India's agriculture policy in alignment with regional aspirations: Minister

New Delhi, Sep 3 (IANS): Union Minister of State for Agriculture and Farmers Welfare Parshottam Rupala on Thursday reaffirmed India's commitment to fulfil the aspirations of Asia-Pacific regional countries and share responsibility to ensure food security for all.

"Our 'neighbours first' policy will live up to the aspirations of the region with collaboration in the exchange of best practices in research and development and programmatic interventions to step up production and productivity of agriculture produce," said Rupala at the 'Hand-in-Hand' Ministerial Session on the third day of the 35th Asia-Pacific Regional Conference (APRC) of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations.

Government delegates from 46 FAO Member Nations, along with private sector and civil society organizations, came together for four days at the 35th session of the FAO APRC being hosted by the Royal Government of Bhutan.

This virtual conference was convened to plan responses and recovery work to address the twin pandemics -- COVID-19 and hunger.

More than 400 delegates, including government ministers, private sector, civil society, academia and technical experts in the food and agriculture sectors, participated.

"A flexible approach has been adopted for facilitating imports from other countries -- digital copies of phytosanitary certificates are being accepted to not disturb the world food supply chain" said Rupala.

He expressed the government's willingness to share its experience and work with FAO to assist other countries in the event of a recurrence of desert locusts and fall armyworm attack.

Rupala also encouraged FAO to find innovative solutions to address challenges related to water scarcity, climate change, hunger and nutrition.

"I urge FAO to find innovative solutions, evidence based analysis and partnership to develop multi-sectoral solutions to the challenges of water scarcity, climate change, hunger and nutrition," said Rupala.

COVID-19 has led to a setback in the fight to end hunger and malnutrition. Food production and supply has been hit hard in many countries.

Global food systems are under stress due to the compounding threat of the pandemic on existing crises such as conflict, natural disasters, climate change, pests and plagues.

"We have recently presented the FAO COVID-19 Response and Recovery Program, which 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" said FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu, in his statement made during the ministerial session at the conference.

"In line with the UN approach to 'build back better' and in pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals, it aims to mitigate the immediate impacts of the pandemic while strengthening the future resilience of food systems and livelihoods."

Earlier at the senior officials meeting on the first day of the conference, the Indian delegation lauded the exemplary measures adopted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alka Bhargava, Additional Secretary with the Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers Welfare, said the government's timely intervention to control COVID-19 has not affected India's harvesting of rabi crops and sowing in the current kharif season.

S.K. Malhotra, Agriculture Commissioner with the Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers Welfare, informed the delegates about India's key role in the global food supply chain as the country is one of the key agri-produce exporters.

Besides, he mentioned India's record foodgrain production and lauded the successful control of trans-boundary pests like fall armyworm and desert locusts.

The Asia-Pacific region is home to more than half of the world's undernourished people, and with COVID-19 the number of hungry people in South Asia is projected to rise by nearly a third to 330 million by 2030, the Sustainable Development Goal deadline set by the global community to eliminate hunger and malnutrition in all its forms.

From Afghanistan and Iran in the west, across populous South and East Asia, and far out into the Pacific Islands, new ways and approaches will be needed to battle back from these twin pandemics.

Climate change is another aggravating factor disrupting efforts to increase resilience across our food systems.

The conference highlighted FAO's recently launched comprehensive COVID-19 Response and Recovery Programme that is designed to provide a flexible and coordinated global response that aims to ensure access to nutritious food for everyone.

The programme includes the mobilization of all forms of resources and partnerships at country, regional and global levels.



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