Global Agriculture

FAO Director-General calls for seizing opportunities to transform agrifood systems

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03 July 2023, Rome: The Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), QU Dongyu, re-elected on Sunday for a second term at the head of the Organization, delivered today his opening statement at the 43rd Session of FAO Conference (1-7 July), in which he stressed that it is time to “rewrite the narrative on food security.”

The Conference began on Saturday 1 July with the election of Marie-Claude Bibeau, Canada’s Minister of Agriculture and Agri-food, as Chairperson and the McDougall Lecture by Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Singapore’s Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for Social Policies.

In his speech to the Conference, QU Dongyu highlighted that global agrifood systems are continuously facing shocks from different dimensions, and emphasized that FAO and its Members should not only focus on the challenges, but also “find opportunities and take action to move forward.”

“We need to start the transformation!” Qu urged, stressing that agrifood systems need to urgently become more efficient, more inclusive, more resilient and more sustainable.

Transformative actions and robust solutions are needed “so we can move forward into a world of better production, better nutrition, a better environment, and a better life, leaving no one behind,” the Director-General said, citing the Four Betters that he has embedded in various reforms, initiatives and programmes implemented since first taking FAO’s helm in 2019.

In the message from Pope Francis, read by by Monsignor Fernando Chica Arellano, Permanent Representative of the Holy See to FAO, the Pontiff congratulated QU Dongyu for his re-election and encouraged him to continue working “to eradicate the scourge of hunger in the world, which is advancing rather than retreating”.

“Today many experts say that the goal of zero hunger will not be met,” Pope Francis said. “Allow me to say, the inability to fulfill our responsibilities must not lead us to turn away from our original intentions.”

The drivers of food security

The Director-General focused his intervention on the concepts that define food security, noting the key drivers of availability, accessibility, utilization and stability.

FAO plays a key role in various factors interrelated with those drivers. For example, Qu noted that while food trade, both global and intra-regional, is essential, it in turn is fostered by food safety, a key area of work for the Organization. Likewise, supporting non-food agricultural production can improve rural incomes and thus food access for farmers, he said, noting also that working to reduce Food Loss and Waste is critical to improve utilization.

Bolstering the availability of adequate food rich in micronutrients – a mission clearly reflected in the concepts of Better Production and Better Nutrition – entails providing and leveraging the science, innovation, technologies and know-how to accelerate production, and renewing a focus on healthy foods, the Director-General said. Boosting the supply of the diverse food acquired for these goals will be essential.

Food availability also requires assuring access to nutritious food in emergencies, which is the focus of joint work with the World Food Programme, FAO’s Emergencies and Resilience stream, and the proper design of emergency food reserves, Qu said.

The accessibility factor is one of the major challenges we are facing today, exacerbated by price and income trends that have been roiled by various crises. Of particular concern is that the price of final food products are not following the declining trend of the FAO Food Price Index over the past 12 months, due in part to currency exchange rate devaluations.

“What it means is that we have a problem of the most vulnerable import-dependent countries facing a significant increase in their food import bill, which is putting pressure on their ability to access the food they need,” Qu said.

FAO is proposing medium and long-term mechanisms to increase resilience so countries have the necessary income for those needs, he added, pointing to FAO’s proposal for a Food Import Financing Facility in 2022 that was taken up by the International Monetary Fund’s as part of its Food Shock Window, which has disbursed $1.8 billion to six countries and was recently extended until March 2024.

Broadly, food availability is a question of the supply of safe and nutritious foods, while accessibility is a matter of demand and capacity, Qu said. “These concepts are inter-related, not independent of each other” and as a whole are directly related to the concept of a Better life, he added.

Assuring stability of food supply is about making sure availability, accessibility and utilization is not hampered by shortages, emergencies or sudden crises.

“Here is where a Better Environment plays a critical role,” the Director-General said, emphasizing the need to cope with climate shocks, extreme temperatures, pests and diseases and water cycles. Increasing resilience to these challenges implies focusing on prevention, through early warning systems, the One Health approach and new insurance tools, strengthening shock absorbers by prioritizing productivity increasing investments across the world to produce more with less, and diversifying production.

Core Initiatives

The Director-General pointed to core initiatives that he started during his first term at FAO to pursue the noble goal of eradicating hunger.

The Hand-in-Hand Initiative uses advanced geospatial modeling and a robust partnership-building approach to support nationally-led programmes to accelerate market-based transformation of agrifood systems in ways that benefit the most vulnerable people. Some 64 countries are now participating in the initiative.

The Green Cities Initiative focuses on improving the resilience of urban food systems and creating healthier environments in cities, where a rapidly increasing share of the world’s population live.

The 1000 Digital Villages Initiative promotes digitalization – of which Qu is a vocal champion – in rural areas to boost income and livelihood opportunities, social cohesion and innovation to benefit local communities.

The One Country One Priority Product programme helps countries leverage their potential by identifying special agricultural products that can benefit family farmers involved engaged in culturally iconic products and processes.

The Blue Transformation is central for bolstering fisheries and aquaculture so that they can provide better dietary nutrients for all in climate-friendly and low-carbon ways.

Finally, Qu emphasized that the focus was now on implementation of these initiatives, together with Members.

The speech of Director-General QU Dongyu at the 43rd Session of the FAO Conference can be accessed here.

Also Read: Indian farmers to get sulphur-coated Urea for the first time

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