16 June 2014
149th Session of the FAO Council
Your Excellency Wilfred Ngirwa, Independent Chairperson of the Council,
Your Excellency Lassad Lachaal, Minister for Agriculture of Tunisia, Chairperson of the FAO Regional Conference for Africa,
Your Excellency Lkhasuren Choi-ish, representing the Ministry for Industry and Agriculture of Mongolia, chair of the FAO Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific,
Your Excellency Christine Grieder, Permanent Representative of Switzerland and Vice-Chairperson of the FAO Regional Conference for Europe,
Your Excellency Carlos Furche, Minister of Agriculture of Chile and Chairperson of the FAO Regional Conference for Latin America and the Caribbean,
Your Excellency Akram Chehayeb, Minister for Agriculture of Lebanon, Chairperson of the FAO Regional Conference for the Near East,
Distinguished Members of the Council,
Distinguished Permanent Representatives,
Distinguished non-state actors,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a pleasure to welcome you to FAO.
As of yesterday, 12 ministers had registered their presence at this week’s Council. They come from the Pluri-national State of Bolivia, Cameroon, Chile, Congo, Côte D´Ivoire, Gabon, Guinea, Lebanon, Madagascar, Morocco, Romania, and Tunisia.
We also have the registered participation of seven Deputy and Vice-Ministers, Permanent Secretaries and Undersecretaries from Argentina, Bangladesh, China, Mozambique, Philippines, Russian Federation and Zimbabwe
This high-level presence reflects your renewed trust in FAO’s work and is the result of our close cooperation and frank conversations over the 30 months since I took up office.
This new relationship between FAO Members and the Secretariat has paved the way for many achievements. Let me highlight 10 of them, not necessarily in order of priority:
First and foremost, we transformed FAO into a more focused and results-oriented organization. And we are constantly working to make FAO even more dynamic and less bureaucratic;
Second, we enhanced our social protection capacity to maximize the synergies with productive agricultural support to improve food security;
Third, we strengthened the role of the Regional Conferences. As you will see this week, they are playing a key role in the definition of FAO’s work, including of the regional initiatives that will drive our action in the regions;
Fourth, we supported the approval by the Committee on World Food Security of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure. FAO is now giving ongoing support to its implementation in more than 50 countries;
Fifth, we approved strategies for partnerships with civil society organizations and the private sector. We now have clear guidelines on how to engage with non-state actors and we have an Office of Partnerships, Advocacy and Capacity Development (OPC) to manage this important relationship;
Sixth, we integrated all FAO offices with the Global Resource Management System, GRMS, and improving the monitoring of the work by FAO’s decentralized offices;
Seventh, we strengthened communication with the establishment of the Office for Corporate Communication.
Eighth, we contributed to the adoption of the Zero Hunger Challenge as a leading global initiative in the framework of the UN System;
Ninth, we established a close cooperation with regions and are firmly supporting their actions to end hunger. The innovative Africa Solidarity Trust Fund is a good example of our new approach in the region;
And, tenth, just last week, we supported the approval of the Voluntary Guidelines for Sustainable Small-scale Fisheries. This is an outstanding achievement and FAO will work with all interested countries in implementing them. It is also fitting that this approval happened during the International Year of Family Farming, since small-scale fishers are part of this family. I want to thank all of you for your collaboration in achieving this approval.
As I said, renewed trust is the foundation for our achievements.
As you will see at this Council, the Regional Conferences echoed the clear message of commitment to the path FAO is on.
Ladies and gentlemen,
At the December Council session last year, I informed that we had concluded the strategic planning process and were shifting our focus to implementation.
Today, I am happy to say that the delivery phase has begun.
We are implementing 15 Regional Initiatives. They are the main delivery mechanism of our Programme of Work and Budget.
The Regional Initiatives cover the strategic objectives you endorsed. They were discussed and approved at the Regional Conferences. Let me give you a few examples of what we are doing in our five FAO regions.
We are supporting Africa’s efforts to end hunger by 2025, commitment that is set to be adopted by its leaders at the African Union Summit later this month. We are also working to build resilience in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel regions.
In Asia and the Pacific, we are supporting the shift towards more sustainable and integrated agricultural systems, for instance, by combining fish and rice production – what I sometimes call the “sushi approach”.
We are assisting European and Central Asian countries to reduce rural poverty by supporting small-scale producers and family farmers.
We are fully engaged with the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States to eradicate hunger by 2025.
And we are helping countries in the Near East and North Africa deal with water scarcity, their biggest constraint to increase agricultural production.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We are moving ahead on the path that we charted together.
However, there are still some issues that we must acknowledge and work together to find ways forward. The main one is the FAO budget.
As we will report to you this week, we fully delivered our previous PWB, despite finding an unprecedented amount of savings.
I can also say that we will also fully deliver our current PWB, even with the further efficiencies we were asked to find.
There is always room to improve efficiency. You are witness to my and FAO’s commitment to delivering best value for money.
FAO will continue to try to do more and better with what we have and, whenever possible, with less. This is part of our wider effort to improve the results we obtain on the ground. Sometimes I feel like we are enxugando gelo, to use a Brazilian expression, or “drying ice”. It is an effort that never seems to end.
But there is a limit to what we can do. I want to be very clear: at this stage, significant further savings will have a high organizational cost for a relatively low financial return for Members.
Let me add that we cannot forget or ignore the fact that FAO’s budget has lost about 30 percent of its real value in the last 20 years.
While the Organization has suffered cut after cut, we are being asked to do more and more. These divergent paths cannot continue.
And let me repeat: FAO cannot solve this equation on its own. For one simple reason: the action required to find significant additional savings do not fall under my authority.
They fall under your responsibility as member countries. You are the ones that decide upon the recommendations of the International Civil Service Commission, in New York, that FAO is obliged to follow.
I also would like to say that I appreciate the efforts Members are making in supporting FAO through voluntary contributions.
You should have before you a blue folder named “investing for results”. It identifies corporate funding priorities within the reviewed strategic framework.
We have clearly defined the areas in which we need additional funding to deliver our Programme of Work. Within these limits, we need flexibility to work.
Let me insist, however: voluntary contributions are important, but do not replace the Regular Programme budget. We need both.
I also would like to refer to decentralization. With your support, FAO is significantly strengthening our presence in the field without weakening our capacities at headquarters.
As I have said before, there is no magic in this but a lot of hard work to find ways to free up funds that could support this process.
We are making significant progress, but there is still much to be done. FAO has started discussing with many Middle Income Developing Countries ways to increase their South-South Cooperation.
One of the issues that we will need to face is FAO country coverage. This topic was left out of the FAO reform because of its political sensitivity and financial implications. However, we must address it sometime. We do ourselves more harm than good by ignoring it.
Ladies and gentlemen,
2014 has been a busy year and there are still six months to go. We are in full implementation mode and we are starting to see the concrete results of our efforts.
We already completed the cycle of Regional Conferences.
The Technical Committees sessions began last week with the Committee on Fisheries (COFI). Next week we have the Committee on Forestry (COFO).
We are actively supporting countries as they define the post-2015 development agenda.
In October, we will host the third FAO Ministerial Meeting related to international food prices. The theme this year is governance in international agricultural and food markets.
And, in November, FAO and the World Health Organization will co-organize the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2).
I encourage your high-level participation at both these meetings. Please save the dates.
Let me say that preparations for ICN2 are progressing well. Political engagement of members has increased and we have begun to receive high-level confirmations, including from Pope Francis.
I am fully committed to working with you to make ICN2 a success. As I have said before, nutrition is a public issue, with big impacts in many areas. Governments need to lead the way.
But this also needs to be a collective effort. I am happy to say that thanks to a joint effort with WHO, we have improved the engagement of non-state actors.
In fact, later this week we will provide an opportunity for non-state actors and Member States to exchange views on ICN2, here in FAO Headquarters.
Let me say that situations such as these help show why it was so important to reinforce our partnership capacities.
But we still have a funding gap of about 2 million dollars to finance ICN2. I hope that we can resolve this soon. After all, if 20 countries contribute 100 thousand dollars each, the expenses of the conference will be covered. Please consider being one of them.
In this second semester, we also look forward to working closely with Italy as it assumes the Presidency of the Council, strengthening our collaboration with the European Union and working together to make ICN2 and ExpoMilano 2015 a success.
And, of course, everything that we do in FAO in 2014 takes place within the framework of the International Year of Family Farming.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The renewed trust among us is the foundation that allows us to move forward.
We do not take your trust for granted. We will continue to work hard to consolidate and increase your confidence in us.
We continue to need your support. We are on the right track, but we are still on the beginning of the road.
We need to work together to consolidate transformational change and to translate our sharpened focus into concrete benefits at the country level.
We owe this to ourselves. We owe this to the millions of people that need our help to fulfill the dream of a food secure life.
We look forward to hearing your deliberations this week.
Thank you for your attention.