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FAO and technical assistance


FAO's expanded program of technical assistance to underdeveloped areas of the world began in September 1950 with the execution of formal technical assistance agreements between the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the governments of Burma, Guatemala, and Saudi Arabia.

The program is made possible by the special Technical Assistance Fund contributed by member states of the United Nations and of the specialized agencies. FAO has been allocated the greatest proportion of the monies paid into this Fund, namely 29 percent, and therefore has great responsibility for spending these sums to the best advantage. It should be noted that the contributions of participating governments are made in national currencies and are subject to the normal conversion restrictions when used to pay for personnel or services provided by the United Nations to recipient countries.

The history of the expanded program of technical assistance has been given in an earlier article by the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Technical Assistance Board. Within FAO, preparations for full and active participation in the program have for the past year been the personal concern of the Director-General, advised by the directors of the various divisions. Administrative and technical matters have been checked and co-ordinated by an interdivisional working group, each member of which is responsible for all general technical assistance activities within his division.

Dr. F. T. Wahlen, Chief of FAO's Expanded Technical Assistance Program, is responsible for ensuring that the relevant recommendations of the FAO Conference and Council regarding the new program are implemented; for supervising and coordinating the specific technical activities undertaken by FAO under that program; and for advising the Director-General on all policy issues. He also is responsible for coordinating arrangements dealing with the financial and administrative problems that arise out of the operation of the new program, and for coordinating the briefing of field personnel and the supervision of missions in the field.

To guide agencies in extending technical assistance to underdeveloped countries, certain principles have been laid down by the General Assembly of the United Nations. These are:

1. Regard it as a primary objective to help those countries to strengthen their national economies through the development of their industries and agriculture with a view to promoting their economic and political independence in the spirit of the Charter of the United Nations and to en sure the attainment of higher levels of economic and social welfare for their entire populations;

2. Observe the following general principles laid down in General Assembly Resolution 200 (III):

(a) Technical assistance for economic development of under-developed countries shall be rendered by the participating organizations only in agreement with the Governments concerned and on the basis of requests received from them;

(b) The kinds of services to be rendered to each country shall be decided by the Government concerned;

(c) The countries desiring assistance should perform, in advance, as much of the work as possible in order to define the nature and scope of the problem involved;

(d) The technical assistance furnished shall: (i) not be a means of foreign economic and political interference in the internal affairs of the country concerned and not be accompanied by any considerations of a political nature; (ii) be given only to or through Governments; (iii) be designed to meet the needs of the country concerned; and (iv) be provided as far as possible in the form which that country desires;

3. Avoid distinctions arising from the political structure of the country requesting assistance, or from the race or religion of its population.

At the same time Governments requesting assistance are expected to agree to certain obligations. It may therefore be of interest here to quote verbatim from the annex of the relevant Economic and Social Council resolution:

The requesting Governments should be expected to agree:

1. To facilitate the activities requested from the participating organizations by assisting them to obtain the necessary information about the problems on which they have been asked to help, such information to be limited strictly to questions directly related to the concrete requests for technical assistance; and, whenever appropriate, facilitate their contacts with individuals and groups, in addition to Government agencies, concerned with the same or related problems;

2. To give full and prompt consideration to the technical advice they receive as a result of their co-operation with the participating organizations in response to the requests they have initiated;

3. To undertake to maintain or set up as soon as practicable such governmental co-ordination machinery as may be needed to ensure that their own technical, natural and financial resources are mobilized, canalized and utilized in the interest of economic development designed to improve the standard of living of their peoples and through which the effective use of any major international technical assistance resources could be assured.

4. Normally to assume responsibility for a substantial part of the costs of technical services with which they are provided, at least that part which can be paid in their own currencies;

5. To undertake the sustained efforts required for economic development, including continuing support and progressive assumption of financial responsibility for the administration of projects initiated at their request under international auspices;

6. To publish information or provide for study and analysis material suitable for publication regarding the results of the technical assistance rendered and the experience derived therefrom, so that it may be of value to other countries and to the international organizations rendering technical assistance;

7. To inform the participating organizations, whenever technical assistance is requested, of all assistance which they are already receiving or requesting from other sources in the same field of development;

8. To give to the programme within their countries.

The expanded program, it must be remembered, is one for economic development. As in any national program for economic development, increased services undertaken by a government can be maintained, in the long run, only out of national production, and therefore the Economic and Social Council has suggested that, under the technical assistance program, "special attention needs to be given in timing and emphasis to activities tending to bring an early increase in national productivity of material and human resources."

The function of technical assistance is to furnish the advice which will enable governments to accomplish tasks themselves. This advice, in addition to its intrinsic value, may indeed constitute a positive aid toward the acquisition of other means, such as financial investment and physical equipment. Specific requests for the furnishing of equipment and supplies are considered only in so far as they form an integral part of a larger project of advisory assistance.


The elaboration of a technical assistance project must pass through several phases. The kinds of technical assistance which FAO could render were described in a United Nations report published in 1949 entitled Technical Assistance: Expanded Co-operative Programme. Further series of examples of possible projects suitable for early initiation were later prepared for use by the Director-General's representatives in discussions with national authorities. Such personal discussions were carried on over a wide field during the summer of 1950, and resulted in a number of preliminary requests to FAO in the form of letters of inquiry, giving a broad indication of what a government is doing or proposes to do for the economic development of its country, especially in terms of committing its own personnel and funds, and setting out the kinds of special assistance it would require, and what other approaches it had made or intended to make to other agencies or governments for assistance in the same field.

Some countries need to be introduced to efficient modern equipment for saving costs.

Photograph by courtesy of Hyster Company

In many countries there is still some degree of uncertainly as to the best way in which international organizations such as FAO can furnish help. It is hoped that such countries will call upon the regional staff members of FAO to help in the formulation of technical assistance programs. These officers can also render useful advice in making a priority selection from among the projects which a government may wish to submit.


On the basis of letters of inquiry and following further consultations in the field or by post, a formal request to FAO is drawn up by a government requiring technical assistance.

In principle, it is hoped that technical assistance in the field of forestry and forest products will only be requested for specific projects included in a comprehensive forestry program which is itself based upon a complete knowledge of the resources of a country, i.e., upon an inventory of the forest resource and a statement of the country's forest policy. However, it is recognized that many countries do not have such an inventory on which to base consistent programs of work and an over-all forest policy.

Under these circumstances, it is hoped that the initial formal request to FAO will be for assistance in drawing up inventories and formulating a comprehensive forest policy. This may appear to be a somewhat abstract approach, but the procedure involved can be speeded up without any detrimental effect. Granted that too general an approach, implying the application of purely administrative measures, may disappoint governments that expect immediate practical achievements, fundamental general surveys can be made acceptable by incorporating into them some specific projects which have been thoroughly examined both by the national technicians and by staff members of FAO.

A distinction may be drawn here between two types of countries that may call for technical assistance: those which already have well established forest services, and those which as yet have none or only skeleton staffs.

Those with proper staffs have technicians who are thoroughly acquainted with their own countries and their potentialities and who are fully competent to select projects in which United Nations assistance can truly be of value.

These technicians are also in a position to know to what extent their governments are able and willing to proceed with projects which they may request, fully appreciating that it is most unwise to embark even on investigation of projects unless there is a reasonable chance of obtaining funds to carry the whole thing through.

It must be kept in mind that one of the main difficulties in carrying out a technical assistance program may be the lack of a sufficient number of skilled technicians within the country itself. The most valuable service to such countries may then consist of helping to train specialized personnel rather than directly initiating individual development projects. This help may take the form of traveling fellowships or scholarships for technicians to be trained abroad, provided this training is directly related to the country's economic development program. A vital aspect of the task of international experts furnishing assistance requested on any particular project will also, of course, be the local training of personnel to take over from them.

As for those countries which have as vet no forest staffs, it is hoped that they will first request assistance in organizing a forest service, training technicians, and formulating a general forest policy and program of work.


A formal request to FAO for technical assistance may be directly approved by the Director-General or, under certain circumstances where several international agencies are involved, be referred to the United Nations Technical Assistance Board. Wherever the nature of the requested assistance suggests it, every effort will be made to co-ordinate technical assistance programs on a regional scale.


Once a formal request and all the supporting administrative and budgetary data have been approved, a standard agreement is signed between the Director-General of FAO and a representative of the government concerned. The first step thereafter is the selection of experts to go to the country in question. In choosing foreign experts, it is considered essential to select individuals of the highest professional competence who have a sympathetic understanding of the cultural background and specific needs of the country to be assisted, and a capacity to adapt methods of work to local conditions, both social and material.

The experts must be ready and willing to do field work, even under difficult conditions, and theoretical work or scientific research must often come later. In many instances specialization in tropical forestry will be essential.

Modern machines, in this case helicopters, can be put to a variety of economical uses, from inventorying to fire protection.

Photograph by courtesy of U.S. Forest Service

With regard to the recruitment of such technicians, there is no panel of experts just waiting to be called on. Each project involves hunting for the experts wanted, and they are hard to find. Lists of available experts have been compiled by FAO from names submitted by governments, technical institutions, or on private recommendation. Some of these experts are willing to serve only for short periods, others only for periods of a year or longer. The selection for any one project is therefore no easy matter.*

* Experts are paid according to uniform salary scales, receive travel and subsistence allowances, and are entitled to certain other privileges depending on the circumstances in each case.

Once selected, the United Nations will expect its experts to collaborate closely with local technicians. These international experts will need the advice of their local colleagues, must associate with them in their work, and later must rely upon them to implement the measures recommended.


Under the new program numerous missions, frequently with similar purposes and composed of necessarily small teams of qualified experts, will be sent out to work in several countries. This alone raises many administrative difficulties, and the whole undertaking has to be organized very carefully.

Control from headquarters will be so exercised as to permit the maximum freedom of action for missions and allow flexibility in the general program. As far as possible, regional offices will be called upon to brief experts on broad policy as well as on the technical aspects of their assignments, to supervise the general progress of particular projects, and to assist the experts in their work, especially when they are ready to write up their conclusions. Headquarters will be responsible for drawing up the official FAO reports on the whole progress of the program to the United Nations Technical Assistance Board and the Technical Assistance Committee of the Economic and Social Council.

Results of Technical Assistance

The practical realization of a technical assistance program, that is, the carrying out of the recommendations and execution of the projects planned by the experts, will bring many problems to the fore. True, the implementation of projects is incumbent upon the governments and upon them alone. Nevertheless, technical assistance furnished by the United Nations and its agencies should not be considered as a sporadic effort. It is rather an opportunity for particularly effective action, using extraordinary ways and means, which must be integrated into a long-term, worldwide program of work.

FAO will therefore continue to provide direct technical aid to governments at their request as a part of its regular program of work, although the extent of this aid will necessarily be limited by the size of the regular budget and by the demands on that budget of other activities which member governments expect FAO to perform. Some of the technical aid extended under the regular budget will probably lay the basis for further work under the expanded program, as in the case of the FAO Missions to Austria and Nicaragua earlier this year. Other FAO activities carried on under the regular budget will be related to follow-up work of technical assistance already undertaken under the expanded program. As far as possible, however, the new program will operate as a separate self-contained undertaking. The administrative and overhead costs will be kept as low as possible so that the contributions of countries to the special fund can be used to the maximum extent in the direct provision of technical assistance to the recipient countries.

Not so long ago Point Four was not a program but rather a state of mind. Now its proposals are beginning to be fused into a workable design. But technical assistance alone is limited in its achievements. There must also be self-help, as was pointed out in the final report of the recent United Nations Economic Survey Mission for the Middle East:

"Technical and scientific knowledge can contribute to increasing material standards of living in underdeveloped areas. The better use of water and land, the control and eradication of disease and pests, an increased manufacture and flow of goods and the spread of education, require the application of what man knows or can find out about the productive capacity of men and things.

"But higher living, standards cannot be bestowed by one upon another like a gift. An improved economy does not come in a neat package sold or given away in the market place. A higher standard of living must grow out of the application of human skill and ingenuity to the physical resources of a country or a region.

"The highly developed nations of the world did not make their way by wishing. By work and risk they forced the earth, the soil, the forests and the rivers to yield them riches. They pooled their energy and resources by taxation and mutual enterprise to discover new ways of doing things. They worked they invented, they educated and trained their children, and they invested in their national and in their private enterprises. This they must continue to do, if they are to maintain the standard of living they have achieved.

"There is no substitute for the application of work and local enterprise to each country's own resources. Help to those who have the will to help themselves should be the primary policy guiding and restraining the desire of the more developed areas of the world to help the less developed lands."

A simple portable wood chipper mounted on a jeep may make small woodlots profitable.

Photograph by courtesy of Fitchburg Engineering Corporation

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