The Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), QU Dongyu, the President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Gilbert Houngbo, and the Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), David Beasley, today pledged to step up their joint efforts to end global hunger, particularly amid the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The UN leaders renewed their commitment virtually at the Fourth Informal Joint Meeting of the FAO Council, the IFAD Executive Board and the WFP Executive Board. It was the first time the heads of the three UN Rome-based agencies (RBA) had met since WFP was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize 2020 on Friday.
FAO’s Director-General congratulated WFP on the award, saying it not only recognized the efforts of generations of UN workers but also drew greater international attention to the importance of food insecurity and its linkages to conflict in the world.
“As we are marking FAO’s 75th anniversary this week, more than ever, we need to continue the partnership the RBAs have forged and renew our energy to fight hunger and build a better world,” Qu said, noting that “the challenge to leave no-one behind and no land behind can only be addressed through collective action and partnership.”
WFP Executive Director Beasley described the Nobel Peace Prize as “a call to action” to make the world aware of what the UN agencies are confronting. He noted that the award had alerted the international community to the link between conflict and food insecurity and emphasised the significance of next year’s Food Systems Summit in effecting change. “Let it inspire us, encourage us, to do more and never give up,” he said.
The sentiment of pride and joy for WFP’s award was shared by all participants, including IFAD’s president; the Independent Chairperson of FAO’s Council, Khalid Mehboob (chair of the meeting); the President of the Executive Board of WFP and Permanent Representative of Germany, Ulrich Seidenberger; the Special Envoy for the 2021 Food Systems Summit, Agnes Kalibata; Permanent Representatives of Members; as well as the UN Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, who addressed the meeting through a video message.
RBA collaboration in the field
The meeting discussed the status of joint RBA action plans and programmes at regional and country level. The FAO Director-General indicated that RBA collaboration had increased since the last informal joint meeting of the three boards in September 2019.
“Our most effective collaboration is happening at the country level: the number of joint RBA programmes has almost doubled since 2017 reaching more than 50 countries today,” Qu said. “That is what our Members expect from us: to move forward in concrete ways.”
Turning his attention to specific programmes, the Director-General detailed the Rome-based agencies’ action to expand efforts in the Sahel region through a $180 million programme that is being developed, which is aimed at strengthening the resilience of populations vulnerable to COVID-19, conflicts and climate change.
He then alluded to the Canada-funded RBA Resilience Initiative in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Niger, and Somalia where the three agencies are collaborating to strengthen food security resilience and nutrition using an innovative approach that bridges humanitarian and development issues, with a particular focus on gender specific needs.
The importance of working together was expressed by several speakers throughout the event.
IFAD President Houngbo stressed the need to step up collaboration not only between the Rome-based agencies but with other UN agencies and institutions, depending on specific issues.
The President of the Executive Board of WFP, Ulrich Seidenberger, noted that the world was facing an historical time of crisis and appreciated a greater focus at the RBA agencies’ meeting on concrete and operational issues. He indicated that it was important to “break down silos” to strengthen the agencies’ collective commitment and implement joint programmes.
Members from all regions welcomed progress so far, highlighted the importance of continuing to increase synergies and noted that the three agencies are currently discussing their strategic planning, which offers more possibilities for further collaboration.
RBA COVID-19 response
The Director-General noted that the COVID-19 global pandemic was a “turning point” for the transformation of agri-food systems. He emphasized that FAO had developed a comprehensive Response and Recovery Programme with a strong focus on investment, innovation and data sharing to scale up action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
FAO Deputy Director-General, Beth Bechdol, presented the Joint Response of the RBAs to address the challenges posed by COVID-19 on food security and nutrition, which cuts across four main areas: Country Programming and Planning; Policy and Analytical Support; Advocacy and Information Sharing; and Business Continuity.
Bechdol said joint research was being conducted on the impact of COVID-19 in 30 high-priority countries. Individual assessments in the area of policy and support were conducted in a number of countries including Fiji, Haiti and Tunisia, she noted.
UN Food Systems Summit 2021
In a video address, the UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, who is also Chairperson of the Advisory Committee of the 2021 Food Systems Summit, informed the meeting that the Summit will take place in September 2021 during the UN General Assembly, while a Pre-Summit will be organized a few months earlier in Rome to prepare for the main event in September. She described it as “a people’s Summit, inclusive and focused on solutions and action.”
The UN Special Envoy for the 2021 Food Systems Summit, Agnes Kalibata, referred to the Summit as an opportunity to redefine food systems, stressing it was important to engage with communities and countries at a local level. The RBAs provided an update on contributions to the Summit as Kalibata urged greater dialogue around the summit’s five action tracks: (1) ensuring access to safe and nutritious food for all, (2) shifting to sustainable consumption patterns, (3) boosting nature-positive production at scale, (4) advancing equitable livelihoods and (5) building resilience to vulnerabilities, shocks and stresses.