ROME: Four United Nations agencies today announced the forthcoming launch of a new phase of a joint program that aims to secure rural women’s livelihoods, rights and resilience to advance sustainable development.

The “Joint Programme: Accelerating Progress Towards Rural Women’s Economic Empowerment” (JP RWEE) is a partnership between the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality, UN Women, and the three Rome-based agencies: the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP). The program which began in 2014 seeks to expand its funding base and further scale up to additional countries.

This new five-year phase of the programme will  initially focus on Nepal, Niger, the Pacific Islands, Tanzania and Tunisia, thanks to the generous support of Norway and Sweden who have committed approximately $25 million towards the program.

“This partnership builds on previous success and demonstrates the impact of combining expertise to achieve significant results for rural women. These results include increased agricultural productivity, economic autonomy and leadership roles. We are grateful to Norway and Sweden for the opportunity to scale up the program in both existing and new countries, keeping the rights and needs of rural women firmly at the center,” said Sima Bahous, UN Women executive director.

Rural women face structural barriers including discriminatory policies, legislation and social norms which hinder their access to services, resources and opportunities. They carry the disproportionate share of unpaid care and domestic work and are often excluded from participation and leadership in rural public life.

“This program with its holistic approach is a great vehicle to improve rural women’s livelihoods. Lessons learned from the first phase show that it is crucial to secure funding from the onset of the program and we encourage other donors to join us in this important effort to empower rural women,” said  Astrid T. Tveteraas, head of section for food, Department for Climate and Environment, Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation.

“This program has shown that rural women are key agents for achieving the transformational economic, environmental and social changes required for sustainable development. Sweden is pleased to support the second phase in new countries. Equally, Sweden is eager to support approaches and lessons from the program that can push the overall global development of women’s economic empowerment further,” said Lotta Sylwander, lead policy specialist gender, Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.

The program builds on the comparative advantages and strengths of FAO, IFAD, UN Women and the U.N. World Food Programme to address the multi-faceted dimensions of rural women’s economic empowerment, which includes access to opportunities, resources and services including land, credit and technology. The program works with national governments to advance policy change, with local governments to ensure policy implementation, and with local communities and households to tackle unequal power dynamics and discriminatory social norms in order to achieve deep rooted and lasting change.

The first phase of the program was implemented in Ethiopia, Guatemala, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Nepal, Niger and Rwanda from 2014 to 2021 and reached approximately 80,000 rural women. The participants achieved, on average, an 82% increase in agricultural production, generated over $3,600,000 from on-farm and off-farm sales and almost $2 million through savings and loan schemes. Program results also showed greater economic autonomy for rural women, more gender equitable household relations and increased numbers of women in leadership positions.

The new phase of the Programme will be formally launched at a side event during the 66th Session on the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) on March 23rd, 2022.

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Transforming food systems in the Arab region is crucial to ending hunger and malnutrition in the region.

A United Nations study indicates that hunger in the Arab region continues to rise, threatening the region’s efforts to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including the Zero Hunger goal.

The latest edition of the Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition in the Near East and North Africa estimates that more than 51 million people in the region are suffering from hunger.

According to the report, the “triple burden of malnutrition” consisting of undernutrition, overweight and obesity, and micronutrient deficiencies (often linked to poor diets) continue to increase at an alarming speed in the Arab region, particularly among school-age children and adults.

The report highlights that 22.5 percent of children under 5 years of age were stunted, 9.2 percent wasted and 9.9 percent were overweight. The Arab region also ranked second for adult obesity in the world in 2019, with 27 percent of the adult population obese.

Vulnerable food systems is a serious concern in the Arab region

“Conflicts and protracted crises continue to be the main drivers behind the degrading hunger situation, but the region’s food systems as a whole are failing to deliver the affordable, diverse, safe and nutritious food to all is exacerbating the situation,” said Abdulhakim El Waer, FAO’s Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for the Near East and North Africa while commenting on the latest report.

“Population growth and migration, increasing dependency on food imports, water scarcity and the threat of climate change are also putting a heavy toll on the region’s food systems and increase its vulnerability,” Elwaer added.

Healthy diets for ending hunger and malnutrition

This year, the report focuses its attention on the resilience of the food systems. Resilience is critical to improve food security and nutrition situation in the region, and to ensure that the region’s food systems are able to resist and recover from shocks and stresses, like the COVID-19 pandemic. It also includes an in depth analysis of current dietary patterns, and the costs of diets for individuals, society, and the planet.

“COVID-19 undermined the already fragile food systems in the Arab region. It is time for urgent action to transform our socio-economic policies, food system strategies and modes of economic and technological governance, to achieve their sustainability and inclusiveness, and ensure food accessibility and healthy diets for all,” Ms. Rola Dashti,  ESCWA Executive Secretary said.

According to the report, growing urbanization, liberalization of markets and demographic, social, economic, and political changes have been contributing to a progressive shift in the way population of the Arab region eat.

“Volatile exchange rates and high prices affect many countries in the region, it is now all the more important to help the most vulnerable to grow their food, generate incomes and become more resilient in the face of these multiple shocks. The past years have shown us how economic collapse and conflict threaten to keep even bread out of peoples’ hands,” says Corinne Fleischer, U.N. World Food Programme Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “Peoples’ ability to put food on the table is key to the stability of societies. Hunger and uncertainty about the next meal breeds conflict and political instability.”

New consumption patterns include shifting away from healthy diets, the traditional, seasonal and more diverse diets rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. They are greatly influencing the nature, scope and magnitude of nutrition problems in the region as well as the burden of diseases and risk factors associated with them.

“Despite the importance of dietary diversity for both the physical and cognitive development of children, diverse and nutritious foods are currently not accessible to all. Conflicts and political instability have contributed to inequities in access to healthy diets within and between countries of the region,” said Ted Chaiban, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “Many countries in the region still show high levels of stunting or overweight in children.  This underlines the need for food systems that protect, promote and support diets, services and practices that prevent child malnutrition in all its forms,” he added.

Enhancing the resilience and transforming the region’s food system for a better future of food

Sustainable, resilient food systems are fundamental to ensuring that people in the region and future generations eat healthy food, the Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition for the Near East and North Africa highlights.

The report calls on countries to transform their food systems to increase their capacity in delivering healthy diets for all, while ensuring that food production and consumption contribute to environmental sustainability.

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Notes to Editors:

About the report

The Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition for the Near East and North Africa sheds the light on the progress towards the targets of Sustainable Development Goal 2 aims at ending hunger and all forms of malnutrition in the region. It also provides projections of the number of undernourished people in the region by 2030 under a continuation of trends.

The annual report jointly produced by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

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