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

Exchange of views of the FAO Director-General

with the European Parliament Development Committee

Hunger and nutrition in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic

2 December 2020

As delivered


Honorable Members of the European Parliament,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. Let me start by thanking the European Parliament Development Committee for this occasion to interact and exchange views on such a central topic.

2. This week is very busy as we are on the way to the FAO Council meeting. This meeting is timely and very relevant. I appreciate very much, so many years the European Union and the European Parliament to support FAO mandate. Any progress we have made globally we appreciate the group of the European Union and especially the group against hunger. 

3. Today’s event is an important contribution to discuss how we can collectively ensure the vital functioning of agriculture and food systems, while protecting the most vulnerable through reinforcement of early warning systems and social safety nets to strengthen resilience and protect livelihoods. 

4. My message to you is this: We need a globally coordinated and coherent response to prevent this public health crisis from triggering a food crisis

5. Prior to the pandemic, the situation was critical. Worldwide, almost 690 million people were undernourished in 2019Three billion could not afford a healthy diet.

6. The pandemic then brought about a crisis of a magnitude without parallel in modern times. 

7. A crisis that laid bare the fragility of our agri-food systems, the frailty of our food supply chain, the precarious nature of the agricultural labor force and the thin line that separates many families from poverty.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

8. The impacts on COVID-19 on food security, nutrition and livelihoods across the globe are profound

9. At the start of the pandemic, we observed that food supplies were impacted, as shortages of workers in the food chain, mostly due to mobility restrictions, affected farming activities and downstream trading, processing, storage and transportation activities but also lead to high post-harvest losses for perishables. 

10. Closures and restricted operations of markets lead to reduced access to diverse, healthy and nutritious food, loss of livelihoods and to food prices increasing. 

11. Disruptions to international logistics networks and restrictions in trade on food supply could be specially damaging to countries relying heavily on food imports.  

12. FAO is particularly concerned about the pandemic’s impacts on vulnerable countries already grappling with hunger and hit by other crises – like the Desert Locust outbreak in the Horn of East Africa or the insecurity in the Sahel. 

13. Vulnerable groups also include small-scale farmers, who might be hindered from working on their land or accessing markets to sell their products or buy seeds and other essential inputs. 

14. COVID-19 has exacerbated existing challenges, notably limited access to productive resources, finance and markets, and has led to a reported reduction in market access and income, while also limiting access to inputs, work sites, and essential services. 

15. Millions of children are already missing out on school meals that are often the only source of nutritious food they have.

16. Rural women must be a crucial part of the post-pandemic recovery. Policy responses should consider women's roles in agri-food systems and ensure that their multiple needs – as guardians of household food security, food producers, farm managers, processors, traders, wage workers and entrepreneurs – are adequately addressed. 

17. The major economic and labour market shock caused by the pandemic has significant impacts in terms of unemployment and underemployment, in particular on informal workers, leading job losses and subsequent increases in poverty and food insecurity.

18. Response measures should foster the expansion of social protection coverage to informal workers in agriculture and rural sectors. 

19. Efforts should be made to maintain agricultural supply chains and strengthen the market linkages for local producers, while promoting decent work.

20. The pandemic has also been yet another push factor in 2020, on top of intensifying conflict, historic flooding in some areas, a once-in-a-generation Desert Locust upsurge and pre-existing economic crises. 

21. Here it is very relevant to stress that nearly four out five people in protracted crisis contexts live in rural areas and rely on some form of agricultural production for their livelihoods. 

22. The September update of the Global Report on Food Crises already showed a notable increase in the number of people experiencing acute food insecurity at crisis or worse levels compared with 2019.

23. In that context, I would like to commend the Global Network against Food Crisis, founded by FAO, WFP and the European Commission and mainly financed by the EU, as an excellent example of a strategic partnership to tackle protracted crises and recurrent disasters, reduce vulnerability, and manage risk, by bridging the divide between development and humanitarian partners.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

24. In July 2020, we launched the FAO comprehensive COVID-19 Response and Recovery Program, for immediate, medium and longer-term actions to prevent the health crisis becoming a food crisis. 

25. This holistic program is designed not only to help countries for recovery but also to build back better and stronger towards transforming agri-food systems.  

26. We have called for 1.3 billion US dollars around seven priority areas of work. These priorities are identified through a bottom-up approach in consultation with national governments and institutions, and this initial investment will be necessary to support the most vulnerable countries and people in need. 

27. These areas include among others, the One Health approach, data for decision making, social protection programs, rural women empowerment, inter-regional cooperation, trade facilitation and market transparency. 

28. The COVID-19 Response and Recovery Program benefits from FAO’s flagship Hand in Hand Initiative (HiHi) that aims to accelerate agricultural transformation and sustainable rural development based on data and information on the poorest countries.

29. The Initiative counts on state-of-the-art technologies, such as the HiHi-Geospatial Platform, which delivers key information for decision-making, the Data Laboratory for Statistical Innovation, which combines unconventional data sources, big data, artificial intelligence, and data science for decision-making and impact evaluation, and Earth Map, a Big Data Tool we developed in the framework of our collaboration with Google. 

30. 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. 

31. Based on the wide interest and overwhelming positive reactions received so far, I am confident that this number will increase significantly in the coming months.

32. Another important effort that was launched on 5 November 2020, is the Food Coalition, which was proposed by the Government of Italy and led by FAO with the participation of our key and strategic partners.

33. The Food Coalition will support the COVID-19 response and recovery program by raising awareness, mobilizing financial resources, technical expertise, and innovation.

34. FAO will serve as a neutral leader and convener of the Food Coalition, with our expansive network of country offices all around we will ensure that the views and needs of countries and national partners are fully prioritized.

35. We look forward to your active participation and engagement in the Coalition.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

36. Transforming agri-food systems and ending poverty are at the heart of FAO’s mandate as well as central to contributing to deliver the 2030 Agenda

37. Sustainable agri-food systems are central to feeding a growing world with healthy diets; mitigating and adapting to climate change and sustainably managing global natural resources. 

38. Agri-food systems underpin the livelihoods of 4.5 billion people around the globe. This includes over 1.1 billion people in poverty, living and working in rural areas.  

39. Globally, about 76 per cent of the rural workers who are extremely poor engage in agriculture.  

40. More than 80 percent of the rural self-employed work under informal arrangements.  

41. This means that the vast majority of rural workers are excluded from employment-related social protection.  

42. There is large and incontrovertible evidence that social protection safeguards the basic consumption of the poor, reduces food insecurity and helps prevent hunger, particularly in the face of shocks. 

43. When implemented at scale, non-contributory social protection helps make a dent on poverty – by reducing the numbers of the poor and the depth of poverty.

44. Social protection has played a crucial role during the pandemic, helping already poor and newly vulnerable groups mitigate and sometimes avert the worst effects of the crisis. 

45. Poor rural households and workers in the services sectors, including in food systems, cannot work remotely. 

46. While movement restrictions have impacted their income and livelihoods, they have remained exposed to contagion so long as they were not excluded from or could not comply with stay-at-home orders.

47. Putting in place new social protection measures and expanding existing ones is key to containing the spread of the virus, to protecting livelihoods during the response and to strengthening the capacities of rural communities for long-term recovery.

48. Social protection can facilitate economic inclusion in the process of building back better.

49. Another element of crucial importance is Health, being inextricably linked with food insecurity, with poverty, with hunger and with climate change.

50. We know that a chain is as strong as its weakest link. 

51. FAO’s work over the past 15 years with the Tripartite (WHO and OIE), has sought to address the weak links in managing zoonotic health threats – the wildlife, animal and human interface in the least developed countries. 

52. We have made progress – but the drivers for overspill of viruses into the domestic animal and human populations are stronger than ever – and there are many weak links, in every continent.

53. FAO is committed to addressing zoonotic diseases and Antimicrobial Resistance through the One Health approach - and to extend the One Health approach down to the community level, in the least developed, high risk settings for zoonotic pandemic – to leave no one behind, to place One Health at the heart of our development work. 

54. To achieve this, we need to greatly scale up the delivery of guidance and support to countries to implement One Health. Recently, FAO, WHO and OIE launched a new One Health Global Leaders Group on Antimicrobial Resistance, which is supported by the UN Secretary-General.

55. I welcome the new European Green Deal as well as the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, as an important contribution to One Health.

56. In this context, FAO has been collaborating closely with the UN and with the EU to actively build alliances and partnerships that aim to support countries in addressing climate change mitigation and adaptation in the food and agriculture sectors. 

57. An excellent example for this is the Sustainable Wildlife Management Programme - a One Health approach focused on livelihoods and food security of people who daily depend on wildlife, and the health of the ecosystems in the forests they live in.  

58. The Programme is largely financed by the EU and we are grateful for this. Led by FAO with a consortium of partners, it has projects in thirteen countries in 4 continents.

59. The Programme responds to concerns raised by the COVID-19 crisis on the risks associated to wildlife trade and consumption in causing pandemics. 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

60. COVID-19 has prompted us all to go further and rethink our approaches and ways of working. 

61. This is a time when pioneering sciences, innovative technologies and digital solutions are contributing to fostering sustainable development and humanitarian assistance, including in food and agricultural domains.

62. FAO is currently crafting its new Strategic Framework, placing the 2030 Agenda at its centre and ensuring better integration with the whole UN Development system. 

63. FAO’s longer-term vision for the post-COVID-19 world supports the ambition to place the food systems approach in the centre of political and action agendas, and to support Members achieve the “four betters”: better production, better nutrition, better environment and better life, in line with the commitments of the 2030 Agenda. 

64. We are putting a special focus on partnerships as they are fundamental to implement the 2030 Agenda and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

65. The private sector is a driving force to boost markets, consumers and farmers and an enhanced engagement of the private sector can provide capacity development, investments and a new professional market-oriented business model.

66. We are presenting therefore a new FAO Strategy for Private Sector Engagement at our Council just finished yesterday. All the members supported that Strategy. 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

67. In closing, I would like to thank the European Union for the strong partnership and leadership in global efforts that drive global solidarity in responding to the crisis. 

68. I particularly welcome the EU’s engagement in FAO-African Union Task Force on the impact of COVID-19 on Food Security in AfricaSIDS, LDCs and LLDCs which was put in place in order to coordinate support and particularly for vulnerable populations facing food insecurity. 

69. And I thank the European Parliament and Members of the European Parliamentary Alliance against Hunger and Malnutrition for their continued efforts to ensure that the issues of food and nutrition remain high on our political agenda are paramount for global food security. 

70. As FAO we recognize the crucial role that Parliamentarians play in shaping the global agenda, as well as in terms of Parliamentary oversight and approving the budgets.

71. As Members of parliament, you are uniquely positioned to promote and adopt people-centered policies and legislation to ensure that no one is left behind. 

72. FAO is proud to be your partner in this noble mission of eradicating hunger, eliminating poverty and creating a world of harmony and solidarity.  And for the better beautiful world. 

Thank you. Over to you chair.