Choki Wangmo 

While presenting the country statement on prioritisation of country and regional needs at the 35th FAO regional conference for Asia-Pacific yesterday (virtual), agriculture secretary, Rinzin Dorji assured Bhutan’s commitment to what is called the seven umbrella programmes proposed by FAO.

The umbrella programme seeks to support responsible investments in agriculture and food systems by involving policy makers, parliamentarians, small-scale producers and the private sector.  It expects to enhance quality and quantity investments in member countries, thereby contributing to food security, nutrition, and sustainable development.

Currently, lack of awareness, governance challenges,  capacity and information gaps were found to impede responsible agricultural investment, the FAO stated. “The agricultural sector suffers from serious underinvestment.”

Rinzin Dorji said that the agriculture development in Bhutan sought to secure a safe and healthy environment, ecologically balanced sustainable development, economic self-reliance, private sector engagement, and adequate livelihood. Bhutan’s efforts have been strongly grounded on the principle of “ensuring sustainable social and economic well-being of the Bhutanese people,” he said.

In his opening address at the ministerial meeting, Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji called upon member countries to stabilise food systems against current and future threats and frame immediate, mid-term, and long-term plans to respond through cooperation and support of relevant stakeholders.

Lyonpo said that it was essential to bring together experts in the field of food and agriculture to reduce global problems of hunger, poverty, malnutrition, and stunting while ensuring sustainable, resilient, and inclusive food systems.

“We need to further advance our agriculture production system by coming together with better ideas and skills and with effective collaborations that will have a positive national, regional and global impact.”

Recognising the negative impact of the current pandemic on vulnerable groups in the society, Lyonpo said that Bhutan was working to further improve agriculture productivity for food security.

The chair of the ministerial meeting, Lyonpo Yeshey Penjor said that the conference attended by a pool of about 500 participants across the world was a platform to support framing and developing various strategies, plans, and programmes for successful implementation of activities in the region.

“During such pandemics, food supply systems in the region have continued to function, but we must prepare for higher risks and make sure that there is sustainability in the food supply chain,” Lyonpo said.

Securing food resources through local productions, however, was challenging in Bhutan due to the mountainous terrain. “Technological advancement in food production, post-harvest management, and marketing is inevitable to progress and sustain our food security,” he added.

The ministerial meeting discussed FAO’s new Hand-in-Hand Initiative, an evidence-based, country-led and-owned initiative aiming to achieve Sustainable Development Goals 1 and 2—eradicate poverty and end hunger and malnutrition in all its forms.

As of today, FAO invited 44 countries with limited capacities for achieving sustainable development or in protracted crisis due to natural disaster or conflict to join the initiative as beneficiaries. FAO has also invited more than 80 countries to become contributor countries.

The Director General of FAO, Dongyu QU, said: “The programme is aimed at preventing a global food emergency during and after the Covid-19 pandemic, while working on medium- to long-term development responses for food security and nutrition.”

The conference hosted and chaired by Bhutan was attended by government ministers, secretaries and senior officials, private sector and civil society representatives, academia, technical experts, observer nations, and FAO officials from around 46 countries.