InterFood Azerbaijan - Interview with Melek Cakmak, Head of Partnership and Liaison Office/FAO Representative in Azerbaijan

Interview with Melek Cakmak, Head of Partnership and Liaison Office/FAO Representative in Azerbaijan



1) How do you evaluate the situation of agriculture and the food industry in the world during pandemic? How has COVID-19 affected the industry globally?

The year of 2020 has brought unprecedented challenges  COVID-19 pandemic and the entire world currently suffers from lock-down and its impact on social and economic life.While navigating a substantial amount of uncertainty, lack of data and clarity about the near future, the expected economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is a potential global recession.

Massive lockdowns and household isolation measures are no doubt, delivering a major fall in economic activity. Since these measures are taken at different times across and within countries, the economic recovery will take time to materialize. It is clear that there will be shocks on both the demand and the supply sides of the world economy through multiple transmission mechanisms. They can also lead to a reduction in the labour force affecting land use, planting, crop maintenance and harvesting and impact household incomes and food security.

Apparently, the full and long-term consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on food security and food systems are not yet known as the spread of the virus and its impact continue to evolve daily across the globe. However, it is obvious that disruptions to agricultural systems caused by the COVID-19, combined with other factors including pests and diseases, and the impacts of climate change, will have wide-ranging consequences on food production. Clearly, the pandemic is already having a significant negative impact on the food supply chain – from producers to processors, marketers, transporters and consumers.

In order to avoid food shortages, it is imperative that countries keep the food supply chains

Functioning. Countries must also make every effort to keep the gears of their food supply chains moving, including measures such as expanding and improving emergency food assistance and social protection programs, supporting smallholder farmers, keeping the food value chain alive by focusing on key logistics bottlenecks, addressing trade and tax policies to keep the global trade open and so on.

2) Do you continue working on existing projects in these fields in Azerbaijan in conditions of pandemic? Do you plan to develop additional programs in connection with COVID-19?

FAO continues to support the government of Azerbaijan in its efforts for sustainable development of agricultural and food systems through implementation of a number of projects in close collaboration with counterparts. Especially, it is extremely important to work closely with national stakeholders to identify the most effective interventions during current pandemic situation. Currently, all on-going FAO projects has revised its annual work plans, re-structured activities to better respond to emerged situation under COVID-19. As a part of UN, we have also contributed to the preparation of UN COVID Response plan indicating the areas of FAO support to address related problems in agri-food systems.

In my point of view, the government of Azerbaijan has taken very timely socio-economic measures to ensure macro-economic stability in the country and support most vulnerable part of the population affected by the pandemic situation. It is important to mention that special attention was paid to the agri-food systems to minimize the effects of the lock-down situation by maintaining agricultural production and trade.

Starting from first days of the pandemic, we have been supporting the government through weekly updates, FAO policy briefs on various aspects of COVID-19 impact and how to better respond to keep the food supply chains active. Along with this, FAO Azerbaijan is conducting a weekly-based Rapid Assessment of Food Supply Chain, analysis the results, develops a weekly report submitted to the respective counterparts. The Rapid assessment helps to get first-hand information gathered from different actors of food and agricultural value chains and pass this information to the decision-makers to enable them to plan urgent interventions and actions. Furthermore, as FAO, we are going to contribute to the UN Rapid Socio-economic assessment of COVID-19, mainly on the issues related to agri-food systems, food security and nutrition.

It is obvious that we need to also to think about post-pandemic situation when planning our future programs in order to have resilient food systems and sustainable production. COVID-19 has revealed fragile sectors and most vulnerable areas that indeed needs urgent support. It is essential to digitalize services in the agricultural sector, set-up functional agricultural advisory services, enhance formal sector, improve rural finance system, apply new technologies and methods to increase agricultural productivity and increase resilience of local agri-food producers to potential crises, disasters, including climate-induced disasters. We are currently working on different pipeline projects together with respective counterparts to address mentioned issues in future.

3) What steps are being taken by FAO in Azerbaijan to reduce the negative effects of the virus on the industry in the future?

I would like to note that, currently, FAO is working on a Comprehensive Response Plan at global level to support countries during post-pandemic period by adopting a holistic approach to proactively address the socio-economic impacts. For sure, a special attention will be given to the vital importance of ensuring that agriculture and food systems continue to function, and where possible improve, thereby assuring the continued availability of food security and nutrition along with the livelihoods and income that for many still derive from activities related to food production, marketing, processing, distribution and selling.  This approach will not only help in coping with the current situation, but will also enable resilience-building of food systems to post-COVID-19 in a long-term perspective. The plan covers different thematic areas including impact analyses on food systems, food security, nutrition, sustainable production, agribusiness, as well as natural resource management and ecosystem restoration.

FAO Azerbaijan will continue close observation of the developments in Azerbaijan and plan its program on emerged needs. We always stand ready to support the government in their efforts devoted to food security, sustainable agri-food systems and any other relevant field. Moreover, based on the emerging prioritized requests we can develop new programs/projects by bringing into an effective best-practices using FAO comparative advantages to achieve sustainable development of food systems.

Melek Cakmak, Head of Partnership and Liaison Office/FAO Representative in Azerbaijan