Director-General  QU Dongyu
A statement by FAO Director-General QU Dongyu

DG’s Intervention for ECOSOC Integration Segment

Shared Responsibility to Recover Better from COVID-19

6 July 2020, 09:20 – 10:40 a.m.


As prepared


Question for FAO DG: FAO has been warning us that COVID-19 is worsening hunger and threatening food security. How can we restore and build back better and more sustainable food systems and ensure people’s food security and livelihoods?


Current Situation

1. It is true: we are in a moment of great danger, but also a moment of opportunity.

2. I am here to say that we must work very hard to limit COVID-19’s damaging effects on food security and nutrition.

3. But I am also here to say that there has never been a better time to launch a global effort to transform our food systems, to make them more resilient, sustainable and equitable.

4. We can and must do both things at the same time.

5. The containment measures of the pandemic and the subsequent global recession are disrupting the functioning of market-based food supply systems around the world.

6. Degradation of ecosystems, biodiversity loss, unsustainable management and competition on use of resources had strong negative impact on food security, and evidence suggests that might have increased the risk and frequency of zoonotic diseases outbreaks.

7. We start with a difficult situation: Last year, so before the pandemic and the global recession, more than 2 billion people did not have regular access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food.

8. Some 704 million of them went to bed hungry, including 135 million people who were on the brink of starvation.

9. Now, if we do not take urgent, large-scale, coordinated action, acute food insecurity could rise significantly.

10. The consequences for health and nutrition could be on a scale not seen for more than half a century.

Act Now to Avert a Global Food Crisis

11. We need to understand that food supply systems are the backbone of national economies across the world.

12. Out of the world’s population of 7.8 billion about 4.5 billion depend on food systems for their jobs and livelihoods – that is, while they work to produce, collect, store, process, transport and distribute food to end consumers, they  also depend on that work to guarantee their own access to food.

13. Food systems directly employ over 1.5 billion people.

14. The pandemic is about to wipe out 35% of its formal employment.

15. That is 451 million jobs.

16. Another three billion people work without the benefit of formal employment to produce, harvest, sort, slaughter, move, market and serve food.

17. Nearly a billion of these people are at risk of losing their livelihoods.

18. It is also important to recognize that healthy ecosystems are key to ensure the health of the planet and the good nutrition of people.

19. I always insist that we need to show reverence to mother nature.

20. Poorer and marginalized people are the most vulnerable to biodiversity loss.

21. About 1/3 of the jobs in developing countries are directly dependent on ecosystem services, and they are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, shocks and disasters, exacerbated by the degradation of ecosystems.

22. Countries need to provide direct food assistance and safety nets for vulnerable people who cannot afford basic nutrition.

23. Social protection in all its forms – food procurement and distribution, cash transfers, vouchers, food for work – is one of our most important policy tools to make sure no one goes hungry.

24. But our most cost-effective means of fighting against the possibility of food crises is to protect the jobs and livelihoods that functioning food systems provide.

25. Keeping food supply chains working means many things.

26. It means protecting the health of all supply chain workers, including producers, processors, marketers and distributors.

27. Food supply activities are essential services, but in many countries today they are linked to high virus exposure.

28. Countries need to be able to identify emerging food insecurity hotspots, map national and international food supply chains, and address vulnerabilities and impediments.

29. Small businesses in agricultural value chains need to be kept open.

30. These micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises play a crucial role in supplying food to poor consumers in low- and middle-income countries.

31. They need access to financing, such as business continuity grants and loan repayment holidays.

32. Protecting and expanding intra-regional trade – trade with neighbors – needs to be expanded as a protection against local supply disruptions and as an incentive to investment and growth.

33. Regional exports can mitigate losses in global revenues, and imports can improve food availability and stabilize local food prices.

34. Africa, by expanding Continental trade, can create its own local demand to make up for the lapse in demand from abroad.

Even now, build and invest to transform

35. The pandemic has exposed numerous flaws and vulnerabilities in our food systems.

36. Now is the time to go beyond fixing what is broken; now is the time to start investing in a resilient future.

37. Current food production and consumption patterns have degraded the environment and the eco-systems that sustain life and make it resilient.

38. They have contributed to climate change and biodiversity loss.

39. So now is the time

  • to look at new agricultural practices that work with nature, not against it;
  • to invest in roads and storage, and innovative solutions;
  • to build the infrastructure of e-commerce and a new social relationship between producers and consumers of healthy diets;
  • to make science and technology the servants of social progress;
  • to mobilize all stakeholders, public, private and CSOs, women and men, international financial institutions and the UN, to invent together a better future;
  • to promote incentives for sustainable practices that have positive impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem services;
  • to adopt nature-based solutions and a One Health approach, ensure human well-being and a healthy planet, build resilience of nature and communities, and help preventing future crisis; and
  • to innovate in all the ways that are required to build a new, stable and healthy relationship between ourselves and our planet.

40. The Secretary-General has called for a Food Systems Summit next year.

41. There is no better time than now to catalyze a global movement to transform our food systems.

Thank you.