Director-General  QU Dongyu
A statement by FAO Director-General QU Dongyu

Transforming agri-food systems and fostering inclusive rural development in the context of COVID-19 to end rural poverty 

SIDE-EVENT – December 2nd, 2020 – 1pm-3pm (EST)

Transforming agri-food systems to achieve the 2030 Agenda in the context of COVID-19 

Dr. QU Dongyu

Director-General, FAO

As delivered


H.E. Ambassador Zhang Jun,

H.E. Ambassador Olof Skoog, 

H.E. Munir Akram,

Distinguished panellists,

Distinguished guests, 

1. It is a pleasure to participate in this high-level event.

2. Transforming agri-food systems and ending poverty are at the heart of FAO’s mandate as well as central to contributing to deliver the 2030 Agenda. It is time to think holistically, coherently and historically for a unified approach and prioritized action, we are one global village.

3. Agri-food systems are also central to the livelihoods of 4.5 billion people around the globe. This includes over 1.1 billion people in poverty, living and working in rural areas.  

4. Globally, about 76 per cent of the rural workers who are extremely poor engage in agriculture; and more than 80 percent of the rural self-employed are informal.  

5. Agriculture not only plays a key role in the transformation of the economy and ensuring food security, it is also fundamental to ending extreme poverty. 

6. Evidence shows that in low-income countries, investing in agriculture - especially in family farming and small-scale agriculture - has a greater impact on reducing poverty than investing in other sectors. 

7. However, while pro-poor growth starts in agriculture, reducing rural poverty also requires creating off-farm jobs, fostering economic diversification and investing in human capital, health, education and infrastructure. 

8. Transforming food systems encompasses all these agendas, while also addressing climate change, biodiversity, natural resource management and healthier diets.

9. The challenge is enormous. In 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, close to 690 million people were undernourished. Today, The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020 report, estimates that the pandemic could add up to 132 million undernourished people and push between 88 and 115 million people into extreme poverty. All this in a world where 3 billion people did not have access to healthy diets even before the challenges posed by COVID-19.  

10. Women, and particularly rural women, are bearing a disproportionate burden of the pandemic. 

11. Around one-third of agri-food systems-related livelihoods are at risk because of COVID-19. Tourism has been heavily affected, which has a devastating impact on the Small Island Developing States (SIDS). 

12. Food is No 1 and universal commodity, and more utmost public goods, basic human right. Food systems are connected to global politic agenda, our economies, our environment and our health – to address food insecurity holistically is to achieve tremendous progress across the Sustainable Development Goals.  In particular, we need to achieve SDGs: 1, 2 and 10 (eradicate hunger, poverty and reduce inequalities). 

13. The current crisis and the necessity to transform food systems is a unique opportunity for Leaving No One Behind in our efforts for building back better.

14. We need unprecedented leadership to align both towards a healthy and sustainable future for food and a sharp focus on how to demonstrate commitment and change on the ground. Not only do we need a concrete and joint strategy to recover from the current crises, but we should also build back better and stronger than before. 

15. Ten days ago, during G20 Leaders' Summit, I called for the G20 leaders to urgently address the impacts of COVID-19 on agri-food systems by boosting farmers productivity, scaling up social protection mechanisms and investing in digital innovation under guidance of better production, better nutrition, better environment and better life. 

16. We have 9 harvests remaining until 2030 and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals – and we must galvanize more partners around this urgency to work together on understanding the needs of different agri-food systems around the world and jointly address how to accelerate solutions. I invite all of you to shape this discussion, to contribute to this action-focused and solution-oriented agenda. 

17. The priority areas from point of view of Marginal utility for eradicating hunger, poverty and inequalities were threefold: reducing food loss and waste; developing innovation, such as digital technology, biotechnology and enabling policies; and recognising the importance of regionalization and localization

18. The reduction of food loss in developing nations yields higher marginal utility, while reducing food waste will give rise to higher marginal utility in rich countries and in cities around the world.   Food loss is different in different countries: in the developing nations, more potential, higher marginal utility. And food waste is of higher marginal utility in the European. And food waste is also of more marginal utility in cities, no matter you’re in a developing or developed country. Food waste in any city in the world is a big potential area to be looked at and to be improved. 

19. Regionalization and localization. No matter it is production, trade or research, that’s a fundamental characteristic of agri-food systems. Any policy, innovation, food loss and waste, technology and management should be in line with local concrete conditions. 

20. That’s really something we have to build in the digital world. This pandemic has forced us to speed up, scale up the digitalization of the world economy, social management, digital governance and digital society

21. Towards a better future for the people and the planet, agri-food systems should be nutritious and healthy, resilient and inclusive, and environmentally sustainable for generations to come. As we all work to set a ‘table for ten billion’ with enough quantity, higher quality, diversity, accessibility and affordability and equality. We need everyone to commit, engage and work together, without complaint and without excuse. Leave no yourself behind.

22. FAO, in close collaboration with the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, led the drafting of this year’s Report of the Secretary General on Eradicating rural poverty to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

23. Such a multi-sectoral and partnership-focused approach at the country level is at the centre of the Hand-in-Hand initiative. The Initiative aims at reducing poverty by improving agricultural potential through investing in innovative, inclusive and productive value chains and building human capital. 

24. FAO stands ready to continue to work closely with Members, the UN system, global partners, and non-state actors to build back better from COVID-19 through transforming agri-food systems, aiming to build up world with No hunger and No poverty. 

Thank you.