At the closing segment of the UN Food Systems Summit, Director-General of Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), QU Dongyu, pledged that the UN agency is committed to take a leadership role in ensuring the success of ambitious and urgent efforts designed to make the world’s agri-food systems more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable.
According to him, “now is the time to roll up our sleeves because, you know, children can’t eat empty promises. It’s up to us to deliver and make food security and nutrition a reality”, and also promised carrying forward the vision and momentum for 2030, where he delivered the Summit’s closing statement.
The landmark event adopted, for the first time, a comprehensive approach towards agri-food systems transformation, in order to fight poverty and hunger, reduce inequalities and preserve the environment.
“FAO will take a leadership role to ensure that the Summit’s follow-up becomes a catalytic opportunity for all the stakeholders to rally behind the 5 Areas of Action which were outlined by the UN Secretary-General,” Qu said, noting that “it is the time to turn this momentum into action and work together to follow through on transformative pathways based on national priorities and conditions.”
Held during the annual UN General Assembly high-level week in New York, the Summit brought together world leaders, experts, farmers and producers, indigenous peoples, the private sector and civil society, uniting participants in one of the most comprehensive attempts yet to align agri-food production and consumption with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Countries conducted national dialogues and announced national commitments contributing to the Summit process.
Referring to the Summit closing tagline, “From New York back to Rome,” Qu pledged that “FAO will work closely with its sister agencies in Rome and the UN System and many partners from producer groups, indigenous peoples, civil society and academia that have been engaged in the Food Systems Summit process. We will make sure the initiatives that have emerged are implemented for the benefit of all the stakeholders of agri-food systems.”
The Summit, whose pre-meeting was held at FAO in Rome in July, comes at a critical time. After decades of decline, the number of hungry people has been growing for the past five years, reaching up to 811 million people in 2020, according to the latest State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report (SOFI).
More than three billion people still cannot afford a healthy diet, while obesity and other non-communicable diseases are becoming a growing problem associated with insufficiently diversified healthy diets. A new report by FAO shows that the COVID-19 pandemic has compounded the problem, creating severe setbacks in the progress made so far to achieve the SDGs by 2030.
Qu noted that the Summit served as a rallying point to reverse that trend. “Efforts to transform our agri-food systems present many unique opportunities for the reduction of poverty and inequality, and for achieving access to healthy diets for all in a sustainable agri-food systems.”
On implementing the UN Food Systems Summit outcomes, the FAO Director-General stressed that it “will have a strong focus on strengthening the science-policy interface.”
He also highlighted the need for “more and better targeted and sustained investments.”
FAO estimates that as much as $40 to $50 billion in annual investments on targeted interventions are needed to end hunger by 2030. There are plenty of low-cost, high-impact projects that can help hundreds of millions of people get rid of hunger.
For instance, targeted interventions on Research and Development to make farming more technologically advanced, innovation in digital agriculture, and improve literacy rates among women can go a long way to reducing hunger. Reducing food loss and waste is a triple win:
it increases access to healthy diets, makes the use of our natural resources more efficient and also reduces the impact on our environment. Similarly, introducing and expending well targeted social protection programmes are other examples of how hunger can be tackled effectively.
“FAO’s technical expertise and investment support can put knowledge into action,” Qu added.
FAO will also use its flagship programmes — such as the Hand-in-Hand Initiative and the Food Coalition — as important mechanisms for accelerating the transformation of agri-food systems at country level and to mobilize the required investment.
The Food Systems Summit capped nearly two years of preparatory work since it was conceived by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres as a means of mobilising what he has described as “ambitious commitments to feed hope for a better future.”
As immediate follow-up to the Summit to help spur actions, especially among and by the young generation, the World Food Forum, an independent global network of partners created and led by youth, holds its first flagship event in Rome on October 1-5.
“If we’re struggling today to reach the 7.7 billion people, imagine having 10, 11, 12 billion people on earth. […] It’s a lot cheaper to address root cause and give the people the resources they need to empower them, helping indigenous populations, empowering and inspiring the youth, all of this coming together to make this a stronger, a healthier, a better planet.”
“There is 400 trillion dollars’ worth of wealth on the earth today, and the fact that 9 million people die from hunger every year… Shame on us. In the height of COVID, billionaires’ net worth increase was $5.2 billion per day.
‘’At the same time 24,000 people die per day from hunger. Shame on us. Every hour the net worth of billionaires during the height of COVID was a substantial $216 million per hour. Yet 1000 people per hour were dying from hunger… Shame on us.”
“When the Nobel Peace Prize Committee awarded the World Food Programme the Nobel Peace Prize, it was a call to action for all of us. My goal is to put the World Food Programme out of business. But how can we do that with the direction that we’re now going?”
“As Rome-based agencies, we’re not just leaders, we’re cheerleaders to empower the private sector, inspire those in civil society and individuals to make certain that we love our neighbour as our equal so that a child in Niger is just as important as a child in New York. Imagine… children around the world dying unnecessarily […] We’ve had 4.7 million people die from COVID. At the same time, we had 16 million people die from hunger.”
“You see we got the expertise. We got the dedication of the United Nations. I do believe that this call for action will be heard by leaders around the world.”
WFP is however, the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. It is the world’s largest humanitarian organisation, saving lives in emergencies and using food assistance to build a pathway to peace, stability and prosperity for people recovering from conflict, disasters and the impact of climate change.