Transforming food and agricultural systems: a challenge we must face together

FAO is working to tackle the interconnected challenges facing food, agriculture and our planet

Transforming our food and agricultural systems is key to beating climate change and ensuring food security for all. ©FAO/Alessandra Benedetti


We only have 10 years left to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. With food and agriculture being major players in these 17 objectives, FAO has recognized that a holistic approach is key. All of the world’s challenges are interconnected – as are their solutions. If we promote sustainable food and agricultural systems around the globe, we will reduce the number of poor and hungry, help combat climate change and preserve our natural resources for future generations. By transforming food and agricultural systems, we are transforming our future.

This is no easy task, however. Unsustainable agriculture practices  have contributed to environmental challenges such as land degradation, deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions. But the agriculture sector can also be part of the solution. In our current climate emergency, transforming food and agricultural systems to be more climate-aware, sustainable, innovative, nutritious and resilient is at the heart of the needed change.

To achieve this, we must embrace innovation while also drawing on traditional practices and the time-tested agricultural methods of indigenous peoples. We must strengthen livelihoods and ensure that rural communities – often the most vulnerable people in the most vulnerable regions - are resilient in the face of climate change and its effects.

Though there has been some progress in achieving these goals, the world needs to do more and do it faster. With a 10-year deadline in mind, FAO is quickening the pace of progress by finding and implementing innovative solutions, encouraging global best practices and working together with partners to achieve sustainable food systems for all.

Here are four ways that FAO and its partners are accelerating action and providing solutions:

1. Leveraging investments to combat climate change and strengthen food systems

Investments in agriculture can effectively and comprehensively tackle a number of problems. The right investments can reduce hunger and poverty, while also protecting the environment and combating climate change. FAO has been working with partners like the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the Green Climate Fund (GCF) to invest in strategic actions that can be scaled-up and replicated for maximum impact.

In the role of matchmaker, FAO helps countries access and mobilise GEF funds and assists with the implementation of projects. Over the past 12 years, the FAO-GEF partnership has delivered more than 180 projects in over 120 countries, benefitting nearly 5 million people. Since 2006, the FAO-GEF portfolio has been valued at more than USD 900 million.

One FAO-GEF project encapsulating this holistic approach will help transform Ecuador's livestock sector. The project will disseminate technologies for climate-smart livestock management and provide technical assistance to farmers on environmental and climate problems, such as land degradation and greenhouse gas emissions.

Thanks as well to a recent USD 161 million donation ofanother major partner, the GCF, FAO is implementing new projects around the world to increase communities’ resilience to the impacts of climate change and reduce poverty, while preserving the environment and biodiversity. These projects prioritize rural communities - the true guardians of the local landscape, for the sustainable long-term restoration of land, soil and forests.

One specific FAO initiative benefitting from GCF funding aims to restore and conserve around 25 000 hectares of native forest in five regions of Chile. On its completion, greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced by 1.1 million tonnes of CO2, around 7 000 hectares of forest will be planted and approximately 17 000 hectares of forest will be conserved and sustainably managed. Over 57 000 people, including members of indigenous communities, will be part of the project, helping to restore the area. FAO projects like these aim to work with indigenous peoples, harnessing their knowledge and traditional practices, while also providing innovative solutions to combat climate change and build sustainable food systems.

New FAO projects aim to make food systems and livelihoods across the world more resilient to climate change. ©Left: FAO/GMB Akash; Right: ©FAO/Mustafa Saeed / Arete

2. Reducing poverty and enhancing food and nutrition security for healthier communities and  environments

Since its founding nearly 75 years ago, FAO has used its expertise, experience and neutrality to facilitate, assist and partner with countries to achieve global food security, end poverty and promote sustainable food and agricultural systems.

One recent partnership that captures the essence of this is a five-year, FISH4ACP programme with the EU, the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP) worth €40 million. It aims to boost the development of sustainable fisheries and aquaculture in 10 countries in all areas of the industry.

Striking a balance between production and protection, the programme focuses on all facets of sustainability: economic, environmental and social. It will contribute towards fair income distribution, promote decent working conditions, encourage sound fisheries management and champion sustainable aquaculture practices.

3. Tackling the root of food crises and building resilience in communities

The rural poor often bear the brunt of crises, their food sources and livelihoods hardest hit. By helping communities mitigate risks, better manage their natural resources, establish more resilient livelihoods and increase local agricultural production, FAO not only improves food and nutrition security but also contributes to reducing conflict and sustaining peace.

Too often, when crises occur in countries or regions, the situation is deemed incapable of supporting large-scale agricultural or rural initiatives that can assist the population. Humanitarian aid is often seen as the only option.

“Our work shows that is not true," FAO Director-General QU Dongyu states. "We know thatdevelopment interventions centred on strengthening livelihoods over the longer-term can take place at a large scale - even in unstable operational theatres.”

Indeed, a recent partnership with the Kingdom of the Netherlands puts this vision into action. To tackle food crises at their root, the Netherlands contributed USD 28 million to build robust food systems in Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan, all part of a larger initiative to scale-up resilience in countries affected by long-term crises.

FAO, the EU and the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States are working to boost sustainability in the fisheries sector across these regions. ©FAO/Ines Gonsalves

4. Encouraging sustainable agricultural practices that protect biodiversity and leverage nature-based solutions

Protecting biodiversity is not just vital for our environment, it is also a necessary precondition for nutritious, sustainable food systems. We need to call upon a wider range of crops and ensure their genetic survival for more diverse, healthy and balanced diets and more resilient agricultural systems. Looking to nature for solutions in another priority for FAO.

Thanks to a recent FAO-European Union partnership, a new €9 million programme will boost nature-based and environmentally friendly agricultural practices in countries across Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP). Focusing on combatting biodiversity loss, tackling land degradation, bolstering food security and enhancing resilience to climate change, it will foster sustainable agriculture by drawing on nature-based solutions and traditional farming practices. It aims to cut down on unsustainable uses of dangerous pesticides and fertilizers, instead promoting natural pest control methods. So far, the programme has supported the disposal of tonnes of obsolete pesticides and strengthened pesticide risk assessment procedures in several ACP countries. Moreover, the programme supports ecosystem-based approaches, including protecting pollinators, promoting agroforestry and conserving local crop diversity.

“This new programme will help overcome the socio-economic and political barriers that prevent countries and farmers from adopting ecosystem-based agricultural practices and approaches to biodiversity and chemical management."  - FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu

Today’s challenges facing global food and agriculture systems are more complex and interrelated. Solutions that mitigate the impact of climate change are often those that make farming more efficient, improving livelihoods and boosting food security. A holistic look at making food and agriculture systems more sustainable is one that also protects the environment and natural resources for future generations.

Partnerships like these are increasingly important to our interconnected world. Together with the private sector, governments and other vital partners, FAO works to spread a holistic approach to agriculture and food production and ensure sustainability across sectors. By transforming our food and agricultural systems in the larger context of the world’s challenges, we can achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

 At COP25 FAO is renewing its commitment to create a world free from hunger and poverty and calls on partners of all kinds, around the world, to join us.

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