Oleg Kobyakov, Director of FAO Liaison Office to Russian Federation: BRICS countries are driver of agro-industrial production



Oleg Kobyakov, Director of FAO Liaison Office to Russian Federation: BRICS countries are driver of agro-industrial production

An expert spoke about the situation with food supply of the population in the world

Oleg Kobyakov, Director of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) Russia Liaison Office, graduated from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) and completed his doctoral studies at the Paris Centre for Diplomatic and Strategic Studies. In 1985, he entered the diplomatic service and worked at the Russian Embassy in Prague, at the country’s permanent missions abroad, and at the Department of International Organisations of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Since 28 February 2020, he has held a senior position at FAO.

In an exclusive interview for TV BRICS, he spoke about ensuring food security in the world and the development of the agro-industrial sector.

Last year was declared the International Year of Millet by the United Nations. Please tell us what work was done, which countries supported the initiative and what results were achieved?

Indeed, 2023 has been proclaimed by the UN as the International Year of Millet. This is not the first agricultural year in the international calendar, there have been grain legume years, potato year, rice year, vegetable and fruit year before. Each of these landmark events is designed to highlight the enormous potential that different cultures have to address the challenge of food security and hunger eradication.

Millet is a historical product for Russia, its unpretentiousness to growing conditions, especially to water deficit and temperature increase against the background of climate change is very promising for Russia. We have gone out of our way to assist our partners in setting up a National Millet Year Committee.

It was set up on the platform of the Federation Council and was headed by Sergey Mitin, Deputy Chairman of the Committee on Agrifood Policy. We have organised with our partners trial plantings in three geographical zones of Russia and seminars-symposiums, published a brochure, which will be presented soon. In my opinion, it turned out interesting, which means we guessed right.

The year 2024 has been declared the year of the camelids. What are the goals of the UN and the world?

Camelids are a family of unique animals, they are the living link between wildlife and agriculture, as they live both in the wild and are farmed by humans in many countries.

There are only five main camelid species: one-humped, two-humped, llama, guanaco and vicuña. They are the source of milk, wool, meat and draught power for hundreds of millions of people in more than 30 countries.

This year’s theme was initiated by traditional camel countries such as Mongolia and Ecuador. Russia also supported this idea because there are almost 6,000 camels in the country. These are mainly two-humped beauties in the Astrakhan region and Kalmykia. We want to organise a whole series of actions.

The 4th of March was World Wildlife Day and we held a press conference and workshop at UN House to launch the Year of the Camel. We have preliminary agreements on partnerships with various organisations, in particular universities and the leadership of the Astrakhan region. We have high hopes for co-operation with zoos, primarily the Moscow Zoo.

In continuation of the topic of events for 2024, please tell us about Russia’s participation in the planned events.

A liaison office has been set up in Russia to share its experience, achievements and finances with developing countries, and on the other hand, FAO has accumulated experience from all over the world, which can be well taken by Russian agrarians. And our area of responsibility is not only agriculture, it is fisheries, forestry rural development. Here the scale of co-operation is very large.

We are guided by the FAO calendar. These are international dates: Wildlife Day, International Day of Forests, World Bee Day. Potato Day will be celebrated this year. We try to organise information events with our Russian partners and regularly participate in major forums – political, economic, St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, Eastern Economic Forum, International Fishery Forum. In addition, we develop partnerships and pay special attention to working with young people.

In recent years, the world has faced challenges in the area of food security. Please tell us how you managed to stabilise the situation and what else needs to be done in the near future?

Not just in recent years. Hunger and lack of food have haunted humanity throughout history, and the reasons do not change. Why is this being talked about more and louder lately? Mankind has embarked on a path of sustainable development and has excelled in technological advancements.

In particular, this was the focus of the World Food Systems Summit held in September 2021 in New York under the auspices of the UN. As a result of the summit, we have outlined a number of practical recommendations. What is most promising here? Firstly, it is the removal of barriers to trade, abandoning protectionist measures. We are in favour of a free and fair market governed by WTO rules, which would ensure a balance between demand and consumption.

Secondly, it is to combat product loss and spoilage. Current supply chains, market mechanisms are not able to redistribute food quickly and efficiently.

Thirdly, we advocate the use of science and innovation, increasing productivity in crop production, animal farming, aquaculture, new ways of producing packaging, food storage, and spreading knowledge about rational nutrition.

Advancement in each of these areas has the potential to lift tens of millions of people out of hunger each year.

In your opinion, what role should the BRICS countries play in ensuring food security both regionally and globally?

BRICS is the most powerful global economic engine today. Given the expansion of this inter-state association, its position will certainly be strengthened. It includes countries whose economies are growing rapidly. If we talk about the founding countries, they ensured their own food security. And this is very important given what proportion of the world’s population they make up.

What is the impact on food security of FAO’s collaboration with the BRICS New Development Bank?

We assess the BRICS New Development Bank as one of the important and promising financial instruments. Its work so far has focused on financing large infrastructure projects within FAO. The Bank is not yet involved in the Russian line of financing FAO projects.

And what other possible points of convergence and prospects for cooperation do the BRICS have with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation?

In BRICS, the agri-food agenda is very prominent and its role is growing. The 13th BRICS Agriculture Ministers’ Meeting under the auspices of the Russian Chairmanship is due to be held this year. There was a BRICS declaration on food security and there is a consultative mechanism of BRICS countries and FAO management.

How might this co-operation be affected by the expansion of BRICS?

Only in the most positive way possible. The BRICS share in world population, in agrarian population, in consumption and production of the widest range of agro-food products, in trade exchanges, financial transactions, and in innovation is growing.

Do you think the agro-industrial complex of the BRICS countries can become a driver of global economic growth through the introduction of new technologies and modernisation of agricultural enterprises?

Absolutely, because innovation and digitalisation are affecting agriculture, fisheries, forestry, allied industries and the food industry as much as the classical industry. This direction is very promising. As for whether the BRICS countries can become a global growth driver, I think they already are. If we take the production of food and agro products, China is the largest producer. It is also both the largest importer and creates effective demand by stimulating food production elsewhere in the world. The same can be said about India with its 1.5 billion population and the special role of Russia, whose agricultural sector has developed at a very high rate in recent decades.

Last question. Could you please tell us about your organisation’s work plans for the coming years?

We rely primarily on Russian partners and are considering the possibility of establishing regional representative offices. We have FAO information centers at MGIMO University of the Russian Foreign Ministry and at the Timiryazev Academy. We have signed co-operation documents with a number of Russian universities. Co-operation with the Academy of Sciences is developing positively and intensively. We plan to participate in the St. Petersburg Economic Forum and the Eastern Economic Forum. We also facilitate the preparation and participation of Russian delegations in various events. For instance, the European Conference will be held this year in May in Chisinau, the capital of Moldova. The Commission on Plant Genetic Resources will meet in April. We provide maximum assistance to our Russian partners, so there is definitely something to do.





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