Director-General  QU Dongyu

Safeguard biodiversity to strengthen food security, FAO Director-General says


2 March 2021, Rome – In his opening remarks this morning at the Second Meeting of the Group of National Focal Points for Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture, FAO Director-General, QU Dongyu, highlighted the “historic” task of formulating a “global response to the crisis of biodiversity for food and agriculture” as well as the key challenge of meeting the world’s “growing demand for food, feed, fuel and friendship while conserving biodiversity, and reducing the pressure on natural resources and ecosystems”.

Two hundred participants from 75 Members, 23 UN organizations and 2 Non-Governmental Organizations attended the virtual meeting, held under FAO’s Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. The Group is tasked with drafting policy proposals for the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework – a defining blueprint for the governance of the world’s endangered natural resources. The Global Plan of Action for the sustainable use and conversation of Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture, will become the internationally agreed framework to guide the implementation at national, regional and global levels for the sustainable use and conservation of all biodiversity of relevance to food and agriculture..

Just how endangered are these resources, and the impact on global food security, was portrayed in FAO’s State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture. The report detailed the rise of monocultures; disruptions to the integrity of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, including through soil erosion, salinization and overfishing; and the loss of beneficial interactions through the increasing geographical separation of livestock and crop production.

The Director-General pointed out that humankind had substantially come to rely on just three percent of plant species for food – fewer than 200 out of 6,000. Of these, a mere nine species account for two-thirds of the world’s total food production.

There was also positive news, the Director-General said, as he noted the spread in recent years of biodiversity-friendly practices and called for a big scale-up. He noted that traditional management practices in situ – that is, where an ancestral link is maintained to local and indigenous knowledge, and the places of harvesting, production and processing coincide – were significant in maintaining biodiversity.

But so, he continued, are innovative techniques that deliver more with less, across both the agricultural sector – in crop and livestock production, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture – and in the field of medicine.

The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the close link between the loss of biodiversity and public health.

The Director-General stressed that FAO was now better positioned to address climate change and the loss of natural resources, with the formal establishment of an Office of Climate Change, Biodiversity and Environment: the Office is leading the implementation of the Organization’s Strategy on Mainstreaming Biodiversity across Agricultural Sectors, which emphasizes the role of indigenous people and local communities as custodians of biodiversity.

The Director-General underscored the paramount importance of transforming agri-food systems to make them more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable. “There are no healthy foods without a healthy environment,” he added, as he linked the promotion of biodiversity to his personal background – from his roots in the lushly forested countryside of Hunan, in southern China, to his thirty-year career as a biologist and plant genetics researcher.