There were three major steps in the founding of FAO: (i) the holding of the United Nations Conference on Food and Agriculture, at Hot Springs, Virginia; (ii) the setting up of a United Nations Interim Commission on Food and Agriculture to make the necessary preparations for FAO's formal establishment; and (iii) the holding in Quebec of the First Session of the FAO Conference, at which the process of formation of the Organization was completed.
As has already been indicated, a United Nations Conference on Food and Agriculture was called on the initiative of United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the Homestead Hotel, Hot Springs, Virginia, from 18 May to 3 June 1943. Representatives of 44 nations participated and signed the Final Act:
Union of South Africa
Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
United States of America
In addition, an official of Denmark was present in a personal capacity.
The Conference was held while World War II had still not ended, and security was tight. The term “United Nations” in the title of the Conference referred to the nations that were working together in the effort to win that war. These points are reflected in the opening sentence of the Declaration the Conference adopted:
This Conference, meeting in the midst of the greatest war ever waged, and in full confidence of victory, has considered world problems of food and agriculture and declares its belief that the goal of freedom from want of food, suitable and adequate for the health and strength of all peoples, can be achieved.
It was decided to establish an Interim Commission, entrusted with formulating “a specific plan for a permanent organization in the field of food and agriculture.” In addition to this basic decision, the Conference adopted recommendations on the improvement of national diets; diets of vulnerable groups; malnutrition and disease; deficiency diseases; national nutrition organizations; exchange of information and experience; dietary standards; cooperation of existing agencies; non-food products; changes in production in the short-term period; coordination in the short-term period; adjustment of production in the transition from the short-term to the long-term period; long-term production policy; agricultural credit; cooperative movements; land tenure and farm labour; education and research; conserving land and water resources; development and settlement of land for food production; occupational adjustments in rural populations; international security; achievement of an economy of abundance; international commodity arrangements; special national measures for wider food distribution; special international measures for wider food distribution; government and other national services in marketing; additions to and improvements in marketing facilities; increasing the efficiency and reducing the cost of marketing; and fish and marine products.
These recommendations foreshadowed much of the subject matter that was to be incorporated in the terms of reference of the new “permanent organization” that was to be FAO. No reference, however, was made to forestry, except for a general reference in one of the recommendations to non-food products. The specific proposal to include forestry, made later, in the Interim Commission, gained the support of President Roosevelt under the circumstances that are reported on page 141, in the account of the Forestry Department.
The Hot Springs Conference was a historic event, and one of great importance in the annals of world agriculture. It will no doubt gain in significance as it is viewed in the perspective of the struggle to feed a growing world population over the next 50 to 75 years. Sometimes we stand too close to an event to appreciate its importance. This was apparently true of Ingalls (1949), who observed the Conference from the immediate sidelines, and found nothing in it but minor elements to ridicule in his account of this chapter in the history of the Homestead.
A plaque commemorating the Conference now hangs on the wall just outside the main entrance of the Homestead, and a replica of it hangs in the main entrance hall of FAO, in Rome.
The Hot Springs Conference decided that an Interim Commission on Food and Agriculture, to carry out its recommendations, should be set up in Washington not later than 15 July 1943, and that each of the governments and authorities represented at Hot Springs should be entitled to designate a representative on the Commission. The Conference also invited the United States to take whatever preliminary action was necessary for the Commission's establishment. The Interim Commission set up its offices at 2841 McGill Terrace, N.W., Washington, D.C., and functioned there under its Chairman, the Honourable Lester B. Pearson, of Canada, until its termination when FAO was formally established. It was in existence for two years and a few months, since it was not feasible to convene the First Session of the FAO Conference until an adequate number of countries had accepted the Constitution, and in particular until the host government of the Commission had taken this essential step.
The first task of the Interim Commission was to draft a Constitution for the new permanent organization that was to be FAO. Its second was to transmit that Constitution to the nations that were eligible for original membership, and to obtain from them their acceptances of it. The nations eligible for original membership, as set out in Annex I of the Constitution, were the 44 that had been represented at the Hot Springs Conference, and Denmark, which had been represented there only informally.
A third task was to begin to assemble ideas regarding the activities the new organization should undertake. This was done primarily through a series of committees and sub-committees consisting of persons made available by the member governments of the Commission. Five technical reports were prepared, on Nutrition and Food Management, Agricultural Production, Fisheries, Forestry and Primary Forest Products, and Statistics, intended for the use of delegations to the First Session of the FAO Conference, and of the Director-General and the staff, once the Organization was formed.
The First Session of the FAO Conference was held in the Chateau Frontenac at Quebec, Canada, from 16 October to 1 November 1945. Its first task was to bring FAO formally into existence, under the terms of the Constitution the Interim Commission had drafted. A plaque commemorating this event appears near the front entrance of the Chateau Frontenac, and a replica of it hangs in the main entrance hall of FAO Headquarters in Rome.
Among the 45 nations that were eligible for original membership, 34 became members by signing the Constitution, thus bringing it into force, and creating FAO on 16 October 1945. Three others of this group formally took up membership later during the session. Of the remaining eight, seven formally took up membership at dates between 30 November 1945 and 1 December 1953.One, the USSR, has never exercised the option.
During the session, two countries that were not eligible for original membership were also elected, bringing the membership formally to 39 at the end of the session. In addition, three others signed the Constitution ad referendum.