Chief Scientist, FAO
In the long-term, unless we take decisive action on the challenges to the world’s agrifood systems, our ability to produce food is in jeopardy.
The world’s agrifood systems are facing mammoth challenges that are intertwined. These include conflict, weather extremes, economic shocks and the lingering impacts of COVID-19. Their ripple effects have pushed millions of people across the world into poverty and hunger – as food and fuel price spikes drive nations closer to instability.
These challenges largely stem from economic systems that have prized growth and the bottom line over everything else, with disregard for the environment and the welfare of rural people. This neglect has been detrimental to the planet’s ecosystem and to the quality of our food.
Using our tools in an enabling environment
For countries to meet these challenges head on, they must seize the many opportunities in the ever-evolving landscape of science, technology and innovation, while managing trade-offs between the multiple desired outcomes of agrifood systems. These outcomes include providing nutritious diets for all and adapting to the climate crisis.
The good news is we already have a wide range of scientific approaches, technologies and practices at our disposal. However, on their own, these approaches are not enough. Technologies are embedded in social and economic systems. For them to contribute to ending hunger and malnutrition, they must be accompanied by regulatory frameworks that are people-centred and promote equity and sustainability, delivered by strong institutions and good governance, and backed up by political will. Countries must rethink their assumptions, their policies, their legislation and their delivery in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
For countries to meet these challenges head on, they must seize the many opportunities in the ever-evolving landscape of science, technology and innovation.
Why science and technology matter in food systems
The truth is we are running out of time to achieve sustainability. The only way to ensure it is by putting producers, including small-scale producers, front and centre of the agrifood system. We do this by helping them make informed choices about the most appropriate innovations that would fit their needs, ranging from digital technologies to agroecology. We can also help them access and adapt these innovations so that they can reach their full potential in their specific contexts.
This is the vision encapsulated in the FAO Strategic Framework 2022-31, which identifies technology and innovation as two of four accelerators needed to speed up progress and maximise efforts in reaching our mandate of ending hunger, poverty and malnutrition by 2030.
FAO has developed its first-ever Science and Innovation Strategy to respond to the need for coherence and strategic vision in its own work related to science and innovation. The Strategy recognises that science and innovation can be a powerful catalyst for change but only when it is accompanied by appropriate regulatory frameworks, institutions and governance.
Both scientific and technological fields have made great strides, from biotechnologies, nuclear techniques in food and agriculture, digital tools, and nanotechnology – to advancements in the fields of ecology, agronomy, sociology of rural development as well as innovations related to agroecology and agroforestry.
With science, technology and innovation, we can transform the agrifood systems through better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life, leaving no one behind.