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Harnessing science to transform agri-food systems

FAO Director-General, QU Dongyu, spoke today at a conference entitled Bonding science and policy to accelerate food systems transformation, hosted by the University of Montpellier. The event saw one of Europe’s oldest universities – its founding statutes date back to 1220 – tackle one of the most acute of modern challenges: how to feed a growing population sustainably, amid unprecedented threats to the Earth’s climate and biodiversity.

04/02/2021

 

Description: http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/user_upload/FAODG/qu-dongyu/images/medium_DG-Slot-2-Montpellier.jpg

 

4 February 2021, Rome/Montpellier – FAO Director-General, QU Dongyu, spoke today at a conference entitled Bonding science and policy to accelerate food systems transformation, hosted by the University of Montpellier. The event saw one of Europe’s oldest universities – its founding statutes date back to 1220 – tackle one of the most acute of modern challenges: how to feed a growing population sustainably, amid unprecedented threats to the Earth’s climate and biodiversity.

 

Qu offered a sobering assessment of agri-food systems as they currently operate. Hunger and malnutrition remained widespread, he said, with nearly 690 million people undernourished.

 

Referencing the findings of 2020’s FAO-led report, The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, he pointed out that a full three billion people cannot afford the cheapest healthy diet, while the COVID-19 pandemic may push some 100 million people into extreme poverty. Up to a further 130 million may fall into chronic hunger.

 

To address the challenges, the Director-General stressed the importance of transforming agri-food systems through science, technology and innovation, as well as by adopting a holistic and coordinated approach to build back better.

 

Qu pointed-out that existing scientific evidence could “inform policy and catalyse the transition to sustainable, inclusive and resilient agri-food systems.” Strengthening the science-policy interface was critical to that end, he added.

 

Qu also spoke of the need to identify synergies and trade-offs across the different dimensions of agri-food systems and reaffirmed FAO’s active role as a neutral forum for policy dialogue and policymaking at national, regional and global level.

 

He announced a UN Food Systems Summit 2021 Science Day to be hosted at FAO Headquarters in July (ahead of the Summit itself, scheduled in September). The event will highlight the centrality of science, technology and innovation, he said – and increase awareness and inspire trust through public mobilization and engagement. Qu recently appointed the first Chief Scientist in FAO’s history.

 

In his opening video address at today’s conference, the French Minister for Agriculture and Food, Julien Denormandie, billed the event as a milestone towards the UN Food Systems summit. He offered a strong defence of the transition to greener, more biodiversity-friendly agricultural policies, while highlighting the need to empower those he called “field actors”: new modes of production must allow farmers to live decently from their work, and thus to create value.

 

Denormandie went on to commend the role of FAO, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP) – as well as that of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS). “France,” he said, “will mobilize to support you.”

 

Echoing the Minister’s words, IFAD President Gilbert Houngbo highlighted the contribution of smallholder farmers, who “supply half of the world’s calories and feed 2.5 billion of the world’s people”. Their expertise in safeguarding ecosystems and capturing carbon can open promising avenues towards the transformation of global food systems, he said.

 

For her part, Agnes Kalibata, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the UN Food Systems Summit, welcomed the emerging consensus around the need for a vigorous science-policy interface to drive transformation. But, she asked, “how do we ensure that this interface reaches millions of people”? There has to be a deliberate effort, Kalibata stressed: transformation will only occur if governments put in place solid policy frameworks.

 

The conference featured further interventions by experts and food security practitioners.

 

See: http://www.fao.org/director-general/news/news-article/en/c/1372817/

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