Report on FAO reforms released
A "radically changed" Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is taking shape through a series of reforms introduced over the past three years to correct organizational weaknesses and address the changing global environment. The reform process features steps to decentralize the organization and focus its activities on key priorities, according to a special report unveiled at a news conference on 19 February by Jacques Diouf, the UN organization's Director-General.
The report - "Reforming FAO: The Challenge of World Food Security" - was drafted and discussed by senior FAO staff and then reviewed and edited by external consultants with expertise in international development and management (including a former senior official of the US Agency for International Development). It confirms that FAO is undergoing its most significant restructuring since it was founded in 1945, with the aim of decentralizing operations, streamlining procedures and reducing costs.
To support the Organization's new decentralized focus, the report says, operational staff and project activities are being moved to the field, closer to the problems that need solutions. Such changes are expected to improve FAO's response to regional needs and produce substantial savings by reducing travel and communication costs.
By mid-1996, 456 positions had been cut throughout the Organization. That net decrease in staff was achieved by eliminating 563 posts at FAO's Rome headquarters and 63 posts in regional and country offices, while reinforcing decentralized offices with the addition or transfer of 170 posts. These and other changes, including a US$2.5 million a year reduction in travel costs, fewer and shorter meetings and cutting the number of publications and the length of meeting documents, have already yielded savings of some $25 million a year.
"There has been considerable talk recently about the need to reform UN agencies," Director-General Diouf said, referring to problems of a centralized, cumbersome bureaucracy and lack of focus afflicting much of the UN system. "So I am releasing this report to the media to make it clear that FAO is in the process of implementing what can only be termed as broad-based, fundamental reform."
The report found that FAO's focus has been sharpened by giving top priority to food security -- raising the issue to the top of the international agenda through the World Food Summit -- and by creating several special programmes.
The most prominent of these is the Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS), aimed at increasing food production and improving food security in poor countries that must now import food to meet their needs. Another special programme, the Emergency Prevention System for Transboundary Animal and Plant Pests and Diseases (EMPRES), offers preventive protection and emergency assistance against pests and diseases that pose a threat to food security.
The reform programme has also broadened FAO's links with the private sector and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Contacts with associations and companies have been expanded to develop prototype cooperative projects.
According to the Director-General, the reforms are being implemented within the constraints of FAO's 1995 budget cut. In October 1995, FAO's governing Conference handed the Organization a budget of $650 million -- down from $673.1 million for 1994/95.
19 February 1997