Diálogos Parlamentarios Virtuales: Seguridad alimentaria y nutrición en tiempos de COVID-19

Parliamentarians from the Near East and North Africa gather to share experiences in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic

01/04/2021 - 

One year into the COVID-19 pandemic, parliamentarians from countries in the Near East, North Africa and Ethiopia gathered for a virtual dialogue on food security and nutrition in the time of COVID-19. The dialogue, the third in a series organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and supported by the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID), offered parliamentarians from the Arabic-speaking world a forum to share their experiences in helping their countries to guarantee food security, nutrition and the right to food during the containment and recovery phases of the pandemic.

The Near East and North Africa is a region of contrasts; it includes some of the world’s richest countries as well as some Least Developed Countries. The region also faces particular challenges related to food security and nutrition, including water scarcity, dependence on food imports, and high rates of overweight and obesity. Family farmers play an important role in ensuring food security for the region: more than 80 percent of agricultural production is provided by small-scale agriculture, with 40 percent of the population living and working in rural areas. In support of the United Nations Decade on Family Farming, a Regional Action Plan on family farming has been developed, which will act as a roadmap to support the sustainable development of family farming. Many countries in the region are interested in moving the plan forward or implementing National Action Plans on family farming, according to Marcela Villarreal, Director of FAO Partnerships and UN Collaboration Division.

Parliamentarians will play a key role not only in ensuring their countries recover well from the impacts of the pandemic, but also in creating a better environment for those whose lives and livelihoods are tied to the food and agriculture sectors. In her opening remarks, María Molina Alvarez de Toledo, Head of the Department of Cooperation with the Arab World and Asia at the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID), explained that AECID’s support to parliamentary fronts against hunger and malnutrition has always been centered on a rights-based approach. The importance of laws as a tool to alleviate the negative impacts of the pandemic and improve food security and nutrition was echoed by Dr. Jihad Al-Fathel, Member of the Shura Council of the Kingdom of Bahrain and Vice President of the Parliamentary Network for Food Security and Nutrition in Africa and the Arab World.

The dialogue began with a presentation in which Dr. Mohamed Abdel Monem, Senior Advisor with FAO’s Regional Office for Near East and North Africa, presented the Regional Action Plan on Family Farming and outlined some of the main risks for food security and nutrition in the region: water scarcity, dependence on commodity imports, rates of youth unemployment and poor agricultural infrastructure. Following the presentation, members of various Arabic-speaking parliaments took the floor to share issues and measures that their parliaments had discussed to combat the effects of the pandemic on food security and nutrition.

Each speaker highlighted a specific area in which they felt parliamentarians could have a positive impact in helping countries successfully recover from the pandemic. Hon. Dr. Basheer Alhowsh, Member of the High Council of State of Libya and rapporteur for Arab countries in the Parliamentary Network for Food Security and Nutrition in Africa and the Arab World, reminded participants of the link between food security and peace, stressing that economic consequences of the pandemic, though perhaps temporary, would be devastating for developing countries. Hon. Abdulwasei Yusuf Ali, Secretary General of the Association of Senates, Shura and Equivalent Councils in Africa and the Arab world (ASSECCA) from Ethiopia, recommended that countries ensure greater support to farmers and more widespread use of technology, and called on parliamentarians to support laws which would guarantee food security in the mid- to long-term as the world recovered from the pandemic.

The role of parliamentarians in ensuring a fair response to the pandemic was a theme touched upon by many speakers. Hon. Mohammad Altayeb, Assistant Secretary General of ASSECAA from Yemen, encouraged parliamentarians to support laws which would reinforce the economy and investments in agriculture, and called for greater coordination between parliaments, reminding parliamentarians to check the actions of their governments to ensure they meet regional and international responsibilities. Hon. Qarneek Haj Abdul-Qader, Member of the National Assembly of Algeria, said that parliamentarians must ensure that the most vulnerable receive adequate economic protection and medical treatment. Highlighting the role of family farmers as key actors in guaranteeing food security, he also called for greater access to and preservation of the region’s aquifers.

The discussion drew to a close with Dr. Jihad Al-Fathel expressing a wish that the recommendations raised in the dialogue be captured in local laws drawn up by national parliaments. “The work of parliamentarians is needed now more than ever before,” she reminded the participants.