30 November 2020, Rome - In his address to the 165th Session of the FAO Council today, the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), QU Dongyu, made a comprehensive report on the UN agency's work and engagement in the past 16 months, updating the Council on important activities and presenting new proposals and initiatives, such as the outline of the Strategic Framework 2022-2031 and the FAO Strategy for Private Sector Engagement 2021-2025.
From the onset, the Director-General highlighted that the world has continued to change rapidly since the Council met last time in July, noting that the adjustments introduced in the Organization have helped FAO to react better to the new normal and better serve its Members.
"With the structural reform achieved and the collective leadership, FAO's major activities are running smoothly," he said, alluding to FAO's new organizational structure.
Qu also stressed that FAO has continued to strengthen collaboration with Members and partners; and to increase FAO's international engagement, visibility and reputation.
Strategic Framework 2022 - 2031
Regarding the outline of the Strategic Framework 2022-2031, the Director-General affirmed that "our aim is to have a document that is embraced by all Members and that allows FAO to provide maximum support in achieving the SDGs at country level."
The Strategic Framework, which will be submitted to the FAO Conference in the summer 2021, is being developed through an inclusive and transparent consultation process, including the FAO Regional Conferences, FAO technical committees, FAO Programme and Finance Committees, and informal consultations with Members.
Strengthening partnerships is a key aspect of the proposed Strategic Framework, including with UN agencies, financial institutions, the private sector, producer organizations, academic and research institutions, and the civil society.
The new Strategic Framework puts at its center the strategic narrative of Leaving No One Behind through sustainable, inclusive and resilient food systems. It aims to increase preparedness and effectiveness in supporting Members to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), using key SDGs and their indicators, with focus on SDG 1 (No poverty), SDG 2 (No hunger) and SDG 10 (Reduced inequalities) around the four betters: better production, better nutrition, a better environment, and a better life.
The outlined framework also foresees the establishment of four cross-cutting drivers and accelerators: technology, innovation, data and complements (governance, human capital and institutions), with the objective of increasing preparedness and effectiveness in supporting countries to implement the Agenda 2030.
FAO Strategy for Private Sector Engagement 2021-2025
In relation to the proposed new strategy for engagement with the private sector, the Director-General said that "a closer and improved engagement with the private sector is one of my top priorities, and this strategy is very important for the way forward," noting that that the contribution of the private sector is important not only in terms of investments but also innovation.
Qu stressed that the key goal of the proposed strategy is to enhance FAO's strategic partnerships, as well as scale up and steer all efforts to support FAO Members to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), through an innovative, country-owned and country-led approach.
He recognized that an increasing engagement with the private sector involves risks, but reassured that the Organization is taking all measures to minimize those risks. Qu also mentioned that as a neutral convener, FAO has the mandate to engage with all relevant actors that can contribute to sustainable development.
"I am committed to strengthening FAO's engagement with the private sector and all partners in a fully transparent manner. An efficient, transparent and inclusive FAO is my highest priority," he said.
With the new strategy, FAO aims to engage with the private sector to support and scale up innovation, promote investments, mobilize scientific expertise, generate data for SDG monitoring - among other aspects - based on shared resources, networks, knowledge and technologies.
The strategy defines as potential partners financial institutions; large national and multinational companies; micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs); farmers and farmers' organizations; industry and trade associations; philanthropic foundations; as well as producer-organizations and cooperatives.
COVID-19 Response and Food Coalition
The Director-General stressed that from the onset of the COVID-19 Pandemic, FAO has used its technical expertise and international standing to raise awareness, disseminate knowledge and rally concrete action, including joint statements with other organizations (WHO, WTO, World Bank, WFP and IFAD) and a dedicated website with more than 70 analysis and policy brief documents on the various aspects of the pandemic's impact, as well as a mapping tool displaying information on planting and harvesting months for key food and agriculture commodities.
He alluded to the launch of FAO's comprehensive COVID-19 Response and Recovery Programme for immediate and medium to longer-term actions to prevent the health crisis becoming a food crisis.
The Programme aims to support countries to "build back better" by strengthening the longer-term resilience of food systems and livelihoods, addressing the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic and reflecting the three pillars of sustainable development.
Up to now the Programme has mobilized more than $193 million through voluntary contributions and technical cooperation programs.
The Director-General also referred to the launch of the Food Coalition, an initiative proposed by the Government of Italy and led by FAO with the participation of key and strategic partners.
The Food Coalition supports the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Programmme by raising awareness, mobilizing financial resources, technical expertise, and innovation. FAO will serve as a neutral leader and convener of the Food Coalition, using its expansive network of country offices to ensure that the views and needs of countries and national partners are fully prioritized.
Hand-in-Hand and other new initiatives
The Director-General updated Members about the implementation of the Hand-in-Hand Initiative, which is already supporting the efforts of 30 countries to end poverty (SDG1) and hunger and all forms of malnutrition (SDG2) in a country-owned and country-led manner.
"Based on the wide interest and overwhelming positive reactions received so far, I am confident that this number will increase significantly in the coming months," Qu said.
He also alluded to the state-of-the-art technologies that support the Hand-in-Hand-Initiative, such as the Geospatial Data Platform which delivers key information for decision-making and Earth Map, which FAO recently launched with Google.
"We are walking the talk when it comes to integrating innovative approaches and digital technologies in our core business," he said, stressing that the International Platform for Digital Food and Agriculture is another important element in this approach. The proposed Terms of Reference of the platform have already been developed, as requested by the last session of the Council, and are under review by FAO's technical committees.
On 3 December, a High-level Dialogue on the International Platform for Digital Food and Agriculture will discuss the potential and the challenges of the new platform.
The Director-General also alluded to the FAO Green Cities Initiative and its Action Program recently launched on the margins of the 75th Session of the UN General Assembly.
"The aim of the Initiative is to improve people's wellbeing through increased availability of and access to green products and services provided by green spaces, green industries, green economy and green way of lifestyle - including integration of urban and peri-urban forestry, fisheries, horticulture and agriculture - and through sustainable agri-food systems," Qu said.
Furthermore, Qu talked about plans to launch the 1 000 Digital Villages Initiative, which aims to enable farmers to use digital technologies, information and communication tools including social media, to promote local sustainable development.
"Digital technologies can raise economic benefits and contribute to food security by increasing productivity of agricultural sectors, enhancing market opportunities through E-commerce and access to market information, facilitating inclusion of famers in value chains," he said.
Through the 1 000 Digital Villages Initiative, a tailor-made menu for assistance in the area of digital innovation can be made according to the requests and situations of the sites. This effort will be implemented in collaboration with Microsoft, IBM, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other partners.
"Our Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific is now starting a process of proposing the first round of pilot villages," Qu said.
Resilience and emergency preparedness
The Director-General also updated Members on FAO's work to support resilience and emergency preparedness, particularly in relation to desert locust and Fall Armyworm response.
For Desert Locust, FAO has been able to raise over $ 203 million to tackle the pest. In the Greater Horn of Africa and Yemen, almost 1.3 million hectares have been treated since January 2020. It is estimated that over 2.5 million tons of cereal have been protected, valued at $ 765 million.
"This is enough to feed more than 17 million people for one year and protect more than 1.2 million pastoral households from livelihood loss and distress in Ethiopia alone," Qu said.
Regarding the Global Action for Fall Armyworm Control, eight demonstration countries and 53 pilot countries have been identified for a radical intervention at national and farmer level through a new business model that reaches over 50 percent of maize acreage in the three target regions Africa, Asia and the Near East.
The Director-General mentioned the introduction of an innovative talking smartphone app known as NURU, available in 29 languages, that channels valuable real-time and field-level information and supports smallholder farmers with specific tips on how to manage infestations.
"Today, we are proud to say that FAO's Virtual and Digital Workplace is a reality," said the Director-General, referring to FAO's transformation into a digital Organization.
Such transformation included the improvement and revamp of the entire FAO website's functionality, content and look, to serve as platform to support and include Members, other UN organizations, partners, and farmers, particularly smallholders.
Qu also cited the creation of the Digital Tiger team, to rapidly enable teleworking, with a scale up from IT security, and the automation of collaboration and communication tools for trainings to provide the maximum and most efficient help to all FAO employees worldwide
"We are continuing to spearhead the holistic concept of a digital organization within the UN family, being well ahead of the curve," he said.
The Director-General also stressed that new digital FAO has also been delivering digital public goods for its Members!
"We have created an impressive FAO Digital Portfolio: a global catalogue of FAO's more than 250 digital products that support our work in the field and empower FAO's digital technologies," he noted.
"And we established the Digital Service Portfolio: A cloud-based platform that offers information and advisory messages to the farmers in the field and connects governments directly to farmers," Qu added.
After being deployed in 2019 in Egypt, the Digital Service Portfolio is now being upscaled in Rwanda and Senegal and is in progress in Iraq, Jordan and Tanzania. Currently, 37 333 farmers are registered for the Short Message Service (SMS) Broadcasting.
The Director-General also referred to the E-Agriculture Community of Practice, which now counts about 18 000 Members. This global platform offers capacity development activities, shares updated information and collects best practices in digital agriculture.
The Director-General referred to FAO's work on food loss and waste, referring to the unveiling of the Technical Platform on the Measurement and Reduction of Food Loss and Waste in July. The platform brings together information on measurement, reduction, policies, alliances, actions and examples of successful models applied to reduce food loss and waste across the globe.
The platform is a gateway to all related FAO resources, including: the largest online collection of data on which food is lost and wasted and where; discussion forum on food loss reduction; examples of successful initiatives; e-learning courses; food loss and waste policy briefs in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic; and tips on what everyone can do to reduce food waste.
Among other issues, Qu also spoke about the results of the Regional Conferences, praising the excellent results achieved with the new interactive and inclusive approach. He also thanked the hosting countries and the Membership for agreeing to hold all Regional Conferences in a virtual modality.
In relation to FAO's 75th anniversary, Qu noted that 450 activities were organized in 150 countries, and first-ever virtual World Food Day celebration in Rome was followed by 76 000 participants via Zoom, webcast or live streaming on social media. In addition, over 860 000 users viewed World Food Day content on FAO web pages and the FAO messages reached over 1.5 billion accounts on social media
Referring to FAO's internal transformation, he noted that the Organization is today more transparent, inclusive, efficient, effective and digital, adapting to the new normal and better able to serve its Members.
"Full of determination and dedication, we will continue working hand in hand, for the day when hunger is only a footnote in the history books!" the Director-General concluded.
The full speech of the Director-General in the opening session of the FAO Council can be accessed here.
Chaired by the Independent Chairperson of the Council, Khalid Mehboob, the 165th Session of the FAO Council will meet until 4 December. It can be followed by webcast.
The Council is the executive organ of the FAO Conference. It has 49 Members and meets at least four times between Conference sessions. In particular, the Council exercises functions dealing with the world food and agricultural situation and related matters, current and prospective activities of the Organization, including the Programme of Work and Budget, administrative matters, financial management of the Organization, and constitutional questions.