THE FOOD AND AGRICULTURE ORGANIZATION OF THE UNITED NATIONS Emerging from a devastating Second World War, the international community founded the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in 1945 with a mandate to achieve a world without poverty and hunger. The shared vision of the 44 founding governments that gathered in 1943 for the United Nations Conference on Food and Agriculture was to leverage agriculture, the proven engine of poverty reduction, to improve living standards, especially for the rural poor, in an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable way. Currently, FAO is an intergovernmental organization with 194 Member Nations, two associate members and one member organization, the European Union. The Organization’s work is underpinned by its five strategic objectives; help eliminate hunger; make agriculture, forestry and fisheries more productive and sustainable; reduce rural poverty; enable inclusive and efficient agricultural systems; and increase the resilience of livelihoods to threats and crises. The implemen- tation of FAO’s mandate contributes therefore to the actualization of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, also known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). From ending poverty and hunger to responding to climate change and sustaining our natural resources, food and agriculture are crucially important to global efforts to attain the SDGs. SCOPE OF THE CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES In recent decades, significant progress has been made with increasing food production and reducing extreme hunger. However, 70 years after the establishment of FAO, the organiza- tion’s mission of a world free of hunger remains elusive. This is probably a testament to the complexity of the seeming intracta- ble problem of food insecurity and malnutrition. In fact, it is estimated that about 60 per cent more food will be required over the next four decades. Yet, the confluence of an ever-increasing human population, climate change, dwindling or inelastic water resources and arable lands, the escalating competing needs for energy and fibre and the unsustainability of the excessive use of external inputs further exacerbate the scourge of food insecurity and malnutrition. However, there is consensus the challenges are not insurmountable, ample opportunities exist for a knowledge – rather than input-intensive agricultural pro- duction system. In fact, the significant advances in science and technology and the demonstrated benefits lurking within the largely untapped potentials of agrobiodiversity, in particular plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA), pro- vide valid grounds for optimism. SUSTAINABLE INTENSIFICATION OF CROP PRODUCTION SYSTEMS In striving for sustainable solutions, FAO, along with its partners, is convinced that the expected increases in food production must be attained using fewer external inputs, i.e. ‘producing more with less’. This describes an environmentally friendly production para- digm whereby the optimal use of external inputs is complemented by the harnessing of ecosystem services – that, for instance, enhance soil nutrients; help control pests, diseases and weeds and conserve soil moisture. Emphasis is placed therefore on improved productivity rather than merely enhanced production. With the deployments of additional external inputs imprac- tical, unaffordable or unsustainable, FAO’s work seeks to achieve the two imperatives of producing significantly more food and safeguarding the environment. Known as sustainable crop pro- duction intensification (SCPI), the paradigm’s underlying prin- ciple is improved productivities. FAO’s policy guidance on SCPI, Save and Grow, enunciates means towards an intensive crop production, one that is both highly productive and environmen- tally sustainable. Two companion volumes, one for cassava – a food security root crop for the tropics, and the other for three globally important cereals – maize, rice and wheat, demonstrate the efficacies of the espoused methods. A recurring imperative is that farmers must have access to the quality seeds and plant- ing materials of a diverse suite of well-adapted crops and their varieties. This ensures resilience of the production system while also enhancing productivity and forms the core of FAO’s work on PGRFA and seeds. WHAT FAO DOES Getting the affordable quality seeds and planting materials of the most suitable crop varieties to farmers in a timely manner is the tail end of a seamless continuum of interventions that involve genebank curators, plant breeders and other scientists and seeds specialists, producers and/or marketers (see figure). There would be no quality seeds without a responsive plant breeding pro- gramme developing the crop varieties that meet the requirements of farmers and end-users, are well-adapted to target agro-ecol- ogies and fit into production systems. And, neither would there be such a result-oriented crop improvement programme if there were no readily accessible sources of heritable variations – the kinds only well-managed germplasm collections offer. FAO’s work on PGRFA and seeds is implemented through two main mechanisms: facilitating intergovernmental action and agreements on concerted and coordinated activities, on the one hand, and the provision of technical assistance to countries and regions on the other. These two modes of intervention comple- ment each other and are mutually supportive. Also, FAO’s suc- cesses in both modes of work depend on close collaboration with partners, including, at the intergovernmental level, with other organizations and through international instruments, such as the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (Treaty). At the technical level, FAO cooper- ates with international research and development organizations, such as the centres of the CGIAR. Similar regional and national entities as well as civil society and farmer organizations are also major partners in FAO’s work. A FRAMEWORK FOR ACTION The Second Global Plan of Action for Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (Second GPA), developed under the aus- pices of FAO’s Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (Commission), is an internationally agreed framework SUPPORTING THE CONSERVATION AND SUSTAINABLE USE OF PGRFA How FAO plans to produce more with less. BY: THE SEEDS AND PLANT GENETIC RESOURCES TEAM OF FAO 46 I EUROPEAN SEED I EUROPEAN-SEED.COM