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Europe and Central Asia set sights on better nutrition, sustainable agriculture

Full week of discussions planned as FAO regional conference kicks off in Turkey

Photo: ©FAO/Vano Shlamov / FAO
Woman working in a tomato greenhouse in Georgia.

4 May 2016, Antalya, Turkey - Having made major strides in reducing the prevalence of hunger, many countries in Europe and Central Asia are now looking to improve the quality of people's diets and transform their food systems in order to adapt to climate change, optimize the use of natural resources, and cut waste.

The absolute number of hungry people in the region - measured in terms of their caloric energy intake - dropped by at least 40 percent since 1990, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva noted in a policy speech made today at the start of the biennial FAO Regional Conference for Europe 

"But despite overall positive trends regarding food security, others forms of malnutrition still persist and continue to be a problem, affecting all the nations in this diverse region," Graziano da Silva added.

For example, in 48 of 53 countries  in the wider Europe and Central Asia region, the combined overweight and obesity prevalence in the adult population exceeds 55 percent, while relatively high rates of stunting continue to be seen among children in the Caucasus and Central Asia.

The good news, Graziano da Silva said, is that many governments in the region have already started taken steps that move beyond just producing more food and seek to transform food systems to improve food quality and people's nutrition.

Pointing out that a substantial number of the region's poor and malnourished people live in the countryside, the Director-General said that fostering dynamic rural economies must remain at the heart of development efforts.

To support such work, FAO has embarked on two priority regional initiatives.

The first focuses on empowering smallholders and family farmers in order to improve their livelihoods and resilience to disasters and shocks, including climate change. Spillover benefits include bettering people's nutrition and making the use of natural resources in food production more sustainable.

The second regional initiative aims at improving the agriculture and food trade-policy environment in ways that can help small- and medium-sized farm operations thrive and expand.

Dealing with the drivers of migration

Against the dramatic backdrop of Turkey, now struggling to cope with more than 2.5 million international refugees and migrants, Graziano da Silva emphasized the need to combat at their roots phenomena that put stress on populations and trigger migration, both within countries and across borders.

Armed conflicts are one cause, but climate change, food-chain threats such as agricultural pests and diseases, rural poverty, climate-induced natural disasters and other harsh realities also put pressure on families and communities, he said in remarks made this morning.

Prioritizing food security, agriculture, and rural development can help support the establishment of peaceful and stable societies, Graziano da Silva argued, describing sustainable development as an essential element for building a safer, more peaceful world.

FAO Regional Conferences take place every two years, bringing together in the case of Europe and Central Asia delegates from 53 member countries and one member organization (the European Union). Numerous observer organizations representing civil society and the private sector also participate. The Conference sets regional priorities for food and agriculture, and oversees FAO's active field programme and other work in the region.

Highlights of this week's sessions include a ministerial-level discussion on how FAO members in Europe and Central Asia will respond to the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals, which lay heavy emphasis on food security, nutrition, sustainable food production, and other issues that intersect with FAO's work.

Promotion of a group of foods known as pulses - dried beans, peas, lentils and other edible seeds that grow in pods - is another central agenda item. Food losses and waste, nuclear techniques for controlling insect pests, and the upcoming World Census of Agriculture will also be discussed.

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