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This is a “close” copy of the words that were spoken in this episode

It is not 100% accurate.
The guest was Fethi Thabet, Theme leader on Engineering and Sustainable Agriculture in the WFEO Committee on Engineering and the Environment (CEE)


Welcome to Engineering Leaders’ mini-series in the lead up to the very first World Engineering Day for Sustainable Development 2020. This mini-series is being supported by the World Federation of Engineering Organisations.

My name is Melanie and my co-host and our podcast’s resident engineer is Dominic.

Today’s episode is on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal number 2, Zero Hunger.


Our guest today is a telecommunication engineer, also with a Master’s degree in Transportation planning and management

He is currently a city councillor for Ariana – noted as the 5th most important city in Tunisia.

Our guest was previously the General Manager for the Ministry of Transport and Telecommunications in Tunisia and has been the Chairman of the first international conference on “Engineering and Food Security in Africa (2019)”. This was jointly organised by WFEO and the Tunisian Order of Engineers.

He has also held the position of task group leader on engineering and sustainable agriculture for WFEO

Our guest speaking to us about Zero Hunger is Fethi Thabet.


In 1952 Tunisia negotiated its independence from France and it started to develop and grow. And as it grew it promoted the work their engineers were doing throughout society and the important role they were playing in their country’s development. And Fethi was inspired. Coupled with his skill in maths and science, along with a fascination with innovation, Fethi knew he wanted to be an engineer. And using science and technology as a tool to advance civilisation and welfare

    Guest 0:33

As an engineer now I know that there’s no problem without solution. So that’s the mission and that’s our mission and we can do it.

    Mel De Gioia 0:44

I love that.

    Dom 0:45

I think that’s great. I think the engineers who, who have that belief that there’s no problem without a solution they’re the best engineers there are.

    Mel De Gioia 0:53

So today’s episode is about the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal number two, which is zero hunger. What can you tell us about this goal?

    Guest 1:03

The mainkey I think, aspects of this there are four points. The first one is ending hunger everywhere in the globe at any time. So, we have to look to the problem on the global basis. The second one is achieve food security and there is the need for vision, need for strategic plan, for tools. And we have an objective now. 2030 has an objective to get zero hunger. The third point in sustainable development goals number two is improved nutrition. So, all linked to diet and how we can improve so that this is directly linked to the heads (i.e leaders), people of the population and to the level of awareness and knowledge. So, that’s why the issue of nutrition is important. And the fourth one is promoting sustainable agriculture and


still the word sustainability is not very well clear in many minds of different professions, and even in the minds of many policy decision makers, especially in developing countries.


Still, it’s not simple to explain.


It’s not simple to apply in real policy sectors.


So the word sustainability and agricultural side is very important. So that’s from my point of view, the main objective of Sustainable Development Goal is number two.

    Mel De Gioia 2:37

They are very great pillars.

    Dom 2:38

Was there a particular reason why you’ve aligned your work to UN SDG number two?

    Guest 2:44

The main thing about this is that the engineering profession has a key role to play in this field and still not very visible. So the main aim is to highlight and to make more visible engineering experts. In what field they get to achieve sustainable development goals. So, this is very challenging, because in many times we talk about financing, about money, about financial aspects, but not about practical things. Not about natural resources. So you have to talk about water, talk about energy. And we have to talk about climate change. So these are not very well understood by many people.


Engineers, they know the problem.


They know the details. Okay, so sometimes you don’t need a lot of details. But sometimes it’s important to know the details because


it’s not enough to have a strategy if you are not very good applying it, in implementing solution in taking actions.


So that’s why I think the engineers and the engineer profession can take practical actions to achieve sustainable development goals number two. This is why, so I am inspired. And the other thing is that there’s a little bit some gap in terms of between civil engineers because engineers have different professions, different working in different fields. So sometimes it is important that the different backgrounds, different experts, as engineers meet together. Like the communication engineers, like engineers working in the the meteorology side, like engineers working in infrastructure, so to talk about how they can help farm to increase production, how they can help farmers to increase productivity, and to make best use of their piece of land. So that’s the main issue. So the main issue and you know, I attended so many meetings all over the globe about the subject. But I still never forget this lady in Addis Ababa and say that it’s about Africa, Ethiopia. And this day we say we not need money, we need knowledge. And we need somebody experts to show us how we can increase you know, our food production, how we can feed our people, you know, and so, this is the technical aspects which still are not very well explained. Or they was covered by many medias. I have taken chosen subject, which is linked to poverty to other subjects and I think we have to help because this is critical. And it is unacceptable to have something like 820 million hungry person now in the world. Now the hunger levels are going up in recent years unfortunately. So, we are now at risk of undoing much of the progress that has been done over most of our lifetime. So, the number of undernourished people is going up, you know, will now we are reaching the level of 2010 2011 levels, referring to FAO (Food and Agriculture organisation) which is food and agricultural in their nation, they just bought my 2019 report. So, this is an alarming message to all crowds of colleagues or people involved in this subject to you know, to try to curb the tendency.

    Mel De Gioia 6:48

So, as this number is going up, so it’s going kind of going the wrong direction. What is an example of something that you’re doing to help claw it back to something that might be even vaguely close to acceptable?

    Guest 7:00

That’s an important question because there are many things that we are doing and practical. So we are just gathering information, you know, encouraging research, information exchange to what do we can do in this field.


I think the main role for the engineer to focus is to look to the issue of irrigation.


So this is the issue of water. And I have to tell you the because of climate change, which is becoming a big worrying problem, so there is a bigger issue. So now, we have the problem of water as the temperature is expected to rise, I hope but less than two degrees. So we expect by 2050 in this part of the world, I’m talking about Africa, that there will be a reduction in precipitation by 20%.


So, there is a problem of water scarcity, there is a problem of water misuse. And this is a critical problem.


So where I am now in North Africa, in this part of the world, we have a big problem of scarcity of water and people are not conscious of our waste water. So linked to this is all you know all the issue of pollution and all the issue of this. So still a lot of things to do in the field of irrigation. I know that there are many techniques, very good techniques used in many African countries. So all this issue is try to optimise every drop, you know, every drop of water for crops. So many people so engineers can do a lot of things and this is a big issue. The other field is the field of energy and renewable energy. And here there’s also the issue of use of solar energy issues of pumping. You know, because India for example, I know that a lot of energy consumption is consumption is used in pumping, pumping water. So, it’s important to diversify the use of energy and to try to use renewable energy. And the other important points in this feed is as an engineer is the issue of infrastructure and how to make food accessible to markets. And here, feeder roads rural roads are important to market. But I must not forget all issue related to telecommunication, infrastructure and the use of digital agriculture, which is an important use of all social media. And this is called IT agriculture, Because it is an important technology, but still, there’s a problem of trading of small farmers, problem of how they can use devices, how they can make the best use of data, because we can have a very good climate from weather data. But unfortunately, they are not accessible to many small farmers. Because we are lucky in Tunisia and Australia, we get kids now through this, but believe me, in many, many African, especially in the rural area, they don’t have access to this nice technology. So that’s why we have to use other means of communication to transmit always HR development in agriculture field to farmers and small farmers, even if they don’t have the communication tools, or the telephone tools. And now we know there’s a widespread of phones, but also mobile phones in Africa. And this is a good thing for I think for agriculture. We have to make best use of this.

    Mel De Gioia 10:55

There are so many ways that engineers can help contribute to this Sustainable Development Goal. So you’ve listed a few there, which is a great starting point.

    Dom 11:05

Particularly in relation to how they all intertwine. I think that’s one of the factors that that sort of is run through having spoken to a few engineers now that they’re all so closely linked to because you were talking about water. And here in Australia, we’ve been suffering drought for quite a long time now, and that it really does play into that food insecurity. So it’s an extremely important issue that unfortunately, a lot of people don’t really seem to understand just how important it is. Are there any goals that you hope to achieve in 2020 in relation to this UN SDG?

    Guest 11:40

I have to tell you that one other important point that was not mentioned unfortunately and which may be linked because SDGs are interrelated. This point is like one third of the food produced is wasted. We have had, we have had an important topic during the International Conference in Engineering and Food Security in Africa last year, June in Tunisia, we had 400 experts, and this is important for Sub Saharan Africa, because one period of time, they had for one, two three demands, they can have a lot of fruits and vegetables and because of the absence or the inefficiency of cold chain infrastructure, they cannot store it and so they cannot have available food during other months of the year. So that’s the programme I am initiating with many others is a programme of preparing and this is a total we go much more focused here. So we will prepare a workshop on cold chain in Sub Saharan Africa under role of engineer to reduce food loss and waste, and what are the obstacles of implementing the cold chains. And luckily, this is an important point because last November 2019 there was a wrong Declaration on the contribution of the Montreal Protocol to food loss reduction through sustainable cold chain development.

    Mel De Gioia 13:24

Are you saying cold chain?

    Guest 13:26

Yes, that’s cold chain development. Yeah. And this is a big problem for Sub Saharan Africa. So they don’t have enough cold chain so they cannot store food. If they don’t have refrigeration, it’s a big problem. So that’s why it’s important to look at this and what I am pushing and the help that I got the green light by my colleagues to organise this workshop next September in the Ivory Coast that’s in Abidjan and we have already the concept. So as you can see, so we have a clear, you know, vision on what we want to do. So this is one issue is the issue of reduction of food loss and waste. That’s what the one thing that I hope to achieve during 2020.

    Dom 14:15

It sounds like a wonderful, wonderful goal. It’s such a huge problem. It’s heartbreaking. It’s really heartbreaking.

    Mel De Gioia 14:22

Yes, it sounds like a great workshop that you’ll be running in September. So best of luck with that.

    Guest 14:29

Oh, thank you very much. As I told you, this is just a new we’ve just discussed this two months ago, two weeks ago. How we can execute refrigeration, which is based in Paris in France. So and we are putting this together. And we hope to get all the support in order to move ahead and to try to do something in the industry. But as I told you


if we can reduce the food loss and waste, we can reduce hunger.


    Dom 14:59

Thank you so much. for joining us this evening, it was wonderful speaking with you.

    Guest 15:04

Oh, thank you very much. It was a great pleasure, you know, to talk with you and I hope that we can one day we can, you know, talk about what are the output and the results of all this.

Mel De Gioia 15:14

Yeah, well, it sounds like you’re doing some amazing work over there, especially towards zero hunger. So thank you again for your time tonight. And thank you for tuning into Engineering Leaders as we prepare you for the first World Engineering Day on Sustainable Development, which is going to be held every fourth of March. We hope you’re enjoying our mini series which is brought to you with the support of the World Federation of Engineering Organisations. The best way for you to show your support for our show, is to tell people, either in person or write a review. Just spread the word. Seriously, it is that easy. We look forward to you and your friends joining us next time when we bring you another episode with one of our engineering champions.

Transcribed by

Fethi Thabet is a telecommunication engineer, also with a Master’s degree in Transportation planning and management.

He is currently a city councillor for Ariana – noted as the 5th most important city in Tunisia

Fethi was previously the General Manager for the Ministry of Transport and Telecommunications in Tunisia and has been the Chairman of the first international conference on “Engineering and Food Security in Africa (2019)” which was jointly organized by WFEO and the Tunisian Order of Engineers (TOE).

He has also been the task group leader on engineering and sustainable agriculture for WFEO.