The Twenty-ninth Session of the FAO Council in 1958 instituted the McDougall Lecture in memory of Frank L. McDougall, eminent Australian personality and one of the founding fathers of the Organization.
When the Council discussed the Director-General's proposal to institute a memorial lecture, it was decided that this should be held at each session of the FAO Conference. The Council further specified that:
"The lecturer, who should be a person of world standing, of any nationality, should be chosen by a small committee consisting of the Director-General, the Australian Ambassador to Italy, and the Chairman of the Programme Committee. The lecturer should have considerable latitude in the choice of the subject, but the lecture should have some relation, direct or indirect, to world problems of food and agriculture and to population and food supply".
Over more than fifty years, leading figures have agreed to deliver this lecture and thus address the Members of the Organization gathered in plenary session (see the list of previous lecturers and their chosen topics).
Each McDougall Lecture focuses on a major world issue relating to food and agriculture, as decided by the lecturer. In the context of FAO, this also includes issues relating to environment, development, and international cooperation.
The lecture can be given in one of the languages of the Organization: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish.
The lecture is given in the Plenary Hall at FAO Headquarters in Rome to an audience of high-ranking personalities, including more than 100 Ministers responsible for agriculture and agricultural policy in their respective countries, members of their delegations and observers from a large number of United Nations agencies and other international organizations. The event is widely covered by the world's press, television and social media. The lecture is translated, printed and distributed in the six languages of the Organization.