Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
An intergovernmental organization, FAO has 194 Member Nations, two associate members and one member organization, the European Union. Its employees come from various cultural backgrounds and are experts in the multiple fields of activity FAO engages in. FAO’s staff capacity allows it to support improved governance inter alia, generate, develop and adapt existing tools and guidelines and provide targeted governance support as a resource to country and regional level FAO offices. Headquartered in Rome, Italy, FAO is present in over 130 countries.
Achieving food security for all is at the heart of FAO’s efforts – to make sure people have regular access to enough high-quality food to lead active, healthy lives. FAO three main goals are: the eradication of hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition; the elimination of poverty and the driving forward of economic and social progress for all; and, the sustainable management and utilization of natural resources, including land, water, air, climate and genetic resources for the benefit of present and future generations.
Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture
The Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture was established in 1983 to deal with issues related to plant genetic resources. In 1995, the FAO Conference broadened the Commission’s mandate to cover all components of biodiversity of relevance to food and agriculture.
The Commission provides the only permanent forum for governments to discuss and negotiate matters specifically relevant to biological diversity for food and agriculture. The Commission aims to reach international consensus on policies for the sustainable use and conservation of genetic resources for food and agriculture and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits derived from their use.
Since its establishment, the Commission has overseen global assessments of the state of the world’s forest, plant and animal genetic resources for food and agriculture and negotiated major international instruments, including the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.
Biodiversity for Food Security and Nutrition
Biodiversity for food and agriculture is among the earth’s most important resources. Crops, livestock, aquatic organisms, forest trees, micro-organisms and invertebrates – thousands of species and their genetic variability –make up the web of biodiversity upon which the world’s food production depends.
Biodiversity is indispensable: be it the insects that pollinate plants, the microscopic bacteria used for making cheese, the diverse livestock breeds used to make a living in harsh environments, or the thousands of varieties of crops that sustain food security worldwide. Biodiversity is essential for achieving nutritional diversity in diets – a diverse food basket – which is important for human health and development.
However, biodiversity, and in particular genetic diversity, is being lost at an alarming rate. The threats to genetic diversity include:
- a focus on the development and use of only a few commercial crop varieties and breeds of livestock, neglecting locally adapted varieties and breeds and their important characteristics;
- the effects of increasing population pressure;
- the loss of natural habitats and environmental degradation, including deforestation, desertification and river-basin modification; and
- climate change.
Genetic resources are the raw materials that local communities and researchers rely upon to improve the quality and output of food production. When these resources are eroded, humankind loses potential means of adapting agriculture to new socio-economic and environmental conditions. It is because of their genetic variability that plants, animals, micro-organisms and invertebrates are able to adapt and survive when their environments change. Maintaining and using a wide range of diversity – both diversity among species and genetic diversity within species – therefore means maintaining capacity to respond to future challenges. For example, plants and animals that are genetically tolerant of high temperatures or droughts, or resistant to pests and diseases, are of great importance in climate change adaptation.
Maintaining biodiversity for food and agriculture is a global responsibility. As countries seek to diversify and adapt their agricultural and food-production systems, the exchange of genetic resources and the interdependence of countries increases. With climate change, the conservation and sustainable use of genetic diversity has become more critical than ever. The challenge of conserving and sustainably using genetic resources extends across all continents and ecosystems and demands a broad-based response. The Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture is the only international forum that specifically deals with all components of biodiversity for food and agriculture (i.e. plants, animals, aquatic resources, forests, micro-organisms and invertebrates). This unique international platform promotes a world without hunger by fostering the use and development of the whole portfolio of biodiversity important to food security and rural poverty alleviation.