He stressed that while high-input and resource-intensive farming systems have substantially increased food production, this has come at a high cost to the environment.
"Today, it is fundamental not only to increase production but to do it in a way that does not damage the environment. Nourishing people must go hand in hand with nurturing the planet," he said. This is in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, he added.
"We have to move from input intense to knowledge intense production systems," the FAO Director-General said.
Speaking to members of the European Parliament's Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, Graziano da Silva highlighted the findings of FAO's report, The future of food and agriculture: trends and challenges.
Among the 15 trends described in the report, are the impacts of climate change, conflicts, and migration. The FAO report also foresees 10 challenges for achieving food security, improving nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture worldwide.
In his address, the FAO director-general focused on four main issues: climate change, the spread of transboundary pests and diseases, food loss and waste, and the importance of eradicating not only hunger but all forms of malnutrition in the world.
Graziano da Silva underscored that no sector is more sensitive to climate change than agriculture - especially for smallholders and family farmers from developing countries - while at the same time, agriculture and food systems account for around 30 percent of total greenhouse emissions.
"In agriculture, adaptation and mitigation go hand in hand. There is no trade-off between the two," the FAO Director-General said. He pointed to the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while at the same time building the resilience and promote the adaptation of farmers to the impacts of climate change.
To this end, FAO supports countries through different initiatives and approaches, including climate-smart agriculture, agroecology, and agroforestry.
Globalisation, trade and climate change, as well as reduced resilience in production systems, have all played a part in dramatically increasingly the spread of transboundary pests and disease in recent years. These constitute a major threat to the livelihoods of farmers and the food security of millions of people.
For its part, FAO supports countries to implement prevention and surveillance system. "Even in situations of conflict and protracted crises, we promote programmes for (livestock) vaccination, as we are currently doing is South Sudan and Somalia," the director-general said.
Today the world produces enough to feed the global population, but about one-third of this food is either lost or wasted, while at the same time there is also a waste of natural resources such as land and water.
FAO currently supports about 50 countries in the area of food losses and waste, including through the Save Food initiative, a unique partnership - with more than 850 members from industry, associations, research institutes and non-governmental organisations - that addresses these issues "across the entire value chain from field to fork," Graziano da Silva told the European parliamentarians.
Citing estimates that indicate that nearly half of the European Union's adult population are overweight, the FAO director-general noted how malnutrition affects both developed and developing countries. "The way to combat this is to transform food systems, from production to consumption, and provide healthier diets to people," Graziano da Silva said.
He called on the parliamentarians as lawmakers to ensure that adequate policies, programmes, and operational frameworks are anchored in appropriate legislation. "Parliamentarians not only have the means to place nutrition at the highest level of the political and legislative agenda, they also can guarantee that programmes will have the necessary budgets for implementation," the FAO director-general said.
He also praised Members of the European Parliament for establishing the "Alliance Fight Against Hunger" which, according to Graziano da Silva, will play an important role in combating malnutrition in Europe.