The 60th anniversary of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations provides a moment for reflection on the past, but more important, an occasion for renewal to face the challenges of the future.
The beginning of the twenty-first century has been marked by the setting of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), of which the first is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, with a target of halving them by 2015. The goals, reaffirmed at the recent UN Summit, have become the driving force for the UN system, including FAO, as the first years of the century unfold. It will be a century in which FAO must work towards the permanent eradication of human hunger and a much more sustainable use of natural resources so that these remain intact for use by future generations.
There are compelling reasons for FAO to embark on a process of reform to confront these challenges. In promoting hunger and poverty reduction, and in addressing the agriculture/environment interface, FAO needs to enhance its capacity to respond to immediate problems, such as consumer concerns about food safety, the threats posed by transboundary pests and diseases of plants and animals, forest loss and degradation, overfishing, and natural and human-induced disasters. At the same time, the Organization must maintain its focus on the longer-term implications of issues such as climate change, the erosion of biodiversity, urbanization and changing consumption patterns. In so doing it must also accede to the wish of its Members that it adapt in response to their evolving requirements for services, and achieve even greater efficiency and impact in the use of its limited resources.
Convinced that change is essential - not adding and subtracting on the margins, but rather re-engineering the Organization's programmes and its structure - the Director-General has submitted a package of reform proposals to the Conference of FAO's Members, which will meet in November 2005. The aim of these proposals is to equip the Organization to play an increasingly effective role in assisting its Members in the areas of its mandate, and in contributing to the broader effort by the UN system to achieve all of the MDGs.
The reforms proposed will redefine the Organization's programmes to reflect more accurately the three major thrusts of its work:
Sustainable food and agricultural systems. Targeting activities in which FAO must attain or retain capacity for excellence; this involves reinforcing activities of highest priority in the immediate and longer-term, and shedding those that others can do better, in the areas of crops and livestock, biosecurity, nutrition and consumer protection, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture, and the sustainable development of natural resources
Knowledge exchange, policy and advocacy. Focusing strongly on these functions in which FAO has a comparative advantage owing to its universality, its convening capacity, mandate and advisory role in agricultural information, policy and trade, and its ability to mobilize and interact with various constituencies - governmental and non-governmental - to promote economic and social development.
Decentralization, UN cooperation and programme delivery. Locating action at the level at which it can be carried out most effectively, and cooperating fully with partners, concentrating especially at country level on the achievement of the MDGs and emergency/post-crisis management; strengthening relationships with UN organizations at all levels and enhancing cooperation with regional and subregional bodies.
Across all programmes, the proposals involve action to:
accentuate FAO's role as a knowledge, learning and capacity-building organization, with an important function in identifying, disseminating and promoting best practices;
focus resource mobilization activities on stepping up investment in the rural sector in member countries, to increase the sector's crucial contribution to development;
strengthen FAO's coordinating role in addressing major threats to crop, livestock, fish and forest production and consumption;
amplify the Organization's impact by expanding alliances, partnerships and joint programmes with organizations having similar goals;
enhance responsiveness, transparency and communication with Members and all stakeholders.
Implementing these changes calls for:
restructuring of headquarters units to align them more closely with FAO's redefined programmes and strengthen management for results;
further decentralizing FAO's work to regional, subregional and country levels, with the proportion of Regular Programme professional posts in the decentralized locations rising from 30 percent at present to 40 percent, and overall expenditure, including Trust Funds, in decentralized locations rising to 52 percent;
providing more flexible means of action by increasing the proportion of non-staff resources from 34 percent in the current budget to over 40 percent, coinciding with an increase in resources available for acquiring specialized short-term expertise as, when and where needed;
strengthening mechanisms for knowledge sharing and interdisciplinary approaches, taking full advantage of the potential of information and communication technologies;
streamlining business processes, introducing greater delegation of authority and clarified accountabilities, and focusing on staff training and motivation;
reinforcing monitoring, evaluation and oversight of all of FAO's programmes.
FAO, in its founders' words, was "born out of the idea of freedom from want", meaning "the conquest of hunger and the attainment of the ordinary needs of a self-respecting life". In looking back over the six decades since it was born, on 16 October 1945 in Quebec City, Canada, the Organization can legitimately claim to have played its part in a remarkable success story of the second half of the twentieth century - that food production has kept up with the growth of a world population that has tripled in numbers, and that the proportion of people suffering from hunger has been cut from 35 percent in 1960 to 13 percent in 2000-02.
At the same time, the founders' vision of freedom from want has not yet been realized, as was recognized by the 1996 World Food Summit, which first set the target of halving the number of undernourished people by 2015. In embarking now upon a process of reform, FAO will signal its commitment to a renewed effort to achieve the goal, expressed in the Preamble to its Constitution, of "ensuring humanity's freedom from hunger".