Director-General  QU Dongyu

2020 in review: A year of global engagement to help build a better world

FAO strengthened partnerships despite the COVID-19 pandemic


 
©FAO/Alessia Pierdomenico

 

FAO Director-General QU Dongyu addresses the G20 Leaders' Summit hosted virtually by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. ©FAO.

31 December 2020, Rome – A testing year by any measure, 2020 risked derailing much of the agenda of any organization built on institutional engagement. Instead, it has turbo-charged the collaborative drive of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and increased its global footprint.

Probably as never before in its 75-year history, FAO has had to act as driver and convener through a global crisis that threatened to tip the world’s agri-food systems into chaos. The COVID-19 pandemic, and the restrictions and measures associated with it, threw into sharp relief the fragility of millions of livelihoods, both rural and urban, and the precarious position of many unsung farm hands, smallholders and informal market traders.

Pandemic response

In March already, as lockdowns began to bite, FAO issued appeals to keep ports and borders open for vital food trade. Over the following weeks, sustained advocacy to that effect was deployed.

On 30 March, FAO Director-General QU Dongyu issued a joint statement together with Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Roberto Azevêdo, Directors-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) and World Trade Organization (WTO), alerting that “in the midst of the COVID-19 lockdowns, every effort must be made to ensure that trade flows as freely as possible, specially to avoid food shortage. Similarly, it is also critical that food producers and food workers at processing and retail level are protected to minimise the spread of the disease within this sector and maintain food supply chains.”

A few weeks later, another joint statement, this time with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Bank, urged G20 leaders to take actions to address the impacts of the pandemic on food security and nutrition.

In April, Qu’s online meeting with 45 ministers for agriculture from Africa highlighted the continent’s peculiar vulnerabilities. Building on this early outreach, the Organization formulated a COVID-19 Response and Recovery Programme, launched in mid-2020: it called for funding for a multi-pronged strategy, ranging from humanitarian action to longer-term provisions such as a “One Health” approach, better data for decision-making, resilience-boosting for farmers and preventing the next zoonotic outbreak.

"We cannot employ a ‘business as usual' approach anymore. We must work very hard to limit COVID-19's damaging effects on food security and nutrition. We need to be more country-driven, innovative and work closely hand in hand,"  said the Director-General during the launch of the Programme in July.

Over the course of the year, Qu has further enlisted support from government ministers around the world – including 25 agriculture ministers from Latin America and the Caribbean – in declaring food and agriculture “essential services” during any lockdown periods.

Partnering for systemic transformation

Always guided by the goals of the “four betters” – better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life, Qu addressed the G20 group of countries four times in 2020, including  the G20 Extraordinary Leaders’ Summit on COVID-19 in March and the G20 Leaders' Summit virtually hosted by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in November.

"It is essential for the G20 to keep working on preventing this health crisis from becoming a global food crisis. The G20 is highly important on global policy, coordination and leadership to develop an inclusive, resilient and sustainable world by leading responsible investment, enabling policies, innovation and capacity building," said the Director-General to the Leader’s Summit, highlighting the importance of boosting farmers’ productivity and investing in digital innovation.

In September, Qu addressed the United Nations Security Council for the second time, when he provided an update on the food security situation in a number of countries around the world, underlining the link between conflict and food insecurity. He was joined by the heads of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and WFP.

Also in September, the Director-General conveyed FAO’s vision and actions related to biodiversity and climate to the UN General Assembly (UNGA).

On behalf of several UN agencies and representing the United Nations system, Qu participated in the ‘Leaders Dialogue on how to mainstream biodiversity issues into the broader drive for sustainable development’, which was part of the UN Summit on Biodiversity. In a panel co-chaired by Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan, he delivered a clear message: Biodiversity loss undermines global efforts to tackle poverty and hunger - no biodiversity, no food diversity.

During UNGA, FAO also launched the Green Cities Initiative and its Action Programme. The aim of the Initiative is to improve people’s wellbeing through increased availability of and access to green products and services provided by green spaces, green industries, green economy and green way of lifestyle - including integration of urban and peri-urban forestry, fisheries, horticulture and agriculture - and through sustainable agri-food systems.

“It is holistic in its vision, bringing together the goals of the urban food agenda with the socioeconomic-environmental-spiritual nexus,”  Qu said

In early December, he became the first FAO Director-General to address the European Parliament. He stressed that agri-food systems underpin the lives of more than half the world’s population. Transforming them was essential, Qu said, to pull humanity, durably and sustainably, out of poverty and hunger. In the shorter term, he laid special emphasis on the need for social protection measures to help the most vulnerable through some of the harshest times seen in decades. 

This year has also seen an intensification of the relationship with Italy. FAO’s host nation will be chairing the G20 in 2021, amid pledges to put food security issues at the top of the agenda.

It was at Italy’s suggestion that in November, Qu joined Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, alongside Deputy Prime Minister of the Netherlands Carola Schouten and two Nobel Peace Prize laureates, Muhammad Yunus and Tawakkol Karman, to launch the Food Coalition. Officially designated a “multi-stakeholder alliance,” the Coalition has also been described as a “network of networks” to strengthen agri-food systems. It has attracted interest from more than 30 countries in an effort to raise awareness, mobilize financial resources and technical expertise, and source innovation and knowledge in support of those most in need.

Early in 2020, before international events largely shifted online, Qu joined the CEOs of tech giants at the Vatican to sign a Rome Call for AI Ethics. The Holy See had convened the meeting to endorse common principles that safeguard human dignity and privacy in artificial intelligence applications in all fields, including the food sector. FAO’s presence made the event the first such display of collaborative governance to deliver key public goods.


 
©FAO

 

In November Director-General QU Dongyu joined Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, alongside Deputy Prime Minister of the Netherlands Carola Schouten and two Nobel Peace Prize laureates, Muhammad Yunus and Tawakkol Karman, to launch the Food Coalition a “multi-stakeholder alliance,” and “network of networks” to strengthen agri-food systems. It has attracted interest from more than 30 countries in an effort to raise awareness, mobilize financial resources and technical expertise, and source innovation and knowledge in support of those most in need. ©FAO.

Hand in Hand for a digital, food-secure future

One of Qu’s most high-profile projects soon after taking office, the Hand-in-Hand Initiative – a “matchmaking” platform between donor and recipient nations in pursuit of tailored food security goals – took a qualitative leap this year. A Geospatial Platform connected with the Initiative came to life in July: overlaid with rich, shareable data on agroecology, water, land and soil, the Geospatial Platform supports governments and others to make informed, evidence-based policies.

"Geospatial technologies and agricultural data represent an opportunity to find new ways of reducing hunger and poverty through more accessible and integrated data-driven solutions," said the Director-General during the launch of the platform.

"The Geospatial Platform serves as a digital public good to create interactive data maps, analyse trends and identify real-time gaps and opportunities," he added.

In September, the Geospatial Platform was empowered by the Earth Map, launched in partnership with Google, which allows anyone with basic Internet access to tap critical climate, environmental and agricultural information

In 2020, FAO has also worked on the International Platform for Digital Food and Agriculture. The blueprint for the project describes it as a flexible, consensual coordination mechanism, tasked with laying down normative frameworks for the digitalization of world farming.

It was much in the same spirit that in late November and early December, at the 165th session of the FAO governing Council, Qu presented the 1 000 Digital Villages initiative. Supported, among others, by Microsoft, IBM, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the initiative sets out to identify a critical mass of communities around the world slated for “wired” agriculture, with e-commerce and marketing opportunities aimed to integrate smallholder farmers into profitable value chains.

 

 

©FAO ©FAO

Left: #RealLifeHero and returnee Ritah Alfred helps coordinates the efforts by FAO and partners in South Sudan to ensure that threatened communities rendered more vulnerable by COVID-19 receive seeds and other live-saving items. ©FAO/Mayak Akuot / FAO;
Right: Launched by the Director-General FAO’s Hand-in-Hand Initiative – a “matchmaking” platform between donor and recipient nations in pursuit of tailored food security goals – took a qualitative leap this year when a Geospatial Platform connected with the Initiative went online in July: overlaid with rich, shareable data on agroecology, water, land and soil, the Geospatial Platform supports governments and others to make informed, evidence-based policies. ©FAO.

Financial backing signals confidence

FAO’s proactive engagement throughout 2020 has seen consistent support from donors.

The COVID-19 Response and Recovery Programme has attracted nearly $200 million in funding to date. Another $200 million has been raised by FAO to help countries affected fight desert locust plagues. FAO’s growing Green Climate Fund portfolio is now composed of 13 projects amounting to $793 million in funding that help countries tackle the climate crisis, paving the way for a greener and cleaner future.

Furthermore, FAO is now one of the top three implementing agencies of projects funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF). The FAO-GEF portfolio is now valued at more than $1.1 billion in grant funds.

In September, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged an additional $50 million in funding to support FAO's South-South Cooperation (SSC) efforts. The funding of Phase III of the programme comes after a total contribution of USD 80 million for the first two phases.

“With increased trust of our Members and partners, and full of determination and dedication, we will continue working hand in hand, for the day when hunger is only a footnote in the history books!” said the Director-General to the FAO Council.


 
©FAO

 

FAO and the Green Climate Fund signed an agreement for a project in Argentina. . FAO’s growing Green Climate Fund portfolio is now composed of 13 projects amounting to $793 million in funding that help countries tackle the climate crisis, paving the way for a greener and cleaner future.©FAO. Editorial use only. ©FAO.

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