More scientific research is needed to ensure policies that enable access to healthy diets for all

FAO's joint efforts with academic institutions highlighted at The Future of Food symposium

10 June 2019, Rome - FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva today stressed the key role played by academic and research institutions in assisting governments to introduce policy reforms aimed at ensuring that all people have access to healthy diets and can make informed choices on nutritious food.

"I would like once more to emphasize that FAO is a knowledge institution. We don't do research, so we depend on you, on academia - we base our work on what you do. More and more, we would like to strengthen our partnership to do things together and to ensure mutual cooperation," Graziano da Silva said.

He underscored the need for an increase in scientific evidence to inform the policies and actions taken by governments to combat malnutrition in all its forms.

The FAO chief's remarks came on the first day of the Future of Food international symposium, which included a roundtable with representatives of academia, and also the signing by FAO of partnership agreements with seven universities and research institutions.

These included the American University of Beirut, the University of California, Los Angeles, the Future Food Institute, the Mediterranean Universities Union (UNIMED), Johns Hopkins University, the University of Nottingham, and University of the Philippines Los Baños. The new partnerships envision, among other activities, the creation of joint research programs and studies on topics such as food safety, access to healthy food, and diet-related non-communicable diseases, which stem from malnutrition.

The partnerships would also promote policy dialogue and enhance information and knowledge exchange in areas which include food security and nutrition, sustainable management of natural resources, and the urban food agenda.

Graziano da Silva noted how projections estimate that the number of obese people in the world will very soon overtake the number of people suffering from hunger, which currently accounts for about 821 million. There are several underlying factors driving the global pandemic of obesity and micronutrient deficiency, with one of the main drivers being the high consumption of ultra-processed foods, which are mainly based on artificial ingredients and contain high levels of saturated fats, refined sugars, salt and chemical additives.

With representatives from more than 20 countries present, the roundtable provided an opportunity to gain meaningful insight into the future of food from a global academic perspective. These included contributions from RUFORUM in Africa, the International Rice Research Institute, Wageningen University and Research, the University of Sao Paulo, the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture, and the University of California, Los Angeles, which presented local food security challenges from their regions. This was followed by an open discussion where participants focused on the role of academia in providing research, addressing knowledge gaps and identifying needs for the future of food.

More about the symposium

The Future of Food symposium includes panel discussions on specific themes: research, knowledge gaps and needs for sustainable food systems and healthy diets; governance of food systems for healthy diets; building consumer confidence in food systems; and what it takes to transform food systems. The full programme can be found here.

Photo: ©FAO/Pier Paolo Cito
Signing of Memorandums of Understanding between FAO Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva and academia partners at the Symposium on the Future of Food.