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

Special FAO Seminar on Food and Nutrition

“Urgent call for agri-food systems transformation to achieve healthy diets for all.”

Opening Remarks by Dr. QU Dongyu, Director-General, FAO

10:30 AM, 25 November (Wednesday) 2020

As delivered


Her Majesty Queen Máxima of the Netherlands, United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development

Her Majesty the Queen of the Belgians, SDG Advocate


Dear colleagues,

Ladies and gentlemen,

  1. Thank you for joining this important seminar, where we will take a close look at the current hunger situation and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout on the countries that have been most affected.
  2. We will also reflect on the urgent actions needed for transforming the agri-food systems to significantly improve this dramatic situation.
  3. Over the past five years, tens of millions of people have joined the ranks of the undernourished. In 2019, 10 more million people went hungry and in the last 5 years 60 more million people.
  4. More than 1.5 billion people cannot afford a diet that meets the required levels of essential nutrients and 3 billion people cannot even afford the cheapest healthy diet.
  5. Globally, the burden of malnutrition in all its forms also remains a challenge and the world is not on track to achieve the 2025 and 2030 targets.
  6. In some areas, such as adult obesity, we are actually moving in the wrong direction in all regions.
  7. While the full impact of COVID-19 on food security is yet to be seen, more than 100 million people could be pushed into hunger this year, and the nutritional status of the most vulnerable groups is also likely to deteriorate.
  8. This meeting is not an academic exercise. It is meant to be a precursor to action.
  9. And so, I would like to frame this discussion with three words that I hope can help move us to action: Solidarity, Urgency, and Action to transform the agri-food systems.
  10. The first word, solidarity, describes a distinctive, and very human feeling and quality.
  11. It is rooted in our ability, when we are at our best, to feel empathy towards others very different from ourselves, and in particular toward others who are suffering.
  12. The global crisis has shown us why collective action at global scale is essential to combat a global pandemic and a global economic crisis. 
  13. But the crisis has also shown us that we cannot sustain collective action unless we are motivated by solidarity, by empathy for others.
  14. Urgency is the second theme I wish to highlight.
  15. The picture we are going to explore today is grim, but far from hopeless.
  16. Along the day we will describe specific actions that can be taken to anticipate coming challenges, and start now to build a different future for food – a future with less poverty and inequality, a future that makes healthy diets reliably accessible to all, a future in which food systems are in balance with nature, a future of food that is more resilient.
  17. We have a window to act, but it is small. We need to move quickly to mobilize the necessary support.
  18. The resources – intellectual, financial, and material – are not lacking, but unless we are well-organized and coordinated, the probability is that we will be too late and too ineffective for too many people in the Least Developed Countries, the Land-Locked Developing Countries and the Small Island Developing States.
  19. Overcoming hunger and malnutrition in all its forms (including undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, overweight and obesity) is about more than producing enough food to survive.
  20. Our food systems need to ensure nutritious foods are available and affordable for everyone and that our agri-food systems are sustainable.
  21. But this is also not enough. We need to look not only at the production side but also at the consumer side. Consumer’s behavior and demand needs to change towards foods that are more nutritious. Consumers could drive the transformation we need.
  22. To achieve this we need to take holistic, comprehensive and coherent approaches, to transform the global agri-food system.
  23. This requires integrated actions taken by all stakeholders at local, national, regional, and global levels, by both public and private actors, and across multiple fronts - not only in agriculture, but also in trade, policy, health, environment, education and infrastructure.
  24. It involves actions across our food system from the producer to consumer and from consumer to producer.
  25. Without urgent and coordinated actions, we will not be able to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, in particular, SDG1 (ending poverty), SDG2 (ending hunger and malnutrition) and SDG10 (reducing inequality).
  26. Three drivers are extremely critical to ensure that our agri-food system transformation will benefit the health of both people and our planet at all stages along the food value chain.
  27. First, we need to support countries and especially least developed ones to increase their resilience. More resilience means fewer risks but also better capacity to cope with risks.
  28. To minimize risks, there is an urgent need to increase investment in early warning systems and early preventing capacity building.  That is real inclusiveness.
  29. Also, the One Health approach, as promoted by FAO, OIE and the WHO, has enormous potential to prevent the emergence of new zoonotic reservoirs from the current COVID-19 pandemic.
  30. Coping with risks requires to have tools to cope with risks, this needs to start by scaling up social protection mechanisms to improve livelihood of the poor and those whose income is most affected.
  31. Increase responsible investment in agriculture and the rural areas to integrate smallholder farmers into the development process. More productive infrastructure will increase farmers’ ability to cope with biotic and abiotic stress and uncertainties.
  32. Second, agricultural policies must shift from merely focusing on the production of high quantities of staple foods like rice, wheat, and maize, to producing more healthy foods sustainably, such as: fruits and vegetables.
  33. Governments can re-orient subsidies to provide incentives for investing in foods that are more nutritious.
  34. In addition, they should incentivize trade to boost farmers’ productivity, income and sustainability. Trade can increase their access to markets and assure a more efficient use of natural resources.
  35. Third, innovations and digital technologies can help accelerate the transformation of our agri-food systems by increasing agricultural productivity sustainably and integrating smallholders into markets.
  36. It also includes different social, organizational and institutional processes, ranging from access to markets, credit or extension services to marketing produce in a new way.
  37. If you ask me where we can start, I will immediately say reduction of food loss and waste as it is clearly one element that will allow us to improve food security and nutrition, improve the use of natural resources, and reduce environmental pressures.

    Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
  38. The COVID-19 global crisis underlined the importance of solidarity.
  39. During the G20 Leaders’ Summit, a few days ago, I reiterated FAO’s firm commitment to support Members to transform the agri-food systems and achieve healthy diets for all.
  40. Hand in Hand, FAO is ready to cooperate with you, to make the Pre-Food Systems Summit (FSS), the FAO Youth World Food Forum (WFF) and the UN Food System Summit 2021 complete successes!
  41. Let’s walk the talk - to build a shared bright future through better production, better nutrition, better environment, and a better life.

I thank you.