How FAO’s Science and Innovation Strategy will help Countries Leapfrog to Sustainability
By Ismahane Elouafi, FAO Chief Scientist
The world’s agrifood systems are facing mammoth challenges that are intertwined. These include conflict, weather extremes, economic shocks, the lingering impacts of COVID-19. Their ripple effects have pushed millions of people in countries 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. In the long-term, unless we take decisive action, our ability to produce adequate food is in jeopardy.
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 climate change.
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, and to contribute to ending hunger and malnutrition, they must be accompanied by enabling regulatory frameworks. These frameworks would be people-centered 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.
Why science and technology matter in food systems
The truth is we are running out of time to achieving 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 also do this by helping 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 maximize efforts in reaching our mandate of ending hunger, poverty and malnutrition by 2030. And now 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.
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, and innovations related to agroecology, agroforestry, and facing the challenges of climate change. 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.