May 19, 2020: The informal briefing, chaired by QU Dongyu, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), brought together the Rome-based Permanent Representatives of FAO member countries.
The briefing focused on FAO’s humanitarian response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and examined best practices and country examples of FAO’s work to help mitigate the pandemic’s damage to people’s lives and livelihoods.
In Pakistan, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is spearheading action to keep the food chains running in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to the policy and technical support being provided to the Ministry of National Food Security & Research and provincial governments, FAO is working with the government and other partners to help strengthen resilience by contributing to national efforts to curb the transmission of the virus.
FAO, in particular, is raising awareness amongst rural farming communities in some of the most remote areas across the country where the organization has wide networks and is running parallel campaigns, both online and at the field level, to harness broader networks.
With over 60 percent of the population residing in rural areas, the number of households who derive food and livelihoods from farming makes up a significant majority of the population. Together with UN partners and the Government of Pakistan, FAO is helping fill the information gap in rural areas by taking action to ensure effective dissemination of information to those communities that are most vulnerable to the impacts of COVID-19.
FAO Representative in Pakistan, Minà Dowlatchahi presented Pakistan’s case on how FAO is managing to continue essential operations in the face of the pandemic focusing on social messaging to farmers, pastoralists and COVID19 risk mitigation.
“FAO in Pakistan has worked closely with the government to assist their delivery of services to vulnerable people in some of the most challenging areas of the country,” said Dowlatchahi. “We will continue to do our utmost to help the people of Pakistan face down the challenges of COVID-19,” she added.
As part of its work in rural communities, FAO is raising awareness regarding the potential impacts of the virus’ spread on food and agriculture, value and supply chains, food prices and food security through various means of communication to support the Government of Pakistan in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Finding new ways to deliver knowledge-based facts to local communities
Various digital campaigns are being run across all provinces in Pakistan where FAO is sharing important information with different farmer groups and local communities in an effort to sensitize local communities on the measures that can help protect against COVID-19. FAO teams are conducting regular online awareness sessions with local farmers, agriculture and livestock workers and technicians to help them understand how farmers can help curtail the spread of the virus by adopting practices such as handwashing, physical distancing and other precautions.
Stepping up efforts to support vulnerable communities
The impacts of the outbreak resulted in the disruption of food supply chains, gaps in farming inputs and unemployment. FAO implementation and operations continue in the field, with the organization reaching out to farmers and those most vulnerable to these shocks. Safety of vulnerable populations, careful planning and social safeguarding measures while delivering the support remains the utmost priority.
FAO with support from Government and UN partners is also promoting greater hygiene in the field to prevent the spread of COVID-19. More than 80 000 UN and Government of Pakistan approved Information, Education and Communication (IEC) materials, including posters and brochures, were distributed amongst local communities in FAO’s intervention districts. These posters with prevention guidelines in local languages have been displayed at fruit and vegetable shops, supermarkets, meat and dairy shops and other public places that were still operating.
Supporting stronger agriculture and food systems through FAO’s farmer field schools
Farmer Field Schools are a major tool for transferring knowledge to rural smallholder farmers where these local farmers learn about climate-resilient and more modern agricultural practices, innovation, basic entrepreneurship skills and develop their linkages with markets. FAO is redesigning the curricula of these Farmer Field Schools to educate the rural communities on the precautionary measures to combat the spread of COVID-19, and safety in agricultural practices such as pesticide handling. Special topics relevant to fighting COVID-19 spread have been included in the farmer field school sessions, including on healthy diets.
Through the farmer field schools, FAO has continued to raise awareness about preventive health and hygiene practices. During these activities hands-on, participatory learning was applied to demonstrate the best practices which would help these local communities protect themselves against COVID-19 infections. Practical demonstrations have helped local communities who otherwise lack access to information understand various preventive measures such as hand washing, physical distancing and other health and hygiene practices.
Over 81,000 most vulnerable people, both men and women, have been directly engaged through frontline workers to help these communities protect against COVID-19.
The latest edition of the Global Report on Food Crises has issued a clear warning. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, 135 million people experienced a crisis level of acute food insecurity. COVID-19 and related restrictions risk pushing many more into acute hunger. In Pakistan, it is estimated that 21 million people were already severely food insecure before the onset of COVID-19. Preventing new or worsening food crises requires urgent action.