Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia (REU)

Innovation for the future of food

FAO regional head addresses St. Petersburg Economic Forum panel 

Photo:  ITAR-TASS / Artem GeodakyanScience-based solutions will be crucial to ensuring a stable food supply for expanding populations in the decades ahead, but changes in human behavior and supply chain organization could prove just as important.   

That was the message of Vladimir Rakhmanin, Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative of FAO for Europe and Central Asia, as he addressed the 18th annual St. Petersburg International Economic Forum today.  

Open discussion on the topic of “Innovations in Resource Management to Improve Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture” involved panelists from FAO, PepsiCo, the Russian Grain Board, METRO, PhosAgro and others. 

How to feed a rapidly growing global population while protecting the Earth’s natural resources – land, water, forests, fisheries and biodiversity – is FAO’s daily business.  Director-General Jose’ Graziano da Silva, who took office in 2012, has introduced a package of innovations aimed at tackling the problem from multiple sides, Rakhmanin said. 

Smaller is better?

Emphasis on the potential of small-scale and family farms is one such innovation, aimed at preserving biodiversity for better nutrition, increasing food security and improving rural incomes.

Small-scale producers keep many climate-resilient varieties and breeds alive, Rakhmanin said. He cited evidence that “small-scale producers may have lower production costs, and can be competitive in the production of increased yields of high-value crops and high-quality, high-care fruits and vegetables.” FAO is calling for increased investment and attention to developing smallholder and family farming, transforming subsistence farmers into efficient and productive actors. 

This topic is especially prominent in 2014, which has been designated by the United Nations as the International Year of Family Farming. 

To help small-scale producers overcome obstacles to competitiveness, FAO actively promotes “inclusive business models” – featuring the formation and development of cooperatives and similar organizations, and partnerships with industry. Cooperation is also viewed as means of advancing scientific and technological innovation, and building resilience. 

What a waste!

FAO today is also taking aim at the shockingly high volumes of food lost or wasted along the supply chain “from farm to table.” An estimated one-third or more of all food produced is lost in transport, storage, processing, wasted by consumers, or thrown away by retailers. 

Attacking food losses and waste is considered especially promising as a path to sustainable food security – through investment in public goods such as storage centers, cooling facilities, roads and market infrastructure.

Consumer attitudes and behavior – at the supermarket and in the home – are another important element to address. FAO is now emphasizing the need for “sustainable diets,” Rakhmanin said. 

Shorter food chains

Creating or strengthening local food circuits is another promising approach that FAO is exploring. Shorter food chains reduce transportation costs, reduce food losses, increase food security, improve incomes for rural families, and are more sustainable, Rakhmanin said. Consumption of locally grown foods is also beneficial for nutrition, environmental protection, agro-biodiversity and cultural diversity. 

FAO currently is exploring and assessing the benefits of short food chains, and promoting conservation agriculture, use of integrated pest and livestock management to control and manage plant pests and animal disease.

Climate-smart agriculture

Rakhmanin highlighted the disruptions to agricultural production expected as a result of climate change, and the need to develop production systems adapted to changing conditions in different parts of the world. With “climate-smart agriculture” FAO hopes to see sustainable increases in productivity and incomes, build resilience to climate change, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions resulting from agriculture.  

‘Blue growth’ and more

Capture fisheries and aquaculture now provide food and livelihoods for more people than ever before, but harmful practices and poor management threaten the sector’s sustainability, Rakhmanin said. FAO has launched a “Blue Growth Initiative,” assisting member countries with conservation and sustainable management of fisheries, based on the premise that healthy ocean ecosystems are the way to ensure sustainable ocean-based economies. 

Rakhmanin noted other tools and approaches that FAO is pursuing with its member countries for increased food security and better nutrition:  improved agricultural statistics and market information, equal access to productive resources for women, and solid partnerships involving the private sector and civil society in consultative processes related to policy making. 

Finally, Rakhmanin invited all participants to contribute to the preparatory process for the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2), set for 19-21 November 2014 at FAO Headquarters in Rome, Italy. With ICN2, FAO and WHO aim to revitalize nutrition as at international level, including political and policy coherence, coordination and international cooperation, to strengthen governance for nutrition and to mobilize resources needed to improve nutrition.   

23 May 2014, St. Petersburg, Russian Federation

Photo:  ITAR-TASS / Artem Geodakyan