Three pillars of partnership between Azerbaijan and FAO
    Digitalization, agro-industrial complex of Karabakh, economical irrigation

    ANALYTICS  07 December 2023 - 13:05

    Khazar Akhundov

    Over the past 28 years, in partnership with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Azerbaijan has implemented basic UN tasks to combat hunger, ensure food security, introduce modern technologies, and digitalize agriculture. In November 2021, the Milli Majlis decided to extend the joint partnership platform with FAO, continuing to implement several strategies and programs to respond to new challenges.

    This work continues successfully, and on December 6, a meeting was held in Baku between Azerbaijani Economy Minister Mikail Jabbarov and Representative of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Azerbaijan Nasar Hayat, during which issues of partnership on food security and the use of innovations in the agricultural sector were discussed.

    Azerbaijan gained full membership in FAO on October 20, 1995. Since the fall of 2015, a country representative office of the international organization began functioning in our country (the first in the CIS). This trend was further developed, and on October 31, 2023, the regional department of the Partnership and Coordination Office began working in the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, which also indicates the significant interest of the UN unit in the agrarian reforms carried out in our country.

    In general, over the past years, in partnership with FAO, many projects have been implemented in the republic aimed at combating hunger, ensuring food security, and developing the agricultural sector. It is appropriate to note here that UN assistance mainly includes technical, advisory, and partly financial assistance, and projects in Azerbaijan are often implemented jointly with other international donor programs.

    The most important step in this direction was the adoption in 2000 of the Millennium Development Goals Declaration, the main goal of which was to achieve a tangible reduction in hunger on the planet by 2015 by increasing food production, primarily in developing countries: this UN initiative and its structural divisions - FAO, 185 countries of the world have joined, including Azerbaijan.

    Our country was one of the first in the post-Soviet space to come close to solving this problem. A little over ten years ago, the UN specialized structure included Azerbaijan in the list of states with the lowest level of hunger - less than 5%.

    Also, according to FAO data, by 2013 the level of import substitution in the field of livestock and poultry farming in the republic reached 92%, and in the production of fruits and vegetables and melons approached one hundred per cent. Well, the average indicator of agricultural import substitution in the country in recent years has confidently remained at the level of 70-80 per cent (except grain), and according to FAO estimates, Azerbaijan was among the leaders of the post-Soviet region in this position.

    However, the recent food crisis, which led to an imbalance in global agricultural markets and rising food prices, revealed several serious industry problems in our country. Azerbaijani crop farms are still heavily dependent on the import of elite seeds, pesticides, phosphates, and several other fertilizers, and livestock complexes and poultry farms are largely focused on the supply of compound feed, vitamins, vaccines, and other products and drugs used in the industry from abroad.

    All this does not have the best effect on the pace of development of agriculture: according to the State Statistics Committee, in January-October 2023, the republic produced agricultural products worth 10.865 billion manats with an increase of only 3%, and in the crop production segment, this figure is even lower.

    Similarly, domestic processing and food enterprises, especially in the meat and dairy industry, experience a significant dependence on the import of powdered milk, meat, various additives and food chemicals, containers, packaging, equipment, and consumables from abroad.

    During periods of crisis, due to rising prices for these goods on the global market, the Azerbaijani agro-industrial complex and food industry faced serious problems, and rising import prices of raw materials, components, and semi-finished products weighed heavily on the cost of domestic production.

    The only way to reliably overcome this dependence is to accelerate the localization of enterprises manufacturing products necessary for the agro-industrial complex and food industry in Azerbaijan, as well as the introduction of intensive farming technologies economical irrigation systems, and digitalization of the industry.

    For the second year now, FAO experts have been calling on developing countries to do this, recommending reducing external dependence on food supplies: according to UN forecasts, the likelihood of food crises repeating in the future is quite high due to worsening climatic factors, lack of fresh water, reduction of fertile land, and rising production costs in agriculture.

    Many of the listed problems are also observed in Azerbaijan, so joint work with FAO has not lost its relevance to this day, moreover, this cooperation is moving forward in qualitatively new directions. Thus, during a meeting held the day before in Baku with FAO specialists, issues on the current agenda for Azerbaijan and a potential partnership format for the future were discussed.

    “During the meeting with the FAO representative in Azerbaijan, Muhammad Nasar Hayat, we emphasized the existence of effective cooperation with the UN in many areas. The prospects for cooperation in the field of ensuring food security and the use of innovative mechanisms in the agricultural sector were considered,” Azerbaijani Minister of Economy Mikayil Jabbarov wrote on his page on the social network X on December 6.

    What are the most important tasks that FAO plans to implement in Azerbaijan in the medium term? “Azerbaijan is one of the 20 countries in the world most suffering from water shortages: about 70% of fresh water in the country is used in agriculture,” recently noted the head of the FAO Partnership and Coordination Office in Azerbaijan, M. N. Hayat, who emphasized that the key task for the agricultural industry is to reduce losses in water channels through the introduction of modern insulation technologies and economical irrigation systems in the fields.

    According to him, the country needs to introduce electronic control systems over the use of water resources, and in general, develop the digitalization of the entire chain from the cultivation of raw materials, production of the final product, and to the last stage - its delivery to consumers.

    The representative of the UN structure also noted that the key task within the framework of the five-year FAO country program is to support Azerbaijan in the field of digitalization of agriculture, which will not only increase efficiency in the production process but will also make the agricultural industry more attractive for stimulating a younger generation of specialists. No less important tasks are more complete coverage of 450,000 farms with digital services, which helps to increase productivity, more efficient use of arable land, and rehabilitation of degraded areas.

    Another priority of the FAO country program is participation in programs for the revival of the agricultural sector in the Karabakh region, including consulting support for the introduction of high technologies in the field of agricultural production and processing, as well as the organization of production of environmentally friendly products here. “We have extensive experience in other countries worldwide in agricultural development and reconstruction in post-conflict areas.

    We need to find out which agricultural model is the best for the areas liberated from occupation and in the future, we can provide technical expertise and share experience in building agricultural capacity,” the head of the FAO Partnership and Coordination Office in Azerbaijan said in September.

    The first steps in this direction have begun this year: thus, as part of the technical assistance program, UN specialists, together with the Agricultural Services Agency of the Ministry of Agriculture, are implementing a two-year project aimed at increasing the knowledge and skills of farmers who moved to the village of Agali in Zangilan District. This initiative will involve over 300 farmers, who will be introduced to modern agricultural technologies, including the planned demonstration of economical irrigation systems and the introduction of pilot projects in this area.

    Priority areas of joint projects with the relevant UN structure include bringing norms and standards in the field of food safety in line with international requirements, increasing export potential, strengthening control over agrochemicals and veterinary materials, as well as creating a sustainable supply chain for agricultural products and their marketing, development of organic farming and the seed sector, breeding elite breeds of farm animals, etc.

    In the future, it is planned to cooperate with the UN in the field of prudent use and storage of food, reducing the level of food waste, and recycling it. In most of these areas, FAO has developments that will be implemented in the next few years.


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