Director-General QU Dongyu

FAO in Review: Dynamic crisis management

During a period of multiple crises, FAO has stepped up and continued to deliver

Fall Army Worm in action in a maize cultivation in Sri Lanka. © FAO/Lekha Edirisinghe

Shortly after FAO’s Director-General QU Dongyu took office in August 2019, the world was shaken by an unprecedented shock – the COVID-19 pandemic.

Taking stock at the recent Joint Meeting of the 134th Session of the Programme Committee and the 194th Session of the Finance Committee, QU spoke about the progress the Organization had made in improving its efficiency and effectiveness through years marked by a wave of complex and overlapping challenges, including a global pandemic and numerous conflicts, which have triggered rising food insecurity.

The Director-General acted swiftly, convening a Crisis Management Team (CMT) which met daily at the pandemic’s peak to assess the situation and develop precautionary measures. The CMT proved to be a highly adept mechanism for quick collective decision-making, essential in a crisis.

In times of great uncertainty, the CMT drove the Organization forward, enabling all staff to deliver on FAO´s mandate, while always protecting the safety and health of its employees worldwide. From the beginning of the pandemic, the Director-General said on many occasions: “Staff health and safety are my number one priority.”

“Through the CMT we saw just how resilient FAO is as an Organization – able to adapt to a massive upending of our standard working practices and not just keep going but doing even more to help the people we serve.” says Laurent Thomas, Deputy Director-General.

In his role as Designated UN Official for Italy, which hosts 26 UN entities, Qu exercised his responsibilities effectively and efficiently with the Host Government, as well as with all FAO host governments around the world.

At the global level, despite the challenges posed by COVID-19, FAO provided leading analytical information based on science and high-quality data. The pandemic reaffirmed the centrality of food and the urgent need to address the fragilities of our agrifood systems, which prompted the Director-General to emphasize “there is no health without food”.

FAO was able to mobilize additional resources and reallocate existing funds to massively scale up operations and provide critical livelihood assistance to people who were affected by or at risk from the impact of COVID-19.

© FAO/Arete/Ismail Taxta

Left/Right: Spraying with pesticides to the fight desert locust upsurge near a farm in Diganle village, Somalia. © FAO/Arete/Ismail Taxta

Targeting crisis response around the world

In emergencies, FAO saves lives, safeguards livelihoods and lays the foundations for resilience, implementing emergency interventions in over 70 countries. Last year alone, FAO reached over 30 million people with emergency and resilience interventions. During the past three years, FAO has also demonstrated its emergency response capacity by stepping up efforts to contain the spread of plant pests, which annually cause between 20 to 40 percent of global crop production losses.

The Organization led efforts to contain the 2019-2022 Desert Locust upsurge across the Horn of Africa and beyond and, thanks to large-scale control operations, was able to mitigate devastating consequences in already vulnerable regions. These efforts averted 4.5 million tonnes of crop losses, saved 900 million litres of milk production, and secured food for 41.5 million people. The commercial value of the cereal and milk losses averted through the response is estimated at USD 1.77 billion.

The Global Action for Fall Armyworm Control has been an effective coordination mechanism that links technical and financial resources to farmers’ fields. Since 2019, crop losses have declined by 5 to 10 percent, and the risk of further spread and infestation has also decreased.

The Director-General has called for a substantial scaling up in the humanitarian response in ‘hunger hotspots’ around the world where acute food insecurity is expected to worsen. People in these countries and regions have yet to recover from the impact of the pandemic and are suffering from the knock-on effects of ongoing conflicts, in terms of prices, food, feed and fertilizer supplies, as well as the climate emergency.

Richard Trenchard, FAO Representative in Afghanistan, said “Already this year we've reached more than 2.7 million people across the country, while the ongoing winter wheat package distribution is reaching a further 3.6 million, enabling them to cover their cereal needs for a year and generate income from selling the surplus."

© FAO/FAO/Amani Muawia

Drones were used in surveillance activities to combat desert locust in Sudan. © FAO/Amani Muawia

Supporting the SDGs despite  global challenges

FAO is globally recognized as a trusted partner of all stakeholders working to eradicate hunger and malnutrition, in support of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – working together to achieve FAO’s common goal of the 4 Betters: better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life – leaving no one behind.

The Director-General has called on FAO staff to do the extraordinary together and nowhere has that been exemplified more than by the incredible dedication FAO staff give to supporting Members and partners in preparing for, and effectively responding to, food and agricultural threats and crises, serving the world’s most vulnerable people.