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

Global Bioeconomy Summit 2020
20 November

Intervention by Dr QU, Dongyu
Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

As prepared



Ladies and Gentlemen,

  1. I am pleased to be with you today discussing this important topic.
  2. Last month, FAO celebrated its seventy-fifth anniversary, marking a historic moment in global food and agriculture development.
  3. But it was also a sobering moment, highlighting how urgent it is for us to come together in the global fight against hunger and malnutrition.
  4. About 690 million people in the world, nearly 10 percent of the world population, went hungry in 2019 and up to 132 million might join them by the end of 2020.
  5. Almost 200 million children still suffer from wasting or stunting and 3 billion people cannot afford a healthy diet.
  6. Yet about 14 percent of the food produced is lost.
  7. FAO witnessed the Green Revolution – vast areas of cultivation, improved seed quality and an increased level of mechanisation on large farms. One seed changed world.
  8. As the 1970s dawned, environmental awareness was awakening.
  9. The world was engaging in increasingly destructive farming practices, reduced fish stocks, and overuse of pesticides in the name of increasing production.
  10. We have progressively realized how hard nature we rely upon is being hit.
  11. In 2015 the world came together and agreed on the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals that are designed to be a "blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all".
  12. For this to happen we need a global transition towards better production, better nutrition and a better environment to ensure a better life.
  13. Such a transition requires a radical transformation that can be achieved through bioeconomy.
  14. I consider three types of innovation necessary for this transition:

                a. Technological (Biotechnology, digital and bio-innovative such as microbiome applications, plastic              alternatives and alternative sources of protein), bio-industry, bio-products, biosafety and bio-ethnics.

                b. Organizational (Policies, changes in institutional behaviour), and

                c.  Social (rethinking, awareness, job creation).

  15. To this end, FAO is fostering bioeconomy by supporting South-South and Triangular cooperation in research, development and innovation and new forms of multi-governmental partnerships.
  16. South-South and triangular cooperation can support the scale-up of bioeconomy activities and sharing of sustainable practices.
  17. In the wider bioeconomy, agri-food systems are essential to face climate change, respect the environment and decrease the degradation of biodiversity. All form of biotic and abiotic stresses impact on agri-food systems.
  18. Since receiving the mandate to coordinate international work on ‘Food First’ bioeconomy, at the 2015 Global Forum for Food and Agriculture, FAO has been actively involved in this.
  19. The COVID-19 pandemic pushes us to rethink our approaches and redouble our efforts.
  20. A bioeconomy, promoting long-awaited and much needed bio-innovations, should be central to a post-pandemic recovery to build back better and especially to increase the value of biomass in situ increasing efficiency in production processes and minimizing food losses.

    Ladies and gentlemen,
  21. I see five central elements to make this happen:
  22. First, an international collaboration between governments and public and private researchers is essential for sharing knowledge and best practices. 
  23. The FAO-led Sustainable International Bioeconomy Working group is an excellent example of this.
  24. The Group is a multi-stakeholder platform to facilitate South-South and Triangular Cooperation and provides the support needed to increase State capacities to develop strategies and policies for sustainability and circularity in the bioeconomy.
  25. A first concrete result of the joint work of its members was to agree on a set of aspirational principles and criteria that work as a guideline to mainstream sustainability in the bioeconomy strategies.
  26. These principles cover the economic, environmental and social dimensions of sustainability, but also include governance and engagement to ensure they reflect these other three elements.
  27. Secondly, we need comprehensive metrics and data for monitoring systems that allow us to measure the bioeconomy’s development and its contributions to the SDGs. Priority targets, such as food and nutrition security, and other social environmental and economic assessment criteria need to be agreed upon internationally, led by global organizations such as FAO.
  28. Building on the Principles and Criteria mentioned before, FAO and the Bioeconomy Working Group have established the theoretical foundation for such monitoring systems.
  29. Together with the Joint Research Institute of European Commission and the German Thünen Institute, FAO is now developing hands-on guidance on how to monitor bioeconomy in all its sustainability dimensions, which will be rolled out in some selected Member countries.
  30. Thirdly, bioeconomy initiatives need to be linked more closely with multilateral policy processes, such as multilateral environmental agreements, including the Paris agreement and the Aichi biodiversity targets.
  31. More than 20 countries worldwide have launched holistic bioeconomy strategies, aiming at the sustainable transformation of biological resource production, consumption and conservation.
  32. In most cases, this systematic approach requires that policymakers understand how the design and level of coherence of public policy can contribute, or create barriers, to its development.
  33. FAO is implementing a dedicated project to guide countries in the development of coherent sustainable and circular bioeconomy strategies, programmes and action plans.
  34. We are facilitating an important first step to this end, by supporting policy dialogue among national decision-makers from different Ministries, the private sector, academia and civil society.
  35. Fourthly, we need to strengthen human capital capacity on the science-policy interface.
  36. Because of the pandemic and its devastating impacts on economies in general and food security, agricultural production and nutrition in particular, we need to re-think how we produce, distribute and consume food and fibre.
  37. A sustainable and circular bioeconomy shows the way for greening agri-food systems as a key ingredient of sustainable response and recovery.
  38. FAO has set out to provide capacity through training and capacity building events, as well as a series of knowledge products.
  39. Finally, we need research, development and innovation programmes to encourage global collaboration in breakthrough projects, such as the FAO-led initiative on alternatives to plastics in agriculture and those promoted by the International Bioeconomy Forum on the microbiome of food systems, of which FAO is an active member.
  40. Close collaboration between FAO and the European Commission Department for Research and Technology has also led to a joint workshop at this GBS2020 held last Wednesday, which focuses on rebooting the economy after COVID-19 and a green recovery.

    Ladies and Gentlemen,
  41. We do this out of our strong belief that science and technology are the way ahead.
  42. This is why I have created an Office for Innovation, and have just appointed a Chief Scientist, a first in the history of our Organization.
  43. FAO is generating knowledge and innovative products, and this is happening by deepening partnerships, not only with governments, but also with academia, civil society, and the private sector.
  44. We are already promoting collaborative work on bio-innovations and digital food and agriculture that targets on leaving no one behind.
  45. Take a look at FAO’s flagship Hand-in-Hand Initiative that is country owned and country led.
  46. I have also formed a new Office for Climate Change, Biodiversity and Environment, which is coordinating FAO´s efforts towards a sustainable and circular bioeconomy.

    Ladies and Gentlemen,
  47. ‘Food for all’ is our aspiration, so we should have enough food to ending hunger first. Productivity first.
  48. Food for different regions and specific demands, balanced food that is adequate to address malnutrition and obesity. Food diversity are more and more important for quality of consumer’s life.
  49. Our thinking and acting need to go beyond the mere production of food and include food consumption, food quality, food culture and all other aspects.
  50. We need to think about what good food means. Food that fits requirements, biological needs, for the child, the sick the obese, for consumers at different ages. We need to look at the specific formula and pattern.
  51. And our attention needs to go to scientific, evidence-based food consumption and how to produce food. Looking at the environmental impacts and change production modes and methods, being contributors to sustainable development. Food efficiency should revisit in term of environmental impacts not only nutrient intake.
  52. Looking at animal protein, we need to examine feed productivity and output per unit in terms of environmental impacts.
  53. Our attention is also geared towards the food chain, supply chain and cold chain and the related challenge of eliminating food loss and waste both on innovation and policy.
  54. This is where digital technologies and modern solutions such as e-commerce come into play as ways of transforming and rationalizing our food systems. How to reuse the food residues for food, feed, fertilizers and fuel should be designed holistically.
  55. And we need to think about a feed CODEX, addressing pressing issues like AMR, residues, heavy metals and the use of additives as well as the environmental pollution that goes with it. 
  56. Exploring alternative methods of using food residues, using more recycled and by-products to produce feed, increasing the value of biomass and achieving environmentally friendly results.
  57. Looking at fibres, we need to explore natural ways of developing new ones. This is a field, where innovation is needed.
  58. Biofuel, Biogas and even bioreactors are another area of interest for the future. Agriculture needs to contribute to fuel production using grass or bush or non-edible parts of crops and other commodities. We must develop more renewable (solar and /or bio) energy-based production system.
  59. Looking at forestry, we need to go beyond the limited view of it being about planting trees. It is also a source of food, feed and fibre. Bamboo and rattan come to mind, as examples, where FAO is starting a focused effort with the International Organization of Bamboo and Rattan.
  60. And we need to highlight the cultural heritage of agriculture, transferring knowledge, indigenous heritage, tradition and habits from one generation to the next.
  61. Then there is the touristic value and aspect of agriculture. An area that is well worth investing in as a sophisticated complementary tool for decent labour-intensive jobs in rural development.
  62. The Agri-environments should be addressed as man-made environments, including:
    • Wetlands, like rice paddy fields and aquaculture ponds.
    • Reforesting for ecosystems, like bushes and grass.
    • Installations in the Semi-desert: using solar energy on greenhouses, animal shelters for cattle, and feed production sites. 
  63. This leads us to the Bioeconomy, where economic value is paired with environmental sustainability.
  64. When combining rice farming, raising duck, fish and water vegetables in a rice paddy field for example.
  65. That is agriculture at large with 5 Fs which are Food, Feed, Fibre, Fuel and Friends.
  66. And we need to link biodiversity with food diversity, as food diversity is explored from biodiversity by science.
  67. We also look at integrating agri-food systems into the environment, as we do in the urban and peri-urban environment with our Green Cities Initiative.
  68. A holistic vision, bringing together the goals of the urban food agenda with the socioeconomic-environmental-spiritual nexus.
  69. We have the knowledge, tools and approaches to produce and use biomass sustainably.
  70. We need to combine these with the right policies, institutions, capacities, governance and investment to harness the potential of a sustainable bioeconomy for all.
  71. Let us trust, respect and keep our commitment to each other, and “Grow, Nourish, and Sustain. Together” for a better bioeconomy and a better world.

Thank you.