Global Agriculture

World Food Forum: Science, technology and innovation take centre stage in transforming our agrifood systems

20 October 2022, Rome: The World Food Forum’s first ever Science and Innovation Forum opened today casting the spotlighting on the crucial role of science, technology and innovation in transforming our agrifood systems.

The Forum, which is hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), will also explore the major scientific developments and provide a platform to debate the opportunities and risks associated with them in the context of ensuring food, nutrition and livelihood security for all.

“We are witnessing a revolution in science and technology that is moving at an incredible speed,” QU Dongyu, the FAO Director-General, told the opening.

He cited the examples of the genetic improvement of crops and livestock, innovations in breeding methods and gene editing technologies that offer significant potential to develop crop tolerance to stresses and resistance to pests and diseases. He also mentioned remote sensing and satellite information and the early warnings they can give to governments and farmers to help them better adapt to threats and crises.

Rising world hunger

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted fragilities in agrifood systems and inequalities in societies, driving further increases in world hunger and severe food insecurity, Qu said. Up to 828 million people were affected by hunger in 2021, an increase of 150 million since the outbreak of the pandemic.

“We need to take immediate action to reverse this unacceptable trend. Science and innovation provide the foundations for evidence-based decision-making for these actions,” Qu said.

“We need to invest more in agricultural research for development, which has remained extremely low, especially in low- and lower-middle-income countries,” Qu said, adding that for every $100 dollars of agricultural GDP, only between 34 and 72 cents are being spent on agricultural research and development.

The Director-General said he was pleased to have the opportunity to collectively focus on how science can contribute and provide innovative solutions to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Strategic framework

The FAO Strategic Framework 2022-31 puts at its centre the vision of Leaving No One Behind through more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable agrifood systems. Technology and innovation are two of the four accelerators in the FAO Strategic Framework, together with data and complements (governance, human capital, and institutions).

Harnessing science, technology and innovation (STI) is key for leveraging emerging opportunities for reaching a world free from poverty, hunger and malnutrition. To bring FAO’s initiatives into a coherent framework, and to facilitate the development of new initiatives, FAO has developed its first-ever Science and Innovation Strategy.

FAO believes that if technologies and innovations are to help reduce world hunger, malnutrition and other inequities, they will need to be part of a consolidated effort that incorporates a range of other interventions.

The Science and Innovation Forum forms part of the World Food Forum alongside the Global Youth Forum and the Hand-in-Hand Investment Forum. The idea is to bring together these three critical elements and make a difference.

To produce more food with fewer inputs in the future, agriculture needs to be redesigned and STI will be key, FAO Chief Scientist Ismahane Elouafi said ahead of the opening. The knowledge exists but investment and policy are needed for adoption and scaling, she added.

Transformative power of science

The theme of the opening of the Science and Innovation Forum was The Transformative Power of science: Are we doing enough to harness the potential of science and innovation to achieve the SDGs?

It included a keynote speech by Ismail Serageldin, Co-chair of the Nizami Ganjavi International Center.

The session with the Chief Scientists of the UN agencies focused on how science can contribute and provide innovative solutions to achieve the SDGs, with due consideration to social and ethical dimensions, leaving no one behind. Magdalena Skipper, Editor-in-Chief, Nature, moderated the panel discussion, which involved Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist, WHO, Najat Mokhtar, Deputy Director General, IAEA, Andrea Hinwood, Chief Scientist, UNEP, Shamila Nair-Bedouelle, Assistant Director-General, UNESCO, Elouafi and Serageldin. A question-and-answer session followed.

During the Forum, FAO will unveil details of and host a discussion on the upcoming Agrifood Systems, Technologies and Innovation Outlook (ATIO), a new knowledge product designed to inform evidence-based policy dialogue and decisions, including on investments.

Other events during the Science and Innovation Forum will deal with issues as diverse as increasing agricultural productivity in Africa, science-policy-society interface, gene editing techniques, FAO’s first ever Science and Innovation Strategy next steps, the digitalization of agrifood systems and solutions for the fertilizer crisis, among many others on the programme.

As part of the Forum FAO regional offices around the world are organising hybrid events to showcase that this is a global event. Special events are also taking place to address issues like food loss, food waste, and fertiliser prices.

The Science and Innovation Forum was preceded by more than 100 independently organised side events between 12-14 October.

Panel discussion

On Monday at the start of the World Food Forum, Elouafi moderated a panel discussion with Bibi Ameenah Firdaus Gurib-Fakim, former President of the Republic of Mauritius, Shakuntala Thilsted, World Food Prize Winner, Sjoukje Heimovaara, President of the Executive Board, Wageningen University and Research, and Jian Wang, Chairman of the BGI Group.

Among the questions discussed were how policymakers can harness STI to transform our agrifood systems, the role of higher education and academic research in harnessing STI, and the role of the private sector in transforming agrifood systems.

Several UN Chief Scientists, Chief Scientists from various countries and many other participants from around the world are attending the Forum, which runs from 19 to 21 October.

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