Canada and the U.S. joined FAO officials to celebrate accomplishments, and look ahead to the continued and growing challenge of world hunger
By Jackie Clark
Seventy-five years ago, in October 1945, leaders from 39 countries formed the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) at the first session of the FAO Conference, held in Quebec City. This gathering had been planned when U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt met with the leaders of 44 countries in Hot Springs, Virginia in 1943. Last week, leaders from the FAO, Canada, and the U.S. came together to celebrate the anniversary, reflect on accomplishments, and commit to the work ahead.
“Canada and the United States hold a special place in FAO memory and in our hearts,” said FAO director-general Qu Dongyu. “I had been looking forward to being in Quebec City in person with all of you to celebrate this milestone.”
Due to COVID-19, the leaders met virtually.
“It gives me immense pride to say that commendable work has been done over the past 75 years. Farmer output has increased exponentially, famines have been averted, and hundreds of millions have been rescued from hunger and poverty,” said Qu.
Both “the U.S. and Canada were pivotal in launching the FAO which makes it particularly rewarding for me and Minister Bibeau to celebrate this 75th anniversary,” said Sonny Perdue, U.S. secretary of agriculture.
“Our shared purpose from the FAO constitution from 1945 is still enduring,” he said. “At that time, we established our commitment to raising levels of nutrition and standards of people, increasing the efficiency of the production and distribution of food, bettering the condition of rural populations, and lastly, all the while expanding the world economy to ensure freedom from hunger.”
FAO and its partners are still working toward the goal of eradicating hunger.
“The world still needs the FAO now more than ever,” said Marie-Claude Bibeau, Canada’s minister of agriculture and agri-food.
“Canada is committed to working with the FAO to achieve the sustainable development goals, especially the second, zero hunger,” she said. “Canada believes that there are three pathways to feeding the world sustainably: science and innovation, trade based on science and predictable rules, and inclusive food systems.”
Canadians “are making historical investments in agricultural science,” she added. Scientists are working to find economically and environmentally sustainable solutions for producers and processors.
“These innovations help producers increase production and feed people, and contribute to the fight against climate change,” she explained.
Next, world leaders must “ensure our trade environment is based on predictable and enforceable rules, and supported by the principles of science and risk,” Bibeau said. “FAO’s role is vital. Your scientific advice on international food standards helps to ensure that our trade and regulations are based on sound science and risk, and that’s a powerful weapon in the battle against world hunger and poverty.”
Canada continues “to work through the World Trade Organization, the G20, the G7 and with our partners around the world to remove trade barriers and help food get where it’s needed,” she added.
Finally, Canada is working with the FAO to create an equitable worldwide food system.
“Since the first meeting in Quebec City, the FAO (has) focused on vulnerable groups and development in rural areas. Today we know that that vision needs to include the entire food supply chain from production to distribution to consumption to the elimination of waste and, in Canada, we continue to work together to (strengthen) our food systems,” said Bibeau.
She has a vision for the future where all Canadians can access and afford nutritious, locally produced food.
To do so, “we must empower women, youth, Indigenous (people) and other under-represented communities. We need their diverse perspectives at the leadership table,” she said. “Canada shares FAO’s vision for a food system that is sustainable environmentally, economically, and socially. … Director-general, your organization is celebrating 75 years, and you can count on Canada’s support to continue your mission.”
That mission is ongoing.
“Our work is far from done, our mission is not yet accomplished,” said Qu. “After diminishing steadily for decades, hunger is now on the rise again.”
Roughly 700 million people around the world are undernourished, with two billion qualifying as malnourished he explained. The COVID-19 crisis has only added to those totals.
“The pandemic has laid bare the fragility of our agri-food systems, the frailty of our food supply chain, the precarious nature of our agricultural labour force, and the thin line that separates many families from poverty,” explained Qu. “Now, more than ever before, it is time for all of us to come together and ensure deliverance from hunger and malnutrition, especially for marginalized and vulnerable populations.”
The urgent need to address global food security requires renewed focus and innovation, he said. “In order to leave no one behind, we are placing priority emphasis on the countries and areas most affected in terms of hunger and poverty.”
FAO is working towards addressing global need through programs such as the Hand-In-Hand initiative, and COVID-19 Response and Recovery Programme.
Qu hopes to build an "agile, vigilant and responsive FAO, a lean organization with minimum redundancy; a flat, horizontal organization with no silos; an open and transparent organization with deep and meaningful partnerships; a modern organization with science and innovation as its building blocks."
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