Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Qu Dongyu, says biodiversity is the basis of food diversity.
According to him, ‘’biodiversity is fundamental for ecosystems, and for human beings’’, noting that the enormous challenge awaiting feeding more than nine billion people in 2050 in ways that assure healthy diets and avoid overexploitation of natural resources.
‘’Everything we eat is produced in ways that imply some transformation of the environment, which means we must have careful discussions of the type and scale of transformations we are prepared to accept.’’
Dongyu was speaking on Monday in opening remarks to negotiators at a high-level meeting on biodiversity.
Agriculture and food systems are “at the heart of the concept of sustainable development” and are central to deliberations regarding the Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework, he says.
FAO is hosting the Open-ended Working Group established by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
The Acting Executive Secretary of the CBD, Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, says ‘’I know that the world is eagerly waiting out there for demonstrable progress towards a clear, actionable and transformative global framework on biodiversity.’’
The FAO’s big boss, however, signals his hope that participants will lead to a “robust” outcome to be agreed at the United Nations Biodiversity Conference in Kunming, China, in October 2020.
The framework decided there will set the course for the next 10 years and beyond.
FAO, he says, has shepherded “many milestones” in the history of UN efforts to achieve biodiversity conservation, pointing to the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture as well as knowledge products such as last year’s The State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture.
Keystone functional services FAO provides to member states, such as data collection and dissemination, standard-setting, policy consultation, and capacity building, will be useful in the pursuit of protecting biological diversity.
The Convention on Biological Diversity entered into force on December 29, 1993, and currently has 196 Parties.
It aims to promote the conservation of biodiversity – defended as the variability among living organisms from all sources” and the ecological complexes of which they are part – the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources.
Dongyu urges the delegations present to ensure that biodiversity is an integral part of the issues discussed at the 2021 World Food Systems Summit to be hosted by the UN Secretary-General.
Also on Monday, he welcomed a $10 million donation from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support the fight against the Desert Locust upsurge in East Africa as the UN agency expanded its appeal.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation says its donation will assist FAO as it supports governments in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia to combat locust infestation that is posing a significant threat to food production and livelihoods in the region.
“I want to thank the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for its generous support as the Desert Locust threatens to provoke a humanitarian crisis,” he said.
Adding, “I urge other donors to follow their lead so we can protect rural livelihoods and assist farmers and their families.”
The latest locust outbreak is the worst to strike Ethiopia and Somalia for 25 years and the worst infestation that Kenya has experienced in 70 years.
According to FAO’s Desert Locust Watch, Djibouti and Eritrea are also affected, and swarms have spread to the southeast of South Sudan and the northern edges of Uganda and Tanzania and as far as the south-west coast of Iran.
FAO has now raised its appeal to $138 million, from the initial $76 million a month ago, in urgent funding to assist the countries that have been impacted. So far $33 million has been pledged or received.
Dongyu says the situation was extremely alarming and the next few weeks would be critical for mounting an effective containment operation.
“The upsurge is threatening people’s livelihoods and food security in a region that is already seriously food insecure,” he said. “There is no time to waste.”
Desert Locust is considered the most destructive migratory plant pest in the world and a small swarm covering one square kilometer can eat the same amount of food in one day as 35,000 people. Under the right weather conditions, they reproduce rapidly and the population could multiply 500 times in the next six months.
Pasture and croplands have already suffered damage in East Africa and there are potentially severe consequences for the region where millions rely on agriculture and livestock rearing for their survival.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s support is intended to help FAO and national governments confront the critical need for rapid control of the infestation, including aerial control of large swarms.
FAO is already helping governments and other partners with monitoring and surveillance and coordination assistance during control operations.
The UN agency is also preparing to take action to protect rural livelihoods by providing affected growers with farming packages, veterinary care for livestock, and cash to families who have lost their crops so that they can purchase food.