FAO and the Eurasian Economic Commission: points of growth and common interests

In connection with a working visit on 17-18 August to the FAO Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia for scheduled expert consultations between FAO and the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC), Armen Harutyunyan, Director of the EEC Agro-Industrial Policy Department, gave an exclusive interview to the FAOLOR website.

The EEC and FAO are in partnership. What progress has already been made along this path? What would you like to achieve? What areas of cooperation between the EEC and FAO do you consider as priorities?

- FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) is a strategic partner for the EEC, which systematically contributes to the implementation of priority areas of cooperation in the agricultural sector of the EAEU countries, including the development of new initiatives.
Currently, cooperation is carried out on the basis of the Memorandum of Understanding between the Eurasian Economic Commission and FAO dated 8 November 2018 and the Action Plan for 2019-2023 between the EEC and FAO.
FAO focuses mainly on providing targeted measures within the framework of the Union to assist the member states of the EAEU in solving the problems of ensuring sustainable development, introducing new technologies, developing fruit tree production, regulating and developing seed production, as well as in many other areas.
With regard to the development of the seed sector, FAO promotes the involvement of experts from the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and the International Seed Testing Association to participate in the elaboration of proposals and recommendations for improving the legislation of the EAEU member states in the field of varieties testing and seed production of agricultural plants based on international requirements.
FAO is providing expert assistance in a timely manner, and a report on the development of fruit tree production and vegetable production is being jointly prepared, which will provide comprehensive information on the issues in these sectors and recommendations for resolving them. We expect to present a joint Report this year.
In addition, a special place on the integration agenda is given to the development of seed production systems in the Union countries. And we are grateful to FAO for the systematic advisory support on this complex issue, as well as for the organization in October 2021 of the round table on “International aspects of harmonizing the legislation of the countries of Europe and Central Asia in the field of varieties testing and seed production” with the participation of international experts (UPOV, OECD, ISTA, ISF). It should be noted that the heads of the EAEU states have decided to harmonize legislation in the fields of varieties testing and seed production. We believe that using the experience of international organizations will allow us to develop balanced mutually acceptable solutions to ensure the development of this science-intensive branch of the agro-industrial complex.
But our cooperation is not limited to this. During our visit to Budapest, we discussed new areas of cooperation. In particular, we are interested in studying the best international experience in assessing carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere, applying ESG principles and studying experience in implementing digital solutions in the agro-industrial complex. We also discussed issues related to the implementation of specific projects and educational programmes.

- The EAEU has adopted general principles and approaches to ensuring food security. How can they contribute to the formation of mechanisms for stabilizing the food market, ensuring mutual supplies, and removing existing barriers and restrictions on the single agricultural market?

- Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all countries of the world have faced the challenge of ensuring food security against the background of disrupted supply chains. To address these challenges, at the EAEU level, general principles and approaches to ensuring food security have been approved, a Working Group on prompt mutual deliveries of agricultural products has been created, forecast balances of supply and demand for the main types of food are formed on a regular basis.
The EEC promptly responds to the restrictions in the agricultural sector faced by businesses. Thus, in 2020, the countries of the Union completed the formation of the national legislation in the field of organic agriculture, in 2021, there were signals from businesses about the presence of restrictions in trade in organic products between the countries of the Union. To date, we have prepared a draft industry agreement to ensure the free circulation of organic products within the EAEU, which will be considered by the Commission this year. An interstate committee of five countries has also been created to form uniform standards in this sector, work is underway to harmonize the requirements for the organic products production.
At the same time, it is important to note that the Union has a high level of provision with the main types of agricultural products and food, in 2021 this figure was 93 percent. For such goods as grain, vegetable oils, pork, lamb, eggs, sugar, the Union states cover the demand of the population through their own production. Only certain types of food are imported from third countries, which cannot be produced in the EAEU due to natural and climatic conditions. These are tropical fruits, nuts, olive oil, coffee, cocoa beans and others.
The Union also plays an important role in ensuring global food security. In particular, in the world export of sunflower oil, the EAEU countries account for 18.6 percent, of wheat – 14.9 percent, of frozen fish – 10.1 percent, of barley – 9.6 percent.
In the long run, the EEC will face the task of developing a methodology for assessing food security, taking into account disrupted supply chains and problems with the physical availability of food products, as well as rising world prices and growing inflation.

- What work is being done in the Commission for the digital transformation of the agro-industrial complex? What is the Board’s recommendation to encourage the use of precision farming technologies?

- Last year, during the meeting, the ministers of agriculture of the EAEU countries discussed the importance of developing a digital management architecture for the agro-industrial complex, as this allows automating big data collection and ensuring their subsequent analysis using new technologies – machine learning and artificial intelligence. In general, this will contribute to the effective implementation of the state agricultural policy, including reducing the administrative burden on authorized state bodies and businesses, as well as targeting agricultural subsidies. In this regard, together with partners from business and non-profit organizations, we are developing the concept of a digital platform. We look forward to FAO's expert assistance in this matter.
As far as it concerns the Board’s recommendations to promote the use of precision farming technologies, the document recommends that the Union States take measures to adapt the institutional environment to the use of precision farming technologies, as well as to implement measures to support agricultural producers in implementing technological innovations.
It is expected that the implementation of the provisions of the recommendation will help improve the efficiency of crop production in our countries. The use of such technologies will increase the yield of agricultural crops and their gross harvest, which, as a result, will have a positive impact on the Union’s provision with products of its own production. Moreover, productivity growth and cost optimization provided by elements of precision farming technologies will help increase the level of competitiveness and the export potential of the Union’s agricultural products.
This document will help create in the Union more favourable conditions for increasing the use of such technologies by agricultural producers.

- To what extend does the implementation of ESG principles in the agro-industrial complex strike a chord with the member states of the Union?

- Currently, a comprehensive document on the implementation of ESG principles in the agro-industrial complex is under preparation and has not yet been discussed with the experts from the EAEU member states. At the same time, separate documents on certain areas within the Union have already been prepared and adopted.
Thus, the recommendations of the EEC on promoting the use of precision farming technologies, on general principles and approaches to ensure sustainable development of aquaculture and fisheries, have been adopted, the document on soil fertility conservation and restoration has been prepared, a discussion of the prospects for the production of plant alternatives to livestock products has been held with the participation of experts from the Union countries and FAO representatives. During the visit, we together with FAO also discussed ESG indicators in the agro-industrial complex, which in the future can become a benchmark for the producers of the Union countries.
The EEC is also interested in studying the international practice of the methodology for estimating carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere.

- What is you your vision of the role and place of the Union countries’ agricultural sector in the short and long term?

- I would like to start with global trends. According to the United Nations, the global population is growing and will reach 9.7 billion people by 2050 and more than two thirds of them will live in cities.
In this situation, it is clear that providing the population of the planet with food is associated not so much with the traditional approach to increasing physical volume of production, but with the need to increase the efficiency of using natural resources, processing agricultural products and waste, as well as with a responsible consumption culture.
Over the last six years (2015-2021), the grow of agricultural production in the Union as a whole amounted to 12 percent. The most significant increase was recorded in Kazakhstan – 16 percent and in Russia – 13 percent. In Belarus, it amounted to 7 percent. A 4 percent decrease was recorded over the same period in Armenia.
Trade indicators could also be characterized by a positive dynamic. In 2021, compared to 2015, mutual supplies of agricultural products and food by the member states increased by a factor of 1.7 (up to USD 11.9 billion), exports increased more than twice (up to USD 35.7 million).
At the same time, the Union countries have an untapped potential, including natural resources, human assets, use of innovation, implementation of sustainable agriculture practices.
In the short-term perspective, the task is to expand the supply of agricultural products to foreign markets and to diversify them to ensure domestic and global food security.
We think that in the long-term perspective, the role of the Union in ensuring global food security will significantly increase. In order to implement this task, we pay more attention to scientific and technological development, training and competence-building of staff, application of technological and digital solutions in agriculture. Moreover, the EEC is actively working to promote the production of material and technical resources and means of production for the agro-industrial complex.
I am sure that in close cooperation with FAO we will be able to achieve the announced goals.

Armen Harutyunyan was appointed Director of the EEC Department of Agro-Industrial Policy in November 2020.
• In 2009, Mr Harutyunyan graduated from the Academy of Public Administration of the Republic of Armenia with a Master’s degree in Public Administration.
• In 2011, graduated from the University of Bristol with a Master’s degree in International Development.
• Since 2012, worked as Advisor to the Minister of Agriculture of the Republic of Armenia, and in 2013-2018 served as Deputy Minister of Agriculture.
• In 2018-2019, Chief of Staff, Advisor to the UN Representative in Yerevan.
• In 2019-2020, Senior Advisor to the Global Centre for Technology, Innovation and Sustainable Development of the United Nations Development Programme in Singapore.