FAO Liaison Office with the Russian Federation

COVID-19 threatens to exacerbate hunger in the world


COVID-19 threatens to add up to 132 million people to the number of hungry people in the world, the Head of the FAO office in Russia spells out in an interview with Finmarket, the INTERFAX information agency’s subsidiary.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) celebrated its 75th anniversary in October. Oleg Kobiakov, head of the FAO Liaison Office in Moscow, told Interfax about the mechanisms that FAO uses to fulfil its tasks, including the fight against hunger, detailed how the situation on food markets is affected by COVDI-19 pandemic, and how FAO’s relations with Russian business are being built. 

“To put it in a nutshell, the FAO is a global “village council” that unites farmers from all countries, as well as representatives of related trades.” 

- How can we assess the impact of coronavirus on food production in the world? How will the disruption of logistics chains affect food supply? 

- The agri-food sector feels more or less well under the circumstances caused by COVID-19 pandemic, in contrast to the socio-cultural dimension. However, due to the reduction in people’s incomes, the balance of supply and demand has been disrupted, logistics chains have suffered, production has fallen, profits have decreased and, consequently, investments that are recycled to resume production. There were major problems with the delivery, storage, and processing of products. 

An alarming phenomenon is the plummeting of incomes of smallholders, farmers, and fisherfolk who are experiencing difficulties both with the production and marketing of their products. In these conditions, the role of the state is extremely important, because the market, no matter how great it is, works perfectly in the interests of all participants only under normal conditions. 

The second layer is consumer support. In Russia, the government and regional authorities take fairly effective social support measures. The Russian experience is actively studied in the world, whether it is support for families with children or benefits for those who have lost their jobs. And finally, food aid: preferential allocation of food. 

- How have relations between Russia and FAO changed since the opening of the Moscow office? 

- Russia has been a member of FAO in 2006, and our office in Moscow has been operating since 2016. Russia is an emerging donor of international development assistance, and the opening of the Moscow office underlined the mutual intention to increase the scope of such cooperation. So far this year, Russia has allocated $10 million to conduct an anti-locust operation in Eastern Africa, where there is a real battle with this pest using equipment and aviation. We expect that the volume of Russian donor assistance through the FAO channels will increase. 

Of course, we strive to convey not only to experts and professional circles, but also to the general public information about the mission, tasks and activities of the Organization. To do this, we hold sections within the framework of major industry exhibitions in Moscow and throughout Russia, and try to ensure the presence of FAO in a fairly competitive Russian media field. 

- How do you see the effect of this work for the Russian agro-industrial complex? 

- We can supplement "added value" to the work of our partners at various levels, involve all the available expertise of the organization. Another area that is considered to be among the leading ones in FAO is to draw attention to the problem of food loss and waste, and to issues of waste management. 

- As a donor, can Russia stipulate any conditions for providing funds? For example, the use of Russian chemicals in the fight against locusts, for which $10 million has been allocated? What is the position of FAO on these issues? 

- The Russian government has allocated $10 million unconditionally for FAO's locust control operations in four East African countries: Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and South Sudan. At the same time, the Ministry of Finance of the Russian Federation asked the FAO to consider the possibility of purchasing goods and services from Russian manufacturers within this amount. The Moscow office was exploring the possibility of renting Russian aviation equipment – small aircraft for spraying pesticides, as well as using Russian personnel, but COVID-19 movement restrictions nullified this initiative. 

- How effective is FAO's interaction with Russian business? 

- The Russian contribution to locust control in Africa has become a catalyst for further development of cooperation in our region: at the initiative of the FAO Moscow office, the Russian Agricultural Center and interested Russian companies agreed to create a working group for testing Russian anti-locust drugs. 

We are actively collaborating with fertilizer producers. We engage both with individual companies and with such a structure as the Russian National Network of the UN Global Compact, which embraces large domestic companies.

In general, partnering with the private sector is an area that the FAO management has identified as one of the priorities when appointing me to the post. It is too early to talk about long-term results, but there are some promising developments for moving in this direction. 

- What other tasks does the FAO Moscow office set for itself? 

The first is to develop and support those areas of work that have already proved to be in demand: reducing food loss and waste, and promoting Russia's accession to international agreements concluded under the auspices of FAO. The second is the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources. The third area is working with educational institutions. 

A landmark event in the near future will be the UN Food Systems Summit in 2021. Rospotrebnadzor has already informed us about plans to prepare a national report on the state of nutrition in the Russian Federation for the summit. Of course, we expect a significant Russian contribution to the large-scale preparatory process and to the final Declaration of the summit.


Full text of the interview is available at Finmarket News Agency (Interfax Group) website at the following link: