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

FAO 75th Anniversary Observance

World Food Day 2020

Remarks of the Director-General QU Dongyu

As delivered

 

 

Special Guests,

Excellencies,

Colleagues and Friends,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. History will never forget that October 16th, 1945, just seventy-five years ago today, FAO UN was established, which was landmarked as an historic milestone of food and agriculture global governance.

2. By the early 1940s, the ideal of multilateralism was growing during World War II where millions died as victims of bullets, bombs, and mass murder. Millions more lost their lives to starvation and malnutrition in Asia, Europe, and others.

3. History will never forget that a visionary American President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, called on all nations to work together, to secure food and nutrition for all the people by convening the Allied Food and Agriculture Conference from May 28th - June 3th, 1943, in Hot Springs, Virginia, USA

4. The conference declared its belief that “the goal of freedom from want of food, suitable and adequate for the health and strength of all peoples, can be achieved.”

5. It was a historic moment. President Roosevelt had this to say about the countries gathered: “Never before have they set out to bind their united efforts for the development of the world’s resources, so that all men might seek to obtain the food they need.”  

6. On 16th October,1945, in Quebec City, Canada, FAO’s constitution was signed by 42 nations, and the Organization was born. 

7. Lester Pearson - who would later become Canada’s Prime Minister, chaired the Commission to prepare the establishment of FAO, along with one vice chair from China Professor Tsou Pingwen - noted, “I consider myself one of the group of founding fathers of FAO. And there is no international work in which I have participated that has given me greater pleasure and greater satisfaction.”

8. History will never forget that FAO found its first home in Washington, DC, before moving to a liberated Europe – here, in Rome. 

9. Italy is, not only a land blessed with a renowned food culture. But it is also the country where the modern notion of agriculture as a tool of universal empowerment first took hold. Since the historic choice of establishing FAO’s headquarters in Rome, Italy moved on to hosting 25 UN-related entities with Italian generosity and long-term commitment. I express my sincere appreciation to the government and people of Italy.

10. History tells us that: looking back on the past 75 years, it is only a small spray in the long river of time. All these years later, here I am, at once the proudest and most humbled of men, to be leading this Organization.

11. But this is far bigger than myself. My presence here - a son of poor rice farmers from a Chinese 2360 years-long traditional family - is an embodiment of the ideal of multilateralism and innovation; and living proof of what can be achieved when you decisively set out to overcome poverty.

12. To eradicate poverty and nourish the world through the power of agriculture is what FAO set out to do, alongside the wider United Nations itself. And the effort quickly bore fruit.

13. During FAO’s first quarter-century of existence, the Green Revolution vastly increased cultivated areas, improved the quality of seeds, and multiplied farm machinery. Credit took off. Countries registered farmland, issued title deeds, and started irrigation schemes.

14. As the 1970s dawned, an environmental consciousness was awakening. The world, and FAO with it, became more attuned to the impact of destructive farming practices, to the limited nature of fish stocks, and to the fallout of certain pesticides in developed nations.

15. This was the great era of regulatory frameworks, of the control of vicious animal diseases, of the emergence of food security as a more holistic concept. It was no longer just about the availability of food, but also about access to it, and about how nutritious it was. It was about growing, but also about nourishing.

16. For the most recent quarter-century of FAO history, sustainability – of people and planet – has been the guiding principle. We have learned to see the fight against hunger as inseparable from other development goals. We have learned that ending hunger cannot be achieved in a void, but rather in conjunction with the pursuit of justice, of rights and equality in all fields, among all humans.

17. And the present moment, my colleagues and friends, is again fraught with danger, complicated, and demands urgent action. As hunger grows once more, as the COVID-19 pandemic exposes the fragility of our food systems, history is calling upon us once more to rise to the challenge.

18. History enlightens us that: we have established an international multilateral platform, we have benefited from the multilateral system, and we will continue firmly safeguarding and strengthening it together with all Members.

19. Continuous innovation and constant adaptation to new changes are the key to maintain the vitality of the Organization. 

20. Openness and inclusiveness are the cornerstone for all business we carry out. 

21. The light of humanity has been and will be shining on our way going forward. 

22. Hand in hand to build a community with a shared future on this small planet.

23. History demands us to keep pace with the times. Now is the time to rethink our approaches and redouble our efforts. The world produces more than enough food to feed everyone. Yet nearly 700 million people still go hungry. Almost 200 million children still suffer from wasting or stunting. Billions of people cannot afford a healthy diet.

24. We need to face the additional challenges posed by the pandemic and build back better. The FAO COVID-19 Comprehensive Response and Recovery Program unveiled in July aimed at preventing a global food emergency during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a truly coherent, joined-up corporate response, linking all parts of the Organization, harnessing our technical, operational, normative and data capacities to support action at global, regional, and country levels in pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals. Thanks to the Food Coalition Initiative for reacting so timely. 

25. But this is also a time when pioneering sciences and technologies are redefining the very meaning of food and agriculture. A time of vertical urban farms and blooming hydroponic deserts. A time where the same plant is eaten for sustenance, but also used to build a bridge, or help create a life-saving pharmaceutical.

26. Innovation is our ally, in re-imagining our food systems and ending hunger, as we are morally and politically bound to do in the next ten years. And so is investment. As demonstrated by the most recent joint study of FAO and partners, published in Nature last week: SDG 2 is achievable if donors double their contributions. 

27. Innovation is central to a new FAO. I have created an Office for Innovation, and have just appointed a Chief Scientist, a first in the history of our Organization. FAO must generate knowledge and innovative products as well as disseminate it, and this can only happen by deepening partnerships, not only with governments, but also with academia, civil society, and the private sector.

28. Digital food and agriculture are happening now and more so in our future. A digital world should include digital economy, digital governance, and digital society to ensure sustainable digital agri-food systems and flourishing digital villages and towns. A great number of apps, e-commence channels and technologies have been changing the livelihood of farmers and upgrading agri-food systems. There is tremendous potential to improve the livelihood of smallholder farmers who still provide most foods in the developing world. 

29. Our regulatory work is core to our historic mandate and remains crucial. But this can no longer be confined to negotiating food safety standards or treaties, despite their continued importance. The use of artificial intelligence is the new frontier in combatting hunger, and in health and nutrition applications. This will require substantial new normative power. FAO is already working on this, with industry leaders, and with the Pontifical Academy for Life.

30. At a basic operative level, no breakthrough ever comes from organisational status quo. FAO’s venerable institutional structure has served it well over decades. But history is accelerating under our eyes. It is for this reason that I have introduced a flatter, modular structure that encourages agility and collaboration.  

31. And we translate this approach through FAO’s flagship Hand-in-Hand Initiative that is country owned and country led, focusing on leaving no one behind and to place a priority emphasis on the vulnerable. The Initiative counts on state-of-the-art technologies, such as the Hand-in-Hand Geospatial Platform, which delivers key information for decision-making, and the Data Laboratory for Statistical Innovation, which combines unconventional data sources, big data, artificial intelligence, and data science for decision-making and impact evaluation.

32. This new generation of an inclusive initiative requires unprecedented joint efforts. We must work together relentlessly with all partners (UN sister entities, governments, the private sector, NGOs and academia), in pursuit of one of humankind’s most noble objectives, which is also FAO’s reason for existence - ending hunger and malnutrition everywhere.

33. The scourge of hunger has been tormenting humankind for millennia. But we are the generation that can end it, once and for all. Let us get the MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! 

34. To fulfil FAO’s mandate, the hard work lies ahead of us. Action leads to change and history is made by, recorded by, and evaluated by the people.

35. Every generation has its historic responsibility. FAO has been entering a new era. We are ready to make history, with your support, solidarity, and active engagement.

36. Let us trust, respect and keep our commitment to each other, and to “Grow, Nourish, and Sustain. Together” with a dynamic FAO for a better world. 

37. Thank you.

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