Mon | Jul 4, 2022

Ismahane Elouafi l A strategy designed to solve the challenges of today and tomorrow

How FAO’s Science and Innovation Strategy will help countries leapfrog to sustainability

Published:Thursday | June 23, 2022 | 12:06 AM
Children carry bags on their head as they walk the flooded fields near Malualkon in Northern Bahr el Ghazal State, South Sudan, on Wednesday, October 20, 2021. This is the third straight year of extreme flooding in South Sudan, further imperilling liveliho
Children carry bags on their head as they walk the flooded fields near Malualkon in Northern Bahr el Ghazal State, South Sudan, on Wednesday, October 20, 2021. This is the third straight year of extreme flooding in South Sudan, further imperilling livelihoods in the world’s youngest country. A five-year civil war, hunger and corruption have all challenged the nation. Now, climate change, which the United Nations has blamed on the flooding, is impossible to ignore.
A Karbi tribal woman, whose agricultural land had been transferred to build a solar power plant, grazes her cow near the plant in Mikir Bamuni village, Nagaon district, northeastern Assam state, India, on February 18. Protests have been simmering among sev
A Karbi tribal woman, whose agricultural land had been transferred to build a solar power plant, grazes her cow near the plant in Mikir Bamuni village, Nagaon district, northeastern Assam state, India, on February 18. Protests have been simmering among several poor families belonging to India’s indigenous communities, who contest the sale of 91 acres of land to New Delhi-based green energy producer Azure Power Global Limited. The dispute underscores not just India’s often fuzzy landownership rules complicated by colonial-era land classifications, but also the immensity of the challenges facing India in its renewable goals for the next decade.
FAO chief scientist -  Ismahane Elouafi
FAO chief scientist - Ismahane Elouafi
FAO chief scientist -  Ismahane Elouafi
FAO chief scientist - Ismahane Elouafi
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The world’s agri-food 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 longterm, unless we take decisive action, our ability to produce adequate food is in jeopardy.

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 agri-food 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-centred 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.

The truth is, we are running out of time to achieve sustainability. The only way to ensure it is by putting producers, including small-scale growers, front and centre of the agri-food 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.

WHY SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY MATTER IN FOOD SYSTEMS

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 maximise 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 agri-food systems through better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life, leaving no one behind.

Ismahane Elouafi is chief scientist at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. She holds a BSc in agricultural sciences and an MSc in genetics and plant breeding from the Hassan II Institute of Agronomy and Veterinary Medicine, Morocco, and a PhD in genetics from the University of Cordoba, Spain. Send feedback to c olumns@gleanerjm.co m or follow her on Twitter @FAOScienceChief