FAO Liaison Office with the European Union and the Kingdom of Belgium

Scaling up parliamentary action to enhance responsible investment in agriculture


Increasing investment in agriculture and, more importantly, improving the quality of investment so that it benefits those most in need, is one of the most effective strategies for reducing hunger and poverty, and it is crucial to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

FAO Deputy Director-General Beth Bechdol, FAO Director for Partnerships and UN Collaboration Marcella Villarreal, and FAO Director in Brussels Rodrigo de Lapuerta, were joined by Members of the European Parliamentary Alliance against Hunger and Malnutrition, European Commission representatives, the German Council presidency and partners to discuss how investment can contribute to sustainable and inclusive development.

The online event titled “The role of responsible investments in agriculture for the transition towards more sustainable food systems” opened a conversation that explored the linkages between the Principles for Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Food Systems (CFS RAI) and the European Green Deal and its key initiatives. The  CFS RAI are the main global instrument that provides guidance to ensure that food security and nutrition be put at the center of agricultural investment policies and strategies.

Members of the European Parliament and of the European Parliamentary Alliance against Hunger and Malnutrition María Soraya Rodríguez-Ramos and Paolo De Castro hosted the virtual event and agreed that investments in sustainable agrifood systems are needed. Particularly when putting in place new policies and funding mechanisms, in order to generate benefits for all, it is essential to ensure not only more, but better investments, striking an ambitious balance between the three dimensions of sustainability: social, economic and environmental.

The event was opened by the FAO Director of the Liaison Office in Brussels Rodrigo de Lapuerta, who underlined the role of the CFS RAI and mentioned how they have been essential for our partners in Brussels. “The CFS RAI have become a benchmark for advocacy by the European Union, who takes them forward in their policy dialogue on various levels and supports their uptake in various programmes”, he said.

“As all internationally agreed voluntary standards and principles, the CFS RAI need to be taken to the next level and incorporated into transparent and stable policies, legal frameworks and incentives at country and regional levels” said Beth Bechdol and added that FAO considers parliamentarians as “change agents”. “These days more than ever, the strategic position of Members of Parliaments and parliamentary advisors is fundamental to promote the enhancement of public responsible investments into the agricultural sector, and to put in place the conditions to increase private responsible investments. “, concluded Bechdol.

The next Multiannual Financial Framework will include clear targets for investments aligned with the objectives of the European Green Deal, such as a carbon-neutral economy and the protection of biodiversity. 

John Clarke, Director for International Affairs, Directorate-General for Agriculture and Agriculture and Rural Development at the European Commission highlighted the role for the CAP and the  Farm to Fork Strategy, as a contribution to sustainable food systems. He mentioned the role of investments in tackling climate change and protecting the environment and made references to the Farm to Fork Strategy which proposes specific actions for corporate governance and for an EU code of conduct for the agri-food sector. These actions will scale-up and promote sustainable and socially responsible production methods and circular business models.

Head of Unit rural development, food security and nutrition at the Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development of the European Commission Leonard Mizzi emphasized the importance of translating the Principles for Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Food Systems (CFS RAI) into legislation and the need to use the handbook to help steer constitutional rights in terms of access to land, gender mainstreaming and operationalization on the ground.

Both agreed that the UN Food Systems Summit provides a historic opportunity to accelerate the global transformation towards sustainable food systems, in which responsible investment will have a major role. In this regard, the European Commission believes that the Farm to Fork Strategy provides the direction and the commitment from the EU to support the global transition to sustainable agri-food systems at different levels – national, regional and multilateral level.

Sebastian Lesch, Head of Division, International Agricultural Policy, Agriculture and Innovation, German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development, also took part in the event and highlighted the importance of policy coherence for sustainable agricultural development. Mr Lesch particularly made reference to the fact that as public funds will not be sufficient to achieve the SDGs and to realise the Agenda 2030, a smart mix of public and private investments will be needed. This is particularly the case in our efforts to build back better from the COVID-19 pandemic and achieve the SDGs – especially the eradication of poverty and hunger – noted Lesch and targeting especially the African continent will require considerable additional investments in agriculture and rural development.

Participants highlighted the need to adopt a value chain-approach when looking at agricultural investments. Equity within the process is crucial: Multi-stakeholder platforms should be set -up in the consultation process and particular attention should be given to land tenure issues and women empowerment. 

During the event and in order to support parliamentarians’ position responsible investment on the public agenda, FAO and the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) launched the jointly developed Practical Handbook on Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Food Systems. The handbook provides tools for action, outlines the policy responses required, gives tips on how to ensure coherence, participation and sustainability, and provides examples of efforts already underway in applying responsible investment in agriculture in diverse countries, reflecting the relevance of working jointly with other stakeholders.

The event was moderated by Carin Smaller, Director for Agriculture, Trade and Investment, Economic Law and policy program, at the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD).

The recording of the event is available here.

More information on FAO’s work on Supporting Responsible Investments in Agriculture and Food Systems (RAI) is available here.