The Food and Agriculture Organization is one of the most important UN bodies. Its original goals remain as relevant today as they were upon the organization’s founding:
- raising the levels of nutrition and standards of living of the peoples under their respective jurisdictions;
- securing improvements in the efficiency of the production and distribution of all food and agricultural products;
- bettering the condition of rural populations;
- and thus contributing toward an expanding world economy and ensuring humanity's freedom from hunger. (source: FAO Constitution Preamble)
FAO provides essential services to all countries, all forms of agriculture, and should play an active role in advancing agriculture and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. There appears to be a lack of coherence in the way core and voluntary funding is shifting the priorities and resources of FAO. It is timely to consider how the core responsibilities of FAO have been handicapped by flat budgets and short-term, arbitrary resources. Long-term underfunding and human resourcing of the core programs of FAO including statistical data, the IN-FOODS database, plant protection, crop production, livestock, forestry and fisheries remain acute while other programs are growing. In particular, success at the global normative role of FAO underpins the success of smallholder farmers, family farmers, and all food producers.
With this in mind, the International Agri-Food Network has developed a list of priorities that it sees as essential for the future of FAO:
1. Private sector
- SDGs mandate private sector partnership.
- FAO does not have a regularized policy to include private sector in its fora or meetings.
- New process should create maximum engagement and discourse with private sector actors of all sizes.
2. Science advice
- FAO helps develop global agricultural standards; it needs to be revitalized to ensure evidence-based rather than opinion-based reports are developed.
- FAO’s scientific capability of discipline experts should be expanded.
- The functions of FAO in these areas need to be adequately funded, particularly the provision of independent scientific advice.
- Equal FAO attention should be paid to innovations such as biotechnology, agroecology, GIAHS, and climate smart agriculture.
- Technologies such as digital agriculture, remote sensing, recycling systems, grain storage, and loss and waste prevention vitally need a scale-up of resources.
- Better funding and focus on these projects are needed; the scale of private sector investment in innovation, along with knowledge and expertise can play a vital role in assisting FAO in this area.
- Codex Alimentarius plays a crucial role in protecting the health of the consumers while enabling trade in agricultural products.
- Codex activity benefits both farmers and consumers.
- Delays in the establishment of MRLs and the resulting lack of national / international harmonization have important consequences for market access, productivity, and farmer livelihoods, contributing to a poorer and hungrier world.
5. Respect for farmers
- The world’s farmers are on the front lines of climate change, rural development, and hunger.
- FAO should play a leadership role in fostering respect for all farmers globally, educating the UN system on the vital role they play, and furthering their engagement in decision-making.
- Farming of all scales and locations should be empowered to make decisions that reflect their unique situations.
The full IAFN Position Paper on Future Priorities for FAO can be found here.