By Kaveh Zahedi, FAO

In 2022, 780 million people were affected by hunger, and hundreds of millions more lack access to healthy, nutritious diets. The tragic fact is that our world does produce enough food to feed everyone, but our policies and practices in food and agriculture are leaving people behind and harming the planet.

Countries are facing cascading crises, and farming communities are on the frontline – coping with a changing climate while managing, using, and protecting ecosystems and biodiversity every day. Losses and damages from climate change are already undermining hard-won development gains. Agriculture and food systems, the processes that bring food products from agriculture, forestry, or fisheries to the table – and the communities that depend on them – have to be part of the solution to the environmental, climate, and biodiversity crises.  

From climate change to biodiversity loss, food waste to conflict, these colliding disasters must be tackled together, and sustainable agrifood systems are key with the capacity to put the brakes on or even reverse damage already done. 

The work of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) spans across agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and trade, and our platforms convene decision makers to build consensus towards policies and standards that work with nature. Our strategies on mainstreaming biodiversity, climate change, and science and innovation support countries and communities to adopt creative, strategic, and simple agrifood solutions. Partnerships, like those with the Global Environment Facility (GEF), are helping turn these strategies, agreements, and solutions from ideas into action.  

Since 2006, FAO and the GEF have supported over 130 countries to improve the sustainability of their agrifood production and deliver results for the environment. FAO-GEF investments over the past four years have placed 116 million hectares of land and seascape under improved management, mitigating 570 million tons of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – the equivalent to taking 128 million cars off the road – and improving the lives of 13 million people with greener jobs, healthier diets, and a greater capacity to be stewards of the environment.  

Our partnership with the GEF has achieved this by investing in scalable and integrated agrifood solutions. Climate-smart livestock reduce GHG emissions, improve grassland biodiversity, and boost the productivity and income of dairy farmers. Integrated water resources management (IWRM) enables farmers to grow crops that are more diverse and improves soil health while reducing dependency on unpredictable rains. Our involvement in the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration not only conserves biodiversity but also supports the local communities that rely on the natural resources.  

FAO and the GEF also work on the conservation of marine biodiversity through the Common Oceans Program that includes the reduction of pollution and overfishing. Across projects, there is a focus on gender empowerment and Indigenous Peoples, through training in sustainable resource management and through support to preserve traditional practices.  

These are all climate solutions, mitigating emissions, sequestering GHGs, and strengthening the resilience and adaptation of agrifood systems to extreme weather events. They are also biodiversity solutions that protect land and water, reducing the overexploitation of resources. 

As crises mount, sustainable agrifood systems are gaining attention at global level as a powerful engine for change. Following the UN Food Systems Summit in 2021, the UNFSS+2 Stocktaking Moment brought together 180 countries and over 150 partners across civil society, the private sector, and local communities to review and ramp up commitments to food system transformation to achieve the SDGs. Countries demonstrated diverse commitments and plans, and a recurring message in the solutions and challenges presented was that we cannot continue to treat food systems, climate change, and biodiversity as separate pathways. We need to move from commitment to implementation and we need more financing to do it. 

We look to this week’s Seventh Assembly of the GEF, the largest gathering of a family of funds dedicated to confronting biodiversity loss, climate change, pollution, and strains on land and ocean health. We hope the family will grow larger with the launch of the Global Biodiversity Framework Fund, a new source of financing to support the implementation of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF).

Over half of the GBF targets relate to agrifood systems, and achieving the goals of the GBF requires the full engagement of the agrifood sectors to improve the sustainable use of biodiversity. The new Global Biodiversity Framework Fund would provide essential funding to meet the nature-financing gap, and investing in agrifood systems to reach biodiversity goals would mean positive results for climate, human well-being, and sustainable development globally. 

Looking forward – to the SDG Summit, to the UN Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC COP 28), and to 2030 – we have to continue investing in and scaling up these approaches. We must use the momentum to continue driving forward agrifood system solutions that work in harmony with nature, to confront the environmental, biodiversity, and climate crises our world is facing. 

This article was written by Kaveh Zahedi, Director, Office of Climate Change, Biodiversity and Environment, Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN.