The 60th Anniversary of the founding of FAO provides a moment for reflection on the past. It offers FAO an opportunity to analyse results in relation to the vision that, as stated in the Preamble to its Constitution, it should contribute "towards an expanding world economy and ensuring humanity's freedom from hunger". An anniversary is also an occasion for looking forward, and considering how the Organization can confront the new challenges that the twenty-first century will bring.
As background to the Director-Generals proposals for reform of the Organization, this part of the document briefly recalls the birth and evolution of FAO and takes stock of its achievements. It then looks forward to a number of the great challenges of the twenty-first century and their implications for FAO, placing them in the broader context of the vision of FAO's founders.
The Food and Agriculture Organization is born out of the idea of freedom from want... Freedom from want... means the conquest of hunger and the attainment of the ordinary needs of a decent, self-respecting life...
This generation goes beyond the conviction that freedom from want can be achieved and believes that the effort to achieve it has become imperative... Thus the Food and Agriculture Organization is born out of the need for peace as well as the need for freedom from want. The two are interdependent. Peace is essential if there is to be progress toward freedom from want... Progress toward freedom from want is essential to lasting peace...
If there is any one fundamental principle on which FAO is based, it is that the welfare of producers and the welfare of consumers are in the final analysis identical... Wherever the contrary seems to be true, it is because all of the factors have not been taken into account, including the risk of social upheavals and wars. There is always a larger framework in which producer and consumer interests are seen to be the same. It will be the business of FAO to seek and to emphasize this larger framework, this whole view, as a basis for the reconciliation of differences and for progress toward freedom from want and higher levels of living for all.
For in world councils and international affairs, FAO speaks both for those who produce - the farmers, the forest producers, the fishermen - and for those who consume... On one side are the great, unsatisfied needs of people as consumers; on the other, the great, untapped possibilities of improving and increasing production. FAO is founded on the belief that the needs and the production capacity must be brought together as directly as possible, one being integrated constantly with the other, and that if this can be done within and among nations by their separate and collective action, some of the world's worst economic ills, including the hunger and extreme poverty that attend great masses of mankind, will be on the way to extinction...
Knowledge about better production methods, better processing and distribution, and better use of foods is available and can be spread fairly readily. How to get it put into practice on the necessary scale is the problem... To surmount these difficulties will call for all the wisdom and will that nations, acting by themselves as well as through FAO and other international organizations, can muster. It is not a short or simple task....
aid given by FAO to the less advanced countries will benefit the others almost as much. It can play a large part in curing certain long-standing social ills and creating an economically healthy world, without which all nations face an insecure future.
There is a still more fundamental aspect of FAO's work. Over those parts of the earth not covered by water lies a thin crust of soil... Much of this soil is inaccessible for cultivation, or it is unusable for other reasons. From the rest, the world's growing population... must draw all their sustenance except what they get from the sea; and even the fishes, like all other living things, are fed in the final analysis out of the fertility of the land. Whether this thin layer of soil is to be a wasting asset or one maintained in perpetuity and made more fruitful for mankind will depend on how it is used and managed. Nothing more deeply concerns the well-being of men and nations. FAO is dedicated to furthering good use and good management, in all ways and by all peoples, of this most basic of man's resources.
Extracts from The Work of FAO: A General Report to the First Session of the Conference of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, prepared by the United Nations Interim Commission on Food and Agriculture and subsequently published in August 1945.
In 1943, when the end of World War II was still far from predictable, some 44 governments came together in Hot Springs, Virginia, in the United States and committed themselves to creating an international organization in the field of food and agriculture. Its role and purpose were described with extraordinary eloquence and foresight in The Work of FAO, a report prepared in June 1945 on behalf of the United Nations Interim Commission on Food and Agriculture by a committee under the chairmanship of Frank L. McDougall of Australia. The vision articulated in this document is as relevant today as it was 60 years ago, as is evident from the extracts in the box on the preceding page.
The report of the Interim Commission and the draft Constitution served as the main input for the first FAO Conference, held in Quebec City, Canada, which led to FAO being founded as a specialized agency of the United Nations on 16 October 1945. From its birth, it was agreed that FAO would be multidisciplinary, and "concerned with that large sector represented by the world's farms, forests, and fisheries, and by the needs of human beings for their products." The report also stressed that FAO was beginning its work in the context of a much wider international effort, as it would be associated with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, and would have "as working partners... bodies concerned with the international problems of labour, credit, monetary stabilization, commerce and trade, health, education, and other matters vital to the welfare of nations."
The intervening six decades have witnessed remarkable changes, changes that have had a profound influence on FAO and the other organizations of the United Nations system. In the years immediately following World War II, much of the focus of international effort was on feeding the hungry and undernourished in Europe and Japan and on rebuilding the shattered infrastructure and cities of Europe. In this context the Marshall Plan was established, providing some US$13 billion for investment in basic infrastructure and enterprises to spearhead recovery, setting a precedent for large-scale international aid deliveries that was later successfully applied in Asia and, to a lesser extent, in Latin America, but not yet in Africa.
As the process of decolonization moved forward in the 1960s, an increasing number of newly independent nations emerged to become members of the United Nations (UN) and its agencies. With the withdrawal of the colonial powers, the UN system began to assume many of the responsibilities for the provision of financial and technical assistance sought by the new states as they took charge of their own affairs, building the institutions and infrastructure on which to base their future economic growth.
The UN system, including FAO and others in the original group of specialized agencies such as the International Labour Organization (ILO), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), grew rapidly in size in the 1960s and 1970s to respond to these new demands. Concomitant with this growth was the foundation of new entities within the system, including, in areas of relevance to FAO, the World Food Programme (WFP) in 1963, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in 1965, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in 1972 and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) in 1977, and, closely allied to the UN system, the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) in 1971. From the 1960s onwards, the World Bank and the Regional Development Banks progressively built up their portfolios in agriculture and rural development, and bilateral donors began to establish specialized ministries of development cooperation.
Some of the most profound changes have occurred over the past three decades. These have seen a redefinition in most countries of the role of the state, which has moved away from many areas of activity such as marketing of agricultural produce or farm inputs and managing agro-industries, to concentrate its efforts on the assurance of essential services and infrastructure and on the provision of legal, institutional and policy frameworks that open up opportunities for the emergence of non-state actors. During this short period the private sector has become an increasingly important player in national economies, often the major supplier of technologies, inputs services and markets for producers - a phenomenon that calls for new definitions of the respective roles of the private and public sectors in development.
Equally significant has been the growth of institutions within civil society, especially non-governmental organizations (NGOs), both national and international. Many were created to fill a gap between the state and the private sector and to respond to the wish of individual citizens to be able to contribute directly to the reduction of human suffering at times of emergency. As their resources have grown, their role has expanded to providing development assistance (with several having a much larger presence in developing countries than FAO) and particularly to becoming powerful advocates for a more just and equitable world.
FAO has had to respond to these changes taking place in the wider world and adapt its role while continuing to focus on the purposes for which it was founded. The Organization that came into being with 42 Members now has 188 and is expected to reach 190 on 1 January 2006, endowing it with a truly global reach. At this global level, FAO has brought nations together to agree on a range of crucial treaties, codes of conduct, conventions, standards and voluntary guidelines to ensure better stewardship of the world's shared resources such as plant genetic resources and marine fish, to reduce the dangers of trade in hazardous pesticides, to set uniform standards for foodstuffs that both protect consumers and facilitate trade, and to assure the right of people to have access to adequate and safe food.
FAO has on many occasions used its convening powers to bring its Members together to strengthen their joint resolve to address critical global issues. Most notably, it has convened, at the level of Heads of State and Government, the World Food Summit in 1996 and the World Food Summit: five years later in 2002. The 1996 Summit for the first time set a quantitative goal for hunger reduction, calling for the halving of the number of undernourished persons in the world by 2015 and setting out a blueprint, in the form of a Plan of Action, for achieving food security for all.
For many people, especially in the developing world and in countries in transition, however, FAO has been most visible for its practical development work and for its timely intervention during emergencies. FAO has played a fundamental role in many countries in inventorying their land, water, fisheries and forestry resources and in completing agricultural censuses that have provided the base for formulating development policies and strategies. Institution-building support by the Organization has been fundamental in establishing national government structures for the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors in many developing member countries, often from the moment of their birth as independent nations.
Many of the programmes for disseminating high-yielding varieties of crops and for the construction of the irrigation schemes that played such an important role in underpinning the Green Revolution were planned and implemented with the help of FAO's engineers and agronomists. The livelihoods of artisanal fishers throughout the developing world have been safeguarded by legislation governing fishing rights, drafted by FAO's lawyers. Large numbers of poor households have been empowered to manage fragile forest resources through community forestry programmes that have improved environmental sustainability, safeguarded water sources and strengthened household livelihoods. Millions of small-scale farmers have learned how to grow healthy and more profitable crops without undue dependence on hazardous pesticides, and farming communities struck by drought, hurricanes or floods have got back on their feet thanks to timely relief and rehabilitation interventions.
As FAO commemorates its 60th Anniversary, the Organization can therefore look back with satisfaction on its many achievements. One of the most remarkable success stories of the second half of the twentieth century is the contribution of the world's crop and livestock farmers, fishers and those whose livelihoods depend on forestry towards the expansion of the global economy and the uplifting of living standards, responding to the demands for food, fibre, shelter and woodfuel of a population that has tripled in number. Moreover, in this period, average per capita food intake increased by 23 percent and since 1960 the proportion of people living in hunger has been cut from 35 percent to 13 percent (in 2000-02). Expanded production has enabled commodity prices to fall, reducing costs to consumers. FAO can legitimately claim to have played its part, in line with its mandate, in these major accomplishments.
At the same time, the Organization and its Members have to admit to failing to attain FAO's founders' expectations in two highly critical areas:
The central issues that FAO must address as the twenty-first century unfolds are, therefore, how to increase the effectiveness of its work with its Members towards eradicating hunger and poverty, and how to step up its contribution to meeting global needs for food and forest products without compromising the sustainability with which the earth's natural resources - its land, water, biodiversity, forests, fishing grounds - are used.
At the turn of the Millennium these concerns were taken up by the international community as a whole, and incorporated into the broader set of eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that, taken together, define the immediate key objectives for countries and for the UN system at the outset of the twenty-first century, and set specific targets to be reached by 2015. On 13 September 2005, at the High-level Plenary Meeting of the 60th Session of the UN General Assembly (the 2005 World Summit), Heads of State and Government strongly reiterated their "determination to ensure the timely and full realization of the development goals and objectives agreed at the major United Nations conferences and summits, including those... that are described as the Millennium Development Goals, which have helped to galvanize efforts towards poverty eradication." Countries agreed to "Adopt, by 2006, and implement comprehensive national development strategies to achieve the internationally agreed development goals and objectives, including the Millennium Development Goals."
The world's population is predicted to increase by about half in the coming 50 years to around 9.3 billion and to stabilize at approximately 10 billion by the end of the twenty-first century. In many countries, because of rural-urban migration, rural populations have already ceased to grow and rural and urban population numbers on a global scale are forecast to be equal by as soon as 2006. Particularly in those regions and countries in which population growth rates fall, an increase can be expected in per capita incomes, associated with a progressive fall in the number of people living in deep poverty. In many countries of Africa and parts of South Asia, however, there will be a drop in the proportion of people living in poverty, but absolute numbers are expected to grow, at least until 2030, if present trends continue.
These changes will occur in the context of greater interdependence between countries, owing to the unprecedented technological improvements in communications and transportation systems as well as to the rapid growth in international transactions. They imply that national policies are increasingly likely to have an impact on other countries, creating a need for greater understanding of the nature of interdependence, especially in the food and agriculture sector.
The fact that the first MDG calls for the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger is of immense significance for FAO, given the growing recognition that hunger is both a cause and an effect of poverty. In many developing countries in which a large proportion of the population remains chronically undernourished, bringing down the incidence of hunger will open the door for faster economic growth, improving the prospects for poverty reduction.
The eradication of hunger, which has eluded humanity from the birth of history and is so central to the purpose of FAO, is undoubtedly a wholly attainable goal in this century. But it will not be achieved with a "business-as-usual" approach. Eradicating hunger needs deliberate and concerted action on a very large scale, led by governments but with the full participation of society as a whole. Reductions in the number of hungry will be achieved more quickly by countries that adopt policies that ensure a more equitable distribution of the benefits of economic growth. In countries where there is a concentration of food-insecure households in rural areas, an important part of the solution will lie in expanding small-farmer agricultural incomes and promoting off-farm development. Here, however, the emphasis should not be on promoting large technology leaps by relatively few farmers but, at least in the first instance, on empowering millions of poor rural people to take up quite simple changes that lie within their reach and result in immediate livelihood and nutrition improvements. This is in line with the thinking of FAO's founders who noted that "The arithmetic of progress is like the arithmetic of mass merchandising: a small profit per customer multiplied by a sufficient number of customers gives a large total."
Progress towards hunger eradication will be accelerated by putting in place safety nets that ensure that those households that cannot normally either produce or afford to buy their food needs have enough to eat, and those that have enough to eat but are driven by crises into hunger are not obliged to dispose of their limited assets at such times. Such safety nets are likely to assume greater importance in countries in which poverty and food insecurity are concentrated in urban centres. They may take different forms but must be designed in ways that are not dependence-inducing or market-distorting but are carefully targeted so that most of the benefits reach the people most in need and costs are contained.
Eradicating hunger and thereby enabling the poorest people to participate in economic processes does not constitute welfare expenditure but rather an investment that no country aspiring to high rates of sustainable growth can afford not to make. Increasingly, both poor and rich countries are recognizing that putting an end to hunger on a global scale is not only a question of human rights but is also in their own self-interest as it will make for a more prosperous and safe world. It was the vision of FAO's founders that the Organization was born out of the interdependent needs for peace and for freedom from want: "the conquest of hunger and the attainment of the ordinary needs of a decent, self-respecting life" must remain the Organization's first objective.
Fortunately for most of humanity, the world's demands for food and for forest products have been successfully met throughout FAO's lifetime, but this has been at vast environmental and social costs that in many cases have been neither counted nor paid for. This is of particular significance to agriculture, forestry and fisheries because of their heavy dependence on natural resource use and on the work of many of the most vulnerable members of the world's population.
Thus, huge tracts of primary forests have been destructively logged, put under the plough or converted into low-intensity grazing, reducing biological and cultural diversity, and destroying the habitat of indigenous people. Millions of hectares of once-fertile lands have been irrigated but without the necessary investment in drainage, with the result that they have become saline and unproductive. Many countries are facing severe water shortages and, in others, both surface and underground water resources are increasingly polluted by nitrates leached from fertilizers and by pesticides. Paradoxically, the success of plant and livestock breeders in selecting better-performing crops and animals is contributing to erosion in agricultural biodiversity, narrowing the range of varieties and breeds on which future breeding programmes will depend. Marine fish stocks have been depleted through overfishing. Methane gas emissions from flooded paddy fields and intensive livestock systems are contributing to climate change.
One of the other significant results of the rapid growth in agricultural production has been a pronounced long-term fall in commodity prices. When these are reflected in reductions in retail prices, large numbers of low-income consumers stand to benefit. But, at the same time, this long-term decline in prices has eroded the incomes of producers, especially in developing countries which, for structural and institutional reasons, have been unable to make comparable reductions in production costs. In a globalized market, the farmer with one hectare of land under hoe-based cultivation becomes a direct competitor with the capital-intensive farmer who single-handedly cultivates hundreds of hectares under mechanized farming systems, often benefiting from subsidies and other price-distorting measures. Similarly, the attempt by some countries to shield their producers from global market developments such as trend decreases in prices and market instability, imply greater burdens on those countries and producers that cannot afford such policies. The resultant economic and social pressures have a devastating impact on many rural societies. Growing interdependence also implies that many shared resources may be overexploited in the quest for faster growth, if not managed according to practices agreed among concerned countries. This threat applies to many resources of great importance for food and agriculture, including water, marine resources, forests and environmental resources, and to climate.
These issues are of fundamental importance for the long-term sustainability of the earth's fragile ecosystems and to the conditions of life, especially for indigenous peoples, in rural areas, and hence for the future well-being of humanity, as FAO's founders recognized. They require a concerted effort among the organizations of the UN system, international research institutions and the private sector to devise production, processing and distribution systems that are truly sustainable in the sense that, while meeting the needs of all of the world's population, they no longer damage or deplete the world's natural resources, accelerate climate change or impoverish rural society in both cultural and economic terms.
If the overarching goals for which FAO was established remain valid and unchanged today, the context in which the Organization operates, and consequently the priorities for action, continue to evolve, along with the need to seize new opportunities. The possibilities for harnessing knowledge and promoting its sharing will continue to increase in the coming years, in line with the rapid evolution of communications technology. Emphasis will need to be shifted more towards ensuring that the benefits of urbanization, globalization and the rapid transformation of food systems accrue to both consumers and producers, and particularly to the neediest members of society. The emergence of new institutions in areas relevant to FAO's mandate, and the growth in institutional capacities and skills in developing countries, will require the Organization to change its approach in significant ways in order to meet different needs and requests by Members. The renewed commitment to investment in the rural sector will open new avenues for poverty reduction and economic growth. However, efforts will have to be intensified to deal with familiar and new forms of natural and human-induced disasters and to increase emergency preparedness, if the benefits achieved are not to be lost in vulnerable countries as a result of conflict and cataclysmic events that may wipe out the results of years of development work.
Progress in agriculture, as in most fields of human endeavour, is the result of inventiveness and the spread and application of knowledge of how to do things better. The most vivid expression of this process has been the spread of crop species from their places of origin to other parts of the world, where they have frequently become staple foods or important sources of export earnings - a process that gained momentum during the great period of exploration of the fifteenth century but that still continues.
FAO's founders recognized that one of the principal functions of the Organization would be to add momentum to the processes of sharing knowledge. "The time has come", they wrote, when "an international organization is urgently needed to accelerate throughout the world the advance of scientific knowledge and its application to human affairs. FAO would fulfil such a function in the great and important area represented by food and agriculture." A large part of FAO's work continues to be concerned with knowledge sharing and building capacities to use knowledge. Yet much knowledge of great potential relevance to farming, fishing and forestry remains localized and unintentionally inaccessible.
Remarkable developments in the field of information and communication technology (ICT) open up exciting opportunities for greatly accelerating the flow of knowledge, making it much more widely available and, often, enriching it in the process. FAO must take full advantage of these developments, maximizing the potential of ICT to shape the way in which the Organization conducts its business. If it is not to be left behind in an ever more interconnected world, FAO needs to do much more to take advantage of the extraordinary opportunities that ICT developments provide for an organization operating on a global basis. But the Organization must become more than a mere broker of knowledge and must contribute to a clearer understanding of the priorities for knowledge generation, particularly in areas in which there are no appropriable benefits for the private sector, for it is here that the biggest gaps are bound to occur.
While the rapid growth of cities has been forecast quite accurately, the pace with which global food-trading systems are being transformed has taken most observers by surprise. Within only a few years international commodity trading has become dominated by a limited number of transnational corporations and there has been a comparable concentration of corporate power in the food-processing and agricultural-inputs supply industries. Still more rapid has been the emergence of supermarket chains as the major food retailers serving the urban populations of both developed and developing countries. This transformation is creating new types of relationships among producers, intermediaries and consumers. If operating under competitive market conditions, these new systems should reduce transaction costs in the food chain and hence bring important benefits to both consumers and producers, though they are bound to cause short-term hardship for those countries and populations that cannot adapt sufficiently rapidly to the new opportunities and adjustments in trading conditions. These benefits, however, are bound to be elusive when free international trade is obstructed by tariff and non-tariff barriers that limit market access for those who can produce with comparative advantage and that artificially raise prices for consumers, or by measures that penalize the import of processed goods vis-à-vis raw materials.
FAO's Members will increasingly look to the Organization for capacity-building assistance to enable them to participate effectively in the evolving and increasingly complex international trading system and to apply the quality and consumer protection standards to which internationally traded agricultural and food products must increasingly conform. They will require help in formulating development and adjustment policies to ensure that the transformation processes do not have a negative impact on the poor, but rather help them overcome chronic and temporary hunger and malnutrition. They will need to plan and invest in new infrastructure - roads, ports, storage systems - in order to become more competitive in the international marketplace. At the global level, the design and implementation of additional instruments, such as codes of conduct, may become even more important as a means of curbing behaviour that may not be in the public good and that risks undermining progress towards poverty and hunger reduction.
Since FAO was founded, new institutions have emerged in areas relevant to the Organization's mandate, building up experience and specialized skills that in many cases now greatly outstrip the Organization's own capacities. Some of these form part of the international system, others have grown up within universities, and there has been a rapid expansion of investment in research and development within the private sector. As a result, there are a number of topics in which FAO needs to shift its approach from seeking leadership to developing substantive links with these centres of excellence as well as between them, in line with its role and comparative advantage as a catalyst for development.
The emergence of regional and subregional economic integration organizations also provides further opportunities for FAO to develop partnerships that can amplify its impact. These organizations are assuming a higher level of political visibility; are becoming in many cases important players in agricultural development, food security and trade facilitation; and enjoy a comparative advantage in addressing transboundary issues, including those related to the harmonization of policies. The Organization needs to gear itself up, especially through further decentralization, to expand its cooperation with these organizations.
The changes, noted earlier, in the respective roles of the state, the private sector and civil society call for FAO to broaden and deepen its links beyond its traditional partners in the public sector and to engage more effectively with NGOs, the private sector, parliamentarians, chambers of agriculture and commerce, local government entities, professional associations and religious leaders. Moves in this direction have found their expression in the creation - in partnership with IFAD, WFP and the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI) as well as international NGOs - of the International Alliance Against Hunger (IAAH) and its support for National Alliances Against Hunger in both developing and developed countries.
Finally, there has been an impressive growth in technical skills and institutional capacities in almost all developing countries. Apart from reducing the demand for long-term technical assistance involving large teams of internationally recruited experts, this has opened up exciting opportunities for expanding South-South Cooperation programmes and facilitating an increase in cross-country training and collaborative research opportunities. It has also altered the mix of skills on which countries would wish to draw when looking to FAO for assistance.
After many years of declining investment in agriculture and rural development by developing country governments, international financing institutions (IFIs) and donors, the tide appears to be turning. In July 2003, for instance, Heads of State of the African Union committed their countries in the Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security to allocate "at least 10 percent of national budgetary resources" for the implementation of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP). In other regions, including the ACP countries of the Caribbean and the Pacific, as well as Asia, Latin America and the Near East, regional organizations have also been creating programmes that will ensure a greater share of development investment benefits rural areas. At the international level, following the Monterrey Consensus that emerged from the International Conference on Financing for Development in March 2002, the Gleneagles Communiqué, issued at the end of the G8 meeting held in July 2005, put on record the commitments of many developed countries - including the 25 countries of the European Union, as well as Japan and Canada - to double aid within five years. During their September 2005 meetings, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank both reached agreement to cancel the debts owed to them by 18 developing countries and opened up the prospect of extending similar arrangements to many more of the poorest countries.
The role of agriculture, forestry and fisheries in contributing to sustainable development has for too long been understated. Promoting increased investment in these sectors has been a major thrust of FAO's advocacy over the past decade, in Quebec in 1995 on the occasion of the Organization's 50th anniversary, in Monterrey in 2002, in Maputo in 2003 and at the UN Economic and Social Council in 2005. With the signs that the downward trend in resources has finally been arrested, FAO will need to equip itself better to assist its members in mobilizing and making good use of these additional investment and technical cooperation resources, targeting its efforts even more specifically towards helping developing member countries to formulate strategies and policies to address their most pressing problems of poverty and food insecurity, and to mobilize resources internally and externally to implement programmes on a suitable scale.
The Organization must be able to engage more fully in assisting countries in drawing up Poverty Reduction Strategies that take full note of the key contributions of the agriculture sector and improvements in food security to poverty reduction and economic growth, in taking up related policy reforms and in preparing National Food Security Programmes within the broader context of programmes to achieve the MDGs. These efforts must be accompanied by a shift in FAO's relationship with multilateral and bilateral donors in which emphasis is placed on developing partnerships around the common goal of raising additional resources for agriculture and food security in member countries, rather than seeking extrabudgetary resources primarily for FAO's own programmes.
Emergencies affecting agriculture and food availability seem poised to become more frequent and larger in scale during the course of this century. This is partly because of the human-induced degradation of ecosystems - for instance the destruction of coastal belts of mangroves to make way for intensive shrimp farming or for real estate development that leaves coastal communities less protected against storms, or the degradation of rangelands through overgrazing, opening the way for desertification. Many observers of climate change predict greater extremes in meteorological conditions and long-term changes in weather patterns that will require fundamental adjustments to farming systems in many regions of the world. Moreover, the processes of globalization, especially the rapid increases in the number of people travelling over long distances and in the movement of goods across boundaries and oceans, are accelerating the spread of animal and plant pests and diseases as well as of invasive species, whether weeds or jelly fish, which can multiply with great rapidity in the absence of natural enemies. The human impact of shocks is also greatest when people lack resilience because of their poverty or food insecurity; hence, investments that address the root causes of vulnerability are bound to reduce the scale of emergencies - and the huge costs of addressing them - when disasters strike.
FAO will continue to be called upon to respond to such emergencies. Its greatest comparative advantage lies in improving prediction, early detection and, where this is possible, prevention, of emergencies, especially when dealing with threats that have transboundary or global dimensions requiring international solutions. Member Nations are increasingly recognizing that timely preventative action is often a great deal cheaper and less socially disruptive than allowing problems such as food shortages, foot-and-mouth disease, desert locusts or avian influenza to build up to a scale that becomes life-threatening, requires enormously expensive interventions and induces massive economic losses. This recognition, however, has still to be translated into funding for preventative measures on the necessary scale.
The Director-General is strongly committed to the implementation of reform in FAO, recognizing that the speed of implementation will be strongly influenced by the level of funding available.
His proposals aim to reinforce the Organization's capacity to fulfil its founders' expectations in a global environment that is enormously different from the one prevailing in 1945. Reform will strengthen FAO's ability to continue to play an essential and highly relevant role in the quest for a better world and it is hoped that it will help to ensure that the Organization is provided with the resources needed to carry out its mandated responsibilities to the satisfaction of its Members. However, change in the global environment is fast and not easily predictable. The process will also be influenced both by the broader process of UN reform and by the findings reached by the Independent External Evaluation of FAO, commissioned by the FAO Council. The Director-General is convinced that implementation of the reform proposals will provide a more favourable context for both of these processes, and provide the Organization with an enhanced capacity to implement the strategies and achieve the objectives that the Members have set for FAO, or will set in the future.
The process of reform is taking place in an increasingly interdependent world, in which the future welfare of nations and their people are inextricably bound together. The choices exercised by consumers in Tokyo, Paris or New York ultimately impact on the livelihoods of tea growers in the highlands of Sri Lanka, vegetable farmers in Kenya and coffee producers in Nicaragua. Moreover, widespread poverty and hunger in developing countries make millions of people highly vulnerable to shocks, whether natural or human-induced, and provide fertile ground for the emergence of political instability and conflict, destabilizing international markets and inducing vast numbers of people to search for a better life beyond their borders. Never has it been so obvious that there is a shared interest - not simply a moral obligation - for all nations of the world to put an end to the extreme deprivation that continues to affect so many of our fellow human beings throughout their entire lifetimes.
Indeed, because of this interdependence, the final impact of the Organization's work will be largely determined by what happens outside FAO in the wider development environment, especially in the areas of aid and trade. The speed with which hunger can be eradicated in the world will be sensitive to the extent to which both domestic resources and international support are increasingly directed towards addressing the root causes of the problem on a scale commensurate with its magnitude. Hopefully, when looming crises are identified, they can be addressed through timely responses, rather than waiting for television images of children on the brink of starvation to be broadcast around the world as the trigger for large-scale humanitarian assistance, delivered at enormous logistical cost. If the same preventive approach is applied to transboundary plant and animal pests and diseases, this can also prevent them from getting out of hand and causing immense losses that devastate the livelihoods of the poorest.
If such a redirection of resources towards the root causes of vulnerability is associated also with changes in trading relations towards creating a more level playing field, progress in attaining the vision of FAO's founders will be all the more rapid. The need for this is implicit in the Commission for Africa's comment that "trade rules are applied vexatiously", and in its recommendation that "reforms in the method of working of the World Trade Organization and in the behaviour of its developed country members are also crucial if market access is to be expanded". Tangible moves towards opening up markets, not simply for raw materials but also for manufactured goods of agricultural origin, will have a profound effect of the livelihoods of people, especially those living in the most disadvantaged countries - LIFDCs, LDCs, LLDCs and SIDS - on which the Organization will increasingly focus its MDG-related programmes. It is vital to avoid a situation in which, as the Commission warns, the MDGs recede into the distance and "the greatest bond between rich and poor for our times now risks turning into the greatest betrayal of the poor by the rich of all time".
There can be no more important mission for a global institution than that of ensuring the adequacy of the world's food supplies for all of the world's people, now and in the future. At Quebec City, in 1995, while commemorating FAO's 50th anniversary, Members reaffirmed their political support to the Organization in carrying out "its mission to help build a world where all people can live with dignity, confident of food security". The 2005 World Summit has triggered a process in which all nations accept that they have a shared interest in seeing an end to poverty and hunger and must bequeath undamaged natural resources to future generations. There is a new sense of determination to engage in large-scale practical programmes for poverty reduction. In embarking on the proposed reform, FAO will signal the strength of its commitment to do all within its mandate and power, in partnership with other institutions within and outside the UN system that share the same objectives, to play its proper part in this reinvigorated global effort.