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

FAO Director-General intervention in the

2021 Berlin Agriculture Ministers’ Conference

22 January 2021

As prepared


Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. It is my pleasure to join you today, and I thank the Federal Minister of Food and Agriculture of Germany for inviting FAO.

2. I am happy to share with you the key conclusions of the High-level Panel on ‘How innovation can help strengthen the sustainability of food systems and prevent future pandemics’, that took place last Tuesday.

3. The key point that emerged from our discussion was that the pandemic gave impetus to innovation: we should work together to keep up this momentum. 

4. We witnessed innovation in policy: The African Union organized a Tripartite Ministerial Meeting, with technical support from FAO, which included Agriculture, Trade and Finance Ministers to coordinate their response to the COVID-19 emergency. That was the first time such a Tripartite meeting took place in Africa.

5. We innovated in global multi-stakeholder initiatives: Together with Italy and other partners, FAO launched the Food Coalition, a multi-stakeholder global alliance and unified global action to prevent the health crisis becoming a food crisis.

6. At the national level, governments set up innovative mechanisms to respond to the challenges of the pandemic. In South Africa, efforts were made to track wildlife movements in the Kruger National Park and to timely identify potential risks for spillover. Switzerland innovated by initiating a database of livestock producers and animal tracking.

7. Businesses also came up with innovative solutions and made bold adjustments to their business models, helping keep food value chains functioning at local, regional and global levels. We discussed how agribusiness promoted modern inputs and helped improve farming skills.

8. Digital technology underpinned the solutions created in response to the pandemic. We witnessed a rapid increase in the uptake of digital tools. Farmers, businesses and governments all recognized technology as an important ally.

9. In Uzbekistan, the development of agricultural information systems and e-commerce progresses with efforts to improve digital infrastructure in rural areas.

10. Switzerland, recognizing the challenges of digital technology, established a multi-stakeholder platform to agree on a Digital Charter – setting principles on how digital technology can be applied in food and agriculture.

11. In FAO, we are working to establish such a forum at the global level – the International Platform for Digital Food and Agriculture.

12. These are some examples of how the pandemic has given impetus to innovation, and we should continue to work to keep up this momentum.

13. But at the same time, there were 690 million people hungry in the world in 2019 and FAO estimates that the pandemic could add up to 132 million food-insecure people to this number, with serious long-term impacts on food security and livelihoods.

14. The upcoming UN Food Systems Summit provides us all with a venue and opportunity to work together to make sure that our agri-food systems are more inclusive, resilient and sustainable, to leave no one behind.

15. Finally, and most importantly, the panel discussion underlined that what is most needed is to continue cooperating, embracing new working methods, and adopting an innovative mindset.

16. FAO is ready to support the world in this new path:

  • FAO launched a comprehensive COVID-19 Response and Recovery Programme to help countries to build back better and stronger;
  • We continue to implement our innovative Hand-in-Hand Initiative to accelerate transformation and sustainable development;
  • FAO is committed to innovation-powered solutions through digital technologies. We have launched the Geospatial Platform to guide food-security investments and the Data Laboratory for Statistical Innovation, which combines big data and artificial intelligence for decision-making;
  • We are committed to addressing zoonotic diseases through the One Health approach – at the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture, we launched recommendations on how to reduce future wildlife-borne spillover of diseases.

17. These innovative tools can help us to better understand and respond to the impacts of the pandemic.

18. Most importantly, they can help to avert major food security and livelihood crises.

19. I thank you for your attention, and look forward to continue working together for better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life.