2. Strategies and priorities for action

This section discusses functional areas in which FAO and NGOs/CSOs would benefit from more effective cooperation. Although it is convenient to divide the presentation into four sections, the close interrelationships among them must be emphasized. Involving civil society in the mobilization of public awareness and resources is dependent on taking its input seriously in policy dialogue and on building partnerships in field programmes.

The priorities presented here constitute the basis for a long-term programme. Clearly, it will not be possible to implement them all simultaneously. Developing cooperation with a rapidly expanding civil society sector in an era of declining real resources represents a significant challenge for FAO. It will require selectivity in choosing partners and activities, and a joint effort to set priorities and mobilize the necessary resources. In this paper, FAO has taken on board many suggestions by NGOs/CSOs. These now need to be matched with the commitments that NGOs/CSOs are ready and able to make. The process of consultation will continue to this end.

2.1 Information sharing and analysis

Building better communication is not only an area of work in its own right but also a prerequisite for other forms of cooperation.

NGOs play a leading role in information and education programmes sensitizing public opinion to the challenges expressed in the Rome Declaration on World Food Security and World Food Summit Plan of Action. Their experience and outreach in this area is unequalled, while FAO has a comparative advantage in its unique stock of technical data and analyses and its global overview of food security issues. Yet communication has not been FAO's strongest point, and the Organization has lacked a clear public information disclosure policy. On the other hand, the NGO world is also difficult to access from a communication point of view because it is highly fragmented and heterogeneous in its information needs and capacities.

Part of FAO's communication problem has stemmed from its technical compartmentalization. The restructuring of FAO, which started in 1994, is intended to promote an interdisciplinary approach within FAO, and the current strategic review should further improve FAO's capacity in this regard. World Food Day campaigns are one means of promoting a holistic view of world food security, since they raise public awareness of specific aspects of the problem in relation to the overall socio-economic context. The network of FAO departmental NGO focal points established for this review is also helping to create a more comprehensive capacity for communication with NGOs.

Other developments can improve the two-way exchange. The growth of electronic communication allows a richer variety of information to be made available to the public. FAO is developing a broader e-mail network and a more user-friendly Internet site. However, many NGOs/CSOs lack the necessary resources to tap electronic communication, and the distribution of printed documents will have to be maintained.

Equally promising is the increasing tendency of NGOs/CSOs to form networks and coalitions on thematic and geographic bases. FAO encourages such groupings and will work with them to enhance the dissemination of information. Excellent work has already been done through NGO cooperation with FAO in packaging technical information in language that is accessible to non-experts.

While improving information sharing with CSOs is the responsibility of FAO as a whole, the Information Division plays a central role. Its new Corporate Communication Policy and Strategy specifically identifies NGOs both as partners and as a key audience. Field and liaison offices are particularly important communication nodes, since NGOs in different regions have different information needs and capacities.

To improve information sharing and analysis, FAO will:

i) Develop an information disclosure policy

ii) Promote information initiatives with NGOs

iii) Make FAO information more easily accessible and usable

iv) Make special efforts to reach national/local organizations

2.2 Policy dialogue

If NGOs view FAO as a significant UN system partner, it is due in good part to the Organization's role as a policy adviser to Member Governments, a forum for international negotiation and a source of support for developing countries as they negotiate in arenas such as the World Trade Organization (WTO). NGOs welcome the opportunity to contribute to the formulation of the technical policies that FAO applies in its normative work and in technical assistance and policy advice. Effective cooperation of this kind has taken place through the organization of NGO consultations feeding into FAO technical committee sessions, and the participation of NGOs as observers in processes such as the negotiation of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and the revision of the International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources.

Policy dialogue in FAO involves complex interaction. It moves from the national level through the regional to the international and back again. It is composed of diverse technical topics, each contributing to broader concepts such as food security and sustainable agriculture. Articulating effective and equitable civil society participation in this process is a challenge. It is further complicated by the fact that the institutional framework and procedures of the UN system do not readily lend themselves to participation by non-state actors; by the wide variety of often conflicting views and interests represented within civil society; by the disparities in legitimacy among the various CSOs and social movements; and by the difficulties inherent in ensuring equitable access in the face of significant differences in resources and power.

Action to be taken by FAO to enhance civil society participation in policy dialogue is summarized below. The NGO community can make an equally important contribution by strengthening and extending their communications, networking and caucusing and by mobilizing resources to facilitate Southern CSOs' participation in regional and global policy forums.

FAO will, with government endorsement, promote NGO/CSO involvement in the following activities at the national, regional and global levels:

i) National

ii) Regional

iii) Global

2.3 Field Programme

FAO's Field Programme today places greater emphasis on building cooperation among all relevant actors. The primary focus is on achieving food security and development objectives rather than on strengthening cooperation per se. Since all agents are not equally well placed to play an active role, however, it is justifiable for FAO to give NGOs/CSOs special attention when they can help achieve these objectives. This can involve including them in planning and implementing field activities, working with Member Governments to facilitate their participation, and responding to their technical assistance and training needs.

Farmers'/rural peoples' organizations are prime civil society partners for FAO, as they are broadening the scale of their services to individual farmers and participating in policy and planning discussions. National NGOs providing services to rural people also require capacity building, particularly when they move from relief to development work. Programmes of this kind are becoming an area of growth in donor portfolios and it should be possible to mobilize resources for FAO activities of this kind.

A distinction needs to be made between seeking partnership with an NGO on the basis of shared objectives and resources and mutually agreed actions, and subcontracting an NGO to carry out specific services. The latter can be a useful practice in certain situations. However, FAO recognizes the need to promote cooperation based on partnership because it is the most effective way of harnessing energies to work together towards common goals. This requires going beyond generic talk of participation in project formulation, implementation and evaluation to look at whether programmes are actually negotiated with civil society actors, resulting in clear responsibilities for all concerned.

NGO/CSO involvement has to begin at the stage of setting overall country policy and programme frameworks so that collaboration in specific programmes and projects can follow more easily. Ensuring this early involvement requires more effective information dissemination and capacity building. The national Food for All Campaigns and the thematic groups of the ACC Network on Rural Development and Food Security can facilitate civil society participation in designing strategies and programmes.

To enhance action partnerships, FAO will:

i) Experiment and learn from experience

ii) Develop appropriate cooperation procedures

iii) Respond to NGO/CSO technical assistance and capacity-building needs

iv) Enhance NGO/CSO involvement in FAO-promoted programmes

2.4 Resource mobilization

The share of ODA channelled through Northern NGOs/CSOs to their counterparts in the South is growing, and an increasing proportion of development assistance is also coming from private sources. This trend is likely to continue, particularly in the context of decentralized cooperation programmes. It reflects a perception that NGOs are flexible and cost-effective providers of support at the community level and, more broadly, the changing roles of development actors discussed above. FAO needs to identify and build on complementarities with NGOs and to help them apply their resources effetively towards achieving agricultural development goals.

The NGO paper6 prepared for this review states the case for cooperation in resource mobilization in the following terms, which FAO broadly endorses:

"FAO's role is essentially broker rather than banker .... The Organization's work in capacity building and the promotion of partnerships can help both governments and civil society to attract and use resources well.

For many donors, NGO participation in field programmes is an inducement to their support. FAO could systematically incorporate components for work with NGOs in programmes it presents to funders. FAO could provide NGOs with technical support to make their programmes more attractive to donors.

It is not likely that strengthened FAO/NGO cooperation will greatly increase the provision of funds by the one to the other. NGOs may, however, mobilise resources for and implement activities parallel to and supportive of FAO programmes without any transfer of funds taking place. When they really feel "joint ownership" of a project proposal, they can be relied upon to approach bilateral and multilateral donors in support of an FAO request."

To enhance collaboration in resource mobilization, FAO will take action in the following areas:

6 C. Robinson. FAO's cooperation with NGOs. November 1996.