and agriculture sector, cooperation and solidarity is imperative, to help the most vulnerable to recover from the crises and build more resilient food systems.
In Ethiopia, the agriculture sector employs over 80 percent of the population and is a source of diverse, safe, nutritious food. Recognizing the importance of the sector, the Government has made commitments and is implementing several programs to improve agricultural production and productivity under the framework of the Growth and Transformation Plan II, the Agriculture Sector Policy and Investment Framework, among others.
The country has also committed to the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), whose first and second goals are to “end poverty in all its forms everywhere (SDG1)” and “end hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture (SDG2)” by 2030. Ethiopia also signed the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Program Compact, which aims to end hunger in Africa by 2025.
As we mark World Food Day, I reiterate FAO’s commitment to working with the Government of Ethiopia to transform the agriculture sector to become more productive, sustainable and resilient. The Country Programming Framework (2016 -2020) that FAO and the Government signed prioritizes improving crop and livestock production and productivity, and sustainable natural resource management, while addressing crosscutting themes of resilience, climate change, nutrition and gender.
Despite the travel and work restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, we continue to implement our normative programs with caution, ensuring the safety of the beneficiaries and our staff and partners. We are also collaboration more with regional governments and NGO partners to deliver our programs.
Currently, we are working with the Government to control Desert Locusts. We are also providing agricultural inputs, cash transfers, training and extension support to communities affected by COVID-19 and locusts.
We continue to support policy development, improve agricultural production, address post-harvest losses, advance nutrition and agribusiness, as well as generate food security information to inform decision-making. We are also working to improve natural resources management and building the resilience of farmers and pastoralists against re-current climate-related shocks and pests and diseases.
On this World Food Day, as we deal with multiple challenges to the food and agriculture sector, let us work together to build back better by making food systems more resilient and robust so they can withstand increasing volatility and shocks.
The Author, Fatouma Seid*, is Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Representative to Ethiopia.