Director-General  QU Dongyu

Agriculture and rural development are critical for the eradication of poverty, as the world’s poor fight the impact of COVID-19, says FAO Director-General


1 July 2020, Rome/New York - The Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), QU Dongyu, has stressed that agriculture and rural development are critical for ensuring food security and the eradication of poverty, particularly as countries seek to mitigate the impact of COVID-19. 

Addressing the UN High-Level Meeting on Poverty Eradication on Tuesday, the Director-General said 80 percent of the world’s extreme poor live in rural areas and agriculture is the backbone of the economy in many developing countries. 

“Evidence shows that investing in agriculture has a greater impact on long-term poverty reduction than investment in other sectors,” Qu told the virtual event. “This is especially so in low-income countries. So agriculture is crucial for ensuring food security as well as ending extreme poverty.”

The Director-General highlighted that the role of agriculture and food systems was even more relevant today as COVID-19 had taken a heavy toll on rural communities and laid bare deep inequalities.

“The pandemic has hit the rural areas hard. One third of jobs and livelihoods in our food systems could be wiped out,” he said.

The High-Level Meeting was convened by the UN General Assembly to mark the inauguration of the United Nations’ Alliance for Poverty Eradication.  

UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, told the event that poor people were paying a heavy price for COVID-19 as it had exposed structural inequalities and the lack of universal social protection. He called for an acceleration of global action to eradicate hunger and poverty.

In fact, FAO’s Director-General noted that restrictions on movement had stopped agricultural producers from getting full access to markets, seasonal workers had lost wages and unharvested produce had been rotting in the fields. As incomes fall and food prices rise, households have to compromise the quantity and quality of their food.

Qu also highlighted “new champions” were needed to lead the effort towards achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to eradicate hunger and poverty by 2030, stressing that rural development, agriculture and food systems should remain at the forefront of national development agendas. 

“Reducing rural poverty requires increasing productivity of small-scale agricultural production, diversifying economic activity and investing in human capital,” he said. 

The Director-General also highlighted FAO’s Hand-in-Hand Initiative, a programme that brings together countries with the highest poverty and hunger rates with donor partners to support development and improve the agricultural potential.

Qu noted that FAO has also established an Office for Small Island Developing States, Least Developed and Landlocked Developing States and an Office of Innovation to promote the adoption of technologies for the rural poor. 

“We are deeply committed to support the eradication of extreme poverty with our technical knowledge and our 75 years of expertise. Let us join hands for a world free of poverty and hunger.”