FAO Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia

INTERVIEW: FAO Deputy Regional Representative for Europe and Central Asia

Meeting with Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Economy, Skopje, North Macedonia.

FAO has been a strong partner of the Republic of North Macedonia since 1993. Cooperation has spanned a wide array of areas such as land tenure and management, forestry, value chain development, biosecurity and animal health, climate change adaptation, and mitigation. There has been a continual emphasis on policy and institutional support, with a focus on aligning the country’s agriculture and rural sectors with European Union standards and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Nabil Gangi, FAO Deputy Regional Representative for Europe and Central Asia, explains FAO’s assistance in the Republic of North Macedonia. He is responsible for advising and assisting the development and implementation of the FAO Country Programme by facilitating communication and cooperation between FAO and the Government of North Macedonia, and all key national and international partners.

Mr Gangi, your visit to North Macedonia this week, as FAO Deputy Regional Representative for Europe and Central Asia and now responsible for the FAO programme in the country, re-affirms FAO’s commitment to support the country’s agricultural and rural development. What are the predominant issues you see facing agriculture and food security in North Macedonia to be addressed in the coming period?

This is my first visit to North Macedonia and I am very pleased to have the opportunity to support building-up the well-established and long-standing partnership between FAO and the Macedonian Government.

Agriculture and food production play a vital role in the Macedonian economy, with 16 percent contributing to the gross domestic product and employing more than one-third of the national workforce. However, the sector is characterized by several structural impediments, including high fragmentation of agricultural land and small farm sizes, having adverse effects on the productivity and efficiency of farms, preventing further modernization and competitiveness in the globalized economy.

Rural communities are facing limited investments in agricultural infrastructure, rural outmigration, hampered access to markets, lack of income-diversification opportunities and adequate farm advisory support, limited capacities for sustainable agricultural practices, land degradation, and exposure to climate change, which puts food security at risk. Moreover, inefficient management of forest resources and a lack of accurate data have been key challenges in the Macedonian forestry sector, hampering forests’ contributions to national sustainable development.

Last, but not the least, availability and access to healthy diets remains a challenge, along with large quantities of food being lost or wasted, which calls for coordinated action to transform the food system and enhance coordination across the food value chain.

Addressing these challenges, along with the need for capacity and system building of key sectoral stakeholders at national and local level, are the basis for future development of the sector.

What have been the priority areas of FAO support and the opportunities for the next programme?

Through its Technical Cooperation Programme, FAO makes its know-how and technical expertise available to North Macedonia based on the country’s own priorities, aiming to support progressive alignment of the country’s agriculture and rural development with European Union accession requirements and the Sustainable Development Goals. The priority areas of the current FAO programme for the period 2018–2020 include: increased competitiveness of the agricultural sector, enhanced rural livelihood through sustainable rural development, and sustainable management of natural resources under a changing climate.

With the support of the European Union, FAO is helping smallholders and family farms overcome the problems with excessive land fragmentation, while helping the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Economy develop a fully operational National Land Consolidation Programme. I am pleased to acknowledge the most recent achievements in land consolidation – the successful finalization of the country’s first land consolidation projects in the villages of Egri and Konche, which will definitely serve as models for the ongoing implementation of eight other land consolidation projects in the country.

Improving productivity, increasing climate resilience of agricultural production, and making better informed policies in North Macedonia is now easier thanks to the establishment of national agro-ecological zones and an agro-environmental information system with FAO support. In the past two years, FAO supported the Government to design a state-of-the-art forest monitoring system tailored to the country’s needs, which opens opportunities to take further steps in improving policies and decision-making to increase North Macedonian forests’ contribution to national sustainable development.

FAO will continue supporting the country to develop a national strategy and system for reducing food loss and waste, as well as designing and harmonizing agricultural and rural development policies in line with international and EU standards.

Since 2019 North Macedonia and FAO worked to ease Green Climate Fund (GCF) investments. Is the country ready to access environmental climate finance to respond to climate change?

The Green Climate Fund represents a new partner for North Macedonia. It is one of the opportunities for supporting the country in tackling climate change and fulfilling its obligations arising from the Paris Agreement, as well as climate-action obligations in the frames of the European Union pre-accession process.

In 2019, in the context of the first GCF readiness and preparatory support programme, FAO worked with the Macedonian Government and broad range of partners to set up the national mechanism, institutional framework, and procedures needed to effectively access and deploy resources from the GCF.

At the meeting this week in Skopje with Ms Carovska, the Deputy President of the Government in charge of Economic Affairs who is the National Designated Authority (NDA) for the GCF, I congratulated the Government on the progress achieved in 2019 and the recent approval of the second GCF readiness grant. In the next 18 months, FAO will support North Macedonia’s efforts in finalizing the development of a Country Work Programme for the GCF with concrete country-led projects from both public and private sector, on climate change adaptation and mitigation in the priority sectors including agriculture, forestry, water resources, energy, transport, waste, biodiversity, health, and cultural heritage.

We heard recently of a new FAO Initiative by the name of Hand-in-Hand. How is such initiative relevant to North Macedonia?

Hand-in-Hand is a new FAO initiative that supports low-income and developing countries to reduce poverty, eliminate hunger and improve nutrition by accelerating agricultural transformation and sustainable rural development. The initiative brings in a new model for innovation and investments by fostering partnerships and “matchmaking” public and private sector resources with donor funds to support family farmers to increase their productivity and incomes, revitalize rural areas, create attractive job opportunities for youth and rural women, increase resilience to climate change, and improve the livelihoods of rural populations overall.

Hand-in-Hand is a country-led and country-owned initiative. As a land-locked developing country facing climate change challenges and vulnerabilities of the rural population, North Macedonia can benefit from the Initiative by building partnerships at all levels to achieve the SDGs. I invited the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Economy, the Ministry of Environment and several key international partners in North Macedonia to join the Initiative and look forward to extending our support for natural resources management, food security, and adaptation to climate change in the country.

The 2030 Agenda has become the main focus of global development. How is FAO supporting the Republic of North Macedonia on its path toward sustainable development?

The Sustainable Development Goals will shape national development plans over the next ten years and I am pleased to note the re-affirmed commitment of the Macedonian Government to the 2030 Agenda and the ongoing process of “nationalizing” the Agenda.

From ending poverty and hunger to responding to climate change and sustaining natural resources, food and agriculture lie at the heart of the 2030 Agenda. FAO is a custodian agency of 21 SDG indicators and our programme in North Macedonia is already well-aligned with the SDGs. As a specialized UN agency, FAO stays committed to support the ongoing efforts of the United Nations and the Government of North Macedonia in accelerating the work toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

At the United Nations Country Team retreat this week in Veles, North Macedonia, I was pleased to give FAO’s contribution to the identification of the priority areas for joint UN actions in 2020 and the UN 2030 vision for support to the Macedonian Government.

Agriculture is a major economic sector in North Macedonia and the most important pathway to lift the poor out of poverty and hunger, therefore adequate and coordinated support to agriculture development should be one of the priorities in the new UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework 2021–2025 under development. Under the principle of “leaving no one behind” and by means of collaboration and combining know-how, FAO is here to support the Government to implement the 2030 Agenda.

Mr Gangi, you are the Secretary of this year’s 32nd Session of the FAO Regional Conference for Europe. What are the main expectations of the Conference and is North Macedonia taking part?

FAO Regional Conferences are an official forum where Ministers of Agriculture and other high officials from all FAO Member States, including North Macedonia, meet to debate challenges related to food and agriculture, setting our priorities in the region thus promoting regional coherence.

The 32nd Session of the FAO Regional Conference for Europe (ERC) will take place on 5–7 May this year in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and I am glad I had the chance to personally invite the Macedonian Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Economy, Mr Trajan Dimkovski, to participate. The Regional Conference ensures the effectiveness of FAO’s work in the service of all Member Countries, and will define the priority areas of work for the following biennium. Main topics of discussion will include the status of sustainable food systems and nutrition, and youth and employment in Europe and Central Asia. Focus will be given to the situation of smallholders and family farms and the potential for revitalization of rural areas in the region. Side events will cover topics such as the Hand-in-Hand initiative, the One Health approach, and food security.

10 February 2020, Skopje, North Macedonia