FAO – News Article: Science, technology and innovation are key to agri-food systems transformation

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8 July 2021, Rome – Science, technology and innovation are essential to accelerate the transformation of agri-food systems and combat hunger and malnutrition, the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), QU Dongyu, said today.

The Director-General was speaking at the opening of the Science Days, a virtual conference organized by the Scientific Group of the UN Food Systems Summit and facilitated and hosted by FAO (8-9 July).

Stressing the need to adopt a holistic, coordinated approach to transform agri-food systems, Qu added: ‘‘Harnessing science, technology and innovation is one of the keys for this transformation. We need science to identify synergies and trade-offs, and to advance evidence-based policymaking.”

He underscored how innovation encompasses technological, social, institutional, policy and financial dimensions as well as new ways of thinking and collaborating. “To reach impact at scale, we must develop new and transformative partnerships, including with the private sector and civil society.” the FAO Director-General said. “We need to listen to the farmers, not just to the scientists.”

In a video message to the event, UN Deputy Secretary General, Amina Mohamed, noted that to transform food systems it is not enough to think only of enhancing productivity, but that the relationship with human and planetary health must be taken into account. She also pointed to the importance of incorporating evidence and experience from indigenous peoples’ food systems and that all constituencies, particularly women and youth are recognized and empowered.

Addressing the event, UN Special Envoy for the Food Systems Summit, Agnes Kalibata, emphasized how food, culture and identity are closely linked, the importance of local contexts in food systems-transformation and the role of science to provide a basis for factually correct evidence that will inform policy and investment decisions.   

The Chair of the Scientific Group for the UN Food Systems Summit, Joachim von Braun echoed the need for science to be culturally sensitive, pledging the respect that the 28 scientists who make up the group have for indigenous, traditional and citizen-based knowledge.

During the Science Days, around 3000 participants from the public and private sector, research institutions and civil society will examine how science, technology and innovation can better contribute to achieving healthy diets, and ensuring more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable agri-food systems to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The conference will discuss issues such as biosciences, digitalization in agri-food systems, the need for more investment in science and innovation, increasing the engagement of small-scale food producers, indigenous peoples, women, youth and the private sector in agri-food systems transformation.

Reflecting on the event’s contribution to the UN Food Systems Summit, Ismahane Elouafi, FAO’s Chief Scientist and Member of the Scientific Group, noted the “huge gap between what we know and what makes it to the farmers’ field.”

“We need new business models to deploy innovation widely and we need to democratize access to science and innovation, leaving no one behind.”

The Scientific Group was established by the UN as an independent body of leading researchers from around the world to ensure the robustness and independence of the science that underpins the UN Food Systems Summit and its outcomes.

Members of the Group have put forward a set of science-driven innovations to catalyze and accelerate food systems transformation to achieve the Summit goals and end hunger. Innovations include bioscience and digital innovations to improve people’s diets and health, enhance agricultural productivity, accessibility and affordability, as well as to restore ecological well-being.

The UN Food Systems Summit is being convened to raise global awareness and to spearhead action for an equitable and healthy future for all, and one that gives voice to citizens in every country of the world. The Food Systems Pre-Summit will be hosted by FAO in Rome 28-29 July.

The outcomes of the Science Days will inform the content, recommended outcomes and commitments that are expected to emerge from the Summit.

The Science Days were preceded by over 40 independently organized side-events from 5 to 7 July where partners shared their insights on how science, technology and innovation can drive food systems transformation.


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