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Press Release 97/4



ROME, 19 February -- Noting past organizational weaknesses, including a centralized, cumbersome bureaucracy and a lack of focus, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) announced today on-going reforms have resulted in a "radically changed" Organization, one that is significantly slimmed-down and re-focused. The reforms will continue, FAO said.

"Reforming FAO - The Challenge of World Food Security," a new report, noted that the reforms are bringing about "the most significant restructuring since FAO's founding to decentralize operations, streamline procedures and reduce costs." It shows FAO cut 456 positions throughout the organization by mid-1996 - down from 4,185 three years ago. At its Rome Headquarters 563 posts were eliminated and 63 posts in country offices, while 170 posts were added to strengthen field work. These and other changes, including a $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 led to efficiency gains saving some $25 million a year.

FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf, unveiling the report at a news conference, said: "There has been considerable talk recently about the need to reform UN agencies 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 the on-going reforms have sharpened FAO's focus 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 a combination of special programs. At the same time, FAO's ability to gather, analyse and disseminate information on nutrition, agriculture, fisheries and forestry was reported improved.

FAO set up the Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS) to increase food production in the poorest countries and to make conditions better for poor farming families. Dr. Diouf said that the new Programme would improve the food security situation in Low-Income Food-Deficit Countries.

To complement the work of the Special Programme for Food Security, the Emergency Prevention System for Transboundary Animal and Plant Pests and Diseases was launched, offering farmers in affected countries preventative protection for their farm production.

The report said that reforms at FAO Headquarters included: the creation of the Department of Sustainable Development to give more emphasis to systematic integration and promotion of activities related to sustainable agricultural and rural development; the management of natural resources; and the follow-up to the Earth Summit. To better cover the needs of women, and to incorporate population issues into strategic thinking about rural farm development, the Women and Population Division was set up.

Operations units in the Agriculture, Social and Economic, Fisheries and Forestry Departments were transferred to the new Technical Cooperation Department, now the hub of operational work, housing policy advice, field operations and FAO's Technical Cooperation Programme.

"The reform program," Dr. Diouf said, "has broadened FAO's links embracing the private sector and non-governmental organizations (NGO), leading to the creation of the Unit for Cooperation with the Private Sector and NGOs, which will expand contacts with associations and companies and develop prototype cooperative projects. It is also developing policy guidelines and a plan to increase cooperation with NGOs. FAO has strengthened links between the existing Investment Centre Division and international, regional and national financial institutions."

To support the new focus of the Organization, the report says that operational staff, program development, project design and monitoring, and decision-making are being moved to the field, closer to the problems that need solutions.

Explaining the new decentralized system, Dr. Diouf pointed, as one example, to the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok and the new Sub-regional Office for the Pacific Islands in Apia, Samoa, saying, "Under the reforms, expertise in the Asia-Pacific area has been increased from 27 professional officers to 61, mainly through the transfer of technical posts from Rome." He said such changes, including a total of five newly established subregional offices to help clusters of countries with similar problems, will improve FAO's response to regional needs and produce substantial savings by reducing travel and communication.

Dr. Diouf noted that the reforms were 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 for 1994-95.

"Of all the larger organizations of the United Nations system surveyed, only FAO had a budget cut in nominal terms of this proportion," according to the report.


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