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Transforming agriculture and food systems to nourish people and to nurture the planet

FAO's Committee on Agriculture focuses on boosting sustainable development through innovation

1 October 2018, Rome - Achieving sustainable development means shifting away from high-input and resource-intensive farming and food systems, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said today.

Addressing ministers, government, private sector and civil society representatives attending the biennial meeting of FAO's Committee on Agriculture (COAG, 1-5 October), the Director-General noted how current farming practices have contributed to deforestation, water scarcity, soil depletion and high levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

"Today, it is fundamental to produce food in a way that preserves the environment and biodiversity," Graziano da Silva said, adding: "We have to implement sustainable practices that provide healthy and nutritious food, ecosystem services and climate-change resilience."

To do so requires reducing the use of pesticides and chemicals, increasing crop diversification, and improving land conservation practices, amongst other measures, the FAO Director-General stressed.

He pointed to the inefficiency of current food systems in eradicating hunger, despite the fact that enough food is being produced to feed the entire global population, and underscored how hundreds of millions of people still do not have the income to buy the food they need, or the means to produce it themselves.

Many of the world's more than 820 million chronically undernourished people are family farmers living in developing countries' poor rural areas and who most need support to improve their livelihoods and build resilience, especially in relation to the impacts of conflicts and climate change, Graziano da Silva said. "Changes are necessary to ensure that our ambition of nourishing people while nurturing the planet becomes a reality," he added.

Innovation, which is important for revitalizing rural areas and to make agriculture more attractive to young people, underpins these efforts, the Director-General said. "If we fail to create opportunities for poor rural people to thrive, especially women and youth, we will also fail to build a safer and more peaceful world," he added.

The head of Switzerland's Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research, Federal Councilor Johann Schneider-Ammann, who also addressed the COAG meeting, noted that, "agricultural innovation is a central driving force that contributes to transforming food systems, it helps family farmers and ensures food security and healthy nutrition."

Funding for high quality and timely agricultural data

The FAO Director-General noted how a lack of high quality and timely agricultural data is a key constraint on transforming the agriculture sectors and implementing the 2030 Agenda.

To tackle this situation, FAO and partners have invested heavily in the development of the Agricultural Integrated Survey Programme (AGRISurvey), which is currently being implemented in 10 countries, with the support of USAID and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The objective is to extend AGRIsurvey implementation to other 19 countries by 2021, and to 50 countries by 2030 through a joint initiative with the World Bank and other partners.

Graziano da Silva stressed that in the field of data and other areas of FAO's work, additional finance is required so that the UN agency can support countries to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

FAO's role in promoting transformation

Graziano da Silva noted how FAO is acting on many fronts to promote the much-needed transformation of agriculture and food systems. This includes initiatives aimed at assisting countries to move forward on policies and actions related to agroecology and biodiversity.

Through a series of COAG side-events, FAO is also drawing attention to key issues related to its work, including the livestock sector, which Graziano da Silva noted, represents the main asset of the "poorest of the poor," including pastoralists in Africa. Other topics for discussion will include a review of the implementation of FAO's Climate Change Strategy the Global Framework on Water Scarcity in Agriculture and a proposal to scale up the Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems initiative.

Photo: ©FAO/Marco Longari/FAO
Women planting papaya seeds at a tree nursery in Rwanda: the soil is treated with the "mulching" technique to reduce water loss and suppress weeds.

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