The American University of Beirut (AUB) signed a partnership agreement with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on June 10, 2019 at the international symposium “The Future of Food” held in Rome, Italy. Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences (FAFS) Dean Rabi Mohtar signed the agreement on behalf of AUB, along with six other universities and research institutions.
The new partnership for AUB and FAFS envisions, among other activities, the creation of joint research programs and studies on topics related to sustainability of the Water-Energy-Food-Health system.
The partnership would also promote policy dialogue and enhance information and knowledge exchange in areas which include food security and nutrition, sustainable management of natural resources, and the urban food agenda.
In addition to AUB the other institutions signing partnership agreements included the University of California-Los Angeles, the Future Food Institute, the Mediterranean Universities Union (UNIMED), Johns Hopkins University, the University of Nottingham, and University of the Philippines Los Baños.
At the symposium, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva stressed the key role played by academic and research institutions in assisting governments to introduce policy reforms aimed at ensuring that all people have access to healthy diets and can make informed choices on nutritious food.
"I would like once more to emphasize that FAO is a knowledge institution. We don't do research, so we depend on you, on academia - we base our work on what you do. More and more, we would like to strengthen our partnership to do things together and to ensure mutual cooperation," Graziano da Silva said. He underscored the need for an increase in scientific evidence to inform the policies and actions taken by governments to combat malnutrition in all its forms.
The FAO chief's remarks came on the first day of the Future of Food international symposium, which included a roundtable with representatives of academia.
Graziano da Silva noted how projections estimate that the number of obese people in the world will very soon overtake the number of people suffering from hunger, which currently accounts for about 821 million. There are several underlying factors driving the global pandemic of obesity and micronutrient deficiency, with one of the main drivers being the high consumption of ultra-processed foods, which are mainly based on artificial ingredients and contain high levels of saturated fats, refined sugars, salt, and chemical additives.
FAFS Dean Mohtar stated that: “There is an emerging understudying of the food system comprised of other systems including food production, water use and management, human nutrition, soil and environment. This system of systems requires a fresh look at a business model that allow us to achieve, and in a coherent way, our targets towards implanting the SDGs. Such business model would be based on human security and environmental security. It involved a system level approach to old knowledge and creating new knowledge of analytics, connectivity, convergence, and tradeoffs. It requires new knowledge of dynamic soil characterization and mapping and creating synergy between these resources. These challenges are most critical in the heavily populated areas of the world.” Mohtar added, “It is these issues that this partnerships between AUB and FAO will explore, and we are all excited about these opportunities.”
With representatives from more than 20 countries present, the roundtable provided an opportunity to gain meaningful insight into the future of food from a global academic perspective. These included contributions from RUFORUM in Africa, the International Rice Research Institute, Wageningen University and Research, the University of Sao Paulo, the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture, and the University of California, Los Angeles, which presented local food security challenges from their regions. This was followed by an open discussion where participants focused on the role of academia in providing research, addressing knowledge gaps and identifying needs for the future of food.
On the second day of the symposium, Dr. Farah Naja, Associate professor, Nutrition and Food Sciences Department, FAFS, delivered a keynote speech on the Mediterranean diet as an opportunity to battle against the emerging grand challenges our world is facing.