It was 1904 when Vittorio Emanuele III tried to create the first international institution for cooperation in agricultural matters. We had to wait years, however, to see the birth of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. It was October 16, 1945 when the FAO was founded in Quebec: the specialized agency of the United Nations with the purpose to increase nutrition’s levels, to improve agricultural productivity and rural people’s lives. Today there are 191 member countries plus those of the European Union.
Over the years, FAO has provided technical assistance to all those countries asking to be assisted in the development of their rural sector and in the construction of programs and policies for the reduction of hunger. FAO also publishes reports with statistics and future projections of the world situation. The last one has been presented in Rome just a few weeks ago by the General Director José Graziano da Silva.
‘The State of Food and Agriculture 2016: Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security’ shows how the commitment to uproot starvation and poverty must go hand in hand with the rapid transformations taking place in agriculture and food system to face a warming world. It’s a fact that agriculture causes about a fifth of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. It therefore becomes necessary to contribute to combat climate change that lately is bringing man to his insecurities as when he was a hunter and farmer. Insecurity also becomes food prices inconsistency, and this is something that we all pay, not only those hit by drought.
According to FAO report, it’s necessary to review agricultural and food systems: this point is not easy to achieve due to the large number of parties involved, the multiplicity of systems, the food processing and differences in ecosystems. The success will depend on the support that we’ll be able to give to small farmers in adapting to climate change: about half a billion smallholder families live in developing countries which produce food and other agricultural products in agro-ecological, socio and economical conditions significantly different. The adoption of smart practices from the climate point of view, such as a variety of efficient use of the nitrogen and more heat-resistant crops, a minimum tillage and integrated management of soil fertility, would increase productivity and farmers' incomes. The report estimates that the only adoption of effective practices from nitrogen point of view would reduce the number of people at risk of malnutrition of more than 100 million.
FAO conclusion is incisive: if nothing is done, agriculture will continue to be a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. But with the adoption of more environmentally-friendly practices and with the increase of soil and forests’ capacity to sequester carbon, we can reduce emissions while increasing food production to feed the growing world population. The food systems can contribute reducing losses and waste, as well as through the promotion of healthier diets in order to leave a lighter environmental footprint.