Director-General  QU Dongyu

FAO Director-General pays tribute to employees for their resilience and solidarity during the COVID-19 pandemic


30 April 2020, Rome - Director-General QU Dongyu today held a virtual town hall meeting with FAO personnel based at headquarters, as the UN agency prepares a gradual and partial return to the office. More than 2000 employees joined the meeting to hear the Director-General and senior management review FAO’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and outline plans for a gradual and safe return to the headquarters over the months to come.

Qu paid tribute to personnel for their strength and solidarity during the pandemic. He recalled the “swift and decisive action” to close FAO’s office in central Rome when the pandemic struck Italy in early March and thanked all colleagues for their cooperation in abiding by Italy’s national lockdown.

“We are one big family, strengthening each other, inspiring each other and standing together,” Qu said. “I really appreciate your cooperation.” The Director-General also paid respects to Adrian Kazazi, the only Rome-based employee who died of COVID-19 after contracting the virus while on leave.

Qu said FAO had adapted well to the changing reality and that productivity had risen under difficult circumstances as the Organization relied on teleworking and digital technology even more than before, tools that will be essential to face the “new normal and the way we do business”.

He mentioned that the pandemic provided “an opportunity for learning” and FAO’s role has been increasingly important to support countries to face the challenges ahead: “We are working hard to avoid a health crisis becoming a food crisis.”

The Director-General also highlighted the benefits of video conferences as a modern work method and mentioned that he had been able to attend important virtual international meetings during lockdown, including the G20 Heads of State meeting, his address to the UN Security Council and panel discussions at the World Economic Forum.

In addition, Qu congratulated FAO colleagues for successfully organizing a meeting with the African Union where more than 40 ministers plus partners such as the European Union and the World Bank discussed ways to work together with FAO to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on food security on the continent. “We will continue drawing attention to the most vulnerable, who are dealing with crises within a crisis,” he said.

During the lockdown, the Director-General also held a virtual meeting with all permanent representatives of FAO member countries. Another virtual meeting, held with all 130 FAO representatives to member countries – was the first time in FAO’s history for all representatives to come together.

In the last two months, FAO staff have held more than 55,000 online meetings with about 270,000 participants, Qu said.

The Director-General urged colleagues to continue to be vigilant as Italy eases movement restrictions. He reminded colleagues to maintain physical distance and personal hygiene in line with the host government’s decrees so they would minimize their burden on the Italian health system. “You have to respect your own safety and your colleagues,” he said. “This is a marathon, not a sprint.”

Qu emphasized that staff health and safety remain his top priority as FAO moves into the next phase. “Your health matters to you. It also matters to your families, and to FAO.”

FAO’s Deputy Director-General, Laurent Thomas, who chairs the organization’s Crisis Management Team, presented to staff details of the UN agency’s plan for a phased return to its headquarters. The virtual town hall also heard statements from staff union representatives and included a question and answer session.