Mr Chairman, Your Excellencies, Distinguished Representatives of Member Nations and Delegations, Ladies and Gentlemen:
I am very pleased to welcome you to this meeting of the Council, which finds us busy implementing the decisions taken at your 106th Session, aimed at enabling FAO to address more effectively the challenges of the world food and agricultural situation while making better use of the Organization's full panoply of resources.
Despite some encouraging signs, great contrasts and inequalities still mark the global food and agricultural situation among the different regions and countries. Despite the seemingly solid economic recovery of the industrialized countries and the impressive economic dynamism of much of the developing world, the economic trend in sub-Saharan Africa and in several Central and East European countries is still spiralling downwards, and interrupted agricultural production and food shortages are not at all uncommon.
The preliminary estimate for growth in global agricultural production for 1994 is 2.2 percent, largely owing to a cereal production recovery in the United States, following the 1993 slump. This in no way minimizes the anticipated downward spiral in Central and Eastern Europe, particularly in the former USSR, and the forecasts for sluggish growth in other areas. Despite an overall increase of 2.2 percent compared with a population growth rate of 2 percent for the developing countries, in sub-Saharan Africa population growth will far outstrip the estimated farm production increase of 1 percent. Modest increases are also expected in the Near East and North Africa. In Latin America and the Caribbean, as in the Far East and in the Pacific region, increases will outstrip population growth but major sectors of the population will still continue to suffer from malnutrition. Moreover, in some countries, the short-term impact of macroeconomic reform and lingering protectionism constitute a continued constraint on production and export capacities.
A number of countries continue to face serious food emergencies, particularly in East Africa, and especially in Rwanda and the neighbouring countries, which have received a massive influx of refugees. Countries have faced food shortages in other regions as well: southern Africa, Central America, the Near East and Central Asia.
Global cereal production should increase this year by an estimated 2.4 percent, which is still short of the 1992 levels. The level of supplies for the 1994/95 season, although sufficient to cover the anticipated global demand, will not allow for a buildup of stocks, which were already low at the end of the 1993/94 season. Carryover stocks will thus be equivalent to only 18 percent of the estimated requirement — very close to FAO's minimum safety level.
It is against this background that the 106th Council's decisions on restructuring, programmes and policies are being implemented — decisions that primarily concern the restructuring of the Secretariat, decentralization and the implementation of two new programmes: the Special Programme on Food Production in Support of Food Security in Low-Income Food-Deficit Countries and the Emergency Prevention System for Transboundary Animal and Plant Pests and Diseases (EMPRES).
The Special Programme on food security calls for the selection of pilot projects, the use of appropriate technologies, strengthened national capacities and the involvement of farming communities and extension personnel.
I am happy to be able to tell you that substantial progress has already been made in the implementation of this Special Programme. The conceptual framework has been hammered out, including the objectives, strategy and modus operandi.
The Programme stresses technology transfer at the national level and will start with pilot projects in a small number of countries because of operational and financial limitations which dictate a prudent beginning. I am not forgetting, however, that there are 78 low-income food-deficit countries, 76 of which are Member Nations of FAO, which are eligible to benefit. This Programme should help to enhance food security in these countries through the development of local production, in terms of both quantity and quality. A rapid increase in food production in the relatively better-endowed zones will also help to ease the pressure on and degradation of more fragile areas.
In order to maximize the mobilization of resources for this purpose, I have outlined the Programme before all of our potential partners: international organizations, financial institutions and bilateral donors. Existing agreements with the World Bank have been strengthened and a joint Declaration on cooperative activities to promote sustainable food security was signed with the UNDP Administrator last September. A special UNDP/FAO Sustainable Food Security Task Force is already at work on identifying joint projects for implementation under this Programme. Other donors, international agencies and development banks have granted their support, and we are hoping that this will translate into the implementation of operational projects in the next few months.
Exploratory missions are under way in several countries concerning the preliminary identification of pilot project locations and the definition of the modus operandi. All relevant FAO units and services have contributed to these missions, which will be backed by governmental and other organizations involved in country development, including non-governmental organizations.
Concerning the Emergency Prevention System for Transboundary Animal and Plant Pests and Diseases (EMPRES), the emphasis will be on locusts and rinderpest, given the importance of these two scourges.
Initially, the geographical focus of the locust component will be limited to the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, and will subsequently be extended to other desert locust regions, particularly West and northwestern Africa, and southwestern Asia. Detailed work plans for 1994 and 1995 call for assistance in survey and early control, surveillance and assessment and forecasting of the desert locust, particularly in locust-breeding areas. A mission visited the affected countries of East Africa and the Near East in September and October, and its findings will be discussed in December by the countries of the region and in January by the Desert Locust Control Committee. Concrete proposals are expected from these meetings and field activities should be launched in the early months of 1995.
The rinderpest component will act primarily under the Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme. The Animal Health Service has been restructured to ensure liaison with EMPRES and with the Secretariat of the Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme. These efforts should serve to reinforce FAO's capability for world monitoring of the disease, as well as national and regional capacities to tackle emergency situations. The initial target zone will include Central Asia, Asia Minor and southeastern Europe. Activities will subsequently be extended to countries in Africa.
In the course of 1995, a joint technical consultation will also be organized with the Pan-American Health Organization and the International Office of Epizootics to address long-term
strategies for global eradication of foot-and-mouth disease, with a special emphasis on South America.
I now come to the restructuring of the Secretariat. The purpose of restructuring is to mobilize and maximize the full panoply of FAO's resources, and particularly the expertise and experience of its personnel, unquestionably its major asset. The main elements of restructuring are the newly created Department of Sustainable Development; the transformation of the present Development Department into the Technical Cooperation Department; and the decentralization of FAO's activities to bring them closer to the field through the strengthening of the regional offices and the establishment of subregional offices.
Since the Council's last session, the restructuring exercise has entered into a complex and delicate phase which includes the eventual reallocation of posts within each operating unit and the reformulation of the terms of reference and job descriptions. This has necessitated numerous consultations with the units and staff involved and a painstaking study of the administrative support structures. This stage will soon be completed, allowing the new departments and divisions to be gradually put in place.
Concerning decentralization, consultations with the member countries concerned have continued in recent months in order to identify the location of the subregional offices. The principal criteria for selection are acceptability of the proposed location by all Member Nations in the region and, of course, the willingness of the government concerned to host the office and to provide the necessary facilities and services. The existence of an FAO regional office and adequate and accessible infrastructure, particularly telecommunications and travel, especially to other countries in the subregion, are further major criteria for selection. In the two subregions where a consensus has been attained concerning the location of the offices, missions are now under way in the countries that have offered to ensure the conditions for the establishment of these offices. Consultations are still being undertaken in order to try to reach a consensus in the three remaining subregions. Meanwhile, a legal framework concerning the status of the new structures has been prepared.
In addition, in June I informed the Secretary-General of the United Nations of the Council's decisions regarding the Joint Divisions with the UN Regional Economic and Social Commissions and the intention of redeploying the FAO staff working in these divisions. Consultations were subsequently held with the Executive Secretaries of the Regional Commissions on modalities for ensuring continuity in the activities of these divisions.
Meanwhile, the Organization conducted a special audit of its field offices in what was probably the most comprehensive exercise of this nature ever performed within the UN system. This has enabled us to assess the overall quality of management of our field structures and to introduce any improvements that were needed.
Another important feature of the restructuring process is the communications infrastructure project which will link all FAO offices through an information technology network, greatly enhancing the speed, volume and quality of information exchange. This will also result in quicker and more effective procedures in administrative and financial matters and in decision-making. Technical officers at headquarters and in the field will thus have access to FAO's databases and to those of academic and scientific institutions throughout the world. The network will also provide Member Nations, international, governmental and non-governmental organizations and academic and research institutions with rapid access to FAO information and documentation.
As part of the policy to broaden FAO's partnerships and to be able to draw on additional sources of expertise, new cooperation agreements have been proposed to Member Nations for the use of experts for Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries (TCDC), cooperation among countries in transition in Central and Eastern Europe and cooperation with academic and research
institutions in the developed countries. Interested governments have been invited to participate in these agreements and I have taken advantage of the Regional Conferences and my visits to countries to press this point. Studies are also under way on ways of using young professionals from developing countries and retired experts.
So far, 26 member countries have signed the TCDC agreement while a roster of offers and of requests for experts' services is being compiled. This will help to identify the experts best qualified for the specific needs of member countries.
In the same vein, we have worked hard to broaden our partnership and cooperation agreements with other international and regional organizations, especially the development banks, as a way of reinforcing the Organization's activities, in particular those of the Investment Centre. In the case of the World Bank, the existing cooperation programme was reviewed in April and FAO is currently engaged in 55 investment projects in 38 countries. I mentioned before that we have increased our cooperation with UNDP. We are also working more closely with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), after high-level consultations on the matter, which should translate into a 25 percent expansion of our joint programme of work for 1994.
We have held talks with other institutions, either to enter into similar agreements or to revive existing ones, notably with the Inter-American Development Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Islamic Development Bank and the West African Development Bank. These talks should soon result in firm arrangements for cooperation.
Given the importance of the outcome of the Uruguay Round for the food and agricultural situation, we have sought closer cooperation with GATT and the World Trade Organization which is now being formed. We feel that, as the UN agency specialized in agriculture, FAO can and must contribute its technical advice and experience to any discussion of strategies and policies concerning international trade in agricultural, forestry and fishery products. FAO has in fact recently been admitted as an observer to the Subcommittee on Trade and Environment.
With a view to involving the top levels of Member Nations more closely in the Organization's activities, particularly in the specific domains of forestry and fisheries, the ministers responsible for these two sectors (who are not necessarily the Ministers of Agriculture) will meet in March on the occasion of the forthcoming sessions of the Committee on Fisheries and the Committee on Forestry. I am sure that a direct contact between the leaders of these sectors will help the Organization to define its policies and strategies better. In general terms, I intend to step up consultations with member countries, and many meetings have already been held with senior officials in sectors of interest to FAO during my visits to countries and at the Regional Conferences.
I have also taken great pains to report in detail to the Regional Conferences on the decisions of the Council regarding the restructuring process and policies and programmes, explaining their implementation strategies and the actions already taken. There is much to be gained from having the regional bodies reflect on the implications of global decisions for their respective regions. The Council's decisions on restructuring and the Special Programmes were very favourably received, particularly in the regions directly affected by these programmes.
At the request of the Conference, we have looked carefully into ways of shortening the Conference sessions by making better use of the time available and improving the preparatory work. No changes are envisaged as far as the Conference structure is concerned, but we have a series of proposals to make regarding the work procedure. One key suggestion is that the agenda should only include items that must necessarily be dealt with by the Conference. Other proposals concern documentation, the programming of votes and time limits on speeches. Greater emphasis has been placed on amplifying the preparatory work of the Permanent Representatives, the member country
delegations and the Council itself, so that the Conference does not have to deal with matters that could be examined at other levels.
A change in the provisional dates of next year's Governing Body sessions has been proposed in view of the Ministerial Meeting planned for 15 and 16 October 1995 in Quebec. This will also allow us to be better prepared for the next session of the Conference. The 109th Session of the Council is now scheduled to be held in September 1995, while the 28th Session of the Conference has been slotted immediately after the Ministerial Meeting, that is to say from 18 to 31 October 1995. Bringing forward the date of the Conference should facilitate matters for delegations and avoid extra travel.
At the last session of the Council I mentioned what I felt were the major challenges that FAO faced in the pursuit of its mandate. Discussions that I have had in recent months have only confirmed my convictions regarding the Organization's priorities and the need to implement measures and changes that will enable us to meet these challenges.
The Organization is now well into its transition but is not, for this, neglecting its obligations to the Member Nations and their peoples. We have been careful to make sure that the restructuring and decentralization process is orderly and well-planned. This extremely delicate and obviously complex undertaking is now solidly under way and should come to fruition in the coming months. At the same time, we have tried hard to strengthen and broaden cooperation with our partners and to identify new ways of mobilizing the human resources available — but, in our opinion, not sufficiently tapped — in the developing countries, the countries in transition and in the academic and research sectors. We have also intensified our contacts and consultations at all levels so that we can better understand the needs of member countries and their populations. Finally, we have initiated special programmes that could not wait.
As I mentioned before, the task that FAO must undertake in order to address the challenges and priorities of today and tomorrow has barely begun. You will undoubtedly have questions to raise and guidance to offer during the course of your deliberations, questions and guidance that we welcome as crucial to the quality of FAO's future work. You will also be asked to examine a number of proposals that I hope will meet with your approval.
Let me conclude by wishing you every success in your work.