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

Informal North American Regional Conference (iNARC) 2020 - Plenary Session 

Speech by the FAO Director-General, QU Dongyu

22 October 2020

As prepared


Honourable Ministers.

Distinguished Delegates, 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. It gives me great pleasure to join you today for the Informal North American Conference. We started this morning with FAO’s 75th anniversary celebrations where I underlined how deeply we cherish our roots in North America. 

2. Even amidst war and chaos, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had the leadership and global vision to foresee the need for a permanent global organization to tackle hunger, starvation and endemics in many parts of the world. The Hot Springs, Virginia conference led to the establishment of FAO which formally came into being on 16thOctober 1945 when its first conference was held in Chateau Frontenac in Quebec under the chairmanship of the Honorable Lester B. Pearson who later went on to become the Prime Minister of Canada and vice chairmanship of P.W. Tsou from China.

3. Over the last seven decades and a half, FAO’s relationship with both these great nations has only deepened. We have always gained immensely from the support and recommendations received from Canada and the USA and we look forward to strengthening this relationship even further.

4. Today, I will take the opportunity to highlight some of the thematic areas that are important to North America and FAO. I know that you have already had a two-day pre-iNARC briefing with my colleagues here in Rome, where you discussed many areas of interest and concern. I am glad that this happened and welcome such initiatives in the future. 

5. The themes that I will touch upon briefly are (A) the COVID-19 pandemic and FAO’s response, (B) the Hand-in-Hand Initiative, (C) Emergencies, (D) Innovation, (E) the International Platform for Digital Food and Agriculture, and (F) Governance & Structural Reform.

Let me start with what is pervasive today – COVID-19

A. COVID-19 Pandemic and FAO’s Response 

6. On a lighter note, COVID-19 took away the opportunity for me to visit the beautiful city of Québec and meet all of you in person to mark the 75th anniversary of FAO and engage in personal discussions with you.

7. But this regret, fades in comparison to the much deeper regret for the lives lost, the hard-earned livelihoods destroyed, and the suffering this pandemic has imposed on the world.  

8. We know that hundreds of millions of people were already suffering from hunger and malnutrition before the virus struck. The economic recession that is setting in globally has made matters worse with nearly 130 million more people likely to suffer from chronic hunger by the end of 2020.

9. FAO research shows that measures to control the virus outbreak disrupted global food supply chains, destroyed livelihoods, created labour shortages, impacted agriculture input supply, closed processing facilities, and notably constrained access to food, the last mostly on account of the economic recession and job losses. 

10. FAO quickly responded to these challenges and implemented an array of tools to support policy analyses and assess the impact of COVID-19 on food and agriculture, value chains, food prices and food security across the globe.

11. We remain committed to providing the latest data and policy advice to our members and minimize the impacts of COVID-19 on food security and nutrition.

12. We took multiple steps. Let me highlight a few: 

13. We developed a comprehensive and holistic COVID-19 Response and Recovery Programme, designed to proactively and sustainably address the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic.

14. Through extensive analyses, ongoing consultations with our field offices and bilateral discussions with resource partners, we identified seven key areas of action needed to ensure rapid and continued support to the most vulnerable communities:

  • The Global Humanitarian Response Plan is addressing the impacts of COVID-19 and safeguarding livelihoods in food-crisis contexts
  • Data for decision making is ensuring quality data and analysis for effective policy support to food-systems and Zero Hunger
  • Economic inclusion and socio protection to reduce poverty is insuring Pro-poor COVID-19 responses for an inclusive post-pandemic economic recovery
  • Trade and food safety standards are facilitating and accelerating food and agricultural trade during COVID-19 and beyond
  • Boosting smallholder resilience for recovery is protecting the most vulnerable, promoting economic recovery and enhancing risk management capacities
  • Preventing the next zoonotic pandemic is strengthening and extending the One Health approach to avert animal-origin pandemics
  • Food systems transformation is building to transform during response and recovery

15. Specifically, FAO’s COVID-19 Comprehensive Response and Recovery Programme is leveraging the Organization’s convening power to lead international efforts through a flexible multilateral approach, which supports tailor-made partnerships and enables matchmaking between donors and those most in need of assistance. It provides partners with unique opportunities to demonstrate their values, increase their impact, and achieve development and humanitarian goals. 

16. All this requires adequate and timely financial resources. FAO is asking for 1.3 billion dollars in initial investments to provide an agile and coordinated global response. This is needed to ensure nutritious food for all, both during and after the pandemic. It is my belief that governments and private donors and all our partners will rise to the occasion and ensure the funds required for these crucial efforts.

Partnership is just the right segway for me to move on to the second thematic area – the Hand in Hand Initiative.

B.  Hand-in-Hand Initiative 

17. The Hand-in-Hand initiative is less than a year old but in this short time has demonstrated an exceptional ability to serve as a perfect launching platform for developmental efforts. It is an aspirational initiative and I am hopeful that in the coming years we will all witness its tangible outcomes. 

18. I launched the Hand-in-Hand Initiative with the aim to end poverty and hunger in those countries lacking resources and capabilities to do this on their own, or those that were hit hard by conflict, crisis, or climate change.  

19. It is an evidence-based, country-owned and country-led initiative that is consistent with the principles enshrined in the SDGs and the aspirations of the 2030 Agenda.

20. Its mission prioritizes measures to eradicate poverty (SDG1) and end hunger and all forms of malnutrition (SDG2) by accelerating agricultural transformation and sustainable rural development.

21. So far, 27 countries have joined the Initiative as beneficiaries, and several more countries have indicated that they expect to be joining very soon. 

22. From my consultations with Governments, I anticipate that we will approach fifty countries before the end of the year.

23. Let me present some of the core elements of the initiative.  

  • Firstly, we use advanced analytics and a market-oriented agri-food systems framework to differentiate territories and identify where there is a high potential for the sustainable development of agri-food production and value chain services. 
  • Secondly, we consult with a wide range of stakeholders to assess what is needed to realize this potential and seek partners who can provide the necessary means of implementation. 

24. These two steps culminate in a comprehensive investment plan – a transformation roadmap to unlock the country’s potential and to provide an agreement for partners to work together. 

25. The key is to bring together world-class partners, from both the public and private sector, who have the means and capacities and can make the commitment to bring the plan to life.

26. I firmly believe that going forward; a sustainable partnership with the private sector will offer numerous mutual advantages, transcending merely receiving funds. 

27. Transformational partnerships will be the strong foundation on which the Hand-in-Hand initiative will grow. I am confident that this approach will bring very rich benefits and will assure the donors of a meaningful use of their funds.

That brings me to the third thematic area, which I wish to address: FAO’s work with emerging threats and emergencies.

C. FAO and emerging threats

28. You will recall that the September update of the Global Report on Food Crises reported that over 100 million people in 27 countries were in crisis or worse levels of acute food insecurity, indicating a general deterioration in many countries since the beginning of the year. 

29. The pandemic has further increased the vulnerabilities of the most at-risk communities to existing and emerging shocks, including conflict, climate shocks and natural hazards.

30. Very soon, the second joint FAO-WFP hunger hotspots report will be issued, highlighting in particular the sharply deteriorating acute food insecurity situation in a number of countries, including in Burkina Faso, northeast Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen. 

31. Let me remind you that up to 80 percent of the people living in these contexts rely on agriculture for their livelihoods.

32. In 2019, FAO reached over 35 million people under its emergency and resilience programme – and I would like to acknowledge the United States of America as one of the greatest contributors to these efforts. 

33. Supporting emergency agriculture in crisis contexts rapidly increases food production, safeguards people’s access to food and lays the foundations for resilience and greater stability.

34. And let me here acknowledge the catalytic role that Canada has played in funding the RBA joint resilience efforts at country level, which has brought other partners on board and helped pave the way to operationalizing the Global Network Against Food Crises, in which both Canada and the United States of America are increasingly engaged. 

35. An effective way of tackling rising levels of acute hunger is to take immediate, and at-scale action to safeguard livelihoods and maintain people’s food production to prevent a crisis. 

36. Anticipatory action underpinned by effective early warning systems and disaster risk assessments can save millions of lives and livelihoods in times of crisis. 

37. “Early warning, Early action” is thus a guiding principle for my administration in FAO to dealing with potential risks for the global agri-food system, even before the latest outbreak of locust and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

38. FAO’s Desert Locust Information Service, for instance, plays a crucial role in providing early warning of impending locust outbreaks, including the 2020 upsurge in the Horn of Africa and beyond. 

39. Thanks to the fast and generous response of our partners to these warnings, including from both Canada and the United States, the FAO-led operation has protected the livelihoods of 13 million people, saved enough cereals to feed 11.4 million people for one year, prevented more than US$ 512 million in damages; and spared over 685,000 pastoral households from livelihood loss and distress.

40. And saving these livelihoods means saving lives!

Moving on to Innovation. Since the very first day I assumed charge as the FAO DG, innovation has been a key focus area of my administration. 

D. Innovation 

41. I believe that innovation is the central driving force which will transform food systems, lift smallholders and family farmers out of poverty and help the world to achieve food security, sustainable agriculture and the SDGs, particularly SDG1 and SDG2. It is at the core of our work.

42. Agricultural innovation involves technological solutions, such as apps, drones and new kinds of farm machinery, but it goes beyond new technology. Innovation through different social, organizational or institutional processes such as new kinds of credit, extension or marketing services is equally important. 

43. Moreover, it is essential to understand that innovation cuts across all dimensions of the food cycle along the entire value chain.

44. In December 2019, the FAO Council approved my proposal to establish a new Office for Innovation to help ensure that FAO applies modern science and technology and adopts innovative approaches in its work, both externally and internally.

45. We have recently appointed our first Chief Scientist and she will be a part of the Organization’s core leadership group supporting innovations in all areas of our mandate. Ms. Ismahane Elouafi, a well-respected Canadian-Moroccan scientist, who has spent major parts of her career at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. 

46. I am sure you will all agree that we need the power of innovation to feed a growing population, to face the challenge of extreme weather conditions, to intensify agricultural production in sustainable ways, to effectively support smallholder farmers and increase their productivity to help unlock the potential of agribusiness and empower women and youth.

47. In short, we need innovations to create global solutions. It has to be in our DNA.

One of the many ways in which I intend using innovation is to bring about a digital revolution in global agriculture. Let me elaborate a bit on that.

E. International Platform for Digital Food and Agriculture.

48. Promoting digital farming and digital rural development was among the five actions that I campaigned on for my election as FAO Director-General.

49. I highlighted that farmers should be empowered with digital technologies in their fight against poverty and stressed the need to work on narrowing down the digital divide among countries and regions and between cities and the countryside.

50. Digital technologies offer unique opportunities to improve food production and trade, especially to smallholder farmers, and in helping us to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

51. In January 2019, the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture called upon FAO, to develop, in consultation with other international organisations, a concept note for the establishment of an International Platform for Digital Food and Agriculture. 

52. This proposal was the result of an open and inclusive consultation with approximately 355 stakeholders from more than 100 organizations who actively contributed to its development.

53. The GFFA Communiqué of 18 January 2020 called upon FAO’s governing bodies to support a process for the establishment of the International Platform.

54. The FAO Council endorsed the reports presenting the proposal for FAO to host the Platform and requested the review of its Terms of Reference (ToR) by the Technical Committees and the Programme Committee. The Committees on Agriculture and Forestry have already conducted this review.

55. The International Platform aims at providing an inclusive multi-stakeholder forum for identifying and discussing the potential benefits and risks of digitalization of the food and agricultural sectors. Through dialogue, it will:

a. promote coordination and bridge the gap between international and multilateral fora for the digital economy and those for food and agriculture and enhance awareness on issues specific to the digitalization of the food and agriculture sectors; and,

b. provide policy recommendations to governments, such as voluntary guidelines or other non-legally binding instruments, aimed at supporting decision-making at higher levels. 

56. The hosting of the International Platform by FAO will be achieved through a flexible, light and consensual coordination mechanism while complying with FAO’s regulations, rules and procedures. Participation in this mechanism is voluntary and the costs will be covered by voluntary contributions.

57. Yet, the Platform’s access to adequate funding to support its operation will determine how effective it can be in achieving its objectives.

58. My appeal to all of you is to aim big to realise its true potential. Digital Agriculture is the future and we have to strive hard to make it a reality for every family farmer around the globe.

So far, I have spoken about some of the important thematic areas and new initiatives I have introduced at FAO. But none of what I have talked about is possible without good governance and transparency in the Organization.

F. FAO’s Governance & Organizational Reforms 

59. The vision of a dynamic, efficient and effective FAO guides our governance arrangements.

60. Thanks to the adoption of the latest technology and the flexibility of both the FAO employees and our Members, we have ensured the smooth continuation of governing body discussions and consultations through virtual meetings. Today’s meeting is an excellent example of how well we have adapted.

61. These innovative working methods have guaranteed the possibility to progress with the implementation of necessary adjustments to the FAO programme and organizational arrangements as well as consultations on the future Strategic Framework. 

62. You are all well aware of the internal governance modernisation, which included introducing an agile and flexible organigram to reflect a modern modular approach, breaking down silos, encouraging collaboration and allowing us to better respond to emerging needs and changing priorities. 

63. We are already reaping the benefits of these changes during the pandemic, where FAO has adapted quickly and effectively, notably through a big leap towards a digital FAO.

64. A core leadership group composed of the three Deputy Directors-General, the Chief Economist, Chief Scientist and Directeur de Cabinet is now in place and supports me in all areas of the Organization’s mandate. 

65. Heads of Offices, Centres, and Divisions all report to the core leadership team, creating a flat organization with a strong accountability and internal control framework allowing for synergy, consultation and information sharing across the organization.

66. From now onwards, our work is measured against five targets: “concrete, tangible, participatory, transparent and cohesive.”

Closing Remarks

Dear Friends,

67. I could go on with my ideas and visions for FAO and for world agriculture, but I want to respect the time we have left and the important deliberations, which lie ahead of us over the next two days.

68. Suffice it to say that I will always dare to dream for a better world, a world free of poverty and hunger and will always have the courage to strive and make that dream come true.

69. I am a man in a hurry; for I want to make sure that all 700 million hungry souls enjoy food on a permanent basis. 

70. I cannot do this alone. In all humility, I open my arms and invite all of you to join us and help FAO deliver. 

71. I would like to thank the governments of Canada and the United States for being key partners for FAO and for the continued support. 

72. I wish you fruitful deliberations!

Thank you.