Chinese agriculture minister to head UN food agency

Qu Dongyu says that he will prioritize improving farming in tropical and drought-stricken countries.

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Photograph of FAO Director-General, Qu Dongyu.

Qu Dongyu, the next head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, is a biologist by training.Credit: FAO/Alessandra Benedetti

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has elected Qu Dongyu — China’s vice-minister of agriculture and rural affairs — as its next director-general.

Qu will be the first head of the agency from China, and will succeed Brazil’s José Graziano da Silva. His four-year term will start on 1 August.

The FAO wields considerable influence on almost every aspect of food and agriculture, including global and local policies, and helps to shape agendas for agricultural research. With around 11,500 employees, it is the UN’s largest technical agency, and has a US$2.6-billion budget for 2018–19.

Qu has said that his priorities will include improving agriculture in tropical countries — where poverty and hunger are rampant — and helping arid countries to address agricultural challenges brought by water shortages.

Trained biologist

Qu, the son of a rice farmer, holds a PhD in agricultural and environmental sciences from Wageningen Agricultural University in the Netherlands. He was a policy researcher in agriculture and rural development at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, and became China’s vice-minister of agriculture and rural affairs in 2015.

He was elected on 23 June during a biennial meeting of the FAO Conference, the agency’s highest governing body, and won 108 of the 191 votes in a secret ballot that gave each of the FAO’s 194 member states one vote. European Union candidate Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle drew 71 votes, and Georgia’s Davit Kirvalidze, who had been backed by the United States, received 12.

Qu outlined some of his priorities for the agency at an FAO meeting in April. He called for changes in the production and consumption of agricultural goods worldwide to minimize their environmental impact. Information technology and e-commerce for farmers provide opportunities to spur development in impoverished rural areas, he added.

The minister also said that the FAO, which is based in Rome, must strengthen its core role of collecting and disseminating global knowledge, and supporting its members with advice on policy, technology and data. The agency also needs more partnerships with the private sector and outside bodies such as non-governmental organizations, Qu added.

doi: 10.1038/d41586-019-01991-0

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