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

World Economic Forum: Bold Actions for Food as a Force for Good 
High-Level Closing Plenary

Dr QU Dongyu, Director-General - Food and Agriculture Organization

Transcript of Closing Remarks

Tuesday, 24 November 2020 | Virtual Meeting



Thank you Sean,

I was very interested in listening to the panellists. It’s really powerful and very, very guideline-oriented to action and to change the game. 

Early this afternoon, I participated in the dialogues and also listened very carefully. During the meeting with the G20 leaders two days ago, I also carefully listened to different leaders with different opinions on COVID-19 pandemic, its response and the recovery. 

We have a special agenda on resilient, inclusive, sustainable development: Building Back Better.

Today, I am really pleased to learn from you. I want to make it clear now: in past several days, even from last September of 2019, frankly speaking, World Economic Forum (WEF) together with other colleagues, we are really thinking more and more on the same page and we are really thinking brightly, and now we are ready to take the bold actions. 

Early this year in Davos, there was so much brainstorming. I appreciate that very much. Wiebe just had a very good intervention. Now, I think it’s really the time to think holistically, coherently and historically, because if you look at some things two years ahead, it’s different. If you look at something five years or ten years ahead, the world will be completely changed. You say nine harvests. And if you look twenty years later, because for the environment to change, at least we need twenty years. Of course, we could expect some small changes in two years, five years or ten years. That’s my experience in China, because when we started the forest rehabilitation in north part of China, it really takes twenty years to see the difference.

Challenges are enormous. I believe that all of you fully understand what the real challenges for food and agri-food systems are. Through these challenges being the central point, you can get a lot of related issues connected with the central point: environment, education, social, political agenda and almost everything. But you have to keep one of these challenges as the central point, you have to think from this as starting point: food and agri-food systems.

First of all, let’s be clear: food is the number one universal commodity. Second, food is the utmost important public good. It’s not a normal commercial commodity. If we consider they are the utmost important public good, then we will have a different policy, a different way of doing business. 

And food is a basic human right. That’s what I had shared with the Holy Father last Friday. I paid a special audience to him to listen to his guidance and instruction to me. Every year, he receives me once. 

Food systems are connected with global political agenda. You only talk about economic, environment, health or social. It’s not enough. ‘Politics’ is the number one priority. No political engagement, no political commitment, no political energetic, no way forward and out. That is why the Secretary-General, Mr Guterres would like to convene the UN Food Systems Summit. Not like before, one nation or FAO alone to convene a Summit. That will be the highest multilaterally political engagement. Please make full use of that as big catalyst. 

Second, we need unprecedented leadership. That will allow us to boost health, sustainability, and public good characteristics of food for the vulnerable, for the middle-income and the high-income groups, because we are human beings. Different regions, different countries have different challenges they face. But first we have to address these issues: challenges for food security, for vulnerable people. That’s why during the past seven months, for the first time the UN Security Council have already listened to the briefing from FAO, WFP and OCHA several times. 

So from the current crisis not only we need to do joint and concrete strategy, but also we need to build back better and stronger. In this world, one of nine is suffering from starvation, hunger, or food insecurity. Let’s say two out of ten, 80% of the total population are facing the challenges of accessing nutritional and heathy diets, such as: obesity, non-communicable diseases. 

We are in one global village, we have to meet all the requirements from different groups of people. Two days ago, that’s why I brought this issue to the G20 Leaders’ Summit, plus other guest leaders – there were about more than 30 heads of states. 

I think they are really thinking how to boost farmers’ productivity, scale up social protection mechanism and invest digital innovation to achieve better production, better nutrition, better environment, and better life. 

I hear some people mentioned the idea of producing less. No, it’s too early to say that. Maybe, it’s a good idea in theory. However, what I have said is better production. It means we need enough quantity first. We still have, by 2050, ten billion population to be well fed. That’s a huge challenge. We can say we can produce more with less. That’s a more scientific way to address. We can reduce using input of chemicals, fertilizers, increasing efficiency by innovation, management and change of business model.

In the last two days here, we have seen so many panels just talking about challenges. How about opportunity? I really listened to the speech of Peter Bakker. Now we have to prioritize. 

Here you have so many economists. What is the basic rule of economy? Marginal utility. Marginalise every action – your bold action, brave action, meetings and so on. Marginal utility is the number one issue. 

So, when you look at any bold action, from that point of view I think we have so many recommendations, so many initiatives, so many actions. Looking from the aspect of the marginal utility, for transformation of the agri-food systems or food systems, number one is to reduce food loss and waste. And how? Food loss is different in different countries: in the developing nations, more potential, higher marginal utility. And food waste is of higher marginal utility in the European. And food waste is also of more marginal utility in cities, no matter you’re in a developing or developed country. Food waste in any city in the world is a big potential area to be looked at and to be improved. 

We have so many private sectors. If we can do that more, not only good for the farmers’ livelihood and environment, but also good for reducing the cost on the medical insurance and so on. So that’s really the highest marginal utility. 

Second, innovation and enabling policy, any kind of innovation, based on available technologies. Last week I participated in a bio-economy development summit. You can use less inputs to produce higher and better. I think Professor Louise Fresco mentioned that we need not only technical innovation, but also policy and business innovation or management innovation. So, innovation is a holistic approach. 

Third, regionalization and localization. No matter it is production, trade or research, that’s a basic fundamental characteristic of agro-food systems. You can’t say one shot to fix all, one set for all, or one shot to hit all birds. No! If we look at the agri-food systems, that should be regionalization and localization. Any policy, innovation, you name it, even food loss and waste, technology and management should be in line with local concrete conditions.

So that are three summarized ideas I can share with you. Let’s work on that. So, FAO is a committed partner in this journey. I said this to the Secretary-General and Special Envoy, we will take the UN Food Systems Summit as a catalyst, as a concrete step forward. Food and agriculture is a life-long and forever issue. That’s our mandate. So, I think in any means we will support it, I appreciate your support, and that’s why I try my best to listen to all the panellists - I’m learning from you. 

I especially appreciate WEF, as you look at the agri-food system and bring all the key players together. So I invite you all to work with me, with us, in this long journey to shift this discussion to the action-focused, solution-oriented agenda and towards a better future for the people and the planet with agri-food systems, which will be more nutritious, healthy, resilient and inclusive.

When you talk about the sustainable development, we need a sustainable young generation of producers and consumers. If we don’t have a sustainable producer, food processor or traders, not only family farmer, if we don’t have a sustainable young generation to produce raw materials and distribute the end products, we won’t achieve the goals of sustainable development. 

That’s really something we have to build in the digital world. This pandemic has forced us to speed up, scale up the digitalization of the world economy, social management, digital governance and digital society.

Thank you to all the hosts for bringing us together! We are all working together to set a table for the world to have food with enough quantity, high-quality, diversity, accessibility, affordability and equality. We need everyone to commit, engage and work together, without complaint and without excuse. Leave yourself behind. Once you get senior, laying on bed recalling your whole life, you will have no regret. 

Thank you.