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2021:A Year of Effectiveness and Strategic Thinking to Transform Agri-Food Systems

The FAO Director-General QU Dongyu held a meeting with all senior managers of the UN agency, including FAO representatives (FAORs) to about 130 countries, to present the Organization’s priorities for 2021. The meeting was held on January 15th.

Vipin Saini
Agri Food Systems
Agri Food Systems

The FAO Director-General QU Dongyu held a meeting with all senior managers of the UN agency, including FAO representatives (FAORs) to about 130 countries, to present the Organization’s priorities for 2021. The meeting was held on January 15th.

Opening the fourth meeting of its kind, with almost 200 participants, Qu highlighted that all the strategic decisions, transformative actions and priorities that he had introduced since his arrival at FAO followed a clear, coherent and transparent philosophy of change. He added that his Manifesto contains concrete action plans that are based on numerous consultations with Members and experts.

“From this clarity of vision comes our strength. A strength that allowed us in 2020, despite the pandemic, to introduce the most significant reform and reorganization of FAO since its creation,” said the Director-General, alluding to the various transformational efforts implemented in 2020, including the new organizational structure.

“2021 will see a continued reform in Rome, and regional harvesting of its results on the ground,” he added, stressing the importance of strengthening FAO’s engagement with its Members and different communities - FAO’s ‘customers’, as he said - at national and local levels.

Efficiency and effectiveness

Qu had declared 2020 as the FAO Year of Efficiency, at a meeting with all senior managers a year ago. Today he praised the achievements and good performance of FAO in this regard, stating that he was “pleased to state that as an Organization we have taken big steps in this direction, by breaking down silos, removing administrative layers and innovating many processes of daily activities,”.

He stated that the Organization will “continue on this path, seeking ways to achieve more tangible results and better delivery with innovation of business model which can produce more with less inputs”.

For 2021, the Director-General stressed the need for FAO to aim bigger and improve not only efficiency but also effectiveness.

“We need to ask ourselves: How effective is our crisis management? How effective are our operations, our administrative processes and, ultimately, our deliverables to Members and donors?” he said, urging managers to “walk the talk” and fulfill FAO’s potential with concrete measures.

Qu also underscored that transparency and accountability will remain cornerstones of FAO’s work. He encouraged managers to follow the example of the Core Leadership Team, he had established at headquarters, as it is applying the new approach of collaboration on a daily basis.

He stressed the importance for senior managers to promote informal consultations, share information and suggestions with colleagues, be accountable and responsible for their acts and apply a holistic lens to their work.

Thinking strategically

“2021 is also the year of enhanced strategic thinking”, said the Director-General.

In the first half of 2021, FAO management and Members will continue to develop the Programme of Work and Budget for 2022-23 and the Strategic Framework 2022-2031, which will be presented to the biennial FAO Conference next summer for approval.

Qu noted the importance of ensuring that FAO's global mandates and normative strengths are well embedded in these strategic documents, as well as incorporating the needs of Members and other customers, including civil society and farmers associations.

In this regard, the Director-General encouraged FAO representatives to enhance communication with national governments to better understand their priorities. Such initiative will enable FAO to better assist its Members towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

A decisive year for agri-food systems transformation

The Director-General reminded the senior managers that 2021 will be a key year to move forward the transformation of agri-food systems, considering the big events ahead, particularly the UN Food Systems Summit in New York, the Pre-Summit in Rome, and FAO’s Youth World Food Forum.

“The Forum will be dedicated to the future of our agri-food systems, bringing together major youth groups, top influencers, companies, startups, academic institutions, civil society organizations, governments, media, the general public to drive awareness, engagement, and resources,” he said, adding that “it is with fresh ideas and dynamic spirit that we will pursue this major goal for FAO: leading global efforts towards the transformation of agri-food systems.”

Qu also noted the important role that FAORs need to play to advance the transformative agenda. He pointed out three key activities: i) to liaise with Ministers of Agriculture and other relevant national authorities to ensure that solid and modern agricultural policies are put in place; ii) to present good examples of best practices from other countries in similar agri-zoning that face comparable challenges, making use of FAO’s global network; and iii) to build a platform to support Members attract investment, particularly by promoting commodities that have comparative advantages or particular relevance abroad.

Similarly, the Director-General invited the Regional Offices to build platforms for specific topics of relevance, where their region can lead the way. He gave the example of the Regional Office in Bangkok focusing on digital innovation and aquaculture, and the Regional Office in Santiago sharing the continent’s knowledge and best practices on family farming.

“Ultimately, we will be in a position to establish much-needed Centres of Excellency with our Members for different products and areas of work – making sure that all our experience and knowledge is at the full disposal of the world,” Qu said.

He concluded by stating that FAO was entering the historic year of 2021 with ambition and energy, calling upon all colleagues to roll up their sleeves and get to work efficiently and effectively.

Managers’ engagement

During the meeting, the five FAO Regional Representatives delivered each a presentation on the challenges and priorities of their respective regions for 2021. All of them expressed gratitude for the opportunity to have such a fruitful and relevant exchange and underscored the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on food and agriculture and the necessity to support recovery measures at regional and national level. Climate change, biodiversity and agri-food systems transformation were also highlighted. A number of colleagues managing Liaison Offices and FAO Representatives intervened as well, thanking the Director-General for the meeting and for him providing such clear guidance and sharing their views.

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