The Global Environment Facility (GEF) has greenlighted 48 FAO-led projects worth about $2.9 billion –$294 million in project financing and $2.6 billion in co-financing– that will play a pivotal role in fostering a sustainable agrifood systems transformation to end hunger and conserve the environment.
The initiatives, benefitting 4.2 million people in five different regions globally, will restore more than 474,000 hectares of land; improve practices on over 24 million hectares of land and marine habitats; create and improve the management of over 2 million hectares of protected areas on land and sea; mitigate 133 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions; and remove 202 metric tons of hazardous agrochemicals.
“This is the largest work program of FAO projects approved by GEF Council. Working closely on the ground with partners and countries, these projects have the potential to improve millions of lives through agrifood systems transformation while helping achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Together with the GEF, we strive towards ensuring global food security coupled with sustainable, inclusive and resilient agriculture, benefitting people and planet,” said FAO Deputy Director-General Maria Helena Semedo, welcoming the decision taken by the 66th Council Sessions of the GEF, held in Washington DC, United States, from 5-9 February.
46 countries partnered with FAO to access finance from the GEF in this work program: Angola, Argentina, Barbados, Benin, Bhutan, Brazil, Cambodia, Chile, China, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Eswatini, Grenada, Guyana, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lao PDR, Maldives, Mexico, Mongolia, Namibia, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Solomon Islands, South Africa, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and Grenadines, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Türkiye, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, and Viet Nam.
Three new FAO-led programs
The GEF Council also approved three FAO-led global and regional programs focused on food systems, oceans and ecosystem restoration.
The Food Systems Integrated Program (FSIP), co-led with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), will direct $252 million in project financing and $2.2 billion in co-financing to 32 countries. The FSIP focuses on transforming global agrifood systems from farm to table so that they are sustainable, nature positive, resilient, inclusive and pollution-free. The program will deliver global benefits for biodiversity, addressing land degradation and climate change, along with improved food security, nutrition, incomes, livelihood sustainability and resilience.
FAO will implement projects in 22 countries (Angola, Argentina, Benin, Bhutan, Chile, China, Ecuador, Eswatini, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Namibia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Türkiye) to support National Food Systems Transformation Pathways or other government-led frameworks and meet environmental commitments, such as the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework and the Paris Agreement.
The program focuses specifically on eight agrifood value chains and sectors: maize, rice, wheat, cocoa, palm oil, soy, livestock and aquaculture. The initiative is also expected to restore more than 870,000 hectares of degraded croplands, forests, natural grasslands, and wetlands, as well as improve management practices of almost 14 million hectares of land. These measures will help mitigate more than 174 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions and eliminate 220 metric tons of highly hazardous pesticides.
Meanwhile, the Clean and Healthy Ocean Integrated Program will direct $100 million in project financing to 14 countries, leveraging $748 million in co-financing, to reduce land-based ocean pollution in nine Large Marine Ecosystems (LMEs), including the Bay of Bengal, South China Sea, Caribbean, Red Sea, Black Sea, Humboldt Current, Agulhas Current, and the North Brazil Shelf.
The program addresses marine hypoxic zones – also known as “dead zones” – by curbing land-based sources of pollution from agriculture (overuse of fertilizer, livestock pollution) and industrial and municipal sources (untreated wastewater) through policy and regulatory measures and infrastructure investments combined with the sustainable management of natural resources and ecosystem-based solutions.
The initiative aims to create a conducive environment for advancing countries’ sustainable blue economy goals, aligning with the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) targets. Under the GBF, it targets inland and marine ecosystem restoration, pollution reduction, sustainable agriculture, disease reduction, and sustainable urban areas. It will enhance the management of more than 520,000 hectares of land and 423,000 hectares of marine protected areas while restoring almost 97,000 hectares of various ecosystems.
The program, which is expected to also sequester over 9 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions, is co-led by FAO, the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF), and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). FAO will implement projects in Sri Lanka, Venezuela and Vietnam, and its partners in Grenada, Jordan, Madagascar, Maldives, Mexico, Moldova, Panama, Peru, St. Kitts and Nevis, Thailand, and Trinidad and Tobago.
Similarly, the Central Asia Water and Land Nexus Program, newly approved by the GEF Council and led by FAO, will direct $26 million (leveraging $335.5 million in co-financing) to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan to restore ecosystems of the Amu Darya and Syr Darya basins and enhance water security, increase resilience and improve rural livelihoods.
The Amu Darya and Syr Darya basins are the primary source of water for the five countries, supporting around 60 million people and much of their agriculture and energy generation, as well as being critical for other ecosystem services and livelihoods. Unsustainable water management, especially for agriculture, over-extracts water in the two river basins and leads to water and food insecurity, salinization, soil loss and land degradation, reduced river flows, pollution, and loss and fragmentation of natural ecosystems and biodiversity.
The approved programs build on the growing momentum to apply agrifood systems solutions to environmental challenges. Notably, FAO was recently selected as an implementing agency for the GEF’s Small Grants Program (SGP). The SGP has been the GEF’s only dedicated funding mechanism for civil society and community-based organizations for the past 30 years. Under this new phase, FAO will support the expansion of the GEF’s support for local actions by civil society organizations, Indigenous Peoples, local communities, and marginalized groups.
Support through individual projects
In addition, FAO will support countries through individual projects that focus on biodiversity conservation, land degradation, climate change adaptation, and management of shared water systems:
In Togo and Guyana, FAO-GEF projects will work to strengthen ecosystem connectivity and sustainable management of forests.
In Brazil, FAO will restore wetland and lowland forest ecosystems and biodiversity in the Amazon mainland, particularly varzeas (a type of seasonally flooded forest) and mangroves.
In Cambodia, FAO will strengthen the climate resilience of local communities, ecosystems and livelihoods in protected landscapes while supporting biodiversity conservation.
In Barbados, a project will support climate-resilient and low-emission, gender-sensitive food production, including increasing the climate-responsiveness of decision-making through agrometeorological data and hands-on gender-sensitive training programs.
In the Dominican Republic, FAO will apply Land Degradation Neutrality and climate adaptation approaches to build resilience in the food and agriculture sector against climate change-induced threats, including sea-level rise, storm surges, flooding, and saltwater intrusion.
In Lao PDR, a project will upscale climate-smart and nature-based adaptation approaches in agrifood systems, building on previous investments from the Least Developed Countries Fund on agrometeorological advisories and early warning systems.
In Nepal, FAO will promote the transformation of rice production landscapes from subsistence-based low production to a more commercial model through inclusive, climate-resilient value chains and nature-based solutions.
In Niger, a project will improve the climate resilience of rural populations dependent on agriculture, forestry, and livestock through the restoration of forests and landscapes and integrated watershed management.
In the Maldives, FAO will build climate resilience in agriculture and fisheries and improve food security through “whole of society” and “whole island” approaches that address policy, small and medium enterprises, the food and tourism sector, farmers and fisheries.
In Mongolia, an initiative will rehabilitate degraded lands and promote community-based natural resources management in the Khangai mountain landscapes.
In Tunisia, FAO will restore Aleppo pine forests, which suffered from drought and forest fires, through sustainable forest management and improved agroforestry value chains.
In South Sudan, FAO will promote climate adaptation in the agricultural sectors by implementing nature-based solutions, integrated land use planning, conflict-sensitive financial access, and gender-sensitive approaches.
A FAO-GEF project across Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago will strengthen regional and national enabling environments to support the adoption of climate- and disaster-resilient technologies and practices in the Caribbean fisheries sector.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).