PC 90/4

Programme Committee

Ninetieth Session

15-19 September 2003

Priority Setting in the Context of Programme Planning

Table of Contents

Annex I
Annex II

I. Introduction

1. Further to the initial discussion of the above topic at the last session, the present document has been prepared in order to respond to the Committee’s request to benefit from further analysis of the:

“information requirements, arrangements and procedures which could enhance the involvement of the Membership, in particular the Programme Committee itself, in priority setting and enable the Programme Committee to strengthen its advice to the Council.”

2. It should be recalled that a sample document (included as AnnexI) presenting a compendium of views on priorities as expressed by Members was communicated to, and welcomed by the Committee which felt that it could serve as a useful source of information to facilitate priority setting.

3. Accordingly, this document proposes a course of action and related procedural arrangements, with a view to supporting more focused discussions on relative priorities among the various activities and disciplines covered by FAO under its Programme of Work, particularly in the context of the Medium Term Plan (MTP).

4. In addition, a document will be presented to a subsequent session dealing with possible improvements to the internal methods within the Secretariat which could facilitate the process of prioritising resource proposals at Programme Entity level.

II. General Considerations

5. The Committee’s role in priority setting is unique and is established in General RuleXXVI.7(a)(ii):

7. The Programme Committee shall have the following functions:
(a) to review:
(i) the current activities of the Organization;
(ii) the summary and draft Programme of Work and Budget of the Organization for the ensuing biennium, particularly with respect to:
  • content and balance of the programme, having regard to the extent to which it is proposed that existing activities be expanded, reduced in scope or discontinued;
  • the extent of coordination of work between the different technical divisions of the Organization and between the Organization and other international organizations;
  • the priorities to be given to existing activities, extension of such activities and to new activities.

6. As the Committee is aware, during any given biennium, Members can formally express views on the priorities they wish to see addressed in the Programme of Work of the Organization, taking advantage of a number of instances:

It may be noted that additional sources of guidance to the Secretariat and the Governing Bodies for the formulation of the Programme of Work, are constituted by a number of other inter-governmental instances or technical advisory bodies, while this guidance is generally more narrowly focused and relevant to the “micro” level, assisting in the design of specific programme entities or outputs.

7. The Council, of course, reviews the reports of its Technical Committees, but does not have much time to distil the programmatic implications of the advice received from them, except in rather generic terms1. It also obtains feedback from the Regional Conferences via an information document submitted to its session in off-Conference years, but the latter does not seem to be often referred to. The Programme Committee does not normally receive direct feedback from the deliberations of either the Technical Committees or the Regional Conferences, unless there is a mention of a specific request in such forward-planning documents as the Medium Term Plan (MTP) or the Programme of Work and Budget (PWB).

8. Hence, the interest expressed by the Committee in being more systematically apprised of the conclusions and recommendations of these bodies in order to facilitate its own advisory role, bearing in mind also that such guidance plays a key role during internal discussions leading to proposals in the MTP and PWB, is understandable.

9. While providing important and relevant information, it must be stressed that compendia of views from Members derived from the reports of Technical Committees or Regional Conferences and from the Verbatim Records available for the Sessions of the Council and Conference, may entail significant drawbacks, in not fully reflecting a comprehensive view of the preferences of the whole Membership as to priorities, e.g.:

10. A good example is perhaps the Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS) which was regularly stressed as a high priority activity during interventions in the 90’s, when the system was still developing. It is much more rarely alluded to nowadays, probably because of its proven record of usefulness – but it is questionable whether such silence can be interpreted as the assignment of lower priority to the activity. Another example is statistics, which all Members support but seldom highlight in their interventions, unless driven by a specific item of the agenda. Therefore, it would seem useful that these compendia be critically analysed by the Secretariat, with a view to drawing attention to those programmes on which no view has been expressed.

11. In relation to its central advisory role to the Council on relative priorities, the Committee may also wish to take account of the changed circumstances stemming from the decisions of the FAO Conference in 1999. General RuleXXVI.7 quoted above, does not take into account the new Planning Framework approved as part of the Strategic Framework by the Conference in November1999. In particular, the revamped MTP should embody the primary instance where major programmatic decisions are to be made by both the Secretariat and Governing Bodies (including the selection and proposed scope of component “entities”). The Committee does review the MTP document at its Autumn Session of non-Conference years, but it would seem that it could usefully devote more time during the two scheduled sessions of the same year for discussing relative priorities with a view to advising the Secretariat and the Council, both prior to the finalization of the MTP (in the May Session) and upon receipt of the MTP document (in the September Session).

12. In effect, such a role is largely foreseen in the rules of procedures of the Committee, as RuleII.2a) reproduced hereafter indicates (despite somewhat outdated language):

2.a)At the session or sessions held by the Committee in the first year of the biennium, the Committee shall:
(i) review the current activities of the Organization and the programme aspects of the current United Nations Development Programme;
(ii) consider the long-term programme objectives of the Organization in the light of the suggestions of the Conference, of the commissions and technical committees of the Conference, and of regional and other technical conferences.

13. Therefore, there is a strong implication that the Programme Committee should exercise a kind of “arbitration” role amongst the views on priorities, as may be expressed by Members in a variety of fora.

14. In this connection, the Committee may recall that in non-Conference years it carries out a cycle of “programme reviews” (in fact extending over two biennia) covering the six Major Programmes conventionally taken to constitute FAO’s “substantive work”, i.e. those in Chapter2: Technical and Economic Programmes and Major Programme 3.1 Policy Assistance.

15. Members of the Committee have often stressed the usefulness of these cyclical reviews (as some have put it: “particularly to facilitate deeper understanding of these programmes by new Members, given the natural turnover which occurs over time”). However, these reviews are stretched over two biennia, so that the comments made on specific programmes or activities at some sessions are inevitably incomplete in coverage and can become superseded by subsequent developments. Moreover, taking each Major Programme in turn, may militate against appreciating the necessary trade-offs, which an assessment of relative priorities should entail. This could lead the Committee to consider a possible alternative use of its time, as proposed below.

III. Strategic Framework

16. A clear omission in the above analysis is that it does not address the relative importance of FAO’s Corporate Strategies or Strategic Objectives as approved by the Conference in November1999.

17. On the one hand, it may be argued that it is not practicable to establish priorities between these high level inter-disciplinary aims. On the other hand, if no effort is made to discuss their relative importance to the Membership from one biennium to the next, then one of the main functions of the Framework, which is to guide the Organization in its work, would be lost, at least at the Governing Body level.

18. One way in which to rectify this potential omission would be to ensure that the Committee receives a broad review of the recent history of resource allocations by Strategic Objectives along with a narrative from the Secretariat, analyzing recent changes in the external environment which might affect the focus of FAO’s work for the coming medium-term planning period. The Committee could then discuss the various aspects and recommend, at least in general terms, the direction in which FAO should be moving.

IV. Proposal

19. It is proposed that in non-Conference years – besides its usual evaluation-related work load and the standing items on its agenda – the Committee would no longer carry out the above cyclical programme reviews, but would devote instead a significant part of the two scheduled sessions to discussions of relative priorities, firstly to inform the MTP preparation process, and secondly to more fully assess the validity of substantive priorities reflected in the MTP proposals.

20. To facilitate this discussion, the Committee would be provided with a document covering three aspects:

21. The first part of the document, which would be presented to the May Session in non-Conference years, would present data on the relative resource allocations to each Strategic Objective and each Corporate Strategy, preferably over a period of time (this will be easier as more history is built up). Data will also be provided on the respective contributions from each Major Programme. The section would include, as mentioned above, an analysis of the external environment (e.g. changes in political, social, economic and/or technological conditions) which might imply a change in the focus of FAO’s Programmes and, further down the line, to priorities between programme entities.

22. The second part would consist of a summary of priorities, as expressed by Members at the major FAO inter-governmental instances. This would be progressively developed, as follows:

23. It is suggested that, while the Secretariat would seek to synthesize this mass of information to keep it to reasonable size, it would also provide as necessary interpretative statements on its understanding of the intent of individual recommendations or requests, particularly when they are of a generic nature. Efforts also would be made to assess the programmatic impact of recommendations and requests on the Programme of Work of FAO.

24. To the extent possible, the same categorization would be used, as in the sample provided to the Committee at its last session (reproduced in AnnexI for the convenience of Members), that is:

  1. General Priorities supported by a broad spectrum of members, including both developing and developed countries;
  2. High Priority Areas – supported by the majority of developing countries;
  3. High Priority Areas – supported by the majority of developed countries;
  4. Priorities underlined by the Members of a specific region;
  5. Priorities supported by one or more countries, but not explicitly by any regional group.

25. Therefore, if accepted, the relevant part of the document for the year2004, in its cumulative second version, would have the coverage, as indicated in AnnexII.

26. As indicated above, the third part of the document would be the result of a “gap” analysis which compares the existing programme in its entirety based upon the most recent MTP to the compendium of priorities, and derives a list of programmes or programme entities on which no prioritization has been expressed. This part would be developed for the May Session of the Programme Committee in non-Conference years.

27. The Committee’s role would be to:

V. Decisions Sought

28. The Committee is asked to determine whether this proposal is likely to meet its needs in terms of strengthening its role in priority setting and, in particular, in ensuring its full participation in the process.

29. Should the Committee agree to the proposal, it may wish to recommend to the Council, the suspension of the Programme Reviews for one biennium so as to allow the Committee to allocate more time to the priority setting process and to the review of such priorities as expressed in the MTP.


Annex I

Table 1. Summary of Priorities as expressed by Conference and Council

Priority Areas

Comments by Developing Countries or Groups

Comments by Developed Countries or Groups

Corporate Strategies






Category 1 - General Priorities, i.e. supported by a broad spectrum of Members, including both developing and developed countries

IPPC – strengthen to allow 4 standards per annum

Raised at 123rd Session of the Council

Supported by nearly all Members


Codex and food standards bearing in mind the outcome of the evaluation

Most often stressed from the point of view of facilitating their participation

Universal support



EMPRES including the outcome of the evaluation of the Locust programme and the recommendation for an additional post for the central region

Fairly general support

Fairly general support, particularly for the animal health component


Capacity-building and technology transfer, both in the generic sense and in connection with region-specific problems

One region particularly in relation to water management and irrigation; biotechnology often mentioned by virtually all groups

General support

Code of Conduct for Pesticides and other pesticides-related work (PIC and Rotterdam Convention)

There were many positive references at the last Conference due to the specific item on the subject



Assistance to Poverty Alleviation Programmes

Fairly general support

Generally not referred to as such

Trade-related policy advice

Fairly general support

Fairly general support


Genetic Resources and Seed Development Programmes including in particular implementation of the Treaty through the Interim Commission

Attention to genetic resources was heightened by adoption of a new Treaty and its implications for FAO






Gender Mainstreaming and programmes targeted at rural women

Fairly general support

Stressed by several Members



HIV/AIDS implications in rural areas

Mostly supported by one region but also by Members from two other regions

Stressed by several Members


Fisheries, supported either in general terms, or most frequently by highlighting needed assistance for the implementation of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and the Fisheries Plans of Action

Fairly general support – particularly by those with significant interest in the sector.

Generally strong support even to the extent of an increased share in the context of a fixed budget envelope. Frequent mention of follow-up to Reykjavik Declaration






Forestry, supported either in general terms, or most frequently by stressing forest resources assessment and sustainable management

Fairly general support – particularly by those with significant interest in the sector.

Generally strong support even to the extent of an increased share in the context of a fixed budget envelope. Frequent mention of support to UNFF






Improved Nutrition and Food Safety

Fairly general support

Fairly general support, with more emphasis on food safety






Fairly general support

General support




Fairly general support

General support


Animal Health Programmes particularly the outcome of the Peer Review Panel recommendations concerning additional posts

Arose through the endorsement by the Programme Committee and the Council of the recommendations of the evaluation as modified by the Peer Review Panel



Category 2 - High Priority areas, supported by the majority of developing country Members, but not necessarily by those from developed countries


Strongly supported by all developing countries, at times accompanied by recommended targets and reference to Conference resolution 9/89 which decided growth to 17% of the total Appropriation

Virtually none has advocated a net reduction under Chapter 4.


Fairly general support, South-South component often emphasized by concerned parties

Supported by current donors


Category 3 - High Priority areas, supported by the majority of developed country Members, but not necessarily by those from developing countries

FAOSTAT modernization

Not generally mentioned

Fairly general support


Category 4 - Priorities underlined by the Members of a specific region, while not falling under 1 to 3 above

Trypanosomiasis and support to PATTEC

Supported by one group

No comment except for concern about the potential budgetary implications of the Resolution


Particularly by one regional group

Not commented on

Declaring 2003 as World Rice Year

Several countries from one region

Not commented on

Support to regional integration schemes and initiatives

Mostly stressed by countries in one region, in the context of new regional initiatives

No comment

Adequate resources for administrative infrastructures

Some comments against diverting resources to administrative areas

Stressed by a few






Draft Code of Conduct on Right to Food

Mentioned by some

Stressed by a few countries in one region

Category 5 - Priorities supported by one of more countries, but not explicitly by at least one regional group

Sub-Committee on Aquaculture (to be adequately resourced)

One country (supported by others)

Support to “gender sensitization” of public institutions, including extension services (although this is clearly subsumed into Gender Mainstreaming above)

One country

FAO’s essential role of coordination and source of assistance in relation to forest criteria and multiple international initiatives in forestry

One country

FAO active sensitization role about impact of climate change on agriculture

One country

Study of fish stocks in Eastern Mediterranean (in context of GFCM) and establishment of FMD Commission in Near East

One country

Harmonization of food standards in connection with trade

Two countries

Enhanced BSE monitoring in Eastern Europe and work on ecological farming

One country

Assistance in connection with negotiations with European Union

Several countries

Enhanced work of the Interim Commission for Phyto-sanitary Measures

Two countries

Provision of inputs to World Bank PRSPs from the perspective of gender issues in rural areas

Two countries

SEAGA training

A few countries

Global Perspectives Studies and GIEWS to take account of Eastern Europe specific circumstances

One country

Study of links between biotechnology and trade

One country


Annex II

Summary of Priorities expressed by Members, as Derived from Official Records of the Main FAO Inter-governmental Bodies

Priority Areas Comments by Developing Countries or Groups Comments by Developed Countries or Groups Interpretative Comments by Secretariat
Conference (Nov.-December 2003) – Council (June and November2003)2
Categories 1 to 5
Technical Committees of the Council: COAG, COFI, COFO, CFS, CCP (early 2003)3
Categories 1 to 5
Regional Conferences: ARC, APRC, ERC, LARC, NERC (first half of 2004)4
Categories 1 to 5


1 It is recalled that in the last two biennia, an additional information document was prepared by the Secretariat to advise the Council on the impact of recommendations in terms of eventual resource requirements.

2 Present to May 2004 Session.

3 Present to May 2004 Session.

4 Present to September 2004 Session.