It is a long way from the rice fields of Hunan, where I was born, to the fields of the Circus Maximus in Rome, where FAO is headquartered. No day passes that I don’t feel honoured and humbled to be leading this Organization – still, after all these years, the foremost global authority on two fundamental aspects of human civilization: food and agriculture.
These pages chronicle FAO’s record to date – and celebrate it too, though the perspective is never less than lucid. They offer a succinct overview of the ideals and principles which have inspired our work. But they also measure the road still to cover. In the year or so I have been at the helm of the Organization, much has changed in our everyday lives. Even before the COVID-19 crisis, I liked to say that problems could be a source of progress – that adversity can catalyse a pragmatic creativity that eludes us in less testing times.
The current pandemic is possibly the greatest social cataclysm many of us have seen. Still, we must recognize that it has also accelerated a societal reset – including in the way we operate as international organizations. An institution like FAO, with its venerable culture of expertise-sharing and institutional procedure, has proved capable, at short notice, of embracing an innovative attitude and largely shifting online. But if innovation means going digital – and this publication contains examples of our aggressive push in that direction – it also means transforming a whole business model, starting with mindsets.
We are already streamlining FAO’s management structure, moving from silos to team leadership. Transparency repays itself: open up to the world, and the world will open up to you. Cutting bureaucracy and expanding autonomous decision- making are not only more likely to unleash talent: they are prerequisites for turning FAO into a beacon of excellence. We must be dreamers and doers, think-tank and action-tank rolled into one. Our value lies, after all, in the solutions we provide for our Members to achieve food security and better livelihoods for all. This is why we are now in a position, for example, to advise governments on precisely which policies would dramatically shrink the cost of healthy diets, improving the lives of three billion people and offsetting trillions of dollars a year in health and environmental costs; or to pinpoint – through our Hand-in-Hand initiative – which two of any countries could pair up to deliver palpable food security outcomes, aligned to the Sustainable Development Goals.
We have much more in store; the full range of our re-invention will become apparent in the years to come. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy reading this historical excursion: it helps explain how we got here and where we are headed. With my full gratitude for your commitment to a world free of poverty and hunger,