Accra/Harare/Rome — FAO Regional Conference for Africa focuses on country-led, country-owned actions
Agriculture ministers from across Africa, representatives from the African Union, the civil society and the private sector, and other partners, recognized the role FAO's Hand-in-Hand Initiative can play in ending poverty and hunger and meeting the agreed goals under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Malabo Declaration.
They spoke at today's Ministerial Session on the Hand-in-Hand initiative, during FAO's 31st Session of the Regional Conference for Africa.
Opening the Session, the FAO Director-General QU Dongyu said that Hand-in-Hand was a "unique initiative" aimed at ending hunger and poverty in countries, which can't be left behind.
Hand-in-Hand is an evidence-based, country-led and country-owned initiative, said Qu that "matchmakes" countries along the wealth spectrum, donors and recipients and deploys sophisticated tools and analytics to accelerate agricultural transformation and sustainable rural development.
"Partnership, innovation, data, technology and inclusiveness are at the core of the initiative," stressed Maximo Torero, FAO's Chief Economist who gave an overview of the initiative and its roll-out in Africa.
Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture of the African Union Commission Josefa Sacko said that the African Union was "fully committed" to the initiative, which was aligned with the Malabo Declaration and can help defeat hunger and poverty on the continent.
She noted that only four countries were on track on meeting the Malabo Declaration's commitments, though 36 countries have recently made a considerable progress, she conceded.
Sacko highlighted that the Hand-in-Hand Initiative can help address data collection and harmonization challenges in Africa, as countries lack "evidence, advanced tools and analytics to identify the biggest opportunities to rise income and reduce inequalities and vulnerabilities of the rural poor".
Hand-in-Hand on the ground in Africa
As of now, Hand-in-Hand is being rolled out in 11 countries across Africa: Angola, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Ethiopia, Gabon, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda and Zimbabwe.
Ministers from Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, and Zimbabwe highlighted how the initiative is helping them to double down on hunger- and poverty-fighting efforts in their countries.
Salifou Ouedraogo, Burkina Faso's Minister of Agriculture and Hydro-agricultural Developments noted that Hand-in-Hand helped "coordinate all our efforts and to ensure that our technical and finance partners can come together."
Some of these efforts or initiatives in Burkina Faso aim to increase local rice production; ensure nutritious meals for school children; and provide producers with access to funding.
Ato Oumer Hussien, Ethiopia's Minister of Agriculture highlighted how Hand-in-Hand fitted in with one of his country's priorities: "the development of integrated agro-industries to enhance market-orientated agricultural production, create employment opportunity and ensure inclusive development".
"We need to ensure farmers are key players along the value chain and have access to financial services," said Ethiopia's Minister, noting that Hand-in-Hand is an important tool that his country can now deploy to develop inclusive food systems.
Anxious Jongwe Masuka, Zimbabwe's Minister of Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement noted that the current challenges his country was facing - including drought and COVID-19 - called for "credible poverty alleviation initiatives" such as Hand-in-Hand.
The initiative also comes at a time when Zimbabwe has just finalised its agriculture and food systems transformation strategy, he added.
The Hand-in-Hand initiative's importance was highlighted by other speakers, including Maria do Valle Ribeiro, UN Resident Coordinator for Zimbabwe; Martien Van Nieuwkoop, the World Bank's Global Director for Agriculture and Food; and John Cordaro, Special Representative Food Security, Nutrition and Safety at Mars Incorporated - who represented the private sector.
Ribeiro welcomed FAO's inclusive Hand-in-Hand initiative, stressing the importance of coordinated action.
Van Nieuwkoop spoke about the importance of big data, noting that this was an area that the World Bank and FAO were strengthening together.
Cordaro stressed that "no single entity can resolve food insecurity", adding: "we must expect and prepare for crises such as COVID-19". In relation to Hand-in-Hand, Cordaro highlighted how Mars Incorporated can bring its expertise to support countries address their specific food safety challenges.
The civil society was represented by Christiana Saiti Louwa, Co-Chair World Forum of Fisher People's.
"The path of agricultural transformation cannot be solely market-oriented. It is vital that elements of environmental sustainability, climate change resilience, and the building of the African Food Sovereignty be integrated in our vision of peace, justice, and abundance for our Motherland," said Louwa.
Food security and nutrition in Africa
Many speakers noted their concern about the state of food security and nutrition in Africa.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing food insecurity and malnutrition in many African countries. In recent years, climate change, conflict, economic slowdowns, transboundary animal diseases and pests such as Desert Locusts and Fall Armyworm have corroded livelihoods and pushed more people into hunger.
Africa is home to 250 million undernourished people. In percentage terms, it is the hardest hit region and becoming more so, with 19.1 percent of its people undernourished. On current trends, by 2030, Africa will be home to more than half of the world's chronically hungry.
Faced with these challenges, there is an urgent need to build sustainable food systems that can withstand multiple crises.
Hand-in-Hand initiative - the back story
Hand-in-Hand targets the poorest, the least developed landlocked countries, least developed small island developing states, countries in food crises, and large countries with significant hotspots of poverty.
The initiative takes a multilateral approach to accelerate agricultural transformation and sustainable rural development. It works to strengthen food system capacities to deliver nutrition and healthy diets for everyone and improve household incomes to reduce extreme poverty.
The initiative deploys sophisticated tools, including advanced geospatial modelling and analytics such as the Geospatial Platform and the Data Lab for Statistical Innovation. These provide high-quality, accessible, timely and reliable data assisting countries' informed, strategic decision-making and evidence-based policies.
FAO partnered with leading technology companies and public data providers to build the platform, including Google, IBM, World Bank - to name a few.
FAO is conducting "Training of trainers" activities with its Members to ensure easy access to and uptake of the Hand-in-Hand tools.
The Hand-in-Hand platform also introduces a framework for monitoring and impact analysis to enable countries to establish if they are on track and on target to meet national targets for SDG 1 (end poverty) and SDG 2 (end hunger).
About FAO's Regional Conference for Africa
Hosted virtually by the Government of Zimbabwe and in collaboration with FAO, the Conference brings together over 95 ministers and government officials from 48 countries along with representatives from observer countries, donor organizations, civil society and the private sector.