By Kelli Meyer
The United Nations system is comprised of the UN, which is headquartered in New York, and more than 30 affiliated organizations—known as programs, funds, and specialized agencies—with their own membership, leadership, and budget processes.
In our “Meet the (UN) Family” series, we’re looking at the UN entities that might not always make the headlines but play an integral part of the UN’s mission to promote global peace and prosperity.
Their work might span over 130 countries worldwide, but the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has deep roots here in the U.S.: The Organization was conceptualized during a meeting in Hot Springs, VA in 1943 and its first headquarters was in Washington, D.C.
Originally born in response to the food shortages following World War II, FAO still leads international efforts to defeat hunger today. It operates under the mandate to raise levels of nutrition, improve agriculture productivity, and better the lives of rural populations.
Enabling efficient food systems
It’s no secret that hunger is one of the world’s most urgent problems, yet one-third of all the food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted. In the U.S., the figure rises to 40 percent.
FAO is working to reverse this trend in multiple ways, including through its Save Food initiative, which works to equip food systems with the tools they need to reduce food loss and waste. For example, in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Bhutan, FAO helps to implement low-cost high impact solutions for improving the quality and shelf-life of fresh produce in local markets.
Given this is a very real issue at home and abroad, and can contribute to the loss of other important resources such as land, water and energy, supporting FAO’s efforts globally helps the U.S. in the long-run.
There is more than enough food in the world, but 1 in 4 children under age 5 is at risk of dying due to malnutrition-related diseases. In Bolivia, where malnutrition is particularly high, FAO helped the government develop a law that established a framework for school nutrition programs, which banned transgenic and packaged foods in schools and required that they be replaced by traditional Andean foods. The law is now considered a key element of the country’s commitment to fighting hunger.
Stunting and malnutrition can prevent children from attending school, which in turn deprives them of opportunities to live better lives and contribute to their societies.
Protecting humans and animals from threats
75 percent of the new infectious diseases that have emerged in humans are from an animal, including Ebola and highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI). Fortunately, FAO has a global strategy to prevent, identify, and mitigate these threats when they occur. For example, when HPAI emerged in 2004, FAO embarked on a multidisciplinary approach with partners such as the United States Agency for International Development to target the disease at its source and build animal health capacities. As a result of its work, HPAI has now been contained to less than a dozen countries compared with 60 infected countries in 2005.
This work helps prevent future viral threats that have the potential to impact human and animal health, food security and social stability across borders.
Far too many people in this world still go to bed on an empty stomach every night, and that number only seems to be rising. The Latin motto on the FAO seal, fiat panis, translates as “let there be bread”. Every person worldwide deserves the ability to put bread and food on their table, and it is a task that the U.S. must work on, hand-in-hand with the rest of the world to achieve.
Photo credit: ©FAO/IFAD/WFP/Luis Tato.