Young Kyrgyz farmer picking corn
Photo credit: FAO

On October 16 every year, we celebrate World Food Day to highlight the enduring vision of a world free from hunger and malnutrition. This year, we face the unprecedented crisis of COVID-19, which threatens food security and human health and may push another 130 million people into hunger by the end of the year. The COVID-19 pandemic spotlights the fragility of our food systems caused, in part, by the fractures in the environmental systems underlying them, including biodiversity loss, deforestation, land and water degradation, and climate change.

While we have made progress towards conserving biodiversity, none of the Aichi Targets for Biodiversity were met this year, with serious implications for the agri-food systems that rely on thriving ecosystems. Our healthy forests help to prevent and reduce land degradation, as well as bolster water cycles, maintain balanced nutrient cycles, and buffer us from zoonotic spillovers. However, forests too are under increased threat. Although the rate of deforestation has decreased in recent years, the world has still lost 178 million hectares of forests in the past three decades, in no small part due to conversion of forests to agricultural use. Agriculture is a key contributor to climate change, emitting around one quarter of all greenhouse gases.

As much as the degradation of these systems affect the productivity and sustainability of food systems, unsustainable agriculture is a key driver of that environmental degradation. This is the bad news. The good news is that sustainable agriculture and food systems are the solution to many of these environmental problems and fundamental to building back better from this pandemic. Agriculture holds almost half of the solutions to global climate goals, and mainstreaming biodiversity into agriculture can conserve biodiversity and fight climate change. 

With the theme “Grow, nourish, sustain. Together,” World Food Day 2020 calls for more resilient, sustainable, and robust agri-food systems to build back better. Indeed, World Food Day reminds us of the strong synergies and complementarities between FAO’s work and the Global Environment Facility's; countries are demanding solutions to nourishing their people while at the same time sustaining and restoring our planet.  With more than 194 member states, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) and the GEF are working together with governments and other partners to take smart, systemic action to change the trajectory of unsustainable agri-food systems.

In partnership with the GEF, FAO continues to deploy its policy and technical expertise towards enhancing the global and national uptake of proven solutions, such as engaging the agriculture sector in the biodiversity mainstreaming agenda, for which GEF is the world’s largest funder. Through the GEF’s innovative Impact Programs for Sustainable Forest Management and Food Systems, Land Use and Restoration, we are working together with developing country governments to pioneer integrated approaches to address drivers of environmental degradation and food insecurity. FAO’s expertise and convening power in sustainable land, water, and soil management marshals the powerful combination of country ownership, technical and policy expertise, and private and public sector investment to partner with the GEF and UNCCD, among others, in combatting desertification. Through the Capacity-building Initiative for Transparency, FAO is working with the GEF to create more accessible data-driven forest resource monitoring, building on the unique country-driven Forest Resources Assessment. FAO will also drive forward new solutions to meet the food and agriculture needs of an increasingly urbanized world with the Green Cities Initiative in alignment with the GEF’s Sustainable Cities agenda and identify opportunities to streamline innovations from the Hand-in-Hand Initiative to target investments and interventions areas with improved and integrated data and geospatial platforms.

We’re at a turning point in international efforts to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The year 2020 opens the Decade of Action to Deliver the Global Goals, to end poverty and hunger, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all. Together with UNEP, FAO is leading the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030) to build a broad-based global movement that will bring renewed energy towards GEF’s mission: preventing, halting, and reversing the degradation of ecosystems on every continent and in every ocean. Over the course of the next decade, the initiative will build a global movement by connecting and empowering the actions of many, directing efforts from public and private sectors towards financing ecosystem restoration, investing in research to promote best practices, and working with youth to build the next generation of ecosystem ambassadors.

In the midst of multiple crises, we need strong partnerships and shared focus to drive action towards a sustainable future, now more than ever. This World Food Day, the FAO is reaffirming its commitment to work together with the GEF towards solutions for our shared community: our member states and the communities they represent. Together, we will meet our commitments to global conventions, we will build back better, and we will grow, nourish, and sustain our food systems and our environment.