Historic opportunities for global action to eradicate poverty, end hunger and reduce inequalities

Director-General provides the FAO Council with updates on delivery and proposals for the way forward

26 April 2021, Rome - Addressing the 166th Session of the FAO Council today, Director-General QU Dongyu highlighted the ways the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has been providing constant support to Members, including to overcome the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Each of the decisions, activities and results shared with Council today are "not an isolated exercise, but part of an interlinked chain of progress," he said.

Alluding to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Director-General noted that "we are witnessing the scale of the long-term effects on agri-food systems, food security and nutrition situations around the world," pointing to adverse trends such as increasing food prices, the suspension of school meals in many parts of the world, restrictions on selling food in public urban places, jobs at risk in the processing and distribution sectors, and negative impacts in incomes, especially for rural households in mostly agricultural areas.

FAO has not only continued to assist Members but has also progressed on the "deepest transformative action at FAO since its creation", a restructuring of teams and competencies to create an agile, inclusive and transparent modern FAO with a flexible and modular structure for optimal cross-sectoral collaboration.

In that respect, the Director-General noted that "more coherent regional and sub-regional structures" are being established and Country Office capacities strengthened, "to deliver impactful results as One FAO".

The Council is the executive organ of the FAO Conference. It has 49 Members and meets between Conference which brings all 194 Members together every two years. The Council exercises functions dealing with the world food and agricultural situation and related matters, current and prospective activities of the Organization, including the Programme of Work and Budget, administrative matters, financial management of the Organization, and constitutional questions.

Strategic Framework 2022-31 and PWB 2022-23

The Strategic Framework for the next ten years was developed through a series of extensive, inclusive and transparent consultations with Members, both formal and informal, as well as an intensive internal process drawing on the breadth and depth of FAO's knowledge and expertise.

The Strategic Framework seeks to support the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development through the transformation to MORE efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable agri-food systems for better production, better nutrition, a better environment, and a better life, leaving no one behind. The "Four Betters" represent an organizing principle for how FAO intends to contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG 1 (no poverty), SDG 2 (zero hunger) and SDG 10 (reduced inequalities).

"The Four Betters reflect the interconnected economic, social and environmental dimensions of agri-food systems. As such, they also encourage a strategic and systems-oriented approach within all of FAO's interventions," Qu said.

He emphasized that four "accelerators" - technology, innovation, data and complements (governance, human capital and institutions) - will be applied to maximize efforts and facilitate the management of trade-offs according to national priorities.

The Strategic Framework identifies 20 interdisciplinary, issue-based and technical Programme Priority Areas (PPAs), where FAO has a comparative advantage, track record and ability to act. The PPAs are further described in the Medium-Term Plan.

Strengthening partnerships is a key aspect of the new Strategic Framework, and innovative funding and financing are also crucial to bridge the current substantial gap for achieving the SDGs, the Director-General said.

The Programme of Work and Budget 2022-23 translates the strategic narrative into the biennial programme of work. It maintains a flat nominal regular budget of $1 005.6 million while reallocating resources to high-priority areas, including the new Programme Priority Areas, the Office of the Inspector-General and multilingualism.

The total budget is $3.26 billion, more than two-thirds to come from extra-budgetary voluntary contributions. The Director-General urged Members to provide strong support for that to leverage FAO's efficiency and the new network approach geared to breaking down disciplinary and geographic silos and pushing strong cross-continental cooperation.

The new FAO is "one strong team that works in harmony and synergy," he added.

The Director-General invited the Council to support the proposed Strategic Framework 2022-31, the Medium Term Plan 2022-25 and the Programme of Work and Budget (PWB) 2022-23, which will be submitted to the FAO Conference in June.

COVID-19 Response, Food Coalition and Private Sector Engagement

FAO launched the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Programme, which has enabled intensive work on linking social protection to agricultural and rural-based livelihoods with a focus on more jobs for women and youth in agri-food systems as well as bolstering the use of digital technologies to assist smallholder farmers in maintaining production, productivity and market access.

The Programme is expanding its areas to integrate Green Recovery plans, which are gathering importance and urgency in many countries. More financial resources, innovative solutions and technology on the ground are needed, the Director-General said.

For this mandate, FAO launched the Food Coalition, initiated by the Government of Italy, together with Members. The fact that Italy is the President of this year's G20 "provides a unique opportunity to engage, raise awareness and support globally," Qu said.

FAO's COVID-19 technical teams will help Members formulate proposals and mobilize additional stakeholders for implementation on the ground, he added.

Qu also hailed good progress in the implementation of the Strategy for Private Sector Engagement endorsed by the Council last December. Since then, for example, FAO has signed a Letter of Intent with a Rwanda-based medium-sized company and a multi-party Cooperation Agreement with various stakeholders in Ghana. The Director-General noted that more agreements with a diversified and balanced portfolio of private sector entities in terms of type and regional representation are expected in the future.  

Today, FAO also launched the FAO Connect Portal - a one-stop shop for private-sector engagement - providing information, including access to formal agreements.

Hand-in-Hand Initiative

In his remarks, the Director-General noted that the extraordinary challenges posed by the pandemic also represent "historic opportunities" for global action to help the least advantaged, eradicate poverty, end hunger and malnutrition and reduce inequalities within and among nations.

FAO's Hand-in-Hand Initiative aims at just that, and is steadily gaining strength, with 37 Member countries now accepted as formal participants and still more benefiting from methodologies and platforms developed under its aegis.

Members are using the country-led and country-owned initiative in a variety of ways, including:  to drive industrialization by strengthening the middle of food and agriculture value chains; to expand the productivity and earning potential of small farmers, fishers and indigenous peoples; to identify high-value commodities and develop investment plans to ensure efficient and competitive access to markets; and to use high-tech mapping tools to support decision-making for sustainable development.

The Hand-in-Hand Geospatial Platform now has more than 38 000 users, and requests for technical training by national authorities are increasing steadily, the Director-General noted.

Leading the fight against Food Loss and Waste

FAO has been very active in catalyzing consensus and actions to reduce food loss and waste (FLW), the Director-General stated.

That includes capacity development in the realm of statistics, as data on FLW is often too scarce to allow for monitoring progress in its reduction, let alone guide policy decisions. FAO's technical platform on how to measure FLW has seen a fourfold increase in consultations over the past year.

The Director-General also noted that FAO and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) are jointly developing a methodology to combine the Food Loss Index indicator, of which FAO is custodian, and the Food Waste indicator, pertaining to UNEP, into a single Food Waste Index for reporting on SDG target 12.3.

In June, FAO will submit for endorsement by the Conference a Voluntary Code of Conduct for Food Loss and Waste Reduction.

The Director-General noted that FLW cuts across all five Action Tracks of the UN Food Systems Summit 2021 and added that FAO is "supporting the development of game-changing solutions for agri-food systems transformation including ensuring that proposals to address food loss and waste reduction are robust, relevant and impactful.".

Other issues

The Director-General noted that the "digital FAO" is now a well-established reality, with more than 290 digital products supporting the Organization's work in the field, a thriving E-Agriculture Community of Practice and a busy portfolio supporting the 1000 Digital Villages Initiative, which is developing well in Asia and the Pacific, with a host of new members in Latin American and the Caribbean and more to come from Africa.

FAO's Green Cities Initiative is also advancing very well, with implementation under way in five African cities and plans being finalized in another 12.

The Director-General expressed his satisfaction with the fact that the threat of a locust invasion in West Africa was completely averted, and that the upsurge in southwest Asia was brought under control. He also applauded the nations of East Africa for scoring "major successes in suppressing the largest locust upsurge to hit the region in living memory".

Buoyed by $223 million from donors, FAO led a campaign to treat more than 2 million hectares in the Greater Horn of Africa and Yemen, leading to the protection of more than $1.5 billion worth of cereals and dairy products, enough to feed more than 34 million people for a year.

Qu also applauded members of the FAO Women and Youth Committees - staff bodies he set up upon assuming office nearly two years ago - for being active engines for solidarity and inclusiveness," noting that they have initiated broader action - notably the World Food Forum (WFF) and WFF Youth Action Assembly - to boost engagement and participation in the UN Food System Summit as well as the Pre-Summit to be held at FAO in July.

"Our commitment to deliver was neither stifled nor impeded by the challenging times we are all facing," the Director-General said in closing, highlighting  FAO's commitment to "bring hope" to people around the world who are counting on FAO.

This week's session marks the last of Khalid Mehboob, from Pakistan, as the Independent Chairperson of FAO Council. The next session of the FAO Conference will elect a new Chairperson for the next two years.

The full speech of the Director-General in the opening session of the FAO Council can be accessed here.

FAO Council 166 can be followed by webcast.

Photo: ©FAO
Participants in FAO's 166th Council, including Director-General QU Dongyu (upper left) and Independent Chairperson Khalid Mehboob (second from left)