“How to Feed the World in Times of Pandemics and Climate Change?” was the topic discussed at the 13th Berlin Agriculture Ministers’ Conference, held virtually during the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture (GFFA) in January 2021.
More than 70 agriculture ministers, along with high-level representatives from 13 international organisations took part at the conference. They adopted a final communiqué in which they committed themselves to joint pandemic control.
The coronavirus is making the fight against hunger more difficult - it is estimated that the pandemic has resulted in 130 million more people suffering from hunger. "The coronavirus teaches us at the same time what levers we need to use to fight hunger,” said the German Federal Minister of Food and Agriculture, Julia Klöckner, and emphasized that supply chains must function in order to make food available and to keep prices stable and affordable.
The Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, QU Dongyu, underscored the importance, in the wake of COVID-19, of continued global cooperation to find new ways to strengthen the sustainability of agri-food systems.
The agricultural ministers committed to three key aspects in the final communiqué: Health of wildlife, Access to food and Climate change. The ministers pointed to the critical need for innovation in the sustainable increase of production, and encouraged sustainable solutions that include new technologies and innovative practices.
Health of wildlife: To prevent further pandemics, it is essential to conduct more research into the causes of pandemics, to have functioning early-warning systems and to improve health management in wildlife. 70 per cent of the new infectious agents that have appeared in humans in the last 30 years have come from animals.
Access to food: Food security for humans cannot be ensured without open markets and functioning supply chains. 40 countries in the world have so little agricultural land that they are heavily dependent on imports. Export restrictions then act as price drivers. Here, the Minister appealed for support for an initiative at the WTO (World Trade Organization) calling for World Food Programme (WFP) purchases to be exempted from export restrictions.
Climate change: Agriculture is both a victim of climate change and also part of the solution. Modern production methods and digitalisation can cut the use of fertilisers and pesticides. Greater use must be made of soil as a carbon sink. We need to strengthen the agro-forestry sector and to grow site-adapted plants in order to secure food supplies despite changing climatic conditions.
Innovation und cooperation are essential elements in making agriculture sustainable and safeguarding food security. This is the conclusion of a FAO high-level panel held during GFFA on ‘How innovation can help strengthen the sustainability of food systems and prevent future pandemics' which is also reflected in the final communiqué.
"The key point that emerged from our discussion was that the pandemic gave impetus to innovation: we should work together to keep up this momentum," FAO Director-General QU noted.
Minister Klöckner pointed out that new plant breeding and smart irrigation systems were key instruments in the fight against climate change worldwide while also securing yields and crops.
In the final communiqué, the agriculture ministers agreed to foster innovations as well as the transfer of technology, to improve productivity and sustainability in the agricultural sector - particularly by strengthening research and innovation cooperation networks and international initiatives such as the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases (GRA), the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock (GASL), LEAP, and the International Wheat Initiative.
Read more on the Berlin Agriculture Ministers’ Conference at GFFA website