Niigata Food Award

Discurso de José Graziano da Silva na cerimônia de recepção do
Grand Prix do 7o. Prêmio Niigata | 2022,
concedido pela Niigata International Food Award Foundation

"Past Activities and Future Aspirations"

Mr. Hiromu Ikeda, Chairman of Niigata International Food Award Foundation,
Mr. Shinsaku Suzuki, Executive director of Niigata International Food Award Foundation,
The representative of Niigata city and other protocols observed,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am extremely proud to receive this award.

To acknowledge it, I will repeat the words of Dr. Monty Jones said in 2009: It is “the Foundation that should be commended for awarding those who are fighting to reduce hunger and poverty” …
I realize that I have been fortunate to be surrounded by outstanding men and women during my career. Without them I would not have the privilege of succeeded. Allow me to share this award with all of them!

Let me introduce myself by saying that I had two quite different phases in my live: first, as a full professor in the public University of Campinas, UNICAMP, were I worked for more than 30 years until retiring in 2002; and after, as a professional dedicated to combat hunger and malnutrition.

My Academic background

I hold a degree in Agronomy, a Master’s in Economics and Rural Sociology, a PhD in Economics; and two post-doctoral studies at the University of London and at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
I published 25 books on agricultural economics and acted as tutor to more than a hundred of students dissertations and thesis.
In 2001 in Brazil I coordinated the team that formulated the Zero Hunger Program – a central component of President Lula’s 2002 election. I was then appointed in 2003 as Minister Extraordinary for Food Security and Hunger Combat, to implement it.

The Zero Hunger introduced a new development model by connecting social and economic policies to successful local practices to eradicate hunger that were already implemented by local governments around the country.
This strategy accelerated progress in reducing hunger at a rate near 3 times faster than in the previous decade: between 2002 and 2007, chronic malnutrition in Brazil decreased from more than 10 percent to less than 5 percent. As a result, in 2014, Brazil was officially removed from FAO’s Hunger Map and become the first developing nation to eradicate hunger in the XXI century.

In 2006, I moved to Chile to join the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, F-A-O, as regional representative for Latin America and the Caribbean. There, I launched the”2025 Latin America and the Caribbean Zero Hunger Initiative”, that consolidated a regional agenda focused on food security, sustainable rural development and family farm agriculture.

In July 2011, after campaigning for more than 6 months traveling around the world, I was elected FAO Director-General with a few votes more than my opponent.
During my first term (2012-2015), I carried out transformative changes within the organization focusing FAO’s work on five strategic objectives:
(i) ensuring food security for all;
ii) promoting the sustainable use of natural resources;
(iii) reducing rural poverty;
iv) improving food systems and
v) strengthening resilience.

At the same time, FAO started to implement partnerships with civil society and private sector organizations, what was considered an innovative approach at the time in the UN system agencies.
Another important achievement was improving FAO’s capacity to support South-South cooperation, facilitating the exchange of resources and knowledge between developing countries themselves.

In addition, FAO gave priority to the work with the African Union, to ensure the political commitment of African leaders to eradicate hunger by 2025, as already we have been doing in Latin America and Caribbean since 2006.
These changes helped FAO become “a knowledge organization with its feet on the ground” as I used to say, by reinforcing the capacity of its field work without losing our technical expertise in our Headquarters, in Rome.

In 2015, as the only candidate for the post, I was re-elected Director-General of FAO for a second term, with a historic turnout (177 votes, only one against).
In that same year, the Zero Hunger approach became the model of the second goal of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (the SDG-number2) which calls for eradicate hunger and all forms of malnutrition by 2030 and promote an agricultural sustainable development.

During my second mandate, FAO increased its global contribution to most of the key development challenges by reinforcing the need to promote sustainable food systems that can foster healthy diets.

This was the result of:
i) Reinforcing rural poverty as a root cause for forced migration;
ii) Highlighting hunger is a precondition for conflicts, a vision that was further adopted by the UN Security Council in 2018;
iii) Promoting an agro-ecological approach to facilitate adaptation and to improve resilience as part of the mitigation for climate change impacts and biodiversity loss.

It was very important also FAO’s work to promote two UN global initiatives: the International Year of Family Farming and the Second FAO-WHO International Conference on Nutrition. Those initiatives resulted in the approval by the UN General Assembly, of two seminal declarations: the Decade of Nutrition (2016-2025) and the Decade of Family Farming (2019-2028), putting them at the top of the international agenda.

After the end of my two terms as DG of FAO, I moved back to Brazil. I them decided to create the Zero Hunger Institute – Instituto Fome Zero -, with the support of a few dedicated friends, as Brazil was back again to the Hunger Map since 2018.

Let me end this first part of my speech saying that over the years, I received 14 academic doctor honoris causa, from different universities around the world, including Brazil, Portugal, China, India, Romania, Kazakhstan, Russia, Albania, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Pakistan and Chile.
I also received several national countries decorations from Uruguay, Slovenia, Senegal, Cape Verde, Sudan, Burkina Faso, Madagascar, Italy, Samoa, Benin and Brazil.

Allow me now to talk about “My Future Aspirations”

After my past experience in Brazil and around the world during my years in FAO, I realized that achieving Zero Hunger no longer means only ensuring food for all. The real challenge now, in fact, is ensure that all people is entitled to safe and healthy food; and can have access to it everyday!

As stressed by the UN Food Systems Summit in 2021, we are currently undergoing a revolution in our food systems. Every day we see new evidence-based studies, reports and articles on how food affects so many aspects of people’s lives.
At the same time, there is a growing debate about the alternatives to produce the food we need on a planet under serious threat of climate change. The nutrition–environment–development equation has never been so hard to solve despite all the new technologies we have available.

Food must be safe and it must be healthy at the same time. Food safety and healthy food are two sides of the same coin. Yet, unfortunately, not all safe food is also healthy. That is why we have to improve the regulations of our existing food systems: they need to be sustainable while ensuring people access to safe and healthy food at the same time!

But even more important than adopting the Zero Hunger strategy, it was the political commitment to eradicate hunger in our lifetime that spread hope around countries in Latina America and Africa. It was that political commitment that made all the difference!

The African Union Commission(AU), FAO and the Lula Institute organized in 2013 a high-level meeting that led to the Malabo Declaration on”Accelerated Agricultural Growth and Transformation for Shared Prosperity and Improved Livelihoods”that was adopted in 2014 by the African Union members states. The commitment to end hunger and malnutrition by 2025 was a key component of this declaration.

Unfortunately, the economic downturns, especially after the Covid 19 pandemic, the increasing conflicts and the climate change extreme events, led to growing number of hungry people in the world since 2015.

Ladies and gentlemen, one important point that we need to take home is that all the 17 SDGs depend directly on the eradication of hunger and poverty. These first two goals can be considered as the motors of the whole 2030 agenda; if we do not achieve both, the others will not progress either.

Hunger is linked to the lack of access to food due to poverty; and obesity is also connected to the people’s limited resources to buy healthy food, which are more expensive. In this context, obesity and overweight are emerging to be a very important global challenge, rapidly increasing in all countries, low-, middle- and high-income alike.

Providing the growing world population of more than 8 billion by 2030 with healthy diets from sustainable food systems remain challenging. This is particularly true considering that presently more than 800 million people is undernourished; and more than 3 billion people can’t afford health diets.

A global transformation of food systems and substantial dietary shifts are needed to counteract obesity and end malnutrition in all its forms. If a reduction in the obesity prevalence is to be achieved in the next decade and beyond, sustainable food systems need to ensure healthy diets for all.
And this requires a substantial dietary shift, including reductions in the consumption of products that are high in fat, sugar and/or salt in one side; and in the other, increase consumption of nutritious foods such as nuts, fruits, vegetables and legumes.
Although a number of countries globally have implemented a few regulatory interventions,- as nutrition labelling, sugar tax, food-based dietary guidelines and school food and nutrition education programs -, these measures alone are not enough to promote food security for all. We need the adoption of global healthy food standards that could also pave the way for the regulation of food trade, which is often associated as a major driver of obesity and overweight through the import-dependent of processed and pre-packed products by several countries.

In this post-COVID 19 era, hunger, malnutrition, obesity and overweight combined with the climate change impacts will affect more and more the humanity capacity to have a healthy live.

Even Japan that traditionally has a low level of overweight people; or even Niigata with its worldwide famous rice production, are already being affected. So let us work together to ensure a world where everyone has access to the safe and nutritious food that we need.

Before ending, let me thank again the generosity of the Niigata Foundation to grant me with this award. The prize I am receiving will be entirely donated to the Zero Hunger Institute to improve its capacity to fight hunger around the world and implement food systems that generate sustainable and healthy food for all.

Thank you very much for your attention!