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Director-General  Qu Dongyu

FAO counts on strong partnerships with the private sectors to accelerate pursuit of the SDGs

01/11/2019

1 November 2019, Rome - The Director-General Qu Dongyu is implementing a new results-oriented business model at FAO based on strong partnerships, science, transparency and accountability, in which the private sectors play a critical role. The aim is to unlock opportunities for substantial investment flows, innovation, more sustainable practices and rural development, with a focus on less developed countries and vulnerable communities that struggle to generate such opportunities on their own.

Strong engagement with the private sectors has been a policy priority for the Director-General from the outset, and even before taking office he convened his first meeting with representatives from the private sectors on the sidelines of the UN High Level Political Forum in New York in July. At the meeting, he presented his views on how accelerate progress towards the 2030 Agenda and to achieve the “Four Betters”: better production, better nutrition, better environment and a better life for all. Qu identified several FAO priority areas where the private sectors can make a big difference.  

According to him, private companies can help with innovations and technology by increasing investment in research on new fertilizers, drought resistant seeds and innovative farming tools and practices that are more suitable for tropical farming and drylands, zones that are particularly vulnerable to hunger, climate change impacts and conflict over resources.

Rural digitalization also offers enormous promise. Smartphones, for example, help farmers predict droughts, floods and pest invasions, monitor food prices, access technical guidance from experts, foster financial inclusion and open market gateways. Beyond production issues, they also help catalyze more inclusive and easier-to-access value chains, spurring higher incomes and specialization, as shown by the rapid spread of e-commerce in rural China and other countries.

In addition, private sector players can contribute to reduce post-harvest food losses, which amount to around 14% by value and even more in terms of micronutrients. This could be done, for example, by rolling out modern cold chain systems.

Furthermore, the private sectors can contribute with innovative ways to reduce use of inputs, especially water and chemicals, thus helping to put food systems on a more productive and environmentally sustainable long-term path.

From words to action

After taking office as FAO Director-General on 1 August, Qu held two other important meetings with representatives from the private sectors. The first one took place in September on the margins of the 74th session of the UN General Assembly in New York, where he outlined FAO’s new Hand-in Hand Initiative. Through “matchmaking”, the Hand-in-Hand Initiative aims to support development efforts in the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries, Small Island Developing States, many of which are affected by food crises. Underpinning the initiative is the need to strengthen partnerships at all levels – between recipient and donor countries, multilateral development banks, UN agencies and the private sectors. Noting less developed countries need enabling policies and financial support, Qu said that FAO would help them develop a strategic plan and find their niche in the global market with critical support from the private sectors.

The Director-General took advantage of his trip to New York to hold bilateral meetings with private sector representatives. He met the technology entrepreneur and philanthropist Bill Gates at FAO’s Liaison Office in New York and received confirmation of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s support for FAO’s activities, especially regarding data and innovation.

Qu also signed a Memorandum of Understanding between FAO and Danone, and a new partnership between FAO and the Dutch Entrepreneurial Development Bank has been also launched to increase investments in favor of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and small-scale producers operating within the agribusiness sector in developing countries.

Another landmark meeting with private sectors’ representatives took place on the sidelines of the recent 46th Plenary of the Committee on World Food Security in Rome. Addressing the Private Sector Mechanism, he reiterated his appeal to the private sector to play a crucial role in making FAO’s Hand-in-Hand Initiative a success and called for concrete proposals from companies to turn the initiative into tangible action. Of the 20 companies that attended the meeting, more than half presented concrete proposals, and all parties agreed to forge ahead with strong partnerships and substantial action plans. The companies noted action that had already been undertaken, including Unilever’s initiative with tea growers and Bayer’s efforts to empower 100 million farmers.

Private sector willingness to support sustainable development

During these first three meetings, several representatives from the private sector were enthusiastic about supporting FAO in its intention to promote sustainable development.

A representative from Nestle, for example, emphasised that the private sectors manage huge value chains, which can make an enormous impact on smallholder income. He also mentioned that the private sectors can help to attract young people to farming through the use of new technologies, while giving them access to markets and the possibility of working on sustainable agricultural systems. He was backed by a colleague from PepsiCo, who explained that his company maintains a sustainable farming programme aimed at supporting smallholder farmers, providing them with best practices to improve financing, nutrition management and water efficiency.   

The benefits of employing technologies in agriculture were also mentioned by a representative from Alltech. In his view, various types of innovation can make agriculture more effective in addressing climate change and other environmental problems. He highlighted that agriculture in the only industry that can sequester carbon and recycle organic waste while feeding the world

A representative from Syngenta stressed the importance of innovation and the experience that the private sectors can share. According to her, private companies know what works and what does not work, for example in terms of remote sensing, recycling systems, grain storage and food waste. She stressed that long-term productivity is only possible with environment sustainability and reaffirmed that the private sectors are ready to provide expertise and knowledge and play a positive role in FAO’s future work.

Many participants also pointed out the vital role of science for evidence-based decision making. They commended the importance of CODEX as a scientific information tool that can promote healthy and safe food, and enhance trade in a way that benefits both farmers and consumers. They appealed to FAO to strengthen the work of CODEX in order to assist countries improve their high-quality growth.  

UN Secretary General’s call for engagement

FAO’s determination to strengthen its partnership with the private sectors is fully aligned with recent calls from the United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, to engage business leaders in the challenge of financing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

According to the Guterres, development finance needs are estimated to be trillions of dollars per year, and even if public sector funding was maximized, there would still be a significant shortfall without funding from the private sectors.

On October 16, the UN announced that 30 influential leaders from the corporate world will work together over the next two years in a bid to free up trillions of dollars from the private sectors to finance the SDGs. Those leaders will discuss ideas and strategies through the Global Investors for Sustainable Development (GISD) Alliance, an initiative convened by the UN Secretary-General.

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