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


Thirty-sixth Session

19-21 October 2020

Closing remarks by the FAO Director-General, QU Dongyu

As delivered




Distinguished delegates and friends,

Thank you, Chairperson, my dear amigo, Minister of Nicaragua. Mucho trabajo! You have done marvelous work for this Conference together with FAO’s Secretariat and all the ministers, vice-ministers and distinguished delegates. Now, this is a moment to celebrate with a typical Latin dancing, but unfortunately we have to wait until next time when the pandemic is over. I will join you to celebrate it again.

This regional conference – the first virtual FAO Regional Conference in this region– has been a great achievement.

I have fully followed the progress, procedures, speeches, suggestions, your visions and all those discussions.

The level of participation is unprecedented. We have had one Prime Minister, three Ministers of Foreign Affairs, 50 ministers and 40 vice-ministers, and 346 other government officials. Also, 103 Observers from a wide diversity of sectors and organizations. 

That is really very much appreciated. You got all the key players on board and really built solidarity for the whole region. You made a historic record.

It is a sign of support to the new FAO and One FAO which we value, and I thank you very much.

When I took office a little over one year ago, I instructed the Regional Representatives to make these conferences more dynamic, less formal and more open for dialogue with Members.

It should be made Member-centred, it is your Conference! I really appreciate and I am fully convinced by this Conference. You can make three-dimension to perform and show. Even during your lunch time or after dinner time here, I saw you were still playing some introductory videos about the region and about Nicaragua. You have a very good promotion for your region and for Nicaragua. In that sense, I really congratulate my colleague, Mr Julio Berdegué, you made it a real model regarding how a Regional Conference should be organized, with your culture, your professionalism, and your awareness of leadership. I give you a special applause. Let us make a big applause, using your reaction online button here on the screen. This is the digital life my friend, Minister of Nicaragua. That is the way of evolution.

COVID-19 drove us to meet remotely. However, while we are separated by some 10 thousand kilometers, the new modality has helped us to move away from formalities and get closer together. 

I think you see it for your region, 33 Members. I do not know if any other meeting could get so many ministers at one time. This is really an advantage of the virtual meeting. You also can save the cost. FAO has had two important town hall meetings during the lockdown, globally. First at Headquarters and the second was globally. No other UN Agency had organized a town hall meeting, listening to suggestions and opinions from staff all over the world. That is a way of building solidarity with a big passion among the staff. I think it is really a new way of life. We face a new normal.

This new way of working has allowed thousands of people from governments, civil society, the private sector, scientists and academics, parliamentarians, youth and women, to participate in the process leading to the regional conference, and in the conference itself. 

I just got the newest information from Mr Laurent Thomas; he closely followed the tweets and all social media by the personal account of Mr Berdegué. Everyday there are more than 10 000 following this Conference, even today we still have more than 9 000 more. It is really a social movement which I asked Mr Berdegué to create, that is really good. Because in FAO, you do not play the game within our own castle.

I have just said that in Committee on World Food Security (CFS). CFS was proud to have a physical meeting of about 1 000 participants. Now you can easily engage more than 11 000 with no cost. We need to go out, to the crowd, to the people and to those we offer our services.

Last week, we celebrated the 75th anniversary of FAO’s establishment and we had video-mapping on the Colosseum. That really drew the attention of millions of people from all over the world. That is a way to promote FAO and to get our mission and mandate to be fully understood by the consumers, by the farmers, by our key players; not only by the ministers of agriculture, agricultural scientists and agricultural companies, but we need all players of non-agriculture sectors to look at what we are doing here.

Close to 30 thousand persons have followed this conference through the digital platforms!

I always say we should make the impossible to be possible. That is the power of innovation of thinking and changing your mindset, it is the power of innovation of doing new business, and it is the power of the digital world.

This would not have been possible in the old format. You have a saying in Latin America: “No hay mal que por bien no venga” (there is no evil that cannot bring some good). 

We turned a challenge into an opportunity. 

The Digital FAO is more transparent, more open to dialogue, more inclusive, and, above all, more responsive to the needs and priorities of its Members. 

We had thought-provoking discussions and reached consensus on a number of important issues.

I have listened carefully to your discussions and have taken note of your views and recommendations. 

The FAO COVID-19 Response and Recovery Programme is now in motion. We must work together to minimize the impact that the pandemic will have on our food systems, livelihoods and health.

We must also work together to maximize the contribution of agriculture, food systems and rural societies to a recovery with transformation, to building back better after the crisis.

The Hand-in-Hand Initiative is coming together quite well, and your discussions have confirmed to me that FAO is moving in the right direction.

The session today on innovation and digital technologies has been inspiring. The potential of this region to help feed the world, and to do so in more sustainable, resilient, and inclusive ways, is enormous. 

I am also motivated by your discussions and recommendations on how to improve FAO. We share a common vision for an agile, efficient and inclusive FAO that supports its Members for better production, better nutrition, a better environment, and a better life.

We have to keep the balance of the ‘four betters’: better production is our basic meaning for agricultural food; better nutrition, not only for poor, you need enough food to end hunger, but also you need more nutritious and healthy food; better environment, in your region you are lucky to have so much potential and good environment, you do need better environmental management to keep agriculture sustainable, for our generations to come; and better life, not only for consumers, but also for farmers, no matter they are small farmers, family farmers or big family entrepreneurs.

Here, I would like to especially draw your attention to a meeting held just four weeks ago in Rome, on 29th September. FAO and the World Tourism Organization of UN (UNWTO) joined forces for promoting sustainable tourism in rural areas, with the aim of supporting the rural economy. Sustainable tourism in rural areas such as agri-tourism and eco-tourism is an important driver of the socio-economic growth that can reduce inequalities, increase the resilience of the rural communities, and boost the rural incomes.

 During that meeting, myself and the UNWTO Secretary-General, Mr Zurab Pololikashvili, signed a Memorandum of Understanding. He came to Rome in person. In that meeting I especially mentioned that we would launch the 1 000 Digital Village Project. I am thinking to identify 1 000 villages across the world and convert them into digital villages or towns. We need joined forces with the tourism sector. For your region, you have great potential in agri-tourism and could build and recover back better.

A successful implementation of this Project can make digital villages and rural tourism engines for increasing resilience, diversifying incomes of farmers and for building back better during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, before my closing, I strongly encourage you to follow it up with my colleague Mr Julio Berdegué. This is your homework. Let us act now from Latin America and the Caribbean region.

Each Member Country can recommend three locations or sites which combine advantages and characteristics of agricultural production, food systems, and the touristic attractions, and transform them to be the digital villages. In this way, we can promote agri-tourism through the digital platform, including their agricultural production, food systems and cultural elements, such as: Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS).

Let us begin by consulting with relevant tourism agencies, relevant ministers or secretaries in your country. We can promote it on the FAO web. That is a way to help the farmers to attract international and global attention. Let us do it now by identifying three recommendation sites from each country. Of course, the big countries like Brazil, Mexico, Argentina or others, you can have several more. That is on a voluntary basis, you can start with three to five. Let us try to promote our member countries, your agriculture, your food systems and your traditional culture, through digital platforms.

I would like to thank the Government of the Republic of Nicaragua for hosting this conference under these extraordinary circumstances.

While I was not able to visit your beautiful country, I am grateful that you have guided this 36th Session of the LARC to a successful conclusion.

I look forward to the time in the not too distant future when all FAO Members can once again meet in person.

On behalf of the Secretariat and colleagues here in Rome, in the Regional Office in Chile in the FAO Office in Nicaragua and in each of our country offices throughout the region, a large and united team that has made this virtual session possible, I thank you for your participation. 

Muchas gracias!