Director-General  QU Dongyu

When we go together, we go further – working with partners to deliver


"When everybody adds firewood, the flames of a bonfire rise high." So said Dr. QU Dongyu when he was a candidate running for the position of Director-General of FAO. Since taking office in August 2019, building partnership to help advance FAO’s work has been central to his efforts to transform the Organization.

His signature initiative since day one has been Hand-in-Hand, an innovative business model which maximizes partnerships for greater impact by bringing together players across the public, private and multilateral sectors in order to accelerate agricultural transformation and sustainable rural development and contribute to attaining the Sustainable Development Goals. The Hand-in-Hand initiative is evidence-based, country-led and country-owned, and prioritizes countries where national capacities and international support are the most limited or where operational challenges, including natural- or man-made crises, are the greatest.

Barely a year on, the initiative reached a major milestone, not just for FAO but for the international community as a whole, with the launch of the Hand-in-Hand geospatial data platform.

Described by the Director-General as "a digital public good," the platform is open to all. It boasts one million geospatial layers, thousands of statistical series, and brings together data from over 10 domains in food and agriculture.

"Geospatial technologies and agriculture data represent an opportunity to find new ways of reducing hunger and poverty through more accessible and data-driven solutions,” said the Director-General at the launch in July.

The new platform brings together a multitude of partners working with FAO, both as suppliers and users of data. The platform is seen by many as instrumental in promoting evidence-based policy-making and an integrated approach to sustainable agriculture.

Building stronger partnerships had been a priority since day one. Shortly after taking office, Director-General QU travelled to New York to attend a series of high-level meetings at the UN General Assembly, meeting with member states, UN system partners and private sector representatives to advocate for FAO’s work and build alliances.

The first months in office also saw Dr. QU travel to Japan to engage with partners at the Tokyo International Conference on African Development; to Spain for the annual UN Climate Change Conference; to Germany for a global gathering of agriculture ministers, where he received support for FAO to establish an international digital platform for food and agriculture; and to the World Economic Forum at Davos where he engaged with a wide range of partners, both public and private sector.

There were numerous bilateral engagements with leaders and representatives of member countries both while on the road and at the FAO HQ in Rome.

Also in Rome, the newly arrived Director-General quickly established a good relationship with the host country. When Italy was hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. QU offered support to the nation, engaging the Italian Red Cross to help implement containment measures on FAO premises prior to the country-wide lockdown. At the height of the COVID-19 crisis, Director-General QU asked for the landmark FAO headquarters building to be floodlit in the red, white and green of the Italian tricolour. The highly symbolic gesture of solidarity was deeply appreciated by both the government and the public in Italy, as were the Director-General's public pronouncements of solidarity made on important Italian national holidays.

Across at the Vatican, Dr. QU has established a good personal rapport with Pope Francis. At the invitation of the Director-General, the Pope attended the World Food Day observance held at FAO in October 2019. A couple of months later, the Director-General was invited as one of the key co-signatories of the landmark Rome Call for AI Ethics, an initiative of the Vatican.

Within the UN system, the strong partnerships that the new Director-General established with sister entities saw immediate results. As 2020 began, FAO issued an urgent appeal for international support to help East Africa and the Horn of Africa fight the most serious Desert Locust invasion in decades. Time was of the essence. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), under the leadership of Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, immediately pledged $10m from its Central Emergency Relief Fund, setting a trend of positive donor responses. The collaboration continued with OCHA and FAO co-organizing donor briefings to appeal for further support.

The close relationship that Dr. QU had established with private sector partners also saw early and generous support to desert locust control efforts by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the MasterCard Foundation.

When the World Bank stepped forward with a $500m programme to help countries affected by the locusts, it cited good collaboration with FAO and its solid technical work on the ground as a key factor for its support.       

As the COVID-19 pandemic spread around the world, straining both health systems and economies, FAO came out with a very clear message to policymakers around the world: keep the food supply chains alive. The heads of the World Health Organization and World Trade Organization joined FAO Director-General in issuing a joint statement in late March calling for efforts to prevent a health crisis from becoming a food crisis. The Director-General reinforced this appeal in his address to the G20 Extraordinary Virtual Leaders’ Summit on COVID-19.

Following up to the Summit, the Director-General worked with the G20 to organize a special session of agriculture ministers to discuss ways to minimize the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the food and agriculture sectors. On the eve of the meeting, the International Fund for Agriculture Development, the World Bank and World Food Programme joined FAO in issuing an appeal to ministers to do the right thing.

At the regional level, FAO worked with the African Union and its current chair, South Africa, to organize a meeting where over 40 African agriculture ministers came together to discuss how to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the continent’s food and agriculture sectors. The ministers were joined by other international partners such as the European Union, the World Bank and African Development Bank.          

Despite a global pandemic, continuing lockdowns and persistent uncertainty, the dynamic and energetic Director-General of FAO always reminds us to look to each other for strength, often quoting one of his favourite proverbs: “When we go together, we go farther.”

See also:  A People-Centred New FAO