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

Parliamentarians from the Asia Pacific region meet to share experiences in guaranteeing food security during COVID-19

06/09/2021 - 

Parliamentarians from Asia Pacific region gathered to share their experiences in safeguarding food security during the COVID-19 pandemic, in the latest of a series of virtual dialogues organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID). The meeting served to identify good practices and successful initiatives in mitigating the impacts of COVID-19 in the Asia Pacific region, and helped to promote policy dialogue among the participants.


Opening the session, Marcela Villarreal, Director of FAO’s Partnerships and UN Collaboration Division, remarked that the COVID-19 epidemic has shown how fundamental the role of parliamentarians is in achieving the Sustainable development goals (SDGs). Parliamentarians, with their legislative, budgetary and oversight responsibilities, are key development actors, and in the current context of COVID-19, they are uniquely able to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic on food security, nutrition, and livelihoods and to promote innovative and adapted solutions.

Right after, Mr Jong-Jin Kim FAO ADG/RR for Asia and the Pacific, underlined how Parliamentarians indeed are considered as “change agents” in the fight to eradicate hunger and malnutrition, as they are in charge of adopting domestic legislation and approving budget allocations, as well as of ensuring governments’ accountability for the effective implementation of commitments. In particular, the great ambition of the SDGs can only be achieved through cooperation and global partnerships, between multiple actors, and across a broad range of areas. In that regard, FAO has identified multi-stakeholder partnerships, including those with parliamentarians, as one of the key drivers of support for the 2030 Agenda.


Though Asia has made progress in reducing the number of hungry people in recent years, down by 8 million since 2015, according to the latest figures, the region is still home to more than half of the total undernourished people in the world – an estimated 381 million people. The COVID-19 pandemic, which has impacted not only health but also economies and livelihoods worldwide, is likely to generate new pockets of food insecurity.


Participants welcomed the dialogue as a way to explore solutions to the challenges countries have faced since the beginning of the pandemic, with Nguyen Tuong Van, Secretary General of ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly, welcoming the forum as a springboard for developing and implementing future solutions to guarantee food security. Miriam Ciscar, Head of the Sectorial Cooperation Department at AECID, echoed these sentiments, stressing the need for solutions grounded in the idea of the Right to Food.


Following presentations on the role of parliamentarians in developing an enabling policy environment in the time of COVID-19, a roundtable discussion explored experiences of parliamentarians in different countries from the region. Representatives from China, Indonesia, Japan, Mongolia, Pakistan, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam all took the floor to share their experiences in ensuring food security during the pandemic.


Examples of successful interventions included those which targeted the most vulnerable populations: stimulus packages to rural areas, cash transfers, recovery packages, and school feeding innovations. Hon. Le Van Kham, Member of the Social Affairs Committee, National Assembly of Vietnam stressed the need for attention to the nutrition situation of the most vulnerable groups, including young children and pregnant and nursing mothers, while Hon. Kraisid Tontisirin, Chair of the Senate Sub-Committee on Agricultural Production, shared the success that community-based programmes in Thailand have had in reducing mother and child malnutrition.


Many interventions recognized the economic impacts of the pandemic: Hon. Shandana Gulzar Khan, Chairperson of the Special Committee on Agricultural Products in Pakistan’s National Assembly, spoke of how through targeted technical assistance and small loans, Pakistan had managed to keep employment levels stable during the pandemic. From Mongolia, Hon. Unurbolor Damdinsuren, Member of the State Great Khural, presented a law designed to improve the national food supply chain, promote food trade and support the export of value-added agricultural products in order to meet growing domestic food demands, while Hon. Suzuki Keisuke, Member of Japan’s House of Representatives and part of the Parliamentarian Friendship League in Japan, called for strengthened trade systems and increased market transparency.


Other solutions addressed longer-ranging threats to agricultural systems, such as droughts, locusts, and conflicts. Hon. Du Deyin, Vice Chairman of the 13th Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee of China’s National People’s Congress, explained that while legislation focused on broad topics such as food safety (production, processing and distribution) and reduction of food loss and waste, China had also invested in research which could help guarantee food security, such as breeding better seeds.


Participants also touched on topics which would continue to affect food security and nutrition even beyond the pandemic - the need to protect soils, avoid fertilizer overuse, increase responsible agricultural investments and promote healthy diets. Hon. Budisatrio Djiwandono, Vice Chairman of Indonesia’s Commission IV, spoke of the need to apply IT-based solutions to the farming sector, while Wilfrido Mark Enverga, Hon. Chairman of the Committee on Agriculture and Food, Representative of the 1st District of the Province of Quezon, the Philippines, revealed that Philippine agriculture is moving towards a holistic approach which considers rural agricultural development and smart and resilient food systems.


The series of dialogues will conclude with a global virtual meeting of parliamentarians on September 22.