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By: Kesete Ghebrehiwet

This year’s World Food Day (WFD) was commemorated yesterday amidst the global pandemic-COVID-19 which is affecting the economies of countries including agriculture.

A statement by the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), on the occasion, states that every challenge comes with equal and even greater opportunity, and it highlights the need for a Minimum Integrated Household Agricultural Package (MIHAP) as a sound solution to meet food and nutrition security in times of challenge like the outbreak of the global pandemic- COVID- 19.

MIHAP is climate-smart, small, intensive and integrated package aimed at providing food and nutrition at the household level. The program has played a big role in improving livelihoods and is spreading at a commendable speed.

Apart from the introduction of MIHAP, the MoA gives small and medium scale commercial farmers a wide range of support schemes that focus on providing technical services, credit opportunities, access to modern inputs, the development of market infrastructure and access to local and foreign markets.
The annual commemoration of WFD that is held on 16 October is all about global solidarity. The Government of Eritrea (GOE) works with the United Nations systems, and particularly the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in areas related to agriculture and food security.

This year’s theme “grow, nourish and sustain together” is about global togetherness.

For years WFD has been celebrated in Eritrea at different locations under different themes. According to Mr. Amanuel Negasi, advisor to the Minister of Agriculture, WFD had been commemorated at Embaderho, Hamelmalo College of Agriculture, the premises of the National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) in Halhale and several other places in Asmara to pass on messages related to food security. This year’s WFD has been commemorated virtually due to COVID-19.

In an interview, Mr. Amanuel elaborated the government’s policy as regards the actions taken to augment agricultural produce. He said transforming the agricultural system through the introduction of appropriate technologies that farmers can easily use is the objective solution to steadily boost production to meet the country’s needs. He added that the introduction of irrigation systems along with the construction of dams and efforts to conserve soil and water are meant to address the challenges of seasonal farms that are mainly dependent on erratic rainfall and achieve the comprehensive objectives of food and nutrition security plans.

Combating desertification is another area Eritrea has been rigorously engaged in. The MoA has been building a climate-resilient and nutrition-oriented agricultural system. The research institute at Halhale has been carrying out research to keep up with the demands. Mr. Amanuel said, “We introduced select seeds of barley, wheat, sorghum, millet and varieties of seeds have been studied to be distributed to farmers in a bid to boost production. Tissue culture experiments have also been carried out on potatoes and palm dates to be planted back in the areas where the climate suits them. These experiments have been the daily work obligations of the Ministry to keep up with the productivity of what is needed.”

The diversification of food has been promoted for quite a long time and in connection with the commemoration of WFD. Mr. Amauel said in this regard that the MoA has been working on awareness-raising programs to instruct people to diversify their food resources.

In terms of livestock production Mr. Amanuel said that although the country is endowed with a variety of cattle, it is an area that has not yet been fully exploited.

To combat threats of infestation an integrated pest control system has been in operation over the years. Desert locust has been handled successfully in Eritrea through strict controlling and monitoring mechanisms and identifying breeding centers. “We have been able to control pests and the desert locust infestation through integrated efforts,” Mr. Amanuel said.

Eritrea has been working to achieve the zero hunger and eradication of poverty set by the United Nations to be met by 2030. The promotion of nutrition-sensitive agriculture will have a tremendous impact on meeting the envisaged goal, Mr. Amanuel emphasized.

The MoA continues to give selected seeds to farmers to boost farm production in response to the threats posed by COVID-19. As a result, farmers have been redoubling agricultural produce. “We have not been hampered by the challenges,” Mr. Amanuel noted. “We have been handling and managing the situation as much as we could and the solidarity with our partners is in its place.”

Farming has not been interrupted in Eritrea by COVID-19. Farmers have been working hard to grow food and ensure their constant flow to the markets.

On the occasion of WFD, Dr. Saeed A. Bancie, FAO representative in Eritrea, said that access to food has been affected by movement restrictions imposed by COVID-19. This year’s theme was chosen to emphasize the importance of having food systems that can produce varieties of food to nourish the growing population. To do this successfully, a sustainable environment is needed. Hence, everyone has a role to play. Going forward it is a timely response strategy of many countries to address the threat posed by the global pandemic particularly to ensure access to food.

According to Dr. Saeed the challenge escalated by the global pandemic created an opportunity for countries to look for ways and means of having resilient food systems that would stand any challenge of this nature.

Ensuring and enhancing food and nutrition security through improving agricultural production and productivity is among the top priorities of the GOE. Building resilient food systems that could respond and address any occurrence of natural threats like desert locust and other pest infestations is also a priority the GOE addresses by working with partners like the FAO.

Dr. Saeed applauded the experience Eritrea has built for so many years that enabled the country to address the threat of desert locust infestation by setting up various control stations across the country. In response to the recent outbreak, the MoA has deployed technical expertise and resources. The Ministry has been working in partnership with FAO which helped in predicting the threat and controlling the outbreak.

Dr. Saeed said that an infestation of migratory swarms from neighboring countries is expected and FAO is closely working with the GOE to respond against the predicted threat.

FAO’s message by Dr. QU Dongyu, Director General of FAO, on the occasion of WFD, highlighted that smart and systematic actions are needed to get food for those who need it and improve it for those who have it. The message further indicates that action is needed to prevent crops from rotting in the fields for lack of efficient supply chains, action to enhance the use of the digital tools, and artificial intelligence, so as to predict threat to harvest and thereby to automatically trigger crop insurance and cut climate risks.

The message also calls on governments to implement policies that make healthy diets more accessible.

FAO was founded following World War II on 16 October 1945 to support and enhance food security across the world, and WFD is commemorated every year on the same day the organization was founded.

The primary objective of commemorating WFD is to raise awareness of the general public about those who do not have access to food and generally to address the need of food security across the world.
As the message of the 75th WFD goes “let’s grow, nourish and sustain our planet together to build a resilient food and nutrition security system.”

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