C 99/INF/5


Conference

Thirtieth Session

Rome, 12-23 November 1999

STATEMENT BY THE DIRECTOR-GENERAL

 

Mr Chairman of the Conference,

Mr Independent Chairman of the Council,

Distinguished Ministers,

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

    Six years is a very brief period in the timescale of history. It is also relatively brief in the span of a human life, and even in the existence of an institution founded exactly 54 years ago. Yet, these last six years have certainly counted for the Organization, given the challenges it has had to face and the many changes it has undergone for its improvement and its adjustment to a new political and economic environment.

(State of Food and Agriculture)

    Before taking stock of this period, I should like to touch briefly upon the state of food and agriculture in the world.

    The prospects for this year in terms of world cereal production have recently improved a little. Nevertheless, global production, estimated at about 1 870 million tonnes, is expected to be about one percent down from 1998, and two percent down from 1997 which was however a bumper year. The only expected increase is for rice, while wheat and other cereal harvests will be lower. For the first time in four years, projected cereal consumption will exceed production, requiring a drawdown of stocks of 9 million tonnes and leaving 331 million tonnes, which gives a stock-to-utilization ratio of 17.3 percent, which is within the safety margin of 17 to 18 percent.

    Not surprisingly, next year should see an increase of about two percent in world cereal trade, which should amount to 118 million tonnes. Yet, cereal prices on world markets are generally lower than last year, a positive factor for the low-income food-deficit countries and for an increase in volume of food aid which should approach 10 million tonnes for 1998-99.

    Another encouraging sign is from the fisheries sector, where an upturn in output is expected in 1999.

    However, the most positive factor is the reduction by 40 million of the total number of malnourished people in developing countries between 1990-92 and 1995-97, as indicated in the first FAO report on The State of Food Insecurity in the World. This reduction of about 8 million people per year on average is encouraging, but still far below the figure of 20 million required to achieve the objective of the World Food Summit.

(Emergency situations)

    In other areas, the food and agriculture situation is often more sombre. Thirty-five countries are currently facing serious food shortages. These are mainly due to adverse weather conditions and to the outbreak or continuation of civil conflict or a state of war, but they can also be due to serious economic problems. Food shortages affect all regions: 15 countries in Africa, especially central and eastern Africa. Seven countries in Asia and four in Central America currently need emergency food aid. Nor are these shortages restricted to the developing countries. Five countries belonging to the Commonwealth of Independent States and four Balkan States are also concerned.

    Unfortunately, there is now virtually no period of the year when nature does not unleash disastrous climatic conditions, whether in the form of drought, as in the Near East and East Africa this year, or previously in the Pacific and Indonesia, where huge fires raged, or in the opposite form of tornadoes, cyclones and torrential rains that leave catastrophic flooding and destruction in their wake, as occurred only recently in India and Viet Nam.

    Such situations make FAO's role more important than ever, primarily in assessing the food and agriculture situation and food aid needs, and reporting back to the international community. In this connection, FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System has successfully demonstrated its diligence and impartiality for almost 25 years, thanks especially to the professionalism of its staff which maintains close collaboration with the World Food Programme staff.

    A vast effort is also under way to establish the Food Insecurity and Vulnerability Information and Mapping System, as decided at the World Food Summit. This system, which will function as an invaluable instrument for the management of emergency situations, is being set up at international and particularly national level, with the full cooperation of United Nations system partners within the framework of an inter-agency committee.

    Emergency situations also require FAO to revive agricultural production by evaluating needs, in cooperation with other UN agencies in the framework of consolidated appeals for humanitarian assistance and, especially, by providing direct assistance to farmers. Since the last session of the Conference, FAO's Special Relief Operations Service has had to intervene in 64 countries. The value of its operations doubled from 43 million dollars in 1997 to 86 million in 1998, and could reach 100 million dollars in 1999. Of all these emergency situations, I shall just single out two significant examples: Hurricane Mitch and the Kosovo crisis.

    Hurricane Mitch, which occurred in the autumn of 1998, devastated large sections of the economy and infrastructure of several countries of Central America. The usual processes of emergency alert and determination of needs led to the formulation of a programme of assistance. Besides emergency food aid of more than 58 million dollars jointly approved with the Executive Director of WFP, FAO provided a total of 1 920 000 dollars' worth of equipment and supplies to restore agriculture, almost one third from the Technical Cooperation Programme and the rest from trust funds.

    In its response to the Kosovo crisis, FAO focused initially on the rural communities sheltering refugees in Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. A total of 3.5 million dollars was mobilized for specific projects and 14 FAO volunteers were assigned to the two countries. With the stabilization of the situation in Kosovo, FAO set up an emergency operations coordination unit in Pristina which is cooperating with the UN administration and providing technical advice to non-governmental organizations. Thanks to the generous support of several donors, the Organization is now assisting the Kosovars for a total value of 6.7 million dollars.

(Other "crises")

    Meanwhile, FAO has increasingly had to face other "crises". These relate to the quality and especially the safety of food products, and to the impact of new agricultural techniques, generally resulting from rapid advances in biotechnology. Recent problems facing governments have included the "mad cow" crisis, the presence of dioxins in the food chain and the distribution through trade of genetically modified organisms.

    This is an area where FAO will undoubtedly be called upon to play a greater role in the future. Public opinion, sensitized by the media, wants objective information on possible risks and requires effective measures of protection. While the "theatre of operations" of such "crises" has this time usually been in the advanced countries, this same concern is shared by the authorities and populations of many developing countries that do not have sufficient capacity of analysis.

    The Organization is responding to these challenges and demands. Its appropriate bodies, such as the Commission on Genetic Resources, are actively working on the drafting of codes of conduct. An inter-departmental programme has been initiated to deal with all technical aspects of the issues. The programmes of the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques for Food and Agriculture are currently being examined to reinforce their contribution in these areas. As for questions of ethics, these are being examined by an internal committee supported by a panel of experts. The Codex Alimentarius remains the leading instrument for determining international standards - a crucial activity in a context of globalization and growing trade.

    While heeding the importance and urgency of these matters, FAO must nevertheless concentrate on providing scientifically-based information established by internationally recognized experts.

(The achievements of recent years)
(The impetus of reforms and impact of the Summit)

    There are two key elements to any examination of the Organization's achievements in recent years: firstly, the impact of the reforms introduced since the extraordinary session of the Council in May-June 1994 and, secondly, the impetus of the World Food Summit of November 1996.

    The preparation of 150 national strategies of agricultural development towards 2010 was an important point of departure in the follow-up to the Summit. Work is now under way on improving these documents at national level, with an emphasis on involving civil society in their review. Regional strategies are also being prepared to draw upon potential synergies, particularly in agricultural trade, and to reflect the action of existing regional economic groups.

(The Special Programmes)

    The Special Programme for Food Security is now operational in 50 countries and under formulation in 25 others.

    I should like to recall that the aim of this Programme is to secure a sustainable increase in agricultural production in countries that have a food deficit and insufficient resources to cover this deficit through imports. To date, 84 countries have asked to participate, including six that are not among the target group. The Regular Programme contribution is only 10 million dollars over two years. At the request of the governments concerned, the Technical Cooperation Programme has so far contributed 8 million dollars to the activities of the Special Programme. These contributions play an essentially catalytic role, as the Organization has succeeded in mobilizing donor countries and international financial institutions whose input now amounts to 50 million dollars. Additional funds will have to be found to move the Programme forward, supporting implementation of the first phase in more countries and laying the groundwork for the second phase.

    Fortunately, the Special Programme also receives support from the South-South cooperation initiative launched by the Organization. So far, 25 more advanced developing countries have confirmed their willingness to participate in this initiative, sometimes benefiting several countries. Nine tripartite agreements have been signed, representing a commitment to supply over 900 experts and technicians. However, additional funds are needed to help the participating countries cover part of their commitments and ensure take-over of the initial funding from FAO.

    The other special programme launched in 1994, EMPRES, the Emergency Prevention System for Transboundary Animal and Plant Pests and Diseases, has also progressed well, again thanks to donor support. A total of 4.9 million dollars was mobilized to control the desert locust in 1998 and 1999 - enough for a fully operational programme in the central region around the Red Sea. However additional funds are needed to pursue these activities beyond the year 2000 and, above all, to extend it to the western region and southwest Asia.

    As regards the animal health component of EMPRES, action has focused primarily on coordinating the Global Rinderpest Eradication Programme and on devising and disseminating strategies for the prevention, monitoring and control of major animal diseases. The rinderpest outbreak areas are now confined to a few countries in Asia and Africa, and it should be possible to completely eradicate the disease by 2005.

    The EMPRES strategies have been widely publicized, mainly through numerous regional workshops, and have been successfully implemented in several countries, for example to control foot-and-mouth disease in the Philippines and swine fever in Côte d'Ivoire.

    EMPRES is one of the areas where FAO has been able to use its comparative advantage and play a lead role in coordinating national actions to control pests and diseases, and in directly assisting the countries concerned.

(Decentralization)

    Decentralization of FAO's activities from Headquarters was a key element of reform. This was spread over four years, a difficult period - particularly on the human level - but successfully overcome thanks to the establishment, in collaboration with the staff associations, of a transparent and objective redeployment system and by seeking mutually agreed departures.

    The strengthened multi-disciplinary technical teams that now exist in the five Regional Offices and the technical teams of the five Subregional Offices give Member Nations more immediate access to the expertise available within the Organization.

    Meanwhile, the network of FAO Country Offices has continued to perform its complementary functions of liaison and support, but at lower cost. The system of national correspondents for countries where budgetary constraints prevent the establishment of an office has been most successful. Twenty national correspondents are now in operation, with others due to be appointed soon.

    Decentralization is beginning to bear fruit, with a recent increase in approval of new projects, after a latency period brought on by the changes. New project approvals in 1999 could reach a record 430 million dollars, 100 million higher than in 1998. Such figures seem to suggest a reversal of trend in the field programme if we recall that new approvals in 1995 only amounted to 250 million dollars. We should however note that the good result for 1999 is partly due to the exceptional amount for emergency operations and to the approval of a very large project valued at 35 million dollars.

    This leads me to express my deep gratitude to donors of multi- and bilateral assistance and unilateral trust funds alike, who in this way demonstrate their confidence in the Organization. Indeed, we now have a more diversified group with, of course, our longstanding ever-faithful donors but also new partners who are now entrusting us with their resources.

(Opening to the outside and partnerships)

    One of the basic tenets of an FAO that is more modern and more open to the outside is the broadening of its partnership base - a move firmly upheld by the Conference of FAO and its other bodies.

(Cooperation with the United Nations system)

    This broader partnership begins with the other agencies and programmes of the United Nations system, in particular the agencies based in Rome. Cooperation with WFP and IFAD has been significantly raised thanks to the routine multi-level consultations held between the Secretariats. As a result of these consultations, not only can action and procedures be coordinated and resources shared, such as conference rooms, translation, information services and technologies, administration and staff training, but also joint activities can be decided. Besides the traditional actions of formulating investment projects for IFAD and evaluating food aid needs in countries affected by emergency situations with WFP, many other joint projects have seen the light of day as reported in a recently published booklet. Moreover, FAO has this year signed cooperation agreements with WFP and IFAD for joint action for food security, in particular for implementation of the Special Programme for Food Security.

    Another cooperation initiative in follow-up to the World Food Summit, is the establishment under the aegis of the Administrative Committee on Co-ordination of the United Nations of the Network on Rural Development and Food Security that is jointly managed by FAO and IFAD, in close cooperation with WFP, and in which 20 United Nations organizations participate. Under this network, thematic groups are set up at national level under the guidance of the UN Resident Coordinator and with technical support from the FAO Representative, primarily to monitor implementation of the Summit Plan of Action. Some 80 countries are involved in this scheme.

(Cooperation with the financial institutions)

    Another form of partnership is the important role played by FAO in generating investment projects financed by the World Bank and other international financial institutions. The annual volume of new investments for agricultural development generated by the Investment Centre has regularly increased in recent years, from two billion dollars in the early 1990s to three billion in 1997 and 1998. This is more than 100 times the joint cost of the programme to FAO and the financial institutions themselves.

(The new partnership agreements)

    The new partnership programmes have mainly centred on the technical cooperation agreements between developing countries and countries in transition which have been signed by 125 countries and which have so far helped commission 1 582 experts and consultants from these countries.

    Further cooperation with universities and research institutes has benefited FAO with the services of 342 visiting experts, while 1 343 retired experts have worked under the corresponding retiree programme. Finally, the programme for young professionals from developing countries has now helped train 26 young people "on the job", and the recently introduced volunteer programme will give the Organization another means of complementing its human resources and reinforcing international cooperation. In total, some 3 300 persons have been employed by the Organization under these schemes.

(Cooperation with NGOs and the private sector)

    Other actions have also helped open the Organization towards the outside. Two prominent target groups in this connection are the non-governmental organizations and the private sector. There is now a unit at Headquarters devoted exclusively to strengthening cooperation with these key partners.

(World Food Day and TeleFood)

    World Food Day and its associated activities continue to spearhead the Organization's efforts to mobilize public opinion. World Food Day continues to be celebrated throughout the world. The theme chosen for this year is particularly apt, with its emphasis on the role of youth in overcoming hunger. There are more than one billion young people, some 50 percent in the rural areas, who have a vital role to play for the agriculture of the future to be sound and dynamic.

    The TeleFood operation, which received your support at the Conference of 1997, has significantly helped sensitize public opinion to the root causes of food insecurity and to the need for action against hunger and malnutrition in the world. Over 60 countries were directly involved in one way or another in 1997 and 1998, enabling the operation to reach out to some 500 million people and to collect four million dollars in donations. Several events have already taken place throughout the world this year, but the major media event will be the concert planned for the end of this month in Jamaica and which will be broadcast on the television screens of many countries on 4 December.

    The funds so far collected by TeleFood have permitted the implementation of 457 concrete small projects designed to boost food security in 96 countries, for a total value of 3.5 million dollars.

(Logistics)

    We cannot overlook the importance of having modern and effective logistic resources if an organization is to operate in the four corners of the world, often under emergency conditions.

    Decentralization necessitated heavy investment in telecommunications infrastructure, which is now virtually complete and has enabled all the offices to be linked up under one network. Almost all the staff, whatever their work station, can now exchange electronic messages, documents and data quasi-instantaneously. Moreover, widespread access to the vast resources of the Internet and of our internal Intranet have boosted staff analytical capacity tenfold.

    This infrastructure for the dissemination of information is not only at the service of the staff, but is also and especially at the service of users throughout the world. FAO can be particularly proud of the exponential success of its Internet site, which now posts some 6.5 million hits a month. In this way, the wealth of information and statistical data in the World Agricultural Information Centre are turned to better account.

    Nor have the buildings been neglected. Our Headquarters now possess a selection of meeting rooms, a press club and audio-visual centres of enviable quality. So much so in fact that other organizations are increasingly eager to hold their meetings here. This has been made possible by the generous contributions of many donors, foremost among whom the government of our host country. I should like to reiterate the profound gratitude of the Organization for these contributions.

    I should also like to thank the governments of the countries hosting FAO's decentralized offices throughout the world for their ongoing efforts to improve the facilities.

(System of administrative and financial management)

    An institution like FAO also needs an effective system of administrative and financial management. As was noted by the External Auditor, the FINSYS system of financial management and to a lesser extent the PERSYS system of staff management, both developed on the basis of existing administrative procedures, were too rigid and complex, and in particular failed to provide all the essential information needed for good management. A consultant also confirmed that it would be far too costly to modify this software which should preferably be replaced. This proposal was examined by the Finance Committee which accepted its validity.

    Following a call for tender, the ORACLE software was selected at the end of 1995 as the platform for the new system. The preparatory phase took longer than expected because of insufficient resources. Also, it involved putting in place a system adapted to offices in the process of decentralization that could be integrated into the central system developed for Headquarters and the Regional Offices.

    The new financial system became operational in May 1999. However, its functioning will continue to be centralized within the departmental management support units until the last technical problems have been ironed out. But from the beginning of next year, all division directors, service chiefs and project managers will have direct access to the system, which will enable them to manage their budgets and initiate the more straightforward transactions. The more complex operations will be handled by a new central management support service.

    Implementation of such a system should be matched by a simplification of administrative procedures and greater delegation of authority. However, we need to proceed with due care if we are not to undermine the assurances of good functioning and the necessary controls. All the administrative aspects of the Organization are therefore being reviewed. The related structural adjustments at Headquarters and in the regions are included in the proposals that are put before you under the Programme of Work and Budget for the next biennium.

(Statement of savings made)

    How has all this been achieved - decentralization, the opening of new subregional and liaison offices, the modernization of resources, the introduction of new programmes - while at the same time maintaining a satisfactory level of activity in all those priority areas of the governing bodies, when FAO's biennial budget changed from 673 million dollars in 1994-95 to 650 million in the last two biennia, equivalent to a real loss of purchasing power of 10 to 15 percent?

    It meant systematically identifying all areas where efficiency gains could be made:

    Overall savings thus realized - and which have a permanent impact on the budget - amount to some 50 million dollars per year. I think there can be no more eloquent answer to my simple question. However, we need to remember that our reforms have transcended the need to economize. The quality factor has always been on our minds.

(A look to the future)

    So what are the lines of action for the future?

    We need firstly to consolidate achievements, which means continuing to work towards:

    - an FAO that is evermore open to the outside,

    - an FAO that is aware of its assets and of its limits, and is therefore ready to assume its responsibilities unequivocally but also ready to cooperate with others,

    - an FAO that has modern work resources and remains very close to its Member Nations and their rural populations.

    What are the main trends and forces that will influence the future activities of FAO?

    All these factors have to be taken into consideration in shaping the Strategic Framework that will guide the activities of the Organization during the next 15 years.

    Of course, FAO's future will also depend on the resources made available to it. I can only hope that the period of restrictions will soon end for this Organization and for all the other organizations of the United Nations system that share its objectives and its endeavours.

(Agenda of the Conference)

    I should now like to turn to the agenda of this important session of the Conference.

(Strategic Framework 2000-2015)

    The Strategic Framework that I have just mentioned is placed before you for your approval. FAO is not the only agency to have engaged in a reflective exercise on this scale. But we need to highlight the truly participatory nature of the formulation process and the very detailed analyses that were undertaken to give the document its necessary vision.

    We took great pains to consult all our partners, including the other organizations and programmes of the United Nations system. Priority was of course given to the Organization's members in this process. Seldom in the history of FAO has a document been so widely discussed at intergovernmental level, with discussions centring on progressively refined versions. The main bodies of FAO, from the Regional Conferences to the technical committees of the Council, and of course the Council itself and its subsidiary bodies were able to express their views and formulate their contributions, sometimes on more than one occasion. This was of course essential if all the members were to feel they had a material stake in the document.

(The Programme of Work and Budget)

    The other key document submitted to this Conference is of course the Programme of Work and Budget.

    As requested by the Council, this document has three main options. The first corresponds to an (albeit limited) degree of "real growth", the second to "zero real growth", the third to "zero nominal growth". Each scenario is based on a provisional exchange rate of 1 800 Italian lire to one US dollar.

    The real growth option would naturally imply an increase in Member Nation assessments, of about 6.5 percent. But it would enable the Organization to respond far more comprehensively to the demands expressed by the regional conferences, the technical committees of the Council, without forgetting the important ministerial conferences held this year at Headquarters, dealing respectively with forestry, fisheries and small island developing States.

    The "zero real growth" option would require a much lower increase in contributions, of about three percent. Despite the reduced room for manoeuvre, the bulk of FAO's economic and technical activities would be maintained. It would even be possible to introduce a series of additional measures to correct the imbalance in use of languages of the Organization, thus meeting the expectations of the countries concerned. It is important to note that this option also includes a reform of the administrative structures at Headquarters, made possible by the introduction of new computerized systems of management.

    The third option of "zero nominal growth" simply renews the 650 million dollars approved for the 1998-99 biennium and - it has to be said - for the preceding 1996-97 biennium. This option requires the identification of savings of about 15 million dollars, which would only be possible by implementing other structural reforms at regional office level. The technical and economic programmes would also be affected, but a certain number of priority areas would be protected.

    These "protected" areas are based on your considerations and include:

    It is up to the Representatives of the Member Nations gathered here at this Conference to make the best choice in the full knowledge of all the implications. The Secretariat, for its part, will faithfully implement the decisions taken by the Conference.

(Other important matters)

    Besides the Strategic Framework and the Programme of Work and Budget, this session of the Conference will also have to deal with other important matters.

    Two of these run at the heart of the Organization's normative work: the International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, and the outcome of the Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent. Both testify to the continuing priority of normative aspects in FAO's work.

    Finally, the Secretariat will closely follow your deliberations on progress made on follow-up to the World Food Summit and gender mainstreaming in FAO.

    On this subject, I should like to stress the importance of the High-Level Consultation on Rural Women and Information that was held here early last month. This Consultation was attended by 326 participants from 111 countries, including 43 members of government, and it undoubtedly raised awareness of the role of women in development, particularly among decision-makers. The meeting endorsed an action strategy for the adoption of policies that reconcile the challenges of food security with those of gender equality. This strategy will be incorporated into the new FAO Plan of Action for the Integration of Women in Development, which will be submitted to you in 2001.

    I should also like to refer to our ongoing efforts to increase the percentage of women among our staff, particularly at senior management level and among country representatives. These efforts are beginning to produce results if we consider that, compared to January 1994, the proportion of women at director level has risen from 4 to 11 percent and the number of women FAO representatives has increased from 2 to 10.

(Conclusion)

Mr Chairman, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

    There is no doubt that the Organization is now well-equipped in facilities and logistic resources, and will very soon be equally well-equipped in management systems. It has now fully caught up with exceptionally rapid technical advances in its sphere of activity and with the office automation and communication technology that epitomize our era. In the context of such a diversified world at the dawn of the third millennium, it has managed to maintain and, where necessary, reinforce its cooperation with its natural partners while, at the same time, forging other promising links with partners from civil society.

    Nevertheless, FAO must always be able to demonstrate that it deserves the confidence of its members, while making efficient use of the resources made available to it. It must show that it is still the effective instrument of international cooperation in the important field of food and agriculture that its founders had envisaged. Finally and above all, it has a duty to continue serving, to the best of its ability, the expectations of the needy, of all the people of the world who suffer poverty, hunger and malnutrition.

    That is the cause that I have always felt compelled to serve and that, before this assembly, I undertake to serve again.

    Thank you.