The Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, QU Dongyu, today told hundreds of delegates in FAO’s Plenary Hall that there was an acute need for renewed investment to end hunger and malnutrition by 2030, as envisaged under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
But even as he urged increased funding, Qu called for greater efficiency, as well as a sustained push for “scientific innovation and digital technologies”.
SOUNDBITE (English) QU Dongyu, FAO Director-General, “We need efficiency because we only have nine seasons to harvest before 2030. Everything we should move fast, and not talk here day and nights. It’s good but we need to deliver.”
Qu was speaking at the closure of the UN Food Systems Pre-summit, a three-day preparatory event for the main summit to be held in New York later this year.
It was the first-ever global gathering dedicated to the root-and-branch reform of the way we grow, market and consume food; the most significant occasion hosted at FAO headquarters in many months; and the UN’s first hybrid event of such magnitude, where proceedings occur in a mixed physical-virtual format.
The FAO Director-General’s speech capped a series of debates featuring stakeholders across food systems – including many whose voices are seldom heard in official fora, such as smallholder farmers. There was broad agreement that food systems, as they stand, do not work for much of the world population – or indeed, for the planet.
As the latest FAO-led report on the State of Food Security in the World makes clear, between 720 and 811 million people suffered from hunger in 2020: the numbers have been worsening year on year, and more so amid the pandemic-induced economic slump.
Even more people remain gripped by food insecurity, without reliable, year-round access to food that is sufficient and/or nutritious enough. And for a full three-billion individuals, healthy diets remain a costly pipe dream. All the while, biodiversity degrades, further undermining the world’s chances to feed itself in future. Despite this, Qu declared himself convinced that combined efforts on the economic, environmental, and even cultural fronts could still deliver transformation.
SOUNDBITE (English) QU Dongyu, FAO Director-General, “ I think we need coherency, politically, economically, environmentally, academically, culturally. So that’s very important.”
As the pre-summit wound down, the Italian Foreign Minister, Luigi di Maio, outlined Italy’s leading role in promoting food security – both historically and in the run-up to 2030, when the SDGs come due. He described food as a “fundamental right of the person” as he sketched out three major policy action tracks: engaging the private sector; the pursuit of a zero-waste approach; and a prominent place for local food systems, community-rooted and steeped in centuries-honed knowledge, alongside modern transnational food systems.
SOUNDBITE (English) Luigi di Maio Italy’s Foreign Minister “In 2020 nearly 1 in 3 people did not have access to adequate food marking an increase of 320 million people in just one year. We have to act fast. Italy has lunched initiatives to bring these issues back to the center of the international agenda starting with the food coalition in 2020. As G20 presidency we have promoted the Matera declaration in continuity with the commitments undertaken in L’Aquila in 2009.
Drawing on its ancestral, yet still vibrant, food culture, Italy remains intensely committed to putting its diplomatic clout where its mouth is. Over the last year, Rome has championed an initiative known as the Food Coalition: led by FAO, it is designed to mobilize political and economic capital to boost resilience in the face of the COVID emergency. This commitment was on full display in the Matera Declaration in June: the document takes its name from the city where the Italian government, as president of the G20, placed food security and nutrition at the heart of the global diplomatic agenda.
More than sixty government ministers attended or addressed the Pre-summit. The event also heard from the UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed.
SOUNDBITE (English) Amina Mohammed, UN Deputy Secretary-General, “ This summit is awakening the world to the fact that we must work together to transform the way the world produces, it consumes and the way it really thinks about food. The Pre-Summit has showed me that we can deliver the right to the food while securing the future of our plane, and just as food brings us together as cultures and communities, it can also bring us together around solutions.”
SOUNDBITE (English) Amina Mohammed, UN Deputy Secretary-General, “The summit process is a reason for hope during the era of the COVID crisis and has brought back a level of integrity to multilateralism. If we want to build back better from COVID then we’ve got to have a really good response and I think the Food Systems Summit is showing that people can come together and have a good response for recovering to achieve the 2030 agenda.”
The Pre-summit was told of the urgency of empowering women, youth and indigenous peoples, if the world is to have a stab at a more equitable food system – but also of the need to re-orient some farm subsidies from rural to urban areas, where most food is now consumed. This last point – with much talk of “inclusive circular cities” – dovetails with FAO’s own Green Cities Initiative, which aims to boost the resilience of urban systems, services and populations to external shocks.
As he wrapped up the event, FAO Director-General Qu described the Organization as a service provider to Member States and the wider international community, ready to support them in the transformation of agri-food systems.
SOUNDBITE (English) QU Dongyu, FAO Director-General, “FAO is ready to work with all of you, as we did here we are service provider. UN Inter-governmental organization should come out from castles to be the service providers.
In partnership with the Government of Italy, Pre-Summit of the UN Food Systems Summit took place in Rome from 26-28 July 2021.