Direttore Generale  QU Dongyu

Designing tomorrow’s food systems


10 February, Rome - FAO Director-General Dr QU Dongyu today received the visit of Dr Agnes Kalibata, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Food Systems Summit 2021. Both officials then went on to take part in an informal briefing to FAO Member States on preparation of the high-level event next year.

The informal briefing was also attended by Gilbert Houngbo, President of IFAD; Amir Abdulla, Deputy Executive Director of WFP; and Ambassador Hisham Mohamed Badr, President of the WFP Executive Board. 

In his opening remarks, Dr QU highlighted that contemporary food systems were not delivering on the world’s aspirations of food security and nutrition for all. The food systems of the future, he said, must do so “while being economically sustainable, inclusive, and positive [in terms of their] impact on climate and the environment”.

He also suggested the international community should work harder to understand the interplay of multiple approaches – how improving sustainability will influence productivity, for example, or how higher productivity might affect poverty and nutrition.

Dr QU emphasized the need for collective action – and in particular, the imperative of strengthening partnerships with the private sector, described as “the most powerful engine of innovation and investment for food systems transformation”. To support this process, he concluded, FAO is building a sophisticated open data-sharing platform for modelling and analysis, as part of its Hand-in-Hand initiative.

Putting the people first

In her own remarks, Dr Kalibata, who is from Rwanda, referenced her homeland’s record on fighting poverty and hunger, as she urged the international community to prove itself “audaciously ambitious”.

Dr Kalibata will be leading the summit’s secretariat from Nairobi – although there will be further support from Rome and New York. She stressed the importance of promoting inclusiveness in the preparation and realization of the Summit, including civil society, the private sector and other non-state actors.

Her African origins also made her deeply aware, she said, that parts of the world were moving on to address other concerns, and Zero Hunger was “no longer mentioned enough”.

WFP’s Dr Abdulla also focused squarely on those left behind. By the time the summit takes place, he warned, there will be close to one billion undernourished people on the planet. He called for a “summit that catches the imagination” rather than a merely technical conversation – a call later echoed by one permanent representative, who argued for stepping out of the acronym-laden “echo chamber” of experts and officials.

IFAD’s President Houngbo cited the “nexus between food security and rural youth employment” as a desirable priority for the Summit. He also said that the event should focus on promoting concrete actions.

For his part, Ambassador Badr mentioned the importance of establishing a trust fund to ensure the implementation of the Summit’s expected outcomes.

The power of national voices

Several Permanent Representatives pointed out that the implementation of public policies produced by the Summit would fall to national governments, a reason why they argued that Member States should be associated as closely as possible with the preparation of the event.

There was also a widespread request that any work in the run-up to the summit should not “start from zero,” but build on the accumulated expertise of the inter-governmental Committee on Food Security (CFS), as well as on what one European delegate described as “those existing food systems that do work”.

Further points from Permanent Representatives – aside from congratulations to Dr Kalibata and wishes for success -- included widespread calls of inclusiveness and emphasis on the need for a solid scientific basis for decisions and for mining local knowledge of traditional crops – the latter championed by an African representative raised, as he put it, on “cassava, beans and breast milk”; and a plea that transparency, human rights and women’s empowerment be at the heart of the forthcoming summit.


A statement by FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu
Informal Seminar on the UN Food Systems Summit