We can transform agri-food systems 

Thursday September 23 2021
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QU DONGYU

By Qu Dongyu

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has entered a new era with a new structure and new dynamics.

The 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are approaching; we have to change our agri-food systems urgently and holistically. 

This transformation requires a systemic approach and our collective action - Hand in Hand - by producers, distributors and consumers, together with governments, private sector, academia, and civil society. 

That is what the upcoming United Nations Food Systems Summit is about, and what FAO wants to achieve, together with all partners, through the new FAO Strategic Framework 2022-2031. 

The Summit is timely. After decades of decline, the number of hungry people has been growing for the past five years, now amounting to as many as 811 million people. 

At the same time, obesity and other non-communicable diseases are ever-growing global problems associated with insufficiently diversified healthy diets and consumption patterns. Many of the current agri-food practices are also exacting a heavy toll on our planet. Our agri-food systems are not functioning properly.   

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FAO has been advocating for and supporting agri-food systems transformation. The “agri-food system” covers the journey of food from tillage to table – from when it is planted, grown, harvested, processed, packaged, transported, distributed, traded, bought, prepared, eaten and disposed of. 

It encompasses non-food products such as forestry, animal rearing, use of feedstock, biomass to produce biofuels and fibers, and it constitutes all of the activities, investments and choices made, and it impacts on the livelihoods of all the people that play a part in getting us these agri-food products.
 
With expertise ranging from policy and feasibility, science innovation, land and water, livestock and fisheries, to biodiversity and climate, food safety and normative work, geospatial data and digital technology, FAO has been at the forefront supporting the preparation for this important global Summit.
 
Transforming our global agri-food systems rests ultimately with actions at the country and local levels. Culture is an important aspect. One needs only to look at cuisines to see how diverse agri-food systems are across and within countries. 

More than half of us - around 4.5 billion people - earn our livelihoods directly through the agri-food production chain, supply chain and value chain. And we are all consumers of foods, and game-changers. 
 What does it take to transform? We have identified four cross-cutting/cross-sectional accelerators - technology, innovation, data and “complements” (governance, human capital, and institutions). 

FAO has been organising and better preparing itself for the past two years to lead the process. 

Our new Strategic Framework endorsed by members is focused on supporting the achievement of the SDGs through the transformation to more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable agri-food systems for the “Four Betters”: better production, better nutrition, a better environment, and a better life.
 
We have reformed our organizational structure and made it more modular and agile in order to make ourselves fit for purpose. 
 
Countries, communities and industries will determine their transformational pathways. Our goal is pragmatic: build up ownership of Members and support Members by walking the talk and achieving concrete results on the ground. 

Our Hand-in-Hand Initiative has established the open-access geospatial platforms which can calculate forest cover, carbon sequestration potential and water evaporation rates. Our early-warning network systems can alert of coming droughts or crop pests. Our applications calculate fodder supply and demand conditions in drought- or conflict-prone areas. 

Furthermore, our analytical work, including our new modeling work, recently assessed impacts and tradeoffs of proposed actions and systems which often have detrimental social, economic and environmental effects, as well as determining how to better harness fiscal supports for agri-food systems.

Agri-food systems are complex and diverse. We all agree that they are not realizing their full potential if we run business as usual. We need to craft solutions to achieve the Four Betters and leave no one behind. 
 

Mr QU Dongyu is the director-general, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations 

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