Lisbon/Rome — FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva challenged academics to get involved in essential and politically important research into rural poverty and the food and agriculture business as it pertains to small-scale producers, in a speech today in Lisbon to the World Congress of Rural Sociology.
"One of the great challenges we have today is to use academic knowledge to understand and improve the life of rural populations throughout the world," said Graziano da Silva. "To do so, we need to look at the reality outside of university walls."
After detailing what FAO sees as the most pressing issues in the fight against hunger and rural underdevelopment - from food insecurity, nutrient deficiencies and unsafe food to unequal competition between small-scale and large food producers - the FAO chief, a former academic and author himself, called for academics to play their part.
He singled out large-scale investments in agriculture or "land-grabbing" as a politically important area where universities could conduct research into principles for responsible agricultural investments. Such research could feed into the work of the Committee on World Food Security, the leading global forum for discussions on food security issues, he said.
How to integrate small-scale farmers into the agricultural and food chains should be another area of academic concern, he said, adding that "there is a growing concentration in the agricultural and food chain, and this has an impact on small-scale farmers."
Academics should look into the issue of governance of the food and agriculture sector, both at global and local levels, and how to achieve a fair distribution of benefits, he said.
"If we want more people eating healthy diets, based on fresh foods, we will need to reduce transportation and storage costs, but also food waste and loss," he said.
Graziano da Silva said rural labor markets and working conditions were often extremely poor, labor legislation poorly enforced and access to social protection limited. "All these issues need better conceptual clarification and practical proposals from academics and policy makers," he concluded.