PC 83/INF/3

Programme Committee

Eighty-third Session

Rome, 8 - 12 May 2000

Information Note on FAO's Fellowships Activities



1. At its May 1999 session, the Committee discussed the issue of fellowships in connection with a Joint Inspection Unit (JIU) report on the subject. The latter report had inter alia highlighted the apparent decrease of fellowships activities in the various UN organizations and programmes, and the fact that the meetings of Senior Fellowship Officers (SPOs), which used to be held regularly, were no longer convened, making it difficult to ensure coordinated approaches.

2. The Committee received on that occasion, summary information on FAO fellowship activities, including the recently launched National Capacity Building through Fellowships Programme, and the shift to fellowships implemented through Unilateral Trust Fund (UTF) projects. In response to the keen interest of Members, the present information note has been prepared to describe in more detail the recent evolution of FAO fellowship activities.


3. The JIU report defines a fellowship, in the United Nations system context, as a specially tailored or selected training activity which involves a monetary grant to a qualified individual or group of qualified individuals for the purpose of fulfilling special learning objectives. Such training may be of short or long duration, and may take place in an appropriate training institution or in the field, inside or outside the fellow's own country. It should be in line with national human resources policies and plans, and of relevance to all stakeholders involved.

4. At present, there is no common approach to classifying training activities as "fellowships" in the UN system. FAO normally adheres to the above definition, as given in the JIU report. Unlike some other UN organizations or programmes, it does not consider in-service training, study tours, or participation in workshops, technical meetings, conferences and seminars as falling under the category of fellowships. Comparison of figures as may be reported by various UN entities must, therefore, be considered with caution.


5. FAO has consistently supported fellowship activities. To date, such programmes have been arranged for and have benefited over 10,000 fellows from Member Nations. This was due to the traditionally strong presence of "fellowships components" in UNDP or Trust Fund-financed technical cooperation projects, entrusted to FAO. However, a considerable decrease in fellowships activities occurred in 1994 and 1995, as a consequence of the overall reduction in UNDP projects implemented by FAO, coupled with a decrease in the budget allocations for fellowships in Government Cooperative Programme (GCP) projects. This led the main unit involved, the Fellowships Group, now part of the National Capacity Building, Project Operations Coordination, Reports and Support Branch (TCOC), to pursue new sources of funding; in particular, Unilateral Trust Fund (UTF) projects. This resulted in a turnaround of the above-mentioned downward trend. While delivery of TCOC linked to fellowships amounted to US$ 5.6 million in 1996, this increased to US$ 5.9 million in 1997 and US$ 6.5 million in 1998. Streamlining of procedures has also contributed to enhanced competitiveness of FAO's fellowship activities, which helped to sustain this turnaround.

6. Since 1997, the new National Capacity Building programme (see further details in paragraph 16) has also given positive results, and it offers good prospects for the future placement of fellows. It may also be noted that the fellowships group within TCOC started to directly operate training projects in 1998, in addition to dealing with the fellowship components of projects operated by the Regional Operations Branches. Altogether, in 1998, nearly 590 fellows completed training through FAO fellowships activities.

7. As the result of these recent developments, fellowships as part of UTF projects are now the most important share of the total. The budget pipeline for training programmes under UTF arrangements in India, Iran and Syria stands at US$ 8 million (US$ 3 million p.a.). This large-scale fellowship programme implemented under UTF arrangements has so far resulted in over 850 fellows being placed, at a rate of 350 p.a.. For example, through project UTF/IND/159/IND, Assistance to ICFRE on Forest Research and Education in India, fellows have been sent for training in Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, the UK and the USA. Upon completion of this project, 428 persons will have been trained in forest research management and research support, forestry education, forestry policy formulation, as well as conservation of biodiversity.


8. An overview of the distribution of fellowships by region of origin of beneficiaries and regions of placement, is provided in the following tables:

Table 1. Region of Origin of Fellows Placed in the Years 1995-1998 (in percentages)

Year Africa Asia and the Pacific Latin America and
the Caribbean
Near East and Europe
1995 29.2 50.0 2.9 17.9
1996 36.0 38.8 2.0 23.2
1997 31.5 34.4 2.8 31.3
1998 24.4 52.3 0.4 22.9

Table 2. Region of Placement of Fellows in the Years 1995-1998 (in percentages)

Year Africa Asia & the Pacific 1/ Australia & New 
Europe Latin America & the Caribbean Near East USA & Canada
1995 14.6 22.7 8.3 30.0 2.3 7.1 15.0
1996 18.6 15.7 6.1 28.9 1.6 17.4 11.7
1997 19.3 11.7 5.3 30.5 2.5 17.2 13.5
1998 11.9 12.3 6.6 25.0 0.8 12.4 31.0

1/ (excluding Australia and New Zealand)

9. The above tables reflect to a large extent the now preponderant impact of UTF arrangements. As UTF projects are financed by the beneficiary countries themselves, TCOC is, of course, expected to supply the types of training requested by these countries. The latter may not accept placement of candidates in training institutes of developing countries, even in the face of lower costs as compared to developed countries. For example, in one case, the counterpart authorities specifically requested that candidates be placed in training institutions in the USA.

10. This situation has also resulted in a decrease of female candidates, as UTF projects currently being operated by TCOC are financed by countries where male candidates are more frequently nominated than women. This has had the result that only 12% of the fellows placed during 1996 and 1998, and 9% in 1997 were female. Nonetheless, efforts will continue to be made to increase the number of fellowships granted to women. Applications from women are actively encouraged, and it is hoped that the concerned governments will respond favourably by nominating a larger proportion of qualified female candidates in the future.

11. TCOC is making a concerted effort to foster training activities in regions with relatively lower percentages, such as Latin America, and to place increasing numbers of fellows in the training institutes of developing countries. If these efforts should prove successful, a more balanced situation can be expected in the future.


12. FAO's wide range of contacts and its neutrality, coupled with its extensive experience with tax-exempt, international programmes since the Fifties, give it a comparative advantage in organizing cost-effective and high-quality training activities all over the world. Few private companies or public institutions, if any, would match the above attributes. In addition FAO has the ability to cover a full range of subject matters and disciplines in the agriculture, fisheries and forestry sectors.

13. Moreover, thanks to the collaboration of its Liaison Offices, the information in its data banks and the practical knowledge of its technical officers, FAO is able to organize the entire training process and monitor its outcome.

14. At a practical level, TCOC builds on a network of contacts established over the years, including close relationships with universities in all regions. Therefore, individually packaged study programmes can easily be arranged, tailored to the specific requirements of fellows. In addition, use of governmental focal points to facilitate the placement of fellows often permits a decrease in overhead costs.


15. As TCOC, with the assistance of FAO's country representatives wherever present, oversees all the administrative and logistical aspects of the training, progress made by the fellows is closely monitored, and assistance offered when necessary. Fellows are expected to submit a report at the end of their period of study to enable FAO technical officers to evaluate the overall impact of the training on human resources development objectives in the countries of origin. Surveys have shown that about 90% of trainees have been satisfied with the training they received. However, despite TCOC's past endeavours to evaluate the extent to which this knowledge has been effectively applied in the fellows' countries of origin, the enormity of the task makes it difficult to obtain a comprehensive and reliable picture. Greater efforts are intended to be made in this direction.


16. In order to enhance further FAO's contribution to national capacity building, the Director-General launched the National Capacity Building through Fellowships Programme in March 1997. This was aimed particularly at diversifying fellowships opportunities offered by FAO away from the heavy reliance on UTF arrangements. In addition, it can reduce costs where training is offered free of charge. A circular letter was sent to governments of Member Nations to call for offers to support the training of fellows from developing countries through their national training institutes. Since then, FAO has received offers for 94 training courses, broken down as follows:

Belgium 18 fellowships
Cuba 20 long-term, and 15 short-term fellowships
Cyprus 6 short-term practical training courses
Greece 10 six-month fellowships
Iceland 2 on-the-job training courses
Israel 1 two-week training course
Portugal 15 fellowships
Turkey 7 short-term training courses

Forty-four persons have been placed to-date under this new initiative, whereas sixty-three candidatures are in the pipeline.

17. By way of illustration, 15 candidates - from Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Chad, Cape Verde, Côte d'Ivoire, Mali, Niger, Guinea and Senegal - participated in the courses offered by Belgium. The training fees were paid by ongoing projects in the participants' countries. Three Iranian candidates have successfully completed training courses in horticulture and fertilizer use in Cyprus. One female candidate from Nicaragua successfully completed a short-term professional training course in seeds and forest nurseries in Portugal in November 1998.

18. The main constraint in expanding this programme, is the lack of funds for international travel and pocket money, which are not, in most cases, made available by the donors. Also, candidates interested in certain training courses may not be familiar with the language of the host country. Although the language constraint can be overcome in the case of long-term training programmes, it is more serious in the context of short-term programmes, as trainees do not have time to acquire or refresh their knowledge of the language.


19. The abrupt fall in traditional UNDP and TF funding, and the resulting more aggressive stance to compete for UTF arrangements, drove efforts to increase cost-effectiveness by reducing FAO's costs and placement fees while increasing or, at least, maintaining delivery. The fellowships group within TCOC improved its internal cost structure by redefining its staffing needs and streamlining workflows. It is gradually increasing delivery, while implementation of study tours, another type of training activity it dealt with in the past, has been transferred to the decentralized structures. At the same time, TCOC is pursuing negotiations with the main service providers (e.g. training institutions in the USA and Canada) in order to obtain a privileged status in terms of university fees and related overhead costs.


20. This note has been prepared for the information of the Committee to illustrate most recent trends and selected features of FAO's fellowship activities.