Director-General  QU Dongyu

Access to food for all and greater agricultural innovation are key as countries respond to COVID-19 pandemic and plan to rebuild


11 May 2020 - FAO Director-General QU Dongyu today highlighted the need for continued and strong political will to ensure that food systems remain functional as countries tackle the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. He also stressed the importance of avoiding export restrictions in order not to repeat the mistakes of the 2007-2008 food crisis.

Looking forward, the Director-General underscored the merit of scaling up innovation in agriculture, including digitalization and e-commerce; producing more food, in a more sustainable way; safeguarding biodiversity and addressing environmental issues; and changing current business models, related to the food system, as the pandemic further exposed the inequalities in our society. These aspects are crucial as the world plans to rebuild and reflect on the lessons learnt during the pandemic.

He made the remarks during the briefing “Joining Forces: Effective Policy Solutions for Covid-19 Response”, organized by the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) today.

The briefing brought together heads of the UN system to discuss solutions that countries can use to combat the pandemic, preserve advances made and get back on track towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

At the beginning of his intervention, the FAO Director-General cautioned that whilst, globally, there was enough food and harvest prospects for this year were positive, there were still risks of food disruptions as the pandemic evolved.

He reminded participants that already at the end of 2019, countries in the Horn of Africa were battling with a desert locust crisis, and some 135 million people in 55 countries and territories were experiencing acute food insecurity – all this before the pandemic’s “massive economic shocks”. 

Qu added that millions more are likely to join the ranks of the hungry – some 820 people in the world - as a result of the COVID-19-triggered recession.

According to the latest FAO estimates, the number will vary depending on the severity of economic contractions, ranging from 14.4 million to 38.2 million, or even 80.3 million more hungry people should there be a contraction of 2, 5 or 10 percentage points, respectively, in all 101 net food-importing countries' GDP growth.

Reflecting on the role of the UN agencies in the COVID-19 response, Qu stressed the need for the UN system to put forward tailored solutions that factor in countries’ specific needs.

The Director-General also noted that FAO has been working with governments around the world to lessen the impacts of COVID-19 on food and agriculture, adding that “they have been highly responsible”.

Participants at the briefing included the President of the Economic and Social Council Mona Juul, the UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed and the Heads of Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Labour Organization (ILO), United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Under Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, and the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO). The dialogue was moderated by the CEO of Plan International.