FAO Director-General and world leaders outline pathways to end hunger

28 June 2021, Rome – The Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), QU Dongyu, today told world leaders and other participants in the Pre-Summit to the UN Food Systems Summit that there was an acute need for renewed global efforts to end hunger and malnutrition by 2030, as envisaged under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As he urged increased funding, Qu also called for greater efficiency, as well as a sustained push for “scientific innovation and digital technologies”.

Qu was speaking at the closure of the three-day preparatory event for the main summit to be held in New York later this year. It was the first-ever global gathering dedicated to the root-and-branch reform of the way we grow, market and consume food; and the UN’s first hybrid event of such magnitude, with proceedings unfolding in a mixed physical-virtual format.

Optimism against the odds

The FAO Director-General’s address capped a series of debates featuring stakeholders across agri-food systems – including many whose voices are seldom heard in official fora, such as smallholder farmers. There was broad agreement that the current agri-food systems do not work for much of the world population – or indeed, for the planet.

As the latest FAO-led report on the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World makes clear, between 720 and 811 million people suffered from hunger in 2020: the numbers have been worsening year on year, and more so amid the COVID-19-induced economic slump. Yet more people are gripped by food insecurity, without reliable, year-round access to food that is sufficient and/or nutritious enough. And for as many as three-billion people, healthy diets remain unaffordable. All the while, biodiversity degrades, further undermining the world’s ability to feed itself.

Despite such sobering statements of fact, Qu expressed hope that a combination of efforts on the economic, environmental, and even cultural fronts could still deliver the required transformation.

As the pre-summit wound down, the Italian Foreign Minister, Luigi Di Maio, outlined Italy’s leading role in promoting food security – both historically and in the run-up to 2030, when the SDGs come due. He described food as a “fundamental right of the person” as he sketched out three major policy action tracks: engaging the private sector; the pursuit of a zero-waste approach; and a prominent place for local food systems, community-rooted and steeped in centuries-honed knowledge, alongside modern transnational food systems.

Italian setting, global aims

Held at FAO’s Rome headquarters, the event was co-hosted by the United Nations and the Italian Government. Italy has also championed the Food Coalition Initiative: led by FAO, it is designed to mobilize political and economic capital to boost resilience in the face of the COVID-19 emergency. This commitment was evident in the Matera Declaration, adopted at a meeting of G20 Foreign Affairs and Development in June: the document takes its name from the city where the Italian presidency of the group placed food security and nutrition at the heart of the global diplomatic agenda.

More than sixty government ministers attended or addressed the Pre-summit – including Prime Minister Mario Draghi of Italy. The event also heard from the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres; Deputy UN Secretary-General Amina Mohammed; Special Envoy to the Food Systems Summit Agnes Kalibata; the Prince of Wales; officials of the World Bank and other multilateral bodies; and a host of participants on the frontlines of food systems, from businesses big and small to representatives of small island developing states, and from chefs to peasant rights activists.

The Pre-summit agreed on the urgency of empowering women, youth and indigenous peoples, if the world is to have a stab at a more equitable agri-food system – but also heard calls to allocate farming subsidies to urban areas, where most food is now consumed. This last point – with much talk of “inclusive circular cities” – resonates with FAO’s own Green Cities Initiative, which aims to boost the resilience of urban communities and economies to external shocks.

As he wrapped up the Pre-summit, the FAO Director-General described the Organization as a service provider to Members and the wider international community, ready to support them in the transformation of agri-food systems. “But we need solidarity. And we need brotherhood” he noted, before concluding that “it is time to move to action.”

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