23 September 2021, Rome: Among Afghanistan’s many challenges, it is urgent that the international community tackle the dramatic hunger risk conditions faced by a third of the population and the livelihood risks in rural region areas where 70 percent of the population live, QU Dongyu, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), told G20 Foreign Ministers late Wednesday.
“Supporting local agri-food production and safeguarding rural livelihoods must be a priority,” the Director-General said at the Meeting of the Ministers for Foreign Affairs of the G20 Countries, including Spain as permanent guest, the Netherlands and Singapore as guests, and Qatar.
The virtual meeting was held in view of an extraordinary G20 summit on Afghanistan announced by Mario Draghi, Prime Minister of Italy, holder of the G20 presidency. United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, and the head of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs (OCHA), Martin Griffiths, also spoke at the event, alongside representatives of other multilateral institutions.
Qu emphasized the need to urgently support Afghanistan’s farmers to have access to agricultural inputs for the winter wheat season, a mainstay for food security and livelihoods and source of more than half of the average daily calorie intake in the country.
“Failure to step up and speed up efforts immediately to support and salvage rural agricultural livelihoods will lead to enormous increases in hunger and malnutrition, massive displacement and vast increases in acute humanitarian situations going into the winter season,” he said.
“Agriculture provides livelihoods, either directly or indirectly, to nearly 80 percent of the Afghan population,” the Director-General said. “Agriculture can and must play a central role in addressing the root causes of repeated humanitarian crises.”
He pointed to FAO’s long history of working in Afghanistan’s rural communities and called for the G20 to rapidly release resources to prevent a worsening humanitarian crisis, advocate for safe and sustained access to the most vulnerable, and contribute to rebuilding an economically prosperous agri-food system.
“The window of opportunity to assist Afghan farmers before winter is very narrow,” QU said. “FAO stands with the farmers of Afghanistan. We count on the G20 to stand with FAO.”
FAO remains operational in the countryside
FAO continues to deliver vital livelihood intervention at scale in Afghanistan and is working to provide livelihood and cash assistance to more than 1.9 million people in 26 provinces. More than 200 000 beneficiaries were reached in August alone.
Among the Organization’s activities in the country are provision of wheat cultivation packages, including locally-supplied seeds and fertilizers, which can generate enough wheat to meet the cereal and flour needs of a family for an entire year at the cost of just $150, around one-fourth of the usual market cost.
This year’s wheat harvest is expected to be as much as 25 percent below average, due to the conflict as well a drought that is affecting 25 of 34 provinces. Another year of poor production will exacerbate conditions that have already put some 14 million people, one-third of the population, in a food security crisis, according to the latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report released by the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. FAO also provides materials to help smallholders, especially rural women who often face restrictions on movement, grow vegetables and raise backyard poultry, as well as offering feed and veterinary assistance to the country’s livestock herders.
FAO has appealed for an additional $36 million to boost its provision of fertilizers, seeds and livestock protection as well as expand a cash-for-work programme and unconditional cash transfers to the most vulnerable, including households headed by disabled people.