Global Agriculture

Transforming agri-food systems will shape the future, FAO chief told World Economic Forum

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27 January 2021, Rome: The Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, QU Dongyu, called today for coordinated joint responses and “global synergistic action before it is too late” to transform the world’s agri-food systems.

Holistic changes are needed to address issues such as climate change, agricultural production, demographics, consumer demands, biodiversity, nutrition, pests and food technology, among others, Qu said at a high-profile panel at the World Economic Forum‘s annual Davos” get-together, held virtually this year.

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The Forum brings together more than 1 500 business, government and civil society leaders from more than 70 countries to discuss the economic, environmental, social and technological challenges in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. This year’s week-long WEF is organized under the aegis of 2021 being “a crucial year to rebuild trust”. The agenda this year includes a focus on food systems, the subject of an important United Nations summit later this year.

Qu spoke in a panel on the importance of transforming food systems and land use alongside President Carlos Alvarado Quesada of Costa Rica; United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed; Agnes Kalibata, Special Envoy for the UN Food Systems Summit; Wiebe Draijer, Chairman of Rabobank Group’s Managing Board; and Ramon Laguarta, Chairman and Chief Executive of PepsiCo.

Land is foundational for human life and biodiversity, serves as “the basis for economy, society and environment” and is “vital for productivity and sustainability of agri-food systems,” said the FAO Director-General, according to whom effective land use and land sustainable management are urgently needed to maximize agricultural productivity while minimizing the negative environmental impacts.

Such factors are part of why agri-food systems, which is FAO’s focus, are more complex than food systems, the Director-General emphasized.

“Solidarity, urgency, accountability, innovation, and action are required” to ensure sustainable food supply for the roughly 10 billion people expected to live on the planet in 2050, Qu added, noting that FAO’s COVID-19 Response and Recovery Programme harnesses science, technology, data, human enterprise and creativity to build back better. “We know that the resources – intellectual, financial and material – to unlock innovation and transform agri-food systems are not lacking,” he said.

Innovation is key

Innovation, especially digital innovation, has boomed during the pandemic restrictions, ushering in changes that are likely to stick and become structural features in all industries in the long term, the Director-General noted.

FAO has rolled outa growing suite of innovative tools including the Hand-in-Hand Geospatial Data Platform, the Data Lab for Statistical Innovation and Earth Map, developed with Google, which provides valuable real-time data to support strategic decision-making. “A digital FAO has been established at an unprecedented pace,” he said.

Ultimately, the goal is on-the-ground livelihood improvement for rural and small-scale food producers, which can be fostered by initiatives such as online platforms for e-commerce, delivery services and marketing, and blockchain for better traceability and food safety.

FAO’s Director-General has often noted that the digital gap remains too large, as too often rural family farmers suffer from poor connectivity, risk aversion and lack of information, money, digital skills and literary. He called for concerted efforts to help countries and regions leapfrog beyond their digital divides. “Let’s make a digital world,” he said.

Noting how other panelists had discussed the role of trade and subsidies, he added that innovation is needed across the board. “We need innovation of policy, innovation of business models, innovation of financing and technology – with these four we will transform the agri-food systems.”

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