Securing food, protecting biodiversity

6 July, Rome – The Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), QU Dongyu, today told a gathering of experts, diplomats and senior officials that the agricultural world and the environmental world needed to “listen to each other and collaborate.”

He was speaking at the Global Dialogue on the Role of Food and Agriculture in the Global Biodiversity Framework – an event jointly organized by FAO and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).”We must conserve biodiversity because we want to meet the increasing demand for agricultural products. There is no healthy food without a healthy environment,” Qu added, while simultaneously extolling the role of technology and collective action in reconciling those pursuits.

He stressed that securing “food, fibre, feed and fuel” while protecting and restoring ecosystems was both possible and necessary. It is precisely through the conservation of precious resources, Qu suggested, that humanity can build more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable agri-food systems.

There was wide agreement on the distance yet to be travelled. The Executive Secretary of the CBD, Elisabeth Maruma Mrema, called for decisive moves to promote not just the diversity of crops, but “all species in-between that inhabit our productive landscapes”.

Joint platform, dual agenda

It was the second time in as many months that Qu and Mrema had shared a platform to highlight joint approaches. In late May, they spoke as the United Nations launched its Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. That gathering heard urgent calls for the emergence of a “global restoration culture,” amid evidence that more than three billion people are suffering from some form of ecosystems degradation; a third of all fish stocks are being exploited unsustainably; and every year, deforestation wipes out an area the size of the Republic of Korea.

As the Global Dialogue opened, Mrema noted that the role of indigenous people and local communities would be critical in “bending the curve of biodiversity loss”. She pointed out that “the time for systemic change is now”.

Outlining FAO’s efforts to tackle the challenge, Deputy Director-General Maria Helena Semedo referenced the Organization’s recent Strategy on Mainstreaming Biodiversity across the Agricultural Sectors, which aims to ensure that “biodiversity and the services it provides are factored into all relevant agriculture and food policies and practices”. “Biodiversity,” Semedo said, “needs to be an integral part of all stages and levels of decision-making and actions.”

Nutrition and biodiversity

There were similar calls from Gerda Verburg, Coordinator of the Scale Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement, who congratulated the organizers for “bringing the interests of people and planet together”. Verburg said the manifold rise in agricultural production in the last half-century, while it had helped feed the world, had come at a high cost.

“The current food system is bankrupting our health system, while exhausting biodiversity,” Verburg stressed as she urged a change in mindsets, away from generating calories and towards ensuring healthy nutritious food for all. “We need to produce smarter,” she added, calling for policies that include paying famers for ecosystem preservation services, and for more determined moves towards gender equality in the food production system.

Thanawat Tiensin, Chair of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) and co-chair of the Global Dialogue, joined Verburg in stressing the importance of protecting biodiversity as the world seeks to promote nutrition and food security. His co-chair, Ambassador Marie-Therese Sarch of the United Kingdom, concurred as she outlined the process whereby the conclusions of the Dialogue will inform the United Nations Food Systems Summit, scheduled in New York later this year (with a pre-summit in Rome).

Also in late 2021, the Chinese city of Kunming will host the 15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

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