Remarks by Ambassador Kip Tom at the at FAO Informal North American Regional Conference Plenary Session

Rome,  Oct 22, 2020

I will start out stating my disappointment – my disappointment that we are not celebrating the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) 75th Anniversary in person in Quebec, Canada, as I know Canadians and especially those in Quebec know how to celebrate a landmark moment such as this. So let’s commit to convening in Quebec at some future date to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of FAO. Ambassador Bugailiskis, I think I just invited myself.

Director General, DDGs, Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Secretaries, Assistant and Under Secretaries, Ambassadors and other Attendees:  A BIG Congratulations to the FAO on your 75th anniversary. As the Minister and Secretary noted in the commemoration ceremony, as DG Qu acknowledged, and as Ambassador Bugailiskis illustrated in remarks just now, this organization has an incredible history.

Its accomplishments in its early days, and North America’s dedication to its success are longstanding and enduring.

I can think of no better timing for the Nobel Peace Prize Committee’s conferring of their award on the World Food Program than now:

  • As we stand at the 75th anniversary of UN food security organizations;
  • As we look one year out at holding a transformative Food Systems Summit to accelerate progress toward SDG 2;
  • And as the entire world continues to grapple with a pandemic that disrupted human health not only directly through a virus, but indirectly through its implications for access to food, openness of markets, freedom of trade, effects on supply chains, affordability of food and many other impacts;

What you will hear over the course of these two days is that the United States and North America as a whole remain not only committed, but motivated more than ever to contribute to accelerating progress toward ending hunger, and helping FAO become an ever-more-nimble organization that can meet the food security challenges of the future.

  • You’ll hear that we are active and engaged to champion all/all forms of innovation: digital, biotech, technological, and organizational.
  • You’ll hear us talk about an emerging and important role for private sector partnerships to leverage their comparative advantage.
  • And within this forward-looking perspective to make FAO more modern and agile, you’ll also hear us asking the organization to remember its roots and its unique value-add among all other international organizations: normative work and standard-setting that ensures food safety, promotes and defends plant and  human health, and ultimately underpins food security.

As a family farmer myself, it is an exciting time to be in Rome representing the United States as FAO positions itself – with renewed focus – to enhance its partnership with the private sector and harness the power of innovation.

I want to see a future where farmers, producers, and consumers have access to all the tools available to maximize productivity.

I want to see them have choices of food systems approaches that fit local conditions, with access to the science-based innovations and technology that nations like ours – the United States and Canada – and numerous others are already using, and that make us the global standard of sustainability.

I’d like to offer you some examples of how the United States is already applying some of these techniques to improve the sustainability of our agriculture, with impressive environmental gains, and with many more to come.

Innovation and sustainable productivity growth should be at the center of the world’s efforts to build more sustainable food systems. Innovation that improves the efficiency of agricultural production – producing more with less total inputs – is one of the most powerful approaches for simultaneously meeting the world’s nutrition needs and protecting the environment.

By reducing the amount of land and inputs required per unit of production, productivity growth can shrink agriculture’s impact on the environment while meeting future food, fiber, fuel, and feed demands and supporting farmer livelihoods.

We are domestically focused on productivity growth, biodiversity, water quality, carbon sequestration, renewable energy, empowering youth and the reduction of food loss and waste:

Since the 1950s, the United States has enrolled more land for conservation than the size of Switzerland, restored wetlands, and buffered streams with enough mileage to encircle the earth seven times.

Our dairy industry committed this year to being carbon neutral by 2050, bringing technical expertise and on-farm pilots directly to farmers and partnering with the private sector.

And we are hosting next generation fertilizer challenges while also bringing genome editing and other forms of biotechnology to breeders, farmers, and  ranchers.

All these initiatives are providing the necessary tools to producers to adapt to and mitigate global changes, safeguard incomes, and provide healthy crops and livestock, as well as fresh, nutritious food.

We’d like to see other countries, in partnership with businesses and organizations, do the same to equip farmers around the world with the approaches and science-tested tools they need to earn a living while consistently supplying nutritious, affordable food to their communities.

FAO has an essential role to play in this: fostering the enabling environments for innovation by promoting internationally recognized science- and risk-based regulatory frameworks and by encouraging countries to adopt policy frameworks that allow for innovation rather than shut the door on new technologies.

In my mind, the ongoing Covid-19 global pandemic does not substantially change our collective need to accelerate progress toward SDG2 and achieve sustainable food systems transformation – but it makes our work all the more urgent and essential. And together we have learned some important lessons from the pandemic response.

  • First, we can marshal global resources – quickly and effectively.
  • Second, we can use data in innovative ways to help address serious global challenges.  Initiatives like the FAO World Data Lab approach are evidence of this.
  • And third, with the pandemic, Fall Army Worm outbreaks, and the African Desert Locust swarms in east Africa and the Middle East, we have ample examples before us that demonstrate to leaders and the public around the globe the essential need to “build back better,” with deepened capabilities and increased resilience.

 During this conference, we will have opportunities to talk about FAO’s new Strategic Framework. I believe our forward-looking framework must be flexible and innovative so it can be responsive to unforeseen risks, while also preserving FAO’s core mandate and it’s real value-add: its normative and standard-setting work, data analysis, policy dialogue, and technical cooperation that set it apart from other international organizations.

FAO needs to focus on matching its strategy with talent – especially in its plant health and food safety pillars – the foundations for food security.

I am pleased the organization, under DG Qu’s leadership, is already laser-focused on becoming more agile, and looking across silos or stove-pipes at themes that affect us in every area of food security: climate, gender, and good governance.

I hope that as FAO modernizes, it continues to prioritize improved coordination amongst Rome-based food security agencies to leverage each of the three organization’s comparative advantages: with IFAD’s unique status as both a specialized development agency of the UN and an international financial institution, as well as the WFP’s unique reach into the most challenging operational environments on the planet, and FAO’s investment center partnering with international financial institutions, the private sector, and government leaders to deliver technical capabilities.

In conclusion, North America, with its historical underpinning of FAO and the enormous agricultural experience and expertise of Canada and the United States combined, is uniquely positioned to help FAO succeed at this critical moment.

I think we all agree that  we would love to look back in a decade and say “we’ve done it – we’ve achieved zero hunger,” but let’s face it, we are well-behind pace to achieve that goal.

We need to ensure that the next generation of farmers aren’t just working to survive, but working to grow and thrive. Agriculture needs to be a means to more economic and social opportunities and a way to contribute to household, community, and national wellbeing.

So looking ahead I see tremendous opportunities for FAO and North America in partnership moving forward .

It is going to take work and global focus to get there, and today’s and tomorrow’s discussions should fit squarely into this broader context as we all aim to feed the world and improve lives and livelihoods. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.