World not coping well with change in diets, says FAO Director-General
Calls for all sectors of society to collaborate on new nutrition strategies
15 March 2013, Wageningen, Netherlands - Urbanization, economic growth and other transformations are causing changes in lifestyles and diets in many parts of the world and countries are not coping as well as they could, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva told professors and students at Wageningen University and Research Centre today.
The Director-General, on an official two-day visit to the Netherlands, spoke of the need to guarantee the production of safe food and to offer consumers better alternatives and information on their diets.
"We need integrated nutrition strategies, formed with the inputs of society as a whole - the private sector, consumers, doctors, and consumer organizations and others," he said.
While 870 million people suffer from hunger, there are also over half a billion who are obese and susceptible to non-communicable diseases.
Graziano da Silva signed an accord with the University of Wageningen covering a closer collaboration on scientific research and joint activities to foster and promote education, research and technology capacities in developing countries. He said that FAO was renewing its relationship with the university because it believed that in the fight against hunger and malnutrition, partnerships were "absolutely essential".
Role of traditional crops
Graziano da Silva said a global review of nutrition strategy could, for example, involve rethinking the role of traditional crops, which have lost space in modern diets.
"Every region has a variety of non-commodity crops that were used in the past as food," he said. "One example is quinoa, which is being celebrated in 2013 in an international year." Quinoa is an Andean "super food", a highly nutritious, cereal-like crop rich in protein and micronutrients.
Importance of family farms
The FAO head praised the university for supporting the development of both industrial agriculture and small-scale production, adding that its research made an important contribution to understanding family farming.
"I believe there is room for both agricultural models in the world today, we need both of them," he said.
Pointing out that 2014 will be the International Year of Family Farming, Graziano da Silva said that in most developing countries small-scale farming is the main producer of the food consumed nationally and also the main source of employment in rural areas.
He also noted that in recent decades rural populations have become older and in many cases predominantly female. Women therefore need to be empowered, provided with the rights, policies, tools and resources necessary to support the role they play in all aspects of rural life and food security. People especially youth also needed better economic opportunities that would keep them in the rural areas, he added.
Technology needs to adapt to local needs
Although science and technology must drive agricultural productivity and production increases, Graziano da Silva cautioned his audience that technology can not simply be exported from one country to another and be expected to work perfectly. It must be adapted to local conditions.
"Agriculture is too sensitive and location specific," he said. "Soil, climate, water availability and so many other factors influence how one technology will work elsewhere."
"We need to ask farmers what they need, what they want, see what could fit, how it needs to be adapted and ensure that whatever we do ends up being ‘owned' by the farmers themselves," he added.
Graziano da Silva also spoke of fundamental changes taking place in FAO as it concentrates its work on the world's most pressing food, nutrition, agricultural and rural development problems.
"FAO's mission to contribute to ending hunger in the world is as valid today as it was in 1945 when it was created ... but the challenges are different today," he said.
He said that FAO has developed new strategic objectives to respond to emerging global trends and challenges. These strategic objectives are: ending hunger and malnutrition; producing sustainably; reducing rural poverty; improving food systems and their fairness; and increasing resilience to external shocks.
Memorandum of Understanding signed
Graziano da Silva and Aalt Dijkhuizen, President of the Executive Board of the Wageningen University and Research Centre, signed a Memorandum of Understanding on collaboration over the next four years. It covers exchanges of information and policy dialogue, the joint promotion of education, research and technology capacities in developing countries, and exchange of scientific staff and young professionals among other things.