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“Our Future is in our Hands”

By: Mical Tesfay

It is to be recalled that last week, on 15 October 2021, World Food Day was com­memorated in Eritrea. In con­nection with the event, Eritrea Profile conducted an interview on the importance of the day. Our guest for today is Dr. Saeed A.Bancie, FAO repre­sentative in Eritrea.

  • Thank you for agreeing to this interview Dr. Saeed. As this inter­view is being conducted in regard to the World Food Day, would you mind giving us a brief explanation regarding this year’s theme?

The theme here emphasizes “our actions are our future”. It focuses more on the FAO strategic framework which was agreed upon by the member states to increase better production, better nutrition, better environment, and better life. So the last one, better life, culminates the first three. This is because if you are able to increase production and productivity and make that available, then you are also able to enhance the nutrition of the population. Here, the environment is also important as you will be able to grow your food in a good environment and take care of the population. Now it is very important, more than ever, with climate change and all the challenges we have in regards to the environment. So, maintaining a very good environment is the key to a better life. That is what the theme regarding World Food Day is about for this year.

  • Could you please also shed light on the theme for the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty too?

The theme for the International Day for Eradication of Poverty was “Building Forward Together: Ending Persistent Poverty, Respecting all People and our Planet”. It is very crucial that we are able to work in partnership with member states and governments like Eritrea to ensure that we are able to eradicate poverty among the population leaving no one behind. This means that if there are disadvantaged populations, we have to make sure that this population is well taken care of.

  • Now, let us talk about your major work in Eritrea as an organization.

Let us see it in the perspective of the 4 B’s. In the Better production, we have worked closely with the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) to increase the agricultural production and productivity in many ways, be it in crop sector, livestock sector, animal disease control, and control over the destroyers of crops; for instance the control over the desert locust which devastates crops. We are also looking at going beyond better production. As you increase production, you need to have a market outlet- linking the producers to markets- value-addition. This is important to increase their income and move them out of poverty. We have also contributed through the MIHAP-Minimum Integrated Household Agricultural Package program-which aims at increasing food and nutrition security at a local level which is now moving to the next level as they are considering medium and small-scale commercial farmers. The banana and citrus value chains, where we work with the ministry to support areas that grow bananas to be able to process the banana into chips and different products, which can be consumed locally can be taken as a typical example.

In the area of nutrition, we also had initiatives that looks up at the entire nutrition package trying to ensure that rural communities, whatever they grow, are able to have the right combination of what they grow locally to enhance their nutrition. In some cases, people may grow lots of food, however, lack of knowledge of combining the right food may lead to nutritional issues. So working with them at their community level, looking on what is locally available, and combining them in the right proportions they will be able to enhance your nutrition. Exposing the community to that, we have done quite a lot. In the terms of a better environment, we also work with the MoA, Ministry of land, water and environment to ensure that any agricultural practices are not detrimental to the environment. Water and soil conservation practices, ensuring soil degradation is minimized, and better utilization of water resources available in communities is very essential to increase agricultural production. We also work with farmers along with the coastal areas which are drier. Through our intervention, farmers have been trained on how to pollinate and now those farmers are able to yield fruits that they haven’t been able for many years. So the four betters are intertwined.

In the path, we have also met with the Ministry of the environment on the removal of obsolete pesticides. As I mentioned earlier, in the area of the desert locust, pesticides have been used in the past where in some cases the pesticides were expired. On top of that, proper disposal of them is very crucial to ensure the health of the people who use them. We also had initiatives on animal disease control. There are some zoonotic diseases when animals get them, it can transfer to humans. Brucellosis can be taken as an example of such a disease. For instance, if a cow is infected, the milk from the cow gets contaminated which in turn will affect the health of the humans. We also work to conduct surveillance on diseases where they take blood samples of the animals from different parts of the country and when they spot any disease, we work with them to provide the right remedies- vaccination support. Currently, we are working with the Ministry to embark on the PPR eradication program-vaccinating about three million animals across the country. Working with the zobas, sub-zobas, and communities they are able to identify these at the early stages and allow us to intervene before it gets out of control.

  • Do you have your own agenda in the member states of the FAO?

Basically, we don’t have our own specific agenda, we rather support the priorities of the ministries. We are part of the decision to identify the strategic direction of FAO. For instance, the four betters were identified and agreed upon by member states meaning any member state, these four pillars are able to address all their priorities. It means within our mandates, whatever we do in Eritrea with the MoA or any other ministry in the area of food security and poverty eradication, is within the mandate of FAO that member states have agreed to perform globally which is broad enough to accommodate the priorities of any country.

  • So how do you relate this year’s themes with the Eritrean self-reliance policy?

This year’s World Food Day clearly is asking us to take action on those four pillars. This day matches with the year that FAO is looking at this new strategic objective as well. SDG 1 and SDG 2 representing for zero hunger and eradicating poverty respectively go hand in hand. So if you are able to eradicate hunger, to a larger extent you are addressing poverty. To relate the two, “eradicating poverty and better life” and Eritrean “Self-reliance” policy, not only at the national level but also from zoba, sub-zoba and community level, the four B’s are taking place with very limited input from outside. The ability to rely on whatever is available within the local community is already solid proof for self-reliance. The people do the tree planting which enhances the environment and protects soil degradation and retain water, check-dams are being constructed by the people themselves, and other activities too. Having the ability and willingness and the psyche of “having your destiny in your hands and putting efforts to change otherwise no one is going to do it for Me.” is already inherited in this country. This is the strength of the Eritreans. Our intervention will not be here forever and we won’t be there to help them one day. The community can take care of themselves and this will really help them especially in our absence.

  • To wrap up, what are your future plans?

As I mentioned, within our mandate we support the priorities of the government of the State of Eritrea. Within that mandate, we also work with the ministries to come up with what we call a counter-program framework. Our counter-program framework which is ending this year is focusing on three main pillars. The first pillar is to increase agricultural production and productivity and access to the market. This is if you support farmers to produce excess and you don’t have a market for them, then it is challenging. So adding value- targeting a particular market- to increase the income of the households is the path. Another thing is that there has to be good food distributing system throughout the country. The second pillar is strengthening our natural resource management which has to do with the environment because the environment is where we produce from. Marine resources and fishery sectors also have to be protected as we are the beneficiaries of these resources. The third one focuses on strengthening our capacity to withstand any threat and shocks. “Our” refers to the ministries, the community and all the institutions involved. There are threats and shocks that we don’t have control over and drought can be taken as an example. This disaster is not anyone’s fault so you take it as it is. However, how you prepare yourself to tackle it is what I meant by strengthening our capacity. To be able to predict and then prepare yourself to minimize the potential negative effect of it. So in all the projects and programs we have, we tried and we still are trying to make sure that they are in line with each of these pillars. As our counter-program framework is ending this year, we are in the process of developing a new one in which we will be working closely with all the productive sector line ministries like agriculture, land, water, and environment and marine resources to identify priorities from all those ministries. In the immediate future, we have few initiatives with the ministries I mentioned to conduct agricultural sensors so as we are provided with information on farmers and what they are producing.

Another thing is that we are currently planning to work with the ministry to ensure we are able to have good information and data in agriculture. For early action, we are also working with the ministry. If there is going to be a desert locust outbreak, how do we monitor that and make sure we know; when it is going to come and we can prepare to address it. In simple words, this is like an early warning, early action system where we are also able to use remote sensing technology together with the ministries. Metrological stations in different parts of the country predict even the weather is among our plans.

Thank you for the information you provided us with!!!

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