In 2022, the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) must make “extraordinary” efforts to achieve tangible on-the-ground progress toward reducing hunger, making agrifood systems more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable, and to ultimately achieve the Four Betters – Better Production, Better Nutrition, a Better Environment and a Better Life for all – Director-General QU Dongyu told the FAO Council on Nov. 29.
“We need extraordinary thinking, ways of doing business and extraordinary efficiency and effectiveness next year,” the Director-General said in opening remarks to the 168th Session of the Council, the executive organ of FAO’s Conference.
“I have been walking the talk,” Qu said in a wide-ranging address touching on how FAO has been made more fit for purpose in the 28 months since he took office in August 2019, while grappling with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. He noted that FAO continued to be “prudently optimistic on the progress towards a ‘new normal’.”
“The organization is striving for a culture change toward a work environment that is people-centered, transparent, accountable, dynamic, engaged and ethical,” he stressed and reaffirmed his “full commitment to FAO’s zero tolerance policy toward all forms of misconduct”. FAO is also focusing on catalyzing structural reforms at regional and sub-regional levels, following the restructuring of headquarters in Rome.
The Director-General also stressed the need to repurpose financial support in the agriculture sector, which currently receives less than 10% of allocated resources even though more than two-thirds of the people affected by crises rely on it.
“Agriculture is very crucial and cannot wait for other priorities to be addressed first,” he said. “Protecting rural livelihoods must be a fundamental element of the immediate emergency humanitarian response.”
The Director-General pointed to particularly challenging food insecurity conditions in a number of countries due to humanitarian emergencies, the climate crisis and pests and diseases. In this regard, he emphasized the importance of ongoing support for FAO’s efforts to contain Desert Locust outbreaks and control the spread of Fall Armyworm, that has now reached more than 75 countries and has caused an estimated $9.4 billion in crop yield losses in Africa alone.
While most agrifood systems held up during the COVID-19 crisis, falling incomes of many households severely limited access to foods, with 45 million people in 43 countries currently “moving closer to starvation,” Qu said.
The agrifood sector offers an ideal entry point for “nexus approaches” that tackle the root causes of hunger by integrating humanitarian, development and peace factors, Qu said.
Hans Hoogeveen, the Independent Chair of the Council, echoed that view. COVID-19 recovery plans are “humanity’s big chance to change the future,” he said. “We need radical change and we need it right now.”
Science and innovation
Science and innovation are needed to deliver on common goals of transforming agrifood systems to nourish people, nurture the planet, advance equitable livelihoods and build resilient ecosystems, the Director-General said.
He noted the importance of developing FAO’s new thematic Strategy on Science and Innovation, to help FAO shift to a forward-looking business model that effectively supports agrifood systems transformation on the ground.
FAO is also in the process of developing a new thematic Strategy on Climate Change to foster greater coherence in action for climate and biodiversity across agricultural sectors, and to support Members to better achieve their commitments under the Paris Agreement, the Director-General said.
Both strategies call for and need “game-changing, innovative and wise solutions based on science and partnerships,” he added, and were “being developed in tandem to ensure complementarity.”
Food systems coordination hub
The Director-General also announced that FAO will host the Coordination Hub for follow-up actions to the UN Food Systems Summit, saying that it was “Now time to accelerate the work at country level”. The Hub will start in early 2022 and its Oversight Group comprises the principals of FAO, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the World Food Programme, the UN Development Coordination Office and the UN Environment Programme. The Oversight Group, of which UNEP is the current chair, will be chaired on a rotational basis.
Key findings going forward
Reflecting on his 851 days in office, the Director-General also shared some key findings moving forward with implementing the new FAO Strategic Framework 2022-2031, including that connectivity is a pre-condition for inclusivity; the need to reduce food loss and waste; preventing future pandemics is a collective and coherent responsibility; smallholder and family farmers, women, youth and indigenous peoples must be at the center of agrifood systems transformation; and the need for a holistic approach - for people, planet and prosperity.
Director-General Qu also emphasized the importance of sound legal frameworks for sustainable agrifood systems, noting that FAO provides technical legislative assistance to members.
QU recalled his vow to take “our work out of the castles and bring it to the people in the street”, and pointed to a 50% increase since 2019 in online engagements. The total number of visitors to FAO’s website is 26 million in 2021, while social media followers now number 6.3 million, both 50% increases in two years and attesting to the organization’s increased public visibility.
The full speech of the Director-General in the opening session of the FAO Council can be accessed here.