The COVID-19 pandemic has posed a severe threat to food and nutrition security across the Asia-Pacific region and the world. In this context, the 8th Regional Forum on Sustainable Agricultural Mechanization in Asia and the Pacific was organized by the Centre for Sustainable Agricultural Mechanization of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP-CSAM) on 11 December 2020 on the theme of “Agriculture Beyond the Covid-19 Pandemic: Building Back Better through Sustainable Agricultural Mechanization”.
The 8th Regional Forum was conducted in hybrid mode and comprised of two sessions: a morning session titled ‘Policy Dialogue on China’s Experience in Strengthening Food Systems amid the Response to COVID-19’ held on-site in Beijing and broadcast live online, and an afternoon session titled ‘Discussion Forum on Agriculture Beyond the COVID-19 Pandemic: Building Back Better through Sustainable Agricultural Mechanization’ organized fully online.
The Policy Dialogue was coordinated by ESCAP-CSAM with eight member entities of the United Nations Country Team (UNCT) in China under the auspices of the interim United Nations Resident Coordinator, to share China’s experiences in strengthening food systems amid the response to COVID-19. It addressed the topics of ‘ensuring food security and nutrition services for the most vulnerable’, ‘restoring robust and resilient food systems’, and ‘protecting ecosystems and food systems’. The participating United Nations entities engaged with their Chinese partners, including government agencies, academia and leading think tanks, inviting them to elaborate on the relevant actions taken in China to strengthen food systems and ensure food security in response to the pandemic. The Policy Dialogue session gave the participants an opportunity to attend a broader dialogue on food systems in China, and the proceedings will result in recommendations that informs the policy debate on ’building back better’ and the preparations towards the global ‘Food Systems Summit’ convened by the United Nations Secretary-General for late 2021.
The afternoon session – the Discussion Forum on ‘Agriculture Beyond the COVID-19 Pandemic: Building Back Better through Sustainable Agricultural Mechanization’ provided a regional level overview of the theme, and heard the experiences from three sub-regions, namely South and South-West Asia, South-East Asia, and East and North-East Asia about the impact of the pandemic on agriculture and the role of sustainable agricultural mechanization in supporting recovery and building long-term resilience. Presenters shared lessons learned and recommendations based on their experiences while highlighting good practices that can prove beneficial to other countries and sub-regions in scaling up mechanization solutions. Some of the potential solutions suggested for ‘building back better’ beyond the current crisis included (a) providing targeted financial support to farmers and other vulnerable stakeholders; (b) encouraging innovative technologies and practices including ‘intelligent’ machinery with due attention to safety; and (c) supporting service providers and custom hiring. It was also emphasized that to benefit from these solutions, both government and non-government stakeholders have an important role; measures for recovery and building resilience should be sustainable and inclusive, and they should address the needs of smallholder farmers, migrant labourers, rural women, elderly workers, and youth.
Speaking on the occasion, Dr. Li Yutong, Head of ESCAP-CSAM, said “Sustainable agricultural mechanization is among the solutions that can strengthen the resilience of the farming community and can play a key role in the process of transitioning to a ‘green’ and prosperous future.”
The Regional Forum on Sustainable Agricultural Mechanization is an annual strategic initiative of CSAM with the aim to promote policy dialogue, knowledge exchange and regional cooperation on shared or emerging issues of relevance to member countries in Asia and the Pacific. Over 1 50 participants from 20 countries attended the two sessions of the 8th Regional Forum both online and in Beijing.