Director-General  QU Dongyu

FAO and the EU ally in boosting agriculture in neighboring countries


10 June 2020, Rome - FAO Director-General QU Dongyu met with Olivér Várhelyi, European Union Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargment (NEAR), today and emphasized the importance of ongoing cooperative support for countries in the EU’s neighboring regions.

The COVID-19 emergency has caused some food supply chains to suffer, even in developed countries, the Director-General observed. Noting the UN Secretary General’s statement and the Policy Brief issued on Tuesday, to which FAO had contributed, Qu underscored the risk of the health crisis turning into a food crisis.

FAO is monitoring closely the effects of the pandemic on ports, transportation and the movement of agricultural workers to continue planting and harvesting, he noted, adding that “It is paramount that during the crisis we can continue to produce food, and produce better”.

The Commissioner expressed concerns about food shortages in Libya and asked FAO for assistance. He alluded to the challenges that the farming sector in the western Balkans is facing and emphasized the need to help small-and-medium-sized agricultural enterprises to continue producing food locally.

Strains are exacerbated by the dramatic decline in tourism triggered by the COVID-19 crisis, Várhelyi added. FAO’s Director-General shared those concerns and mentioned the potential for more short and long-term cooperation and joint activities in many areas, leveraging the Organization’s network of country and regional offices citing the implementation of the European Union’s planned Green Deal as potential focus of collaboration.

Both agreed on the importance of creating an enabling environment for investments in agriculture.
Agro-tourisms offers significant growth prospects in the EU's eastern and southern neighbours, with robust diversity in foods and cultures, the Director-General said. Referring to FAO’s Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) Initiative, he noted that countries famous for being homes to ancient civilizations, were well-suited to participate in and benefit from the program, which pays tribute to outstanding landscapes of aesthetic beauty that combine agricultural biodiversity, resilient ecosystems and a valuable cultural heritage.

The Director-General noted that FAO was able and ready to help the EU improve capacity in targeted countries, particularly in the area of water conservation in the farming sector, through specific training activities.
FAO’s expertise is focused on supporting livelihoods linked to primary agricultural activities in order to avoid crises with much higher humanitarian costs, Qu noted.

The Commissioner noted that rural development and stronger agrifood sectors are key pillars of the EU’s IPARD programme for countries preparing to join the Union, while the European Neighborhood Programme for Agriculture and Rural Development (ENPARD) is engaged across North Africa, the Near East, the Balkans, the Caucasus and all the way north through Ukraine to Belarus.

FAO’s Director-General, noting that EU member states such as Poland, Hungary and Romania can assist other countries by sharing their expertise in agricultural transformation, welcomed efforts to bolster cooperation with the Commission's DG NEAR in a number of areas such as, assisting countries building up high-value farming through cash crops and building a One-Health approach.

FAO and the EU have a strong partnership currently exemplified by work fighting the desert locusts invasion in Yemen, by rural resilience projects in Lebanon, and ongoing work in Syria – where the EU is a strong supporter of FAO’s approach of rebuilding with a focus on the agriculture sector to mitigate food insecurity and population vulnerabilities.

In closing, the Director-General expressed his appreciation to Várhelyi’s home country, Hungary, for hosting and supporting FAO’s Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia as well as the Organization’s Shared Service Center that are both located in Budapest.