Director-General  QU Dongyu

Africa Regional Review on Least Developed Countries: FAO calls for bold, urgent action to support the world’s most vulnerable


22 February 2021, Rome/Lilongwe – The Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), QU Dongyu, today urged for bold and urgent action to protect and enhance the resilience of the most vulnerable populations, particularly those in Least Developed Countries (LDCs).

He delivered the remarks at the Africa Regional Review meeting, which was held in preparation of the 5th United Nations Conference on the LDCs in Doha, in January 2022.

With 33 out of 46 LDCs located in Africa, the meeting will review the implementation of the Istanbul Programme of Action in the region. The meeting is being hosted by the Government of Malawi, Chair of the LDC Group, together with the United Nations Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).

At a session that brought together ministers from African LDCs, development partners, heads of UN agencies and other international and regional organizations, and representatives of civil society to discuss lessons learned and how to build back better, the FAO Director-General put forward solutions for transforming the agri-food systems and recovering from COVID-19.

He reiterated the need to ensure the functioning of domestic agriculture and food value chains in order to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic on agri-food systems and the livelihoods of the rural poor.

“Without such actions, we risk that the current public health crisis becomes a food and economic crisis,” he cautioned.

The FAO Director-General also stressed the need to transform agri-food systems to feed a growing population and provide healthy, affordable diets for all, in a way that is economically profitable and environmentally friendly.

The transformation of agri-food systems is also key for responding to the COVID-19 pandemic effectively and for building back better - through higher productivity, diversification, greater resilience, nutrition-smart interventions and supporting a vibrant private sector, including small to medium enterprises, to create quality jobs and enable recovery, highlighted the FAO Director-General.

Innovation, enhanced use of technologies and digitalization, partnerships at all levels – from government to private sector and civil society – as well as learning and sharing experiences amongst the LCDs are crucial to building back better, said Qu.

He went on to emphasize the key role food and agriculture played in realizing the 2030 Agenda, calling agriculture “the most inclusive and efficient tool to end poverty and hunger”.

“We seek to attain these goals by working for Better Production, Better Nutrition, Better Environment and a Better Life for all – the Four Betters,” said Qu. 

The session was chaired by Saulos Klaus Chilima, Vice President of the Republic of Malawi and Minister of Economic Planning and Development and Public Sector Reforms.

Vera Songwe, ECA’s Executive Secretary, who opened the session, highlighted that Africa was facing its first recession in 25 years, with over 30 million more people estimated to fall into poverty, and LDCs were the hardest hit.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organization’s Director-General, pointed out that COVID-19 threw into sharp relief the importance of better preparedness, a One Health approach, and universal health coverage.

The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the LDCs were stressed in the various interventions, and national recovery plans, lessons learned and policy recommendations were shared. 

How is FAO supporting LDCs?

FAO has put in place several initiatives to tackle challenges and vulnerabilities in LDCs.

Upon becoming the FAO Director-General, Qu established the Office of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), LDCs and Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDCs) to ensure that the special needs of their vulnerable populations are met.

SIDS, LDCs and LLDCs are also central to the Hand-in-Hand Initiative, launched by Qu with the aims of matching countries and development partners to accelerate agricultural transformation and sustainable rural development.

To enhance the adoption of innovative approaches and the use of modern science and technologies, including digital solutions, the FAO Director-General established the Office for Innovation. FAO believes that concrete, consolidated efforts are needed to enable the LDCs to reap the full benefit of modern technologies and digital applications.

In collaboration with partners, FAO acted swiftly to help countries take decisive action in response to COVID-19. FAO’s COVID-19 Response and Recovery Programme for Africa was developed to ensure that the region has a well-articulated and coordinated approach for dealing with the challenge.

FAO has also introduced a new Strategy for Private Sector Engagement, which allows for expanded areas of mutually beneficial collaboration, such as technology and innovation, data, investment and innovative financing.

Why focus on LDCs in Africa?

Africa is not on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal of Zero Hunger by 2030, and the challenges are more prominent for the region’s LDCs. 

The prevalence of undernourishment is highest in Africa - more than twice the global average. The region also has the fastest growth in the number of hungry people worldwide. These trends are more worrisome for LDCs where the prevalence of undernourishment is at over 20 percent – four points higher than the African average. 

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, there were 235 million hungry people in sub-Saharan Africa.

COVID-19 is threatening food security, nutrition and economies in sub-Saharan Africa in unprecedented ways, and has become a significant threat to ending extreme poverty and eradicating hunger in Africa. What’s more, it risks wiping out the modest gains made towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, the Malabo Declaration and Agenda 2063.