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A statement by FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva
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18 May 2017

Building the sustainable food systems of the 21st Century: The agroecological alternative

First of all, let me commend the Italian Government for hosting this event.

I would also like to congratulate the IPES FOOD for its work towards sustainable food systems.

The latest IPES FOOD report reinforces the premise that business as usual is no longer an option for agriculture and food systems.

The Green Revolution of the Sixties was fundamental to rapidly increase food production, and save the developing world from a disaster. 

The green revolution almost doubled yields per hectare, and food per capita increased nearly 40% in a 20-year period.

But the increase of production alone has not been enough to eradicate hunger.

Today we produce more than enough food to feed all the world’s population, and roughly 800 million people are still undernourished.

And the focus on increasing production has also generated other problems. About one-third of the food produced is estimated to be either lost or wasted. 

This contributes significantly to the environmental footprint of food systems. In fact, agriculture and food systems account nowadays for more than 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition, global soil health, water and air quality, and biodiversity continue to degrade.

The widespread use of fertilizers and chemicals are threatening crops dependent on pollination, as well as human and animal health.

Nowadays, we need to promote a transformative change in agriculture and food systems to achieve sustainable development.

And agroecology is an important element in this process. Agroecology offers an integrated approach that provides a great number of economic, social and environmental co-benefits.

It improves the resilience of poor smallholders and family farmers, especially in developing countries where hunger is concentrated.

It contributes to the production and consumption of healthy and nutritious food, and boosts local economy and markets.

It safeguards natural resources and biodiversity, as well as promotes adaptation to and mitigation of climate change.

In fact, agroecology techniques offer a great opportunity to mitigate the impacts of climate change while we implement adaptation practices.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Over the last years, FAO has been facilitating international and regional dialogues on the potential and the benefits of agroecology.

In September 2014, we organized here in Rome the first International Symposium on Agroecology for Food Security and Nutrition.

Over 400 participants representing governments, civil society, academia, the private sector and UN organizations discussed the contribution of agroecology to sustainable food systems.

The main conclusion was that Agroecology interventions transcend the farm scale to embrace territorial scales and food systems as a whole.

The Symposium also endorsed FAO’s role to support the further implementation and scaling up of agro-ecological approaches.

A series of regional meetings were then held to identify priorities, possible actions and policies.

This has been reflected in concrete activities in the field. Some African countries, such as Mali, Angola, Mozambique and Burkina Faso have promoted the training of family farmers.

And many other countries worldwide are also implementing concrete policies and programmes.

Just to give a few examples, Brazil is now implementing the second phase of the National Plan for Agroecology and Organic Production, which was established in 2012.

Italy has recently introduced the agroecological approach in a National Action plan.

And China has developed a plan called “Actions for controlling soil pollution”, based on agroecology concepts.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am happy to announce that FAO will organize in April 2018 the Second International Symposium, in order to further the debate on the benefits of agroecology to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

FAO is also taking action to reinforce the agroecology approach within the UN System.

As part of the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition, FAO is working with the World Food Programme and other partners to assist farmers in providing nutrient-rich food to local markets.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As I said before, agroecology can greatly contribute to sustainable development. But no single tool, technology or approach will provide a complete solution for all the problems we have.

Addressing the diverse challenges of the 21st century will require a combination of responses.

Agroecology and biotechnology, for instance, can coexist and, perhaps, be used as complementary options.

And all tools, approaches and technologies must be useful and accessible for farmers, in particular poor family farmers of developing countries.

Knowledge and innovation are the key words here: the future of agriculture is not input-intensive, but knowledge-intensive.

This is a new paradigm. We need to put forward a vision of sustainable agriculture that offers food supplies, ecosystem services and climate resilience at the same time, especially to the benefit of the poorest people.

I am sure that this event today will contribute to foster exchanges of knowledge, and help to create an environment for further collaboration and innovation.

Thank you for your attention