When it comes to ensuring food security and sustainable agriculture, there simply is no “one size fits all”. Many interventions that have attempted to address the challenges of food security have not considered adequately the intricacies of the problem. The issues at hand are complex and require a multi-pronged approach.

For several decades, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has been at the forefront of work for sustainable agriculture. ISOfocus sat down with FAO’s Assistant Director-General, Dr Ren Wang, to discuss the challenges that stand to affect agriculture today and in subsequent generations. He spoke about the role of International Standards in support of sustainable agriculture and how their use can help create the conditions for a food-secure future.

ISOfocus : If agriculture is to continue to feed the world, it needs to become more sustainable. What are the key ingredients to reinvent the way we grow food in favour of a more sustainable farming model? Can you explain how ISO standards could bring added value?

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FAO’s Assistant Director-General, Dr Ren Wang, started his career as a researcher at the Institute of Biological Control of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences where he pioneered China’s programme for managing invasive exotic plants using the classical biological control approach.

Dr Ren Wang: FAO promotes sustainable agricultural systems built on five principles: improving efficiency in the use of resources; conserving, protecting and enhancing natural resources ; protecting and improving rural livelihoods, equity and social well-being; enhancing the resilience of people, communities and ecosystems ; and creating responsible and effective governance mechanisms.

Take, for instance, the recent proliferation of environmental certifications and claims. These can be confusing for consumers and can limit access to markets, especially for smallholders and developing countries. ISO can be useful in the establishment of agreed standards facilitating the mutual recognition of schemes as well as their use by companies when developing social and environmental responsibility claims and
processes.

The 2016 FAO report “Innovative Markets for Sustainable Agriculture” highlights how innovations in market institutions encourage sustainable agriculture in developing countries. What benefits do you see here in terms of International Standards for smart farming technologies (i.e. self-driving tractors, drones, etc.)?

This publication focuses on innovative ways of connecting smallholders to local markets for sustainable products in developing countries. Most of the innovations presented are institutional like participatory guarantee systems, community-supported agriculture and multi-actor innovation platforms.

This last example could play a role by enabling greater experimentation with technologies locally before trying to create International Standards that might close down options for alternative applications too soon in the innovation process. It is important to note that the 15 case studies presented in the report show that International Standards must be re-appropriated and redefined at a local level to be adopted by farmers.

How do the two standards-setting bodies hosted by the FAO Agriculture and Consumer Protection Department contribute to FAO’s efforts to promote sustainable food and agriculture?

FAO hosts the secretariats of two standards-setting bodies: the Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex) and the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC), which complement our efforts to achieve food security for all. Collectively, we work on making agriculture more productive and sustainable, improving food systems and food safety. Both the IPPC and Codex are recognized by the World Trade Organization (WTO) under the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) as plant health and food safety standards-setting organizations, respectively.

In their discussions of food safety and quality issues, the 188 Codex members, covering 99% of the world’s population, take decisions on issues that affect the global food supply chain, including complex topics such as biotechnology, pesticides, food additives, contaminants and labelling.

Source: ISOFocus Magazine

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