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Director-General  José Graziano da Silva
A statement by FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva
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161st Session of the FAO Council

Rome, 8 April 2019


Mr Khalid Mehboob, Independent Chairperson of the Council;
Excellencies Ministers and Vice-Ministers and High Authorities coming from the capitals
Members of the Council;
Distinguished delegates;
Distinguished guests
Ladies and gentlemen; 

It is an honour to welcome all of you to this new Session of the FAO Council. 

As you know, the main agenda item of this Session is the Programme of Work and Budget 2020-21, as well as the Medium Term Plan 2018-21 (Reviewed).

But before referring to the PWB for the next biennium, allow me to make some considerations.

Since I took office as FAO Director-General in 2012, I have managed the Organization under the concept of zero nominal growth in our regular budget.

This means less and less money in real terms every biennium, while Member Countries have consistently asked for FAO to do more and more.

And this has happened in a context where more than 80 percent of FAO’s regular budget is to pay salaries, benefits and maintenance costs. 

If we add to this 80 percent the minimum of 14 percent that goes to the Technical Cooperation Programme (TCP), we have 95 percent of our assessed contributions linked to fixed costs.

To face this difficult budgetary situation, and give more flexibility to our budget, we have focused on two main aspects in the last years:

First, to reduce costs and find savings, and make FAO much more efficient, effective and results-oriented.

And second, to attract more voluntary contributions.

I must say that we have succeeded in achieving both objectives.

Since January 2012, we have found more than USD 150 million in savings.

We have also improved FAO’s effectiveness based mainly on extended partnerships and a strong decentralization process. As I have said from the very beginning, FAO must be a knowledge Organization with its feet on the ground.

We are very happy and proud to notice that the 2018 FAO assessment made by the Multilateral Organization Performance Assessment Network (known as MOPAN) has found FAO much better than in 2011 and 2014.

According to MOPAN, FAO has strengthened its performance particularly in terms of enhanced strategic focus, stronger operational management, and stronger commitment to partnership along the last seven years

So we have rebuilt the trust of members and donors in the Organization, and therefore attracted more voluntary contributions.

The amount of extra budgetary contributions has increased from USD 1.6 billion in the biennium 2010-11 to almost USD 2.1 billion in the last biennium 2016-17. This is an increase of more than 30 percent in six years.

For the current biennium (2018-19), we expect voluntary contributions to grow even further beyond USD 2.1 billion.

One important modality of voluntary contributions is the Unilateral Trust Fund (UTF).

This is a government financed funding modality for programmes and projects implemented in the country. FAO provides technical expertise and supports ownership by the recipient country.

In the last years, we have seen an unprecedented increase of UTFs.

In Latin America, for example, those contributions of development projects have increased by almost 40 percent since the biennium 2012-13.

In parallel, we have made important progress in diversifying the resource partner base as part of the strategy not to be too dependent on our traditional donors.

In 2012, we had about only 20 new partners, including middle-income countries and regional organizations, which contributed only USD 28 million.

Today, we have more than 100 new partners, which have contributed more than USD 200 million to our budget.

At the same time, we have increased our work with UN agencies by actively engaging in joint programmes and interagency platforms.

These partnerships have almost doubled since 2012, and they represent a monetary increase of contributions from the UN system by 100 percent, accounting nowadays up to USD 800 million.

But let me take this opportunity to raise some concerns regarding the growing level of voluntary contributions on FAO’s budget.

We are in a situation in which two-thirds of our financial resources depend on the goodwill of donors, not on assessed contributions.

This is, per se, a risk as voluntary contributions are subject to many variables that are beyond our control. We never know when they would come and how much would come.

And, it also runs the risk that the performance of the Organization will respond more and more to the priorities set by our donors.

This reality needs to be considered by the membership in light of the constraints of requiring ever more from the Organization without increasing the level of the regular budget.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The proposed Programme of Work and Budget for the next biennium is both a continuation and a consolidation of the work to make FAO more efficient and more effective.

Let me recall that in the last two budget negotiations, Members were able to reach a consensus on the budget level at the session of the Council preceding the Conference.

As you know very well, the Conference in June will elect a new Director-General.

So it is very important that we repeat this healthy practice of agreeing on the budget level before the Conference, so we can swiftly move past what is usually a time-consuming issue.

Let me now explain some features of the proposed PWB.

We are projecting efficiency savings up to USD 30 million in the next biennium.

Let me highlight that this USD 30 million, this is not new money, most of this is money that we recovered from projects, so an important part of it will need to go back to where they were produced, that is at country level.

From this amount, we intend to use nearly USD 20 million to cover cost increases; USD 5,1 million to cover FAO’s cost share to the UN Resident Coordinator System; USD 1 million to separate and strengthen the ethics and ombudsman functions; and an additional USD 4 million to strengthen our work in two specific areas.

The first area is the promotion of nutrition-sensitive food systems.

As I have been stressing before, we cannot only focus on tackling hunger anymore. The Sustainable Development Goal number 2 calls for the eradication of all forms of malnutrition. And there is a steady growth in the levels of overweight and obesity all around the world.

While hunger is circumscribed to specific areas, like conflict areas, obesity is everywhere. In fact, we are witnessing the globalization of obesity.

Some projections estimate that the number of obese people will very soon overcome the number of people suffering from hunger. This has already happened in Latin America.

So we are proposing to allocate USD 2 million to reinforce activities centered on combating all forms of malnutrition, in particular obesity.

The second area that we intend to strengthen is innovation, including digital innovation and information technologies.

FAO has been at forefront of promoting innovation in agriculture and food systems.

Last November, FAO hosted the First International Symposium on Innovation here at headquarters.

The event highlighted that innovation in agriculture and food systems are fundamental to face the challenges ahead, particularly water scarcity and the impacts of climate change.

So we intend to allocate another USD 2 million to promote innovative and sustainable agriculture approaches.

The Finance and Programme Committees welcomed the strengthening of nutrition and innovation. And they also requested the Secretariat to increase the funding regarding other priorities, particularly the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC), CODEX and biodiversity.

So we are again with the problem that I mentioned in the beginning: less and less money for our regular budget and more and more activities for FAO to perform in an ever expanding area of multiple fields and tasks.

There is a striking difficulty in addressing all of the identified priorities in the context of a flat nominal budget.

There is no magic. If membership wants to increase funds for a specific programme or area, please also point out what area should be

I found particularly sound the remarks made by the Chairperson of the Programme Committee at the opening to the Members. I quote: “when Members bring proposals to increase an area of work, they should also make a concrete proposal where we find the source for that increase”.

In the last years, sustainable funding for scientific advice for CODEX and IPPC has been raised repetitively by Members. Let me recall the funding we have consistently committed to those areas. Firstly, FAO Regular Programme allocates to CODEX Secretariat the amount of USD 7.1 million, and WHO contribution is only 1.7 million. In other words, FAO continues to cover from its regular budget 80 percent of the CODEX Secretariat.

I should also note that for most of the time that I have been in office this budget has been underspent. In addition, a number of units and divisions within FAO support food safety and scientific advice to CODEX, which is covered by budgeted resources from different divisions of approximately USD 3.4 million, so a total of USD 10.5 million is allocated to CODEX every biennium from FAO.

We have even set up a Trust Fund for attract more voluntary contributions to CODEX but as of now, we did not receive any  contributions from donors.

Let me tell you something new: we were about to receive a contribution from the private sector, and unfortunately, we could not accept it due to the position of WHO regarding voluntary contributions from the private sector to CODEX.

Furthermore, USD 5.9 million is ring-fenced in the Regular Programme Budget for IPPC I kindly request Members to review this issue carefully, considering the additional information we are providing.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me now make reference to some human resource issues.

First, in terms of geographic representation of staff, only ten member countries are not represented in FAO at this moment, and just two countries were over-represented as of March 2019.

FAO also continues to move forward in its efforts towards gender parity in the workforce.

At the beginning of 2012, female staff accounted for 36 percent in professional positions. In March 2019, this figure rose to 43 percent.

The Organization has elaborated a specific strategy to achieve gender parity. We estimate that gender parity at professional level would be achieved before 2022.

Regarding female staff in senior positions, it accounted for 21 percent at the beginning of 2012; and now this proportion has risen to 25 percent.

We are committed to further increase this proportion. For that, we need to have good candidates. I also have to say that when it comes to senior positions, usually Member Countries often present names of candidates, most of them only male.
So I ask the support of Members to also help us identify good female candidates for senior positions in FAO.    

Another point that I want to highlight is that FAO is also fully committed to uphold a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment and all kinds of harassment, and to foster a safe and inclusive working environment in the Organization.

We have introduced a new policy on prevention, as well as presented an updated corporate action plan for your consideration on sexual harassment.

We are now taking steps to improve our coordination with WFP and IFAD, in order to organize a joint survey, as requested by the Programme and Finance Committees.

Regarding the election of the next FAO Director-General, the Secretariat received five nominations. These nominations were announced on 1 March, according to the rules of the Organization.

We received nominations from Cameroon, China, France, Georgia and India. And some weeks ago, Cameroon withdrew its candidature.

In line with my commitment to ensure an efficient transition process, I sent a letter to the ambassadors of the countries that submitted nominations, offering FAO availability, and my personal one, to meet the candidates individually.

We also circulated an internal administrative note to ask our staff to keep maintaining neutrality during the campaign period, in line with their responsibilities as international civil servants.

Furthermore, as I said before, we consulted the candidates on the possibility of broadcasting their addressesto the Council this week, but no consensus has been possible in this regard.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Before concluding, let me refer to some events that took place since the last Council Session in December, as well as some events that will take place before the Conference.

In January, we participated in the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture (GFFA) in Berlin, which was focused on innovation.

The GFFA Communiqué asked FAO, in partnership with other stakeholders, to draw up a technology impact assessment of the opportunities and risks presented by digitalization for agriculture and rural areas, based on the availability of voluntary contributions.

The outcome of this technology impact assessment will be used to develop a common methodology to assess and track the digital development situation at the national level.

We are already in contact with IFAD and other partners, like the World Bank, to move forward in the implementation of this assessment, and I hope we will soon receive voluntary contributions to start the process.

In February, FAO, WHO and the African Union co-organized a Conference on Food Safety in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The event was focused on the relationship of food safety and healthy diets.

And just last week, I participated in two other very important events.

First, the launch of the third food crises report in Brussels. The event highlighted the importance of strengthening the resilience of the vulnerable and affected populations to conflict and the impacts of climate change. To save lives, we also need to save their livelihoods.   

The second event of last week was the Near East and North Africa Land and Water Conference, in Cairo. Countries in the NENA region discussed how to scale-up innovation, specific policies and investments to address water scarcity. This is a global problem that requests urgent action.

Regarding the upcoming events, a second conference on food safety will take place later this month in Geneva, which FAO is co-organizing with WHO and the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The event will address the importance of strengthening food safety standards for improving international trade.

In May, FAO will host a big conference here at headquarters to officially launch the UN Decade of Family Farming 2019-2028.

This will present a great opportunity to put together all the important aspects that we need to address to properly support family farmers. These include climate change adaptation, social protection, innovation, natural resources management and much more.

In June, we will organize two important Seminars here in headquarters: one on healthy diets and the other one on agriculture innovation, which emphasize on digitalization, which are exactly the two areas of emphasis that I mentioned previously in our proposed budget.

Also in June, I will participate in the Second Meeting of the Parties of the FAO Port States Measures Agreement. The PSMA is the first-ever binding international instrument that specifically addresses Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing.

As of today, 86 countries are already part of the PSMA, which entered into force three years ago.

We want to quickly push this number up to  one hundred parties, and let me renew my appeals to every country to become part of this global effort against IUU fishing. We would welcome if Council Members could make an additional appeal in the same direction. I thank you for your attention.