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Director-General Opening Statement at the 163rd Session of the FAO Council

2 December 2019


I welcome you to the 163rd Session of the FAO Council. It is my pleasure to be here with you today as Director-General of FAO.

Since being in this office, time has been busy and flying. Let me provide Council with a brief update on decisions, activities and initiatives taken in the past four months in office. Today is just the fourth month.

I will start with our biggest initiative, so far: the Hand in Hand Initiative. It is an evidence-based, country-led and country-owned initiative to accelerate agricultural transformation and sustainable rural development to achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 1, eradicating poverty and SDG 2, ending hunger and all forms of malnutrition in the 2030 Agenda. In doing so, it also contributes to reaching all the other SDGs.

In addition to the Information Note and the Technical Document we made available, the Council will receive further explanations and clarifications about the different aspects of this Initiative during this Session from myself and my Senior Representatives.

Let me just share with you some fundamental points:

The Hand in Hand Initiative is fully in line with the UN Development System Reform (UNDS). The Initiative contributes to the integrated approaches of UNDS reform by achieving greater cooperation and deepening partnership among many actors across the UN system along with the private sector, civil society and academic institutions.

This is a logical consequence to the Initiative’s vision of addressing areas of food and nutritional security, trade, agro-food systems and agro-value chains, as well as areas of protracted crises.

It provides a technical foundation by bringing in a full spectrum of tools for the UN to achieve what needs to be done.

The Initiative will complement ongoing major development activities and provide them with much needed data. In that aspect, we are already collaborating closely with some, like the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CADDP), and Central American Integration System (SICA) and are talking to many others. Even the private sectors, they are really interested in what we are doing now and offer to them.
The Initiative needs buy-ins from countries and partners. That’s why it is called Hand-in-Hand. FAO will gather and present all the necessary data and information as a seed to start a process. This will then evolve into a system of collaboration with countries and donors, so that everyone has access to and ownership of the information. FAO is ready and able to play the role of promotor and facilitator.

The Initiative is also an engine for internal change. Its successful implementation will require breaking down silos and increasing efficiency. It will be a tool to focus and sharpen FAO’s existing work to be more tangible and results-oriented at the country level.

I am confident that this Initiative will unleash the immense power of FAO to push forward international rural and agricultural development through a comprehensive approach and multi-partnership.

A number of measures were taken internally that focus on improving FAO governance, modernizing our methods of work and boosting staff morale. After an in-depth review of internal FAO administrative procedures, I approved the delegation of specific functions related to clearance and approval processes to the Deputy Director-General’s (DDGs).

The DDGs are my right and left hand, they should be empowered and also take responsibility.

I appreciate that you are willing to take on this role of responsibility together with me. As I said, FAO is not my own, it is owned by Member Countries and ran by my Senior Staff, and supported by all Staff.

This substantial delegation of authority is sound management. It introduces a much needed modern understanding of accountability to the Organization.

Accountability and transparency are two sides of the same coin. We have therefore worked hard at improving transparency within FAO, starting from a revamped web page, where all my meetings, interactions and speeches are already publicly available. In due time, within half an hour, or within one day for speech.

I will ask my senior staff to follow my lead as well, so that means D1 and above, all activities and travels, they should put their reports on the web later. Then you do not need to ask the Office of the Director-General Office (ODG) or relevant Departments for that.

You can search what they are doing and talking about, so it is visible to the Member Countries. This is what we call the Crowd Power, it is real power. All the crowds, all the Member Countries; the farmers, they can visit the website to see what they have done travelling to the Middle East for example, what they said and what they did there, and how many meetings they had there.

If one sleeps there, and has no meetings, then you will make an adjustment, and then we will have a real 360 degree evaluation by Member Countries.. It is a big step to revamping the webpage.

So I am pleased to announce that the new FAO homepage was launched yesterday. If you visit the page today, it is different from others. We used iterative technology and there you can add more new information at a certain time. The information is automatically updated. December 1 is important for International HIV/Aids Day, but it is also important for the FAO website and it is the starting day of Digital FAO.

The new website, which will follow in the next months, will introduce FAO, its mandate and major activities to the broad public in a more modern and attractive way along with more involvement and promotion of Member Countries.

I would like to take this opportunity to encourage all the Member Countries here, if you want to promote your products, your beautiful villages, your experience-sharing, or support documents with a beautiful photo, share them with the Office of Corporate Communications (OCC) and Information Technology Division (CIO) or ODG. They will put them up in a proper way. They will have a structure for you or room for you to promote and be involved.

To our Member Countries and other stakeholders, the website will offer transparency and accountability for many of the projects and programmes we are working on.

I will ask the Departments to publish their ongoing projects, and their progress. For many years, that is what Member Countries have asked for.To build up accountability and transparency. So you will make your own judgment, you have experts from your country, internationally and nationally. What programmes are really good? Tangible, or not? With defined budgets.

All the project managers at FAO, they have to think, they have to deliver, what they have done. The global eyes are watching them.

The website will also give visibility to FAO Senior Leadership at the level of Assistant Director-General and above. You see we will start publishing all CVs for DDG, ADG, as we start from the ADG and above. Maybe later we will bring in the D2s.

Being a D2 is a big honor and also a bigger responsibility. You have to be responsible for your international image. This is key to creating an organizational culture of accountability and transparency as One-FAO, both intra and inter.

Boosting Staff morale is another aspect I have been focusing on.

I have dedicated special efforts to ensure that the HR Senior Team is more professional, transparent and effective. You heard we have opened a Vacancy Announcement (VA) for Director of Human Resources (HR). It is at D2 level, I saw the shortlist and all of them at least 5 years of HR-professional experience.

Then we will have two P5’s, P4’s, so with six to seven people who are real professionals. I will really trust them, and they can build up a real professional career and the quality to make sure FAO is a professional Organization.
We will also have a thorough look at HR processes and procedures. FAO needs to become a merit-based Organization, where experience is valued and favored. If you don’t have enough experience it is not good, it is not good for the Organization, and not for yourself,. We need to make it clear to staff that working hard has its merits: work hard and you will be recognized.

Staff need to see that there are chances for Career Development and Internal Promotion. We adapted maternity leave to the duration recommended by WHO and aligned long-range duty travel conditions with those of the UN system. We specifically considered the implementation at WFP, for example.

Young people are our future. They are catalysts for changes and help build a more dynamic FAO. We have established a Youth Committee charged with tapping into the potential of young employees to create a more dynamic workforce. This volunteer-based committee of FAO Staff, from headquarters and field offices, is chaired by the Chief Economist, because he is the youngest senior. The Executive Chief is from my Office.

On the International Day of Rural Women we launched the first-ever FAO Women’s Committee, providing an inclusive, safe space that reflects the diverse and energetic nature of FAO’s female workforce. The Women’s Committee is chaired by DDG, Madame Semedo. Its Executive Chief comes from my office too.

Both Committees will play an important role internally, but also serve as bridges and new platforms on policy consultations with our Membership, ensuring that FAO’s work on women and youth is made more visible and more helpful and more tangible to individuals and to Member Countries.

For the first time in FAO history, we have introduced an annual recognition and celebration of the diversity of FAO employees and of their contribution to our work around the world. The Organization will recognize 100 Employees and 100 Young Employees, before Christmas.

The selection of these colleagues is done through a selection committee and a currently on-going inclusive electronic poll as a reference, for the entire FAO workforce. That not only includes staff, it also includes consultants and General Staff and National Programme Officers (NPOs). It is a very inclusive recognition.

I am looking forward to 18 December, when we will celebrate those who will be recognized this year. We hope to have the UN Secretary General, Mr Guterres with us at this event. We try our best, he will be here that week in Italy, in Rome and in other places. I am willing to try, because it will be the first time in the UN System.

We want to celebrate our team, recognize outstanding contributions by individuals, and stress that every part of the work force is important.

Excellencies, externally, we worked hard to strengthen collaboration with Member States, the private sectors, academia and civil societies; and to increase FAO’s international engagement, visibility and reputation. Since 1 August, I have met global key players and leaders of Member Countries, either, here at FAO headquarters, or during my missions abroad.

In Japan, I attended the 7th Tokyo International Conference on African Development. I said to my friends, someone who helps Africa, is my real friend. That is why I made my first trip to Japan and where I met top Japanese officials and several African heads of state.

In Moscow, I met with the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation and other top officials and presented FAO’s activities and initiatives. On the first day in history, Russia now they have the Russia-Africa Partnership, that is very good.

In Washington D.C., I had a series of meetings with national authorities including the US Secretary of Agriculture and his Senior Staff. In the same visit, I also met with the Administrator of United States Agency for International Development.

In a historical first visit of an FAO Director-General to Belgrade, I met the Prime Minister of Serbia and several Ministers.

I also participated in the Our Ocean Conference in Oslo, where I had interesting exchanges with the Prime Minister, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, International Aid, Fisheries and other Members of the Norwegian government.

In Beijing, I had a series of fruitful discussions with Chinese Ministers and Senior Officials, presenting our initiatives and exploring areas for future collaboration. Especially, we are designing COP15 next year, because, FAO was marginalized, and now we bring FAO back to that big stage.

I created a satellite meeting together with United Nations Development Program and others from biodiversity to food diversity. I want to create a dialogue with the Agricultural Minister of Food and the Minister of Environment, because that meeting is supposed to have 70,000 participants. FAO should be there.

FAO also enjoys excellent relations with its host country Italy. I was pleased to be invited by Italy’s Prime Minister only four days after starting the job. Prime Minister Conte also honored FAO by delivering the keynote speech on FAO’s Birthday and World Food Day.

A few days ago, I had the pleasure of being invited by Italy’s President of the Republic, to his residence. President Mattarella accepted my invitation to mark the 75th anniversary of FAO and celebrate World Food Day next 16 October 2020 with us here at FAO headquarters.

I was also deeply honored by an invitation of the Pope to the Vatican, on my 100th day in office, where we had a very private inspiring conversation, looking eye to eye on so many issues that touch humanity as a whole. I felt energized and confirmed in my dedication to work and sacrifice for the noble goals of our Organization.

When I was participant at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences of the Vatican, I was invited by the Chair Professor Von Braunto deliver a keynote speech. After that, the Holy Father had a special arrangement for me and it was very much appreciated.

I am happy to report that the Pope has accepted my invitation to attend the 75 year celebrations of FAO next year on FAO’s Birthday and World Food Day. Because it is a big event for the UN to celebrate the 75th anniversary, of course for FAO it is also the 75th anniversary. We are planning ahead.

Concerning our relation with the United Nations, I have always believed in the importance of FAO’s role within the UN family. I have therefore participated at a number of UN events, including the 74th session of the UN General Assembly, the Chief Executive Board, the World Cotton Day at WTO in Geneva and I will attend the Inter-Agency Standing Committee this week.

Together with Dan, we are travelling in the evening and we will come back the next afternoon, because I promised you I will cover all the major activities for the Council Meeting here. At the same time, I have also promised the Under-Secretary Lowcock, it is the first time for an FAO Director-General to attend that meeting, so I did my best to keep that promise.

During these events and others, I have met several times with the leadership and senior officials of the UN Secretariat and most Agencies and Organizations, including the UN Secretary General Mr Guterres, twice, and the Deputy Secretary General Ms Amina Mohammed.

In that respect, we are looking forward to playing a central role in the preparation for the upcoming UN Food Systems Summit in 2021. I know a lot of Member Countries are interested and pay much attention on that. Still we are waiting for the announcement. Under the guidance of the UN Secretary General and in close collaboration with his Special Envoy.

As you can see, our outreach activities are energetic and fully engaged. Overall, I have met 20 Heads of State and Government, more than 40 Ministers, around 50 Ambassadors and Permanent Representatives, as well as about 40 Officials and Leaders of UN Agencies, and the Academy.

For FAO, this is an unprecedented number of meetings, interactions and encounters in such a short time span. A new wave from FAO has been emerging in the digital and the real world. That is why I want to send a signal to you. The new results-oriented business model of FAO puts emphasis on strong partnership with the private sector. This is clearly reflected in my strong engagement with the private sector since taking office.

On the margins of the 74th session of the UN General Assembly, I met with representatives from major multinational companies, to outline the Hand-In-Hand Initiative, which foresees an important role for partnerships with private-sector players.

We hosted Bill Gates at FAO’s New York Office for in-depth discussions on concrete collaboration. He expressed his strong support and the readiness of his foundation to partner with FAO, particularly around big data and innovation.

In our effort to partner with the private sectors and work together on improving food safety knowledge, and promoting responsible agricultural value chains for more sustainable food systems, we signed several Memorandums of Understanding (MoU) such as the ones with the Dutch Entrepreneurial Development Bank FMO, and with the Chairman and CEO of Danone, France.

During my participation at the 46th Session of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), I met with the Private Sector Mechanism to discuss concrete proposals to translate the Hand-in-Hand Initiative into actions.
We are also working on strengthening the close links of FAO with civil societies, academia and research institutions. I had interesting discussions with my friend, Professor Jeffrey Sachs of the University of Columbia, who delivered a lecture at FAO headquarters.

Following excellent talks with Professor Klaus Schwab, Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum in Geneva, we are now preparing FAO’s participation in Davos early next year.

I also had fruitful discussions with Dr. Robert Bertram, Principal Scientist of USAID on future cooperation and potential synergy.

Since taking office, I met numerous academic and research institutions, including Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (CGIAR), the University of Wageningen, Mississippi University, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences of the Vatican, as well as the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences etc.

At meetings with representatives of indigenous peoples, I underscored the importance FAO gives to learning from each other and working together. We welcome the initiative of Canada and other Members in creating the Group of Friends of Indigenous People and I reassure you of FAO’s full support.

Raising FAO’s profile as a knowledge center and promoting its global normative work on food and agriculture is among my top priorities. In New York, I signed a USD 28 million funding agreement with the Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, to build more resilient food systems in protracted crises.
My visit to Washington D.C. was an occasion to hold a series of meetings with the World Bank Group and other International Financial Institutions to increase collaboration with FAO. These included the International Monetary Fund, the International Finance Corporation, the Global Environment Facility, and the Inter-American Development Bank.

In Oslo, I attended the signature of a EUR 40 million, five-year programme between the EU and the ACP, where FAO will boost the development of sustainable fisheries and aquaculture in Africa, the Caribbean Region and the Pacific.

In Beijing, I attended the Second Philanthropy Summit for Sustainable Development, where FAO received a donation of USD 15 million from the Ningxia Yanbao Charity Foundation. The donation will be used to establish a joint FAO-Yanbao fund to support talent in agriculture and, in particular, facilitate research to achieve food security and nutrition.

As you can see, our outreach to the Private Sectors, Academia, and Civil Society is also an unprecedented approach for FAO, and we already see the first fruits of these concentrated efforts. We will definitely continue our outreach on an even larger scale, in line with FAO rules and guidelines.


Allow me now to turn to the proposed Adjustments to the Programme of Work and Budget (PWB). I have reflected the decisions and guidance of the Conference in the adjustments to the PWB 2020-21.

The proposed adjustments are based on the vision that I presented to you during my campaign, of building a dynamic, inclusive, transparent and efficient FAO, while remaining committed to the original aspirations, mandate and mission of the Organization.

As requested by the Conference, I have increased funding for FAO’s work on the Joint FAO/WHO Food Safety Scientific Advice Programme for CODEX, on the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC).
Additional resources are dedicated for mainstreaming biodiversity at FAO.

I have proposed a new Office for Innovation to consolidate and strengthen FAO’s innovative spirit, including innovation of policy, science and technology, innovation of cooperation models, and capacity building.

I would like to underline that the creation of this office will not further erode the capacity of FAO’s technical departments. It will just team-up synergy by breaking small silos. We need a more comprehensive team to face the challenges by innovation, which can even strengthen the technical departments.

The proposal reflects sound budgetary management within the context of a flat nominal budget, and will result in cross-fertilization of new knowledge, approaches and ideas.

Having a dynamic pool of changing experts will create fertile ground for the development of innovative methodologies, approaches and programmes across disciplines and sectors. The new Office will play a platform role to strengthen innovation of the FAO system, marshal international centers of excellence for innovation and build-up even closer cooperation with Member Countries.

There will be an increase and harnessing of FAO’s knowledge and expertise, while promoting a more holistic and coordinated approach to addressing the complex and interconnected challenges facing agriculture and food systems, thereby facilitating the nexus approach to look at sustainability issues in an integrated manner. Through the rotating pool of experts proposal we will also create a growing number of “innovation champions” who foster, promote and incentivize innovations.

I have also proposed a new Office for Small Island Developing States (SIDS), Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Land-Locked Developing Countries (LLDCs) to ensure that the special needs of these vulnerable populations and countries are met.

This overarching structure is aimed at coordinating existing resources, cutting across all technical departments and decentralized networks to ensure comprehensive attention to and a coherent approach towards SIDS, LDCs and LLDCs.

The Office will unburden technical departments by allowing them to focus on their specific technical tasks related to SIDS, LDCs and LLDCs, as the coordination, internal outreach and monitoring process across the Organization will be the responsibility of this new Office.

The two Committees that I have established, on youth and on women, will help drive women and youth career enrichment, engagement within FAO to achieve FAO’s strategic objectives as well outreach to Member States. We can assist the Member States to establish a better policy on women and youth, especially in the rural areas.

I am also strengthening the Regional, Sub-Regional and Country Offices in knowledge management, monitoring and evaluation, to help decentralized offices further adopt a programmatic approach in their work and unleash their potential for problem-solution oriented service for Member Countries through a 360 degree evaluation. I would take the first trial of evaluation at the country level for Representatives of FAO to see what the certification is from Member Countries, relevant ministers and also FAO Headquarters. That is a 360 degree evaluation.

These measures aim to empower country offices to rise to the challenge and increase their energy, efficiency and self-determination.

Of course, I am also ensuring that we have efficient and effective oversight functions in place, as well as strong financial control and human resource management. So on one hand, we offer decentralized offices empowerment, on the other hand we establish a modern traceability. It is a model for risk management.

This is why I have added additional resources to the Office of the Inspector General, strengthened the Finance Division, established a post for the Ombudsman role, and proposed moving the Office of Human Resources under the Corporate Services department.

I am pleased to report that the funding required for the proposed changes is covered from cost savings and efficiencies. Exhibiting better performance will attract more additional support from key-players for both voluntary contributions and donations.

No programmatic cuts were required nor is there any negative impact to the agreed programme of work.
Excellencies, I have presented to you my first set of proposals, and I look forward to Council approving the new organizational structure as well as the revised budgetary appropriations. In the next Council Session in June of 2020, an additional consistent proposal will be submitted containing further adjustments to the FAO Organizational Structure and the Programme of Work and Budget.

Allow me to stress that the reform of FAO management and structure is and will be crucial to the success of our mandate and mission.

During my campaign I emphasized the need for FAO to focus on a number of actions.

Focusing on food security and targeted poverty eradication.

Focusing on weaknesses in tropical agriculture.

Focusing on bottlenecks by devoting more attention to dryland farming.

Promoting digital farming and digital rural development.

Promoting actions to improve agricultural environment for sustainable development.

All the actions, initiatives and measures taken so far as well as the proposals presented to you today are based on these fundamental goals. I already promised you what I read out in my campaign that I will take action to implement, step by step.

You will see, all in my scope. Maybe some is earlier and some is a little bit later. But sooner or later it will come. That is what your expectations are for me. All written down in my Manifesto, during my campaign. That Manifesto is not only my own, I consulted all over the world, about a thousand experts.

Now I can tell you, it is not my personal team, or idea. Because I know so many experts in the world. Personally, I got a lot of emails from them during my campaign. I also met 160 more Ministers and Vice-Ministers in the world, during the past four years. I have already talked to them about the concerns for your country and your area.

Together, we will eradicate hunger and improve the livelihoods of people through better production, better nutrition, better environment and a better life. I am committed to improving our ways of working through even greater inclusiveness, efficiency and accountability thereby strengthening the Organization to serve member countries and work for consumers and farmers.

We are in the same boat. My success is your success and your expectations fuel my determination to achieve concrete results that bring real transformation in peoples’ lives.

FAO’s success means sustainable food systems, prosperity for farmers and a healthy planet for future generations.

Thank you very much for your attention. I am looking forward to your comments and suggestions any time during this week.

Thank you!