Caspian Agro - Interview with Melek Cakmak, Head of the UN Food and Agricultural Organization's (FAO) Partnership and Liaison Office

Interview with Melek Cakmak, Head of the UN Food and Agricultural Organization's (FAO) Partnership and Liaison Office


  • Ms Cakmak, as we know, FAO has implemented 23 different projects in Azerbaijan since 1995, and at present, a number of national and regional projects are also being implemented.

FAO as the technical assistance Agency of UN is currently implementing several projects in different fields of agriculture and forestry. One of them is aiming to develop a land consolidation strategy for Azerbaijan through capacity development of policy makers and pilot implementation of land consolidation as well as community development activities. Another is aiming to support the Sustainable Forest Management practices in cooperation with the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources. This project includes  development of a forest inventory system, multifunctional forest management plans and knowledge sharing components. A third project is aiming to strengthen the phytosanitary inspection and services in Azerbaijan in accordance with the international standards through capacity development and technical support. FAO is also supporting the policy and programme development capacity of the Ministry of Agriculture as well as working on further programme development for climate change adaptation and sustainable resource management through technical cooperation projects.

FAO has just completed a project on the development organic agriculture sector in Azerbaijan. We reviewed the legal framework governing the Organic Agricultural production and certification and conducted capacity development activities for policy makers, technicians and farmers; assessments on the potential of organic production and related value chains as well as awareness raising campaign targeting the general public. Through the FAO-Azerbaijan Partnership Program, 3 projects are going to be launched soon in order to support the sustainable production of sheep and cattle in Azerbaijan and the establishment of Disease-Free Potato Seed Production System. Finally, a project to support the Veterinary Laboratory capacity in Azerbaijan, funded by FAO’s own sources will also become operational soon.

  • FAO is actively involved in sustainable development and environmental protection. What is the current situation regarding these issues in Azerbaijan?

Azerbaijan, as developing country, has already formulated its strategic policies on sustainable development. Despite the fact that oil and gas industry plays the leading role in the country’s economy, non-oil sector shows positive improvement signs in recent years. Strategic Roadmaps on 12 main economic sectors clearly indicated government’s intention towards sustainable development targets. Especially, there is good potential in development of agricultural sector which forms less than 6% of total GDP of the country.  As for environmental protection, the government of Azerbaijan Republic actively participates at and contributes to international efforts/conventions related to the conservation of environment. FAO has a mandate and thus responsibility to provide the necessary support to all governments in the sustainable management of natural resources to ensure sustainable agriculture and food systems in Azerbaijan. Our past and on-going projects are directed to address key gaps and barriers in this process by bringing best-effective and modern international experience and practice applicable at national level.  

  • The use of environmentally-friendly (‘green’) technologies is one of the top priorities in today’s world. To what extent have Azerbaijani producers and farmers been involved in the process of their application?

Of course, the use of environmentally-friendly technologies is the prior issue for Azerbaijan, as well. Apart from providing less harm to the environment, such technologies also lead to less greenhouse gas emissions that contributes to climate change. It is obvious that for producers changing the production style costs money and it may need big investments. But, there are also international financial mechanisms, for example such Green Climate Fund, which provides financial opportunity to private sector by sharing costs in such projects. It is relevantly new financial mechanism and, as FAO, we will be actively involved in development of similar projects together with state and non-state producers.

Azerbaijani farmers also try to shift to ‘green’ technology, but there is a capacity, technology and financial gaps and barriers to be addressed. Yet, transformation into green agriculture brings about opportunities regarding the creation of decent green jobs. During 2015-2017, FAO has implemented a project named as “Support to the development of organic agriculture and improvement of institutional potential”. The project results make us to believe that organic agriculture initiatives will be enhanced and replicated in all agricultural regions of the country.

  • As far as we know, you hold a higher academic degree in Agricultural Economics of Stanford University (USA). How would you assess the current state of the agricultural sector in Azerbaijan and what further measures might be necessary to develop it?

Trends in world agriculture displayed signals of change since the start of the 21st century. The price hikes in 2008 and 2010 highlighted once more the importance of productivity, changes the relative prices in agricultural commodities and shifted the agri-food trade flows. The interactions of agriculture with the other sectors got closer and more complex. In addition to providing food, feed and fiber, the sector has just become a major player in the provision of energy.

This paradigm shift in the world agriculture represents more opportunities than threats as Azerbaijan continues to give priority to the agricultural development.  The agricultural sector has kept its importance for the Azerbaijan economy. Although the share of agricultural value added has declined to 6 percent in 2017, the sector still provides employment to more than one third of the total workforce. The sector dominates the rural economy both in value added creation and provision of employment. The dualistic structure of production has all the basic traits of a developing economy with dominant share of production concentrated in small holdings, co-existing with commercial producers.

Recent performance of agricultural sector is encouraging. According to USDA calculations, total factor productivity growth in the agriculture of Azerbaijan has reached to 2.0% average annual growth rate during the last decade, following negative growth rates before 2000. Change in agriculture requires patience and using the right policy tools. Support for increasing productivity is more beneficial in the long run than transfer policies. Development of the domestic agri-food sector will get faster and will be accompanied by trade opportunities, as the government continues to give more emphasis on upgrading basic factors of production (land, labor, capital and knowledge) used in agricultural production. 

Azerbaijan is one of the rare developing country that has been able to achieve food security despite the high share (40% in 2016) of expenditures on food and beverages in the budget of average consumers. However, food inflation has been higher than non-food inflation since 2014. Food prices need to be monitored more closely to prevent the impairment of access to food.

  • What is your position on exhibitions? What do you think are the benefits of exhibiting for manufacturing companies and private entrepreneurs?

Our position at the exhibition is to demonstrate our role in agricultural development of the country and also to seek possible cooperation possibilities with all stakeholders involved to the agricultural and food production systems. FAO, with its sound technical expertise in agriculture, intends to continue its support and effective collaboration with both state and non-state agriculture sector actors.

Regards manufacturing companies and private entrepreneurs participating at the exhibition, they get good opportunity to explore new markets, get in contact with new partners and get access to information on best-effective technologies available within the sector. I consider such exhibitions very useful and important from this aspect, but also such exhibitions are perfect opportunity to advertise current development progress of Azerbaijan to the whole world.