Eliminating world hunger by the end of the decade requires urgent action and innovative solutions to the way we produce, distribute and consume food, QU Dongyu, the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said 9 November in a message to the UN’s Climate Change Conference (COP26).
The number of undernourished people rose to 811 million last year, and the climate crisis is just another major driver of malnutrition and poverty along with conflict and other humanitarian emergencies. The COVID-19 pandemic has extended the list, pushing the achievement of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals further away.
“If we want to meet our global commitments to end world hunger by 2030, we need to accelerate the transformation to greener, more inclusive, resilient, efficient and sustainable agri-food systems,” Qu said in a video message to participants in Glasgow.
Our agri-food systems – the systems by which our food, feed and fibre are grown, produced and distributed – is responsible for about a third of all greenhouse gas emissions. But they are also extremely vulnerable to climate change, particularly in countries where food security is already low.
The degradation of our ecosystem and the loss of biodiversity are also increasing at an alarming rate, providing additional threats to our agri-food systems and the people depending on them.
That is why “we need innovation and technology to help us produce more with less,” Qu said in a keynote address to the 12th Sustainable Innovation Forum, a side event at COP26 whose participants included business leaders, experts, and representatives of at-risk countries, such as the Small Island Developing States.
FAO’s Director-General said the forum had highlighted the vast, “untapped potential for technological innovation and digitalization” that can help us build green and climate resilient agri-food systems.
“We need innovations that span across agri-food systems, from food production to consumption and waste management, as well as policy and financing,” Qu said.
As a knowledge-based institution, FAO is already leading a number of projects and initiatives in the area of technology and digital innovation. These include:
- The use of drones, satellite imaging, remote sensors and mobile applications to help smallholder farmers improve productivity and access to markets
- The Green Cities Initiative, which aims to improve the livelihoods and well-being of urban populations
- The 1000 Digital Villages Initiative, which boosts farmers’ use of digital technologies
- Earth Map, a real-time big data tool developed in collaboration with Google (Hand in Hand initiative)
- An International Platform for Digital Food and Agriculture to harness digital tools
Green and climate resilient agriculture
The Director-General also addressed Green and Climate Resilient Agriculture – Supporting action at global level and on the ground, a COP26 high level event that also featured keynote speeches from John Kerry, U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, and Xie Zhenhua, China Special Envoy for Climate Change.
Qu emphasised the role of leveraging finance, noting FAO’s close relationship with the Global Environment Facility, the Green Climate Fund, and other key international financial institutions and partners. Over the last 15 years, FAO and the GEF helped more than 130 countries access $1.2 billion to tackle agri-food systems and environmental challenges.
Improving the resilience of agri-food systems while reducing greenhouse gas emissions requires combining supply-side actions such as efficient production, transport, and processing with demand-side interventions such as modification of food choices, elimination of deforestation and reduction of food loss and waste. Innovative practices such as climate-smart agriculture, biotechnology, sustainable forestry, fisheries and soil management, and disaster risk management are part of the solutions.
“We can help lay the groundwork,” Qu said. “Let us work together for the transformation to more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable agri-food systems for better production, better nutrition, a better environment, and a better life, leaving no one behind.”