FAO ready to follow up on UN summit and transform agri-food systems

Qu Dongyu, Director-General of Food and Agriculture Organisation.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) has entered a new era with a new structure and dynamics. The 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals are approaching; we have to change our agri-food systems urgently and holistically. This transformation requires a systemic approach and our collective action - Hand in Hand by producers, distributors and consumers, together with governments, private sector, academia and civil society.

That is what the upcoming United Nations Food Systems Summit is about and what FAO wants to achieve, together with all our partners, through the new FAO Strategic Framework 2022-2031. The action of each and every one of us has an impact on the future of our planet through our agri-food systems.

The summit is timely. After decades of decline, the number of hungry people has been growing in the past five years, now amounting to as many as 811 million people. At the same time, obesity and other non-communicable diseases are ever-growing global problems associated with insufficiently diversified healthy diets and consumption patterns. Many of the current agri-food practices are also exacting a heavy toll on our planet. Our agri-food systems are not functioning properly. What do we need to do to transform them?

As the leading international organisation in this field, FAO has been advocating for and supporting agri-food systems transformation. The “agri-food system” covers the journey of food from tillage to table – from when it is planted, grown, harvested, processed, packaged, transported, distributed, traded, bought, prepared, eaten and disposed of. It encompasses non-food products such as forestry, animal rearing, use of feedstock, biomass to produce biofuels and fibres, and it constitutes all of the activities, investments and choices made, and it impacts on the livelihoods of all the people that play a part in getting us these agri-food products.

With expertise ranging from policy and feasibility, science innovation, land and water, livestock and fisheries, to biodiversity and climate, food safety and normative work, geospatial data and digital technology, FAO has been at the forefront supporting the preparation for this important global summit. More importantly, in line with its mandate, FAO will be taking the lead to implement follow-up actions after the summit.

In July, the United Nations Food Systems Pre-Summit was held extraordinarily successfully at FAO headquarters in Rome. Together with FAO’s Chief Economist and Chief Scientist, I have been sitting on the summit advisory bodies, scientific groups and action tracks. We have been working closely with expert colleagues both inside and outside the UN system. 

Transforming our global agri-food systems rests ultimately with actions at the country and local levels. What does it take to transform? We at FAO have identified four cross-cutting/cross-sectional accelerators - technology, innovation, data and “complements” (governance, human capital, and institutions). FAO has been organising and better preparing itself for the past two years to lead the process. Our new Strategic Framework endorsed by members is focused on supporting the achievement of the SDGs through the transformation to more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable agri-food systems for the “Four Betters”: better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life.

FAO is well placed and ready to take full responsibility after the Summit outcomes are decided, and move forward to catalyse impacts together with all stakeholders and friends.

Agri-food systems are complex and diverse. We all agree that they are not realising their full potential if we run business as usual. We need to craft solutions to achieve the Four Betters.  

The writer is the Director-General of Food and Agriculture Organisation. 

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