FAO: New challenges after 75 years of history
A cruel war. That was the spark that triggered the creation of an entity capable of alleviating its consequences. FAO fought postwar famine. And it came out on top. Since its inception, the Organization has made great strides in reducing hunger and poverty and in improving food security and nutrition. This 16 October, we celebrate 75 years of FAO’s birth and the fact that, after great achievements, it continues to save lives. Today, it is facing a different scenario from that of its origins. But it is equally challenging.
How has the world changed in these 75 years?
Hunger is no longer the worst problem that the Organization—and all of us—have to face. Over the past century, we have made tremendous progress in improving the well-being of people around the world. Communities have undergone historical changes due to technological developments and innovation in production systems. The crop improvements that have led to these developments have contributed to a more efficient use of resources and increased food security. Thanks to technological advances, it was possible to reduce the number of hungry people in the world and bring healthy food to more families.
However, there are still major concerns. More than 820 million people are still hungry, and more than 2 billion are micronutrient deficient or overfed. Large cities are growing. And they do not stop growing. We need to find long-term solutions that guarantee a balance between the urban and rural worlds and guarantee fresh, healthy and sustainably-produced food for all. One of the initiatives promoted by FAO is the Green Cities Initiative, which highlights the essential role of cities in the urgent development of innovative, comprehensive and coordinated measures.
There is also a third problem that threatens the sustainability of food systems around the world: environmental impact. Improper use of natural resources, increased greenhouse gas emissions and environmental pollution could threaten global food security for a growing population.
FAO must now address the uncertainties we all recognise: is it possible for today’s agricultural systems to meet the demand of an exponentially growing population? Can we increase food production without harming the environment in the process?
FAO in the 21st century: more transparent, inclusive and innovative
Since its inception, in 1945, FAO has worked with governments to address urgent problems related to hunger and malnutrition in the world. Over the years, the Organization began to take a long-term view of the fight against hunger. Yes: bringing food to people was a huge help, but it was not enough. Taking up the ambitious challenge of reducing world hunger required structural solutions: a global increase in investment in agriculture and know-how, and ensuring farmers’ access to technology, advice, support and technical assistance to improve their crops. And FAO put all its energy into helping them.
At the beginning of the 21st century, and faced with instability, interdependence and constant changes, the FAO decided to analyse, question and reformulate its way of acting in order to be more efficient, agile and flexible. This is how the new Strategic Framework came about in 2012, incorporating concepts such as sustainability and resilience while still retaining the origins of the Organization. From then on, FAO’s activity would be based on five strategic objectives: helping to eliminate hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition; making agriculture, forestry and fisheries more productive and sustainable; reducing rural poverty; fostering inclusive and efficient agricultural and food systems; and increasing the resilience of livelihoods to threats and crises.
Regarding the changes the Organization underwent since his term in office, FAO Director-General Qu Duygu said the changes were implemented to eradicate hunger and improve people’s quality of life “through Four Betters: Better production, Better nutrition, a Better environment, and a Better life; all while working towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals”.
A key role in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
In 2015, world leaders set the 2030 Agenda: a set of global targets to eradicate poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. Each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals set by the UN has specific targets to be achieved over the next 10 years, as a result of joint work between governments, the private sector, civil society and citizens. The main goal of these objectives is to eradicate—not reduce— poverty and hunger, as well as to improve nutrition.
The FAO has a key role to play in this global challenge. First, it commits to safeguard 21 SDG indicators and be the collaborating agency for five others, covering more than 10% of the entire SDG global indicator framework. Its role is critical, because the success of the Sustainable Development Goals relies largely on effective monitoring, reviewing and follow-up processes. This task suits FAO very well, given its vast experience in creating and sharing critical information on food, agriculture and natural resources in the form of global public goods, and its capacity to collect and disseminate this knowledge worldwide.
In this regard, FAO is committed to collecting data from national, regional and global sources, validating and refining them to make them available to researchers for use in international reports. Thus, this veteran body promotes partnerships with other entities capable of monitoring the indicators and participating in the follow-up and review processes of the High-level Political Forum.
The Organization also plays an active role in supporting governments to design policies, programmes and legal frameworks that promote food security and nutrition. This is particularly true for those countries seeking public and private funding for their agricultural and rural development. (Click here to find out more about the role of FAO in achieving the Goals).
It has now been 75 years in the history of the FAO, a period of great achievements. There have been a succession of Director-Generals who have made their mark, and tens of thousands of professionals who, during this time, have given their best to ensure that the objectives the Organization was created for are met. To all of them, thank you.