* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Mohamed Hossein Emadi is the Ambassador of Iran and Permanent Representative to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Agencies in Rome.
Yaya Adisa Olaitan Olaniran is the Head of Mission and Nigeria’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Agencies in Rome.
Karla Samoya Ricari is the Ambassador of Guatemala and Permanent Representative to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Agencies in Rome.
Terri Sarch is the Ambassador of the United Kingdom and Permanent Representative to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Agencies in Rome.
2019 is a pivotal year for global food security and agriculture development as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is set to elect its next director general. Four candidates from China, France, Georgia and India will address FAO’s members on 11 April, with elections taking place in June. The result of this election will determine the organisation’s direction, relevance and effectiveness in countering complex threats to agriculture productivity and global food systems and ensuring the ambitious 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has a chance to succeed.
FAO’s stewardship and expertise have never been more relevant. The number of hungry people in the world has been on the rise since 2014, reaching an estimated 821 million in 2017. Climate change threatens to drive that number even higher, as water scarcity, droughts, floods, pests and diseases reduce agriculture and livestock productivity, and affect human and animal health, particularly in Africa and Asia where the poorest rely heavily on farming to feed their families and earn incomes. The World Health Organisation says that, temperature increases of 2-3ºC could increase the number of people at risk of malaria by up to 5%. Climate change contributes to the conditions for pests and diseases to spread from animals to humans translating into both public health and food systems challenges. Adding to the pressure is increasing demand for healthier, more diverse diets, with global food demand projected to increase by as much as 60 % by 2050.
FAO plays a critical role in fostering the international collaboration required to respond to these threats and prevent more widespread hunger, but business as usual will not suffice. While access to antibiotics remains a challenge in many developing countries, increasing antimicrobial resistance is a pressing example of a cross-border threat that cannot be handled by countries working alone. Without international rules and action across the agriculture and public health sectors to reduce the use of antibiotics and maintain agricultural productivity, they will stop working. Developing countries will be the most adversely affected. To guide the 197-member state organisation on collective action to deliver zero hunger, FAO requires a dynamic, performance-oriented leader with integrity and the expertise to build on recent reforms, work with other organisations, and make bold decisions underpinned by scientific evidence, robust monitoring of agricultural productivity.
The coming election campaign will be a competitive selection process. It aims to ensure that the most highly-qualified candidates are considered and we look forward to hearing from them. Their presentations to the April meeting of FAO’s Council will be an opportunity to set out their vision for FAO.
As the principle global body tasked with coordinating the response to end hunger, the change in leadership is an ideal time for FAO to recommit itself to prioritizing global public goods that benefit all countries. This global approach is where some of the organisation’s greatest achievements to date have taken place, including eradicating diseases like rinderpest - a disease which historically killed millions of livestock around the globe - through its work with the World Organisation for Animal Health and establishing international food standards like the Codex Alimentarius in partnership with the World Health Organisation. It is this collaborative work around the provision of global public goods - including research to boost agriculture productivity, early warning systems to detect threats to both plant and animal health, data and statistical analysis to support evidence-based decision-making, rules governing food safety and enhanced national capacity to comply with international standards and cope with climate change - where FAO can have the greatest impact. It is this collaboration which is needed to meet the interlinked challenges of the Sustainable Development Goals.
With hunger on the rise and ever-evolving threats related to a changing climate, the upcoming election will shape the contributions FAO and its member states make in the coming decade. It is only through tackling these issues as a global community of nation states that we can construct a global food system that can respond to crises and support resilient and sustainable food production that keeps hunger at bay, improves nutrition in all countries, and leaves no one behind.