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

Joint Meeting of the 129th Session of the Programme Committee and the 183rd Session of the Finance Committee

9 November 2020

Director-General Opening Address

As delivered

Dear distinguished delegates,

Ladies and gentlemen,

1.             Welcome to the second Joint Meeting that we hold in a virtual mode.

2.             I am happy to see that all of you continue to be safe and well.

3.             My speech today will provide you with a comprehensive update on the most important developments in our work in the last months.

4.             I consider it not as a speech, but as a report of our work during the past several months after the previous joint PC/FC meeting. You requested me to build a transparent FAO, so I should make timely update of our work to you and to the Council. 

5.             I will share with you delivery results, new initiatives and new partnerships.

6.             Let me start with the progress on implementing the decisions of the last Council Session.

7.             We introduced the new organizational structure at headquarters with:

  • Offices, that are playing a cross-cutting function;
  • Centres with a strong collaboration function with other UN agencies or with International Financing Institutions (IFIs); and
  • Divisions that house the specific expertise of FAO or provide operational/logistics support.

8.             Through the hard work of my team, we have successfully implemented the structural adjustment approved by the Council. I call it a soft landing.

9.             We removed the layer of Departments and have ADGs at headquarters now focus on specific assignments.

10.         We established the Core Leadership Group: the three Deputy Directors-General, the Chief Economist, the Chief Scientist and the Director of the Cabinet.

11.         We implemented the reporting lines A and B to the Core Leadership for each Office, Centre, and Division.

12.         I count on them and I appreciate their coordination and cooperation. It is a way to share information and also a way to ensure a right decision being made. For so many big programmes and initiatives, they will collaborate with each other and remind each other during the decision-making process. I also share all the important information with the core leadership. Sometimes, I even included staff at D2 level to be shared with relevant information. It is a way to build solidarity and a cooperative mood within FAO. I sincerely wish all the managers at D2 level and below will also be open to share information with your team members.

13.         The Strategic Programme teams were disbanded.

14.         The Ombudsman Office was added as a stand-alone office.

15.         The Office of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was established, to coordinate the corporate engagement in the 2030 Agenda follow-up and review, working closely with concerned units across the Organization. Staffing of the office is in process.

16.         We strengthened the FAO Investment Centre by USD 8 million given its catalytic role in supporting countries and enabling financing at scale.

17.         The Joint FAO/WHO Centre, housing two important joint efforts: Codex Alimentarius and zoonotic diseases, was established.

18.         We moved our cooperation with the IAEA from a division in the former AG department to becoming the stand-alone Joint FAO/IAEA Centre (Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture) and strengthened it by an additional
USD 1 million.

19.         Given the importance of partnerships within the renewed FAO, we realigned the partnerships and outreach stream by:

  • Creating a division that combines Partnerships and UN collaboration;
  • Moving private sector partnerships with resource mobilization; and
  • Creating a new Project Support Division. We will transfer Mina, currently FAO Representative in Pakistan to be the Director of this new Division. I suppose that she will arrive in Rome next month.

20.         We created a new division on Food Systems and Food Safetyto provide strategic leadership in the development of more sustainable food systems. In addition to new posts, the division now includes all posts previously located in the Office of Food Safety, and a limited number of posts transferred from other divisions.

21.         A new division for Logistics Services was created, which includes shared services, procurement, health services, infrastructure logistics, travel, and security.

22.         The Multidisciplinary Fund was budgeted at USD 8.5 million for:

  • seed funds for innovation proposals which have a strong likelihood of upscaling
  • catalytic funds to facilitate private sector involvement and investment;
  • support for country needs in particular for unforeseen requirements arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.

23.         We also made important progress in the area of human resource management

24.         After the Council’s approval of the new organizational structure, we have worked hard to ensure that positions have been identified for all affected staff through an intense consultative process. 

25.         Another important element are the action planning sessions that are happening throughout the organization on the results of the employee survey, led by Beth Bechdol, Deputy Director-General and Employee survey Champion. 

26.         Beth and Greet, the HR Director will give you an update on this in tomorrow’s Finance Committee session.

27.         I am pleased by the continued improvement of relations between Management and the Staff Representative Bodies (SRBs), as mentioned by them in their address to the July session of Council. 

28.         We should trust each other and be transparent. Did we hide the secrets from SRBs before? I don’t understand this. We can frankly share with SRBs our challenges and ideas of what we are going to do. Of course, you cannot get 100% support from them, as they even have different opinions among themselves. As I said before, FAO is a big and poor organization, it is impossible for us to satisfy all the needs and requirements of every staff.  

29.         The Staff-Management Consultative Committee meets regularly in the spirit of cooperation and dialogue, and this is critical at this time of change.

30.         It is most important for me that these relations continue to improve, based on mutual trust and respect – we may not always agree, but my commitment is that all parties will continue to be heard, and their points of view considered.

31.         As Director-General, I and the entire leadership team are committed to combat all forms of Harassment, Sexual Harassment, Discrimination, Sexual exploitation and Abuse of Authority

32.         Not only within the walls of our Organization but also when delivering our mandate in the field.  

33.         In December 2019, the Council urged us to continue concentrating our work in this area and, in doing so, reinforce a culture of prevention, improve awareness-raising activities and guarantee a victim-centered approach. 

34.         Since then, I have appointed a new Director of Human Resources, an Ethics Officer, an Ombudsman and an Inspector General who are my custodians of the policies and processes in place to ensure effective implementation of these goals. 

35.         We have also established an internal Task Force on Prevention of Sexual Harassment (PSH) and Prevention of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (PSEA) that is chaired at the Deputy Director-General level.   

36.         The well-being of our employees in the past year benefitted strongly from two very active committees that reflect the spirit and solidarity of the new FAO.

37.         The FAO Youth Committee and Women’s Committee both celebrated their first birthdays with high attraction of participation, respectively; and continue to organize important events and gatherings for our colleagues.

38.         We welcomed the UN Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth Jayathma Wickramanayake and Kenyan winner of the 2020 BBC World News Komla Dumor Award, Victoria Rubadiri at these two events.

39.         FAO should be a learning-oriented organization. No matter you are senior staff or young staff, we should be a good learner first, as the society is changing very fast and information is exploding. We should learn first, then you can develop a methodology of seeking the truth and evidence-based solutions. I strongly encourage our young employees to learn a wide range of knowledge and think deeper.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

40.         FAO’s 75th anniversary was no ordinary World Food Day.

41.         Although countries around the world are struggling to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic, FAO employees worldwide joined governments, private sector partners and others, who showed their support through over 450 activities in 150 countries.

42.         2020 also marked the first-ever virtual World Food Day celebration in Rome meaning that the events opened up to a larger number of participants and new audiences.

43.         The virtual ceremony included messages from Pope Francis; Italy's President; Lesotho's King and Spain's Queen, FAO Special Goodwill Ambassadors for Nutrition; UN's Secretary General; and the heads of FAO, IFAD and WFP.

44.         For the innovative video mapping and light projection shows on the FAO headquarters building and iconic Colosseum we were joined by Italy’s Minister for Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies, the Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation; the Mayor of Rome and our honorable Independent Chair of the Council.

45.         By opening the ceremony to the outside, we had 76 000 participants, who joined via Zoom, webcast, or live streaming on social media.

46.         A live feed was shared with hundreds of TV broadcasters worldwide bringing the events to millions more.

47.         Despite challenges, colleagues and partners plunged further into the digital arena, discovering new ways to achieve concrete results:

  • Material was translated for the day’s activities into 49 languages!
  • FAO messages reached over 1.5 billion accounts on social media.
  • Over 860 000 users viewed World Food Day content on FAO web pages.
  • The World Food Day video was screened on over 40 TV channels.
  • Outdoor advertising in 31 cities (pro bono), reaching new locations and regions.
  • Public service announcements were broadcast on over 160 radio stations in over 30 countries.

48.         Last year, we held a physical celebration on World Food Day. Now, through innovation, FAO becomes a digital organization. We successfully organized one of the most influential activities so far, because of a small change in innovation. 

Distinguished Delegates,

49.         We continued our global efforts to raise awareness and provide technical expertise in international fora.

50.         In September,I was invited to the United Nations Security Council, where I provided an update on the food security situation in a number of countries around the world experiencing food insecurity, together with OCHA and WFP.

51.         This was the second time that I briefed the Security Council this year.

52.         We successfully collaborated with WFP for two times this year in UN Security Council for food security. This was also a treat to help WFP to get global awareness for the award of Noble Peace Prize. It is a teamwork. Because of the special relationship between FAO and WFP, I am very proud of WFP for its recipient of Nobel Peace Prize. It is a recognition for many decades of hard work of WFP, who even had lost many staff lives on the ground. 

53.         Closely related is our work on early warning and early action. 

54.         At the launch of the 2020 State of Climate Services Report in October, I joined the Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in stressing the importance of early warning and early action to avoid disasters.

55.         Desert Locust response and Fall Armyworm are of highest priority for FAO. 

56.         Specifically for Desert Locust, resource partners stepped up fast and generously. To date, over USD 203 million have been raised. 

57.         In the Greater Horn of Africa and Yemen, almost 1.3 million hectares have been treated since January 2020.

58.         Furthermore, with the efforts made in the region, it is estimated that over 2.5 million tonnes of cereal have been protected valued at USD 765 million.

59.         This is enough to feed more than 17 million people for one year and protect more than 1.2 million pastoral households from livelihood loss and distress in Ethiopia alone.

60.         The situation appears to be better than a year ago, but the fight is far from over.

61.         In December 2019, we launched the Global Action for Fall Armyworm Control to reduce in the immediate term the yield losses from FAW infestation and slow down the spread towards other countries.

62.         The Global Action focuses on three regions, Africa, the Near East and North Africa, and Asia, where eight demonstration countries and 53 pilot countries have been identified for a radical intervention at national and farmer level.

63.         All these countries together are covering eight demonstration zones and represent over 50 percent of maize acreage in the three target regions.

64.         As of November 2020, two main oversight bodies have been established:

  • The Steering Committee, that I chair and that is composed of over 20 high-level leaders, has met twice already to guide the development and implementation of the Global Action.
  • The Technical Committee chaired by the USAID Chief Scientist, comprising more than 50 technical leaders met three times to provide technical advice to the Steering Committee.

65.         A  Fall Armyworm Secretariat has been established internally to ensure the day-to-day implementation work. The secretariat is hosted by the Plant Protection and Production Division (NSP), and led by the NSP Director. 

66.         We continued our outreach through the attendance of numerous events and the establishment of new partnerships.

67.         In September,I presented the Virtual Ministerial Conference on the Great Green Wall witha number of key areas, where the Organization has assets critical to the initiative’s success, including modern geospatial technologies and the WaPOR remote-sensing platform to assess water productivity. 

68.         On 29 September,we marked the first observance of the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste, by launching a new report: ‘Future Food Systems: For people, our planet, and prosperity’.

69.         In October, I was invited by the Committees of Foreign Affairs and of Agriculture in the Italian Chamber of Deputies to give a keynote address on the impacts of COVID-19 on global food security and on the proposed Food Coalition.

70.         We are very much appreciated to our host country in terms of infrastructure, food, water and fresh air. Not pandemic! I would like to urge our host country to take it very seriously. I try my best to protect the health of FAO staff. But we are living in Italy. As the virus is invisible, we fully depend on our host country to combat the virus. So far, the situation of FAO staff is not bad. FAO started the preparation for the pandemic in February. I am really serious with this issue, as life is everything. No life, No anything!  

71.         In the past months, I held bilateral meetings with the Executive Vice-President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans and the EU commissioners for Neighborhood and Enlargement, for Health and Food Safety, and for Agriculture. Preparations for the next EU FAO Strategic dialogue that will take place in January 2021 are under way.

72.         I had repeatedly stressed my focus on result-oriented partnerships through win-win relations.

73.         I am therefore pleased that we have added prestigious entities to our partners, including:

74.         Academic institutions like the United Arab Emirates University, the University of Florence and Duke University to strengthen our synergies with science and research.

75.         With the Asian Partnership for the Development of Human Resources in Rural Asia (AsiaDHRRA) we will collaborate on strengthening capacities of rural organizations to improve service delivery, market access, gender equality as well as lobbying and advocacy.

76.         With the Eastern African Farmers Federation (EAFF) we will collaborate in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda on youth employment promotion in agri-food systems.

77.         Our partnership with the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) contributes towards the implementation of FAO’s emergency and rehabilitation efforts through the loan to FAO of Stand-by Personnel, also to strengthen collaboration at regional and country office levels.

78.         We have also signed letters of intent with a number of entities such as the Islamic Development Bank and CropLife International.

79.         The successful positioning of FAO as a trusted partner and source of technical expertise is also reflected in the extra-budgetary funding we receive, and for which we are very grateful.

80.         Here are a few from the last months:

81.         In July we welcomed a £ 17 million contribution from the United Kingdom's Department for International Development (DFID) to support efforts to combat the ongoing desert locust surge. The funds are in addition to a previous contribution of £ 8 million donated earlier this year for the desert locust appeal.

82.         In the same month, FAO and the Russian Federation signed a $10 million Contribution Agreement aimed at boosting efforts to control and eliminate Desert Locusts.

83.         In August, the Board of the Green Climate Fund (GCF) approved an $11.8 million project to support zero-deforestation cocoa production in Côte d’Ivoire, to be implemented by FAO in collaboration with the country’s Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development (MINEDD). The project is the first REDD+ proposal in Africa and globally to be approved under the GCF’s Simplified Approval Process Pilot Scheme (SAP). It is also the first GCF funding proposal approved for FAO in Africa.

84.         In September, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged an additional $50 million in funding to support FAO's South-South Cooperation (SSC) efforts. The funding of Phase III comes after a total contribution of USD 80 million for the first two phases.

85.         Also in September, the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID) approved a voluntary contribution to FAO of EUR 2.8 million to support COVID-19 impact mitigation through FAO’s COVID-19 Comprehensive Response and Recovery Programme.

86.         Earlier this month, Italy deployed USD 1.2 million for the Food Coalition with pledges currently amounting to around USD 2.2 million.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

87.         Let me update you on the Hand-in-Hand Initiative.

88.         In July, we launched the Hand-in-Hand geospatial data platform.

89.         In September, together with Google we launched Earth Map, an innovative, free and open-source Big Data tool, developed by FAO.

90.         It is federated within FAO’s Hand-in-Hand geospatial platform and allows anyone with basic Internet access to tap critical climate, environmental and agricultural information.

91.         Last Friday, during the CEB Meeting with more than 30 Chiefs of UN agencies, participants were really surprised that FAO is leading in many ways. Last year, Secretary-General asked for a data-driven UN. Now, only FAO has a solid data geospatial platform to offer the services to Members, not only in food and agriculture, but also in climate, social and economic aspects. I am proud of it, and you should also be proud of it, as you had supported this initiative. 

92.         One year after its launch, the Hand-in-Hand Initiative is supporting the efforts of 30 countries to end poverty (SDG1) and hunger and all forms of malnutrition (SDG2) in a country-owned and country-led manner.

93.         We are positive that this number will increase significantly in the coming months.

94.         The Hand-in-Hand programme has a unique form in every country.

95.         In some countries, we have adopted an existing programme, which allows us to move quickly, and are now strengthening it through improved technical analysis, partnerships that bring innovation, and dashboards that strengthen coordination and support impact analysis.

96.         This is what is happening in Papua New Guinea, where we are working very closely with the EU to strengthen a programme designed to improve production and market access in value chains of two of the poorest, least accessible regions of the country.

97.         In Ethiopia as well, where we are intensifying pre-existing work on agri-food processing zones linked to specific territories.

98.         A vital innovation in Ethiopia is the joining up of FAO work on social protection with the production networks in the territories to ensure that we do indeed eliminate poverty and hunger while improving economic growth and market access.

99.         In Haiti, the Initiative is bringing new and bolder programmatic thinking to accelerate long-term change territory by territory. 

100.      We are reinvigorating donors and other partners, while accepting the well-known risks and deep challenges that Haiti faces in all dimensions of development.

101.      Across the Sahel and in East and Southern Africa, Hand-in-Hand is bringing new tools, new partnerships and substantial support to Africa’s regional commitment to more open trade.

102.      In the SIDS, which have been particularly hard-hit, the Initiative is a vehicle to spur ambitious programming and fresh investment to improve nutrition and strengthen resilience against the persistent effects of unhealthy diets, extreme weather events and the global economic recession.

103.      All these Hand-in-Hand engagements have shared principles and common elements:

104.      As promised, we are targeting the poorest and the most vulnerable and, in response to COVID-19, which has expanded the number of countries in food crisis have expanded our reach to ensure that those who have been most affected by the COVID-19 crises can benefit from the HIH approach;

105.      We have been moving very quickly to build technical and analytical capacity for evidence-based decision-making through the HIH geospatial platform;

106.      We have been building deeper partnerships with donors and IFIs and developing new joint agendas with a wide range of global institutions and organizations from research, business, and foundations;

107.      We are engaging NGOs, the private sector, and producer organizations as well as other networks of experts and practitioners who are willing to work with us in the spirit of the Initiative; and

108.      We have been designing dashboards to provide transparency, accountability and improved coordination support to our Members, our many Hand-in-Hand partners and ourselves, and to enable us to anticipate and adjust to changes as required over time.

109.      And we have done all this in most cases without the need for field missions.

110.      As you can see, we are walking the talk when it comes to integrating innovative approaches and digital technologies in our core business.

111.      The International Platform for Digital Food and Agriculture is another important element in this approach.

112.      We have developed Draft Terms of Reference, as requested by the Council, and we have initiated their review by the technical committees.

113.      In developing the Terms of Reference, we have underlined that the Platform will work within FAO’s mandate and that it will strengthen collaboration and synergies with other international organizations, especially those mandated for the digital economy.

114.      We are also trying to strike a balance between a light and agile structure, geographical representation and inclusiveness.

115.      FAO Members will lie at the heart of this initiative but the Platform will be open to everyone – smallholder farmers and small and medium enterprises - to participate and express their views on the evolution digital food and agriculture.

116.      The discussions and feedback by COAG and COFO have been valuable in shaping the Terms of Reference and we are looking forward to the discussion at the Committee on Fisheries next February to finalize the draft and present it to the FAO Council.

117.      We have launched a comprehensive COVID-19 Response and Recovery Programme to address the challenges posed by the pandemic and support countries to “build back better”, in line with the wider UN approach.

118.      The programme aims to strengthen the longer-term resilience of food systems and livelihoods, addressing the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic and encompassing the three pillars of sustainable development.

119.      It is structured around seven key areas that are integral to implementing FAO’s approach to programme delivery pioneered under the Hand-in-Hand initiative.

120.      Through the EU-FAO FIRST policy assistance facility, FAO is monitoring the impact of the pandemic on agri-food systems and responses at country level in more than 20 countries to adapt ongoing programmes, reallocate resources to strengthen the response and to reorient existing policies to the COVID recovery context.

121.      We are supporting Members in developing policies and programmes that promote and protect employment and sustain agri-food systems and the rural economy, particularly those segments driven by small, informal producers, service providers and downstream value chain actors.

122.      We are assisting Members in scaling up shock-responsive social protection and other assistance programmes to support small-scale producers, rural workers and migrants impacted by COVID-19.

123.      Access to social assistance, in the form of cash or in-kind transfers, as well as health insurance and specific labour-related guarantees, is key to mitigating the health and economic impacts of the pandemic.

124.      We are supporting countries to protect and improve the situation of migrants, to address the challenges of reduced remittances and the increase in return migration to rural area of workers who have lost their jobs in urban areas or other countries.

125.      We are assisting countries to address the special challenges from COVID-19 faced by rural women in terms of loss of employment and increased care time burden. 

126.      Rapid assessments are being conducted as to the impact on women across economic and social dimensions.

127.      Support to local community sensitization and response to the pandemic is being channeled through the Dimitra Clubs, providing information on the use of masks and other prevention measures, as well as skills training and the mitigation of gender based violence.

128.      We are working with global networks, development partners, rural youth organizations and regional institutions to advocate for the inclusion of the specific needs of rural youth in policies and strategies during and after the pandemic in terms of education, training and youth employment.

129.      We are providing short-term support in selected countries to protect young workers and young return and sustain their livelihoods and are using national media campaigns to raise awareness of child labour prevention in the context of the pandemic.

130.      And we continue raising public awareness to the impacts of the pandemic.

131.      In July, for instance, we convened together with the African Union Commission the AU tripartite meeting of African Ministers responsible for agriculture, trade and finance - the first meeting of its kind in response to the COVID-19 emergency.

132.      The meeting brought together 80 Ministers and other representatives from over 50 countries. I stressed the need for a coordinated multi-dimensional response to address the complex and intertwined challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

133.      Also inJuly, I highlighted the need to address the underlying causes of pandemics, a cause of which is the loss of biodiversity, during Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework – a side event held by the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

134.      In September, I was the Chief of UN agencies on behalf of others to deliver a speech during the UN Summit on Biodiversity in General Assembly, which was a substantial push to raise awareness on this issue among the world’s leaders. 

135.      In September, I gave a keynote speech at the African Green Revolution Forum, urging for transformed agri-food systems, to provide people with nutritious food and to prevent the COVID-19 crisis from becoming a food crisis.

136.      In the same month, I participated in the G20's Agriculture and Water Ministers meeting and presented several priority areas in which FAO can support the group and the international community to strengthen agri-food systems and recover from the impacts of COVID-19.

137.      And we are strengthening partnerships to collaborate on targeted responses.

138.      For example, in July, we established a new partnership between FAO and Rabobank to support work on transforming food systems, especially within the context of the COVID-19 response.

139.      Initial work will start in two key focus areas: the dairy sectors of India and Kenya.

140.      We are also currently working with Rabobank and the World Bank to establish strategic cooling storage linked to warehouse electronic receipts systems in three countries in Africa.

141.      Timely and granular data and information of how the pandemic is impacting the targets of Zero Hunger is essential for countries to plan their response and to protect the most vulnerable.

142.      The international community also needs global-level information to be able to identify new pockets of food insecurity occurring even in countries and population groups that have not been traditionally the focus of food insecurity.

143.      We are collecting data to measure the impact of COVID on food insecurity using the Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES) in more than 130 countries using Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing.

144.      In more than 30 food crisis countries, subnational estimates are being used to inform country-based food security assessments such as the Integrated Phase Classification (IPC) and the Cadre Harmonisé.

145.      At the same time, we are providing technical support on FIES data collection, analysis and interpretation and use to produce high-quality information on food security and up-to-date figures on the impact of COVID-19.

146.      Such support is provided to national institutions including National Statistical Offices, SDG governance bodies, Line Ministries, food security clusters as well as international partners like the World Bank, IFAD, UNICEF and WFP.

147.      To further support countries in understanding the effects of COVID-19 in real time, we are applying innovative techniques using our Big Data Lab, to analyze social media to understand the impact of the pandemic and inform decision-making.

148.      FAO’s Big Data Lab for Statistical Innovation has developed a set of tools, open to all users, to study how the pandemic is impacting food supply chains, consumer prices of food products or the extent to which the pandemic may be producing social unrest, for example.

149.      The tools use unstructured data sources, updated daily, and cutting-edge technologies, such as web scraping, text mining and artificial intelligence.

150.      These are used to analyze information from Twitter accounts from 150 countries and open newspaper articles; with the results visualized graphically and sorted according to the users’ needs.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

151.      The new Vision and Strategic Framework require rethinking FAO’s Technical Cooperation Programme (TCP).

152.      The catalytic use and effect of TCP has been validated by its evaluation, and is also at the core of an on-going internal consultation aimed at re-imagining the Programme.

153.      As a first step to improve communication and transparency, we have launched a new TCP Website providing live data on programme results as well as on the status of the ongoing TCP appropriation.

154.      We have also promptly aligned TCP assistance with FAO’s COVID-19 Response and Recovery Programme.  

155.      Approximately USD 25 million have been allocated so far in response to requests for assistance with the COVID-19 pandemic.

156.      I am confident that using the TCP within a more programmatic approach will attract additional complementary funding and trigger more robust partnerships for an increased sustainable impact of our collective actions towards achieving the 2030 Agenda.

Dear colleagues,

157.      There is no dedicated item on the agenda of the Programme and Finance Committees, or of their Joint Meeting, on the 2020 Regional Conferences.

158.      However, I wish to talk about them because they are relevant to your discussions this week.    

159.      One of my first priorities as Director-General was to transform the Regional Conferences from largely formal, stand-alone events, into dynamic and efficient platforms for policy setting, capturing feedback from all those involved. And we did this in 2020. 

160.      In the past, Regional Conferences had barely 100 participants. This virtual modality gave not only the possibility to thousands of delegates from government officials, observers, donor organizations, civil society and the private sector to participate, but also hundreds of thousands of people were able to engage through social media from all over the world. You all helped to make these events more open, inclusive and effective.

161.      The five 2020 Regional Conferences and the informal Regional Conference of North America have just concluded. All were held in virtual format, which is a historic first for FAO.  

162.      All the Regional Conferences were postponed from the first half of 2020.

163.      I acknowledge that some of you wanted to wait until the pandemic situation improved. That is understandable, because physical Regional Conference meetings are better than virtual ones, in terms of meeting in a host country in the region; and meeting in person with ministers.

164.      But, I insisted that the 2020 Regional Conferences had to be held in 2020. And I am grateful to the Host Countries, and all Members for agreeing to adopting a virtual format this year.

165.      In these challenging times, the virtual modality of these meetings reminded us that we are in a new era, where modern technology can transform our lives and bring us closer together even though we are physically further apart.

166.      I congratulate the Regional Offices and all colleagues involved for doing an excellent job in ensuring the success of these virtual meetings.

167.      Of course, there are some disadvantages of virtual mode, as there are less physical and human contacts. However, for all the regional conferences, we really achieved a wide participation through virtual meetings. During the physical meetings in the past, maybe some countries would not like to participate.

168.      And for the very first time we invited the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) to hold a special event at each Regional Conference and to engage at the regional level.

169.      I spoke at each of these events, confirming FAO’s support for the CFS to be fully involved in pursuing the priority of food systems transformation and advocating policies and strategies that support these efforts.

170.      During the regional offices, CFS really had the opportunities for a road show. CFS requested FAO to support it. I replied CFS very positively, because we have invested in CFS for so many years, together with IFAD and WFP. 

171.      FAO’s Constitution envisages strong regional governance mechanisms, with the Regional Conferences being an integral and essential part of FAO’s Governance, built on dialogue and the identification of common priorities.

172.      This is reason why the 2020 Regional Conferences are relevant to you in the Programme and Finance Committees.

173.      This is the other reason for which I insisted that the 2020 Regional Conferences be held this year, because we needed their inputs, from a regional perspective, on important issues that will be considered by you this week.

174.      Issues, such as the outline of the next Strategic Framework and the Medium Term Plan; the impact of COVID-19; our work with the private sector, emergencies; and agri-food systems.  

175.      And, above all, the Regional Conferences confirmed the strong support of Members for the renewed FAO.

176.      All the regional conferences had the agenda of digital innovation and private sector engagement. Even for virtual meetings, different regions have different characteristics. I fully participated with all the regional conference, not only delivering a speech, but also listening carefully to what the Ministers had said and attending some sideline events. It was a way of self-learning for FAO staff including myself. And it was also a good learning process for different regions. 

177.      I reported this at CEB meeting. Now, FAO is a fully digital operated organization.

178.      Cooperation with our sister agencies in Rome is developing well.

179.      We are collaborating significantly more at country, regional and HQ levels with the most tangible impact in countries.

180.      I am pleased to state that collaboration now occurs in over 80 % of the countries where more than one RBA is present.

181.      In addition, the number of joint RBA programmes has almost doubled since 2017 reaching more than 50 countries today.

182.      In addition, I also informed my core leadership that for important activities organized by FAO, we should also invite other UN agencies in Italy to participate, not only just from RBA. We should invite Italy-Based-Agencies.

Dear colleagues,

183.      Let me now turn to the new Strategic Framework 2022 – 2031.

184.      From the onset, I stressed the need to develop the new Strategic Framework in a consultative and iterative process.

185.      The formal consultation process is progressing as planned:

  • The June Programme Committee and the July Council provided feedback on the Provisional Outline of the Strategic Framework.
  • The Regional Conferences, which took place between September and early November 2020, provided input on Regional priorities.
  • The Technical Committees, taking place between September 2020 and early 2021, are providing input on Technical priorities.

186.      Informal consultations and meetings are also taking place. 

187.      In October, discussions were first held with all Regional Groups and then we organized an Informal Consultation with all Members.

188.      We will continue to use both formal and informal consultations for the development of the Strategic Framework.

189.      Our aim is to have a document that is embraced by all Members and that allows FAO to provide maximum support in achieving the SDGs at country level.

190.      Strengthening partnerships is actually a key aspect of the new Strategic Framework.

191.      Strengthened partnerships with our Members, but also with UN agencies, financial institutions, the private sector, producer organizations, academic and research institutions, and the civil society.

192.      The new Strategic Framework builds on the momentum and transformations already taking place in the Organization.

193.      The new modular and flexible headquarters structure, for example, with its aim to ensure efficiency, effectiveness and cross-sectoral collaboration is well aligned to support the new direction.

194.      By continuing to increase efficiency, break silos, and strengthen the enabling environment, FAO is also better positioned to respond rapidly to emerging needs and priorities.

195.      With innovation, technology and data driving our work to support countries in achieving the SDGs, we can help ensure that trade-offs are minimized.

196.      And, new initiatives like the Hand-in-Hand Initiative with its state-of-the-art tools and technologies (the Geospatial Data Platform and the Data Lab for Statistical Innovation) offers a ready-made coordination structure including for an integrated COVID-19 response.

197.      The new Strategic Framework puts at its center the strategic narrative of Leaving No One Behind through sustainable, inclusive and resilient food systems for better production, better nutrition, a better environment, and a better life.

198.      The Framework is anchored in the 2030 Agenda and guided by SDG 1 No poverty, SDG 2 No hunger, and SDG 10 Reduced inequalities around the four betters. 

199.      The Framework also highlights the importance of all SDGs in achieving FAO’s overall vision.

200.      The centrality of food systems transformation in the new Strategic Framework will enable FAO to provide substantive support to Members in their implementation efforts following the outcomes of the UN Food Systems Summit in 2021.

201.      Over the coming months we will discuss and develop further, in consultation with you, the Programme Priority Areas

202.      The Programme Priority Areas are inter-disciplinary, thematic delivery mechanisms, representing FAO’s strategic contribution to drive the changes that will ultimately contribute to the achievement of the selected SDG targets.

203.      We are also presenting a New Strategy for Private Sector Engagement.

204.      Now, I think it is the appropriate time to have the new strategy endorsed. I am looking forward to any concrete suggestions from PC/FC, not talking much about theoretical issues. I encourage you to make use of this joint meeting to improve the quality of this document. We need your concrete suggestions.  

205.      A closer and improved engagement with the Private Sector is one of my top priorities, and this Strategy is an important step for us to move forward.

206.      The new Strategy foresees expanded areas of engagement, such as technology and innovation, data, investment and innovative financing, and will be aligned with the SDGs.

207.      It keeps the UN values at the core of its implementation, while offering more flexibility to explore new ways of engagement and tailoring the modalities to specific opportunities and potential risks of each partner.

208.      We hold ourselves fully accountable to our UN Principles. But our previous risk assessment methods were based on total risk avoidance rather than comprehensive risk mitigation.

209.      We are fully aware that increasing our engagement with the private sector will involve risks.

210.      But risks must be effectively managed, rather than completely avoided, if we want to dialogue and build trust with the private sector.

211.      I am committed to an appropriate risk management structure in FAO.

212.      Strengthening FAO’s engagement with the private sector and all partners will be done in a fully transparent manner.

213.      As you know an efficient, transparent and inclusive FAO is my highest priority, and this also applies to the way we approach the private sector.

214.      I am confident that with this new Strategy we will see even more solid results of our partnership with the private sector at the country, regional and global levels in the future.

215.      We launched the FAO Green Cities Initiative and its Action Programme on the margins of the 75th Session of the United Nations General Assembly.

216.      I think it is a highlight of FAO’ contribution to this year UN General Assembly. Green Cities Initiative is different from just making the cities green (green environment, green industries and green way of life). We need cooperation with UN Habitat, International Renewable Energy Agency and international financial institutions to build up a comprehensive approach to strengthen the relationship between cities and rural regions. 

217.      I ask my colleagues to design more concrete action plans, dashboard, criteria or indicators to work together with members of cities. We should help to design the linkages between cities and rural areas. We want to build future cities through the latest international experiences and wisdoms. I think many African, Asia and Latin American countries have more advantages in building future cities.

218.      The aim of the Initiative is to improve people’s wellbeing through increased availability of and access to products and services provided by green spaces - including urban and peri-urban forestry and agriculture - and through sustainable food systems.

219.      It is holistic in its vision, bringing together the goals of the urban food agenda with the environmental agenda.

220.      The Action Programme focuses on creating an Enabling Environment with actions supporting inclusive policies and governance frameworks as well as specific actions for metropolitan, intermediary and small cities.

221.      In the first three years, the programme will include 100 cities in 15 countries -    (15 metropolitan, 40 intermediary and 45 small cities) and will grow to engage with 1,000 cities by 2030.

222.      The Initiative builds on existing programmes, projects and partnerships across the Organization and will harness the numerous expressions of interest already received since the launch.

223.      At a meeting in July with the Executive Director of the Green Climate Fund, we agreed on the need for big projects with big impacts and discussed potential collaboration in the Green Cities Initiative, given its focus on addressing environmental concerns.

224.      Work has already begun to pilot the Programme in 10 cities in Africa by end of the year, in close collaboration with UN-Habitat.

225.      Together we will also establish indicators to define and monitor ‘Green Cities’.

226.      The 1000 Digital Villages Initiative aims to enable farmers to use digital technologies, information and communication tools including social media, to promote local sustainable development.

227.      I already asked Regional Representatives to make some concrete proposals. They should be under the International Platform for Digital Food and Agriculture. Let’s help Members to change their ways of developing agriculture, food and ways of living in the villages and/or towns. That’s a big leap. Villagers can access social services including medical service online, and they can sell their products easily to the cities, even all over the world, through e-commerce. 

228.      Digital technologies can raise economic benefits and contribute to food security by increasing productivity of agricultural sectors, enhancing market opportunities through E-commerce and access to market information, facilitating inclusion of famers in value chains.

229.      It can also promote harmonization of agriculture with the environment through optimized resource uses as well as enhanced adaptation to climate change.

230.      The initiative will also have social and cultural benefits. The living standards of rural villages could be improved by increased income as well as communication and information.

231.      Through the 1000 Digital Villages Initiative, a tailor-made menu for assistance in the area of digital innovation can be made according to the requests and situations of the sites, including Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) sites.

232.      This will be a collaborative effort with many partners including Tech Giants.

233.      The Initiative will also be part of our new collaboration with the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), where we focus on sustainable rural tourism.

234.      Our Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific is now starting a process of nominating and proposing the first round of pilot villages.

235.      Furthermore, at a meeting with the Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in November, we agreed to strengthen concrete collaboration to provide greater access for rural communities to renewable energy and support the development of the renewable energy sector in rural areas.

236.      The FAO-IRENA Plan of Action that is currently in preparation will benefit both initiatives. 

237.      Many of you joined us, as we launched the Food Coalition last week, together with the Prime Minister of Italy, the Deputy Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Nobel Prize laureates and several key players of Ministers.

238.      The Food Coalition proposed by the Government of Italy, and led by FAO, is a multi-stakeholder global alliance and unified global action in response to COVID-19.

239.      With strong support for FAO’s COVID-19 Response and Recovery Programme, the Food Coalition will raise awareness; mobilize financial resources, technical expertise, and innovation in support of the seven priority areas of work and needs and demands raised by the countries. 

240.      FAO will serve as a neutral leader and convener of the Food Coalition, with its expansive network of country offices worldwide ensuring that the views and needs of countries and national partners are fully prioritized.     

241.      Two technical committees were held in a virtual way since the last Joint Meeting: The Committee on Forestry and the Committee on Agriculture.

242.      The 25th Session of the Committee on Forestry focused on discussing ways to scaling up the significant contributions of the forest sector to the SDG Decade of Action – and the critical role of forests and forestry in recovering from the current pandemic and in preventing future ones.

243.      COFO 25 was attended by over 730 delegates from 112 Members as well as 18 UN agencies and observers.

244.      The message of COFO25 was very clear: we have to work together across agricultural and food sectors – and forestry needs to be an integral element;

245.      COFO25 also strongly encouraged enhancing work with partners, in particular the private sector and stakeholders, to identify and scale up locally appropriate solutions.

246.      The main theme of the 27th Session of the Committee on Agriculture was Sustainable Livestock for Sustainable Development Goals.

247.      The livestock sector directly contributes to many SDGs.

248.      For a large part of the 10% of the world’s population, who live in extreme poverty, livestock are the main source of income, employment and livelihood.

249.      While animal production and health are at the core of FAO’s mandate, the Organization has never had a dedicated intergovernmental forum to address the complexities of the livestock sector development in a more coherent manner.

250.      Last month, COAG has filled the gap and established the Sub-Committee on Livestock as an intergovernmental forum with the mandate to discuss and build consensus on issues and priorities related to the livestock sector, and advise COAG, and through it, the FAO Council and the FAO Conference.

251.      Based on the high level of interest shown by Members, I am confident that the modest level of extra-budgetary support, required for holding the sessions of the Sub-Committee will be secured. 

Distinguished Delegates,

252.      I wanted to share all of the elements mentioned, because they confirm three points:

253.      First: FAO has adapted to the new normal and is today more efficient, dynamic, innovative and effective; we are speeding up delivery!

254.      Second: FAO is setting its future strategic direction in a transparent and inclusive way, together with all of you; and

255.      Third: FAO is globally recognized today, as the professional trusted partner of all stakeholders working to eradicate hunger and malnutrition, towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. 

256.      We are determined to continue upon this path and are humbled by your support.

Thank you.