BAKU, AZERBAIJAN — Countries of Europe and Central Asia on April 20 unanimously reaffirmed their commitment to working together to promote sustainable rural development, tackle malnutrition and end hunger.

Speaking at the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) Regional Conference for Europe, Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev called hunger "one of the greatest curses of the 21st century."

"It is unbelievable that today there are people who die from hunger — we need to mobilize all our efforts to fight against this curse," Aliyev told the 300 delegates from 46 different countries who participated in the conference.

"The war against hunger is the war we must fight together," FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva added.

Recognizing the financial and economic crisis many countries are facing, he urged governments not to cut down on international assistance, saying:  "It is in times of crises that the poorest populations need us the most."

The Regional Conference, which is now part of FAO's global governance, discussed the challenges for food and agriculture in Europe and Central Asia. Governments identified the following priorities for FAO's work in the region during the 2014-15 biennium: strengthening food and nutrition security; policy advice on small farms; natural resource management; control of animal and plant pests and diseases; support for entry of member states who are candidates to join the E.U. and other regional bodies; and research in food and agriculture.

The governments also welcomed the broad and inclusive strategic thinking process launched by the director-general in January 2012 to determine the future strategic direction and priorities of the UN agency, and stressed the importance of focusing FAO's work on key challenges being faced by countries.

For the first time, civil society representatives participated in Regional Conference debate, which in the past only involved governments of FAO member countries. Ten civil society organizations attended and spoke in support of women and small farmers among other topics.

In addition, during the Regional Conference, a cooperation agreement was signed with Estonia that time made the country a donor to the Organization's development program. A country program agreement was also signed between FAO and Azerbaijan.