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The earth's resources in the service of man

THIS year is the tenth anniversary year not only of the United Nations itself but also of the Food and Agriculture Organization, which is an associated specialized agency, for FAO, the first of these specialized agencies, came into existence in Quebec on 16 October 1945.

It is important to recognize the wide scope of our activities. FAO is concerned with all the earth's natural renewable resources. We are concerned with sea and lake, forest and farm, from the point of view of how they are serving man and how they might be made to serve man better. We are concerned, for instance, with maintaining and improving the possibilities of farm land, with bringing back into production farm lands which have been adversely affected by poor farming, with gaining food from land which has never yet supported human life. We are concerned with improving the plants and livestock which the land supports and with protecting them from disease and pest. We are concerned with the welfare and efficiency of the people who derive their living from the land, with the quality of their implements and their stock and plants, with the systems of tenure under which they work their land, with the ways in which they get credit to finance their operations, with the ways in which governments help or hinder their efforts. We are concerned with processing, storage, distribution and marketing of the products of nature.

And through all these efforts runs a continuous thread of concern with what are man's needs, particularly what are his nutritional needs, how the earth is satisfying those needs and how it could be induced to satisfy them to an even greater extent.

As the time has passed, FAO's work has come to fall into three different branches of activity, and in all of these branches, as we look back, can we see progress.

A fundamental activity, and yet one which receives little public attention, is our collection from all over the world of information dealing with food and agriculture, and our issuing of it in compiled form - our presentation of a world's-eye view of world food and agriculture.

We have; in the years, reached a point where hardly any significant contribution to knowledge of world agriculture announced anywhere escapes our attention. And spanning this great international system of pooling of day-to-day information are our over-all surveys. In 1950, for instance, more than one hundred countries and dependent territories co-operated in the most ambitious census ever attempted of world agriculture. This census covered about two-thirds of the land area of the globe and the information gained is being published at present.

In 1948, and again in 1953, we carried out world forest inventories which took a great step forward in estimating distribution of forests and of tree species over the globe and the rate at which we are drawing on them. At present, our Fisheries Division is working on the preparatory stages of a world survey of living aquatic resources.

By courtesy, Ontario Department of Bands and Forests.

Tackling common problems

A second branch of our activities might be described as "catalytic"; bringing about international action on problems common to groups of nations. For instance there is the FAO-sponsored Near East Regional Desert Locust Control Project through which thirteen countries have combined to fight this ancient foe of the farmer. There is the recently-established European Foot and Mouth Disease Commission in which a group of countries has joined together to promote a common program of research and counter-measures against a disease which in the outbreak of 1951-53 cost the European stock industry $600 million.

A most interesting example in this group of activities is FAO's twenty-nation Committee on Commodity Problems, for it shows more than merely the extent to which FAO has come to influence the development of world agriculture through promoting international cooperation and the degree to which this influence has come to be considered an inevitable part of the international scene. It is also a significant demonstration of the change in outlook on production and trade in agricultural products in the past decade or two.

The Committee on Commodity Problems was set up by the fifth session of the FAO Conference, in 1949, to consider the food and agriculture surplus situation particularly as it was governed by international currency exchange problems.

At that time its function was envisaged to be that of an international forum on commodity problems arising out of hard currency stringencies, but as events developed this conception proved to be too narrow. So a special session of the FAO Conference, in 1950, widened the powers and responsibilities of the CCP, and the same thing was done again by the sixth session of the Conference in 1951. The seventh session met at the end of 1953 in an atmosphere of doubt and apprehension over surplus stocks of a number of agricultural commodities being accumulated by several governments. This was a paradoxical situation in a world in which too many people were ill-fed, but the situation did exist, and it was not the first time. In the early 1930's, as in 1953, the surplus situation caused wide concern, but then the nations could agree on nothing except the desirability of continuing to restrict production to prevent further falls in prices.

What was 1953 to do about the same problem?

The 1953 Conference session called on FAO's member nations to continue to expand food production but with greater emphasis on the foods in greatest need. It stated principles of international responsibility which it suggested countries should observe in disposing of their surpluses, and it directed the CCP to do what it could to facilitate those disposals.

The CCP, in turn, set up a special Consultative Subcommittee on Surplus Disposals in Washington where for nearly a year now, countries marketing surplus stocks or buying them have been able to consult with all the other countries which might be affected by the transactions.

The CCP also carried out two surveys of the possibilities of using surplus stocks to assist underdeveloped countries. The first was last year's pilot survey in Egypt of the possibilities of using surplus dairy products, most especially of dried skim milk, in supplementary feeding programs. The second was a pilot survey in India of the potentialities of financing development of food producing resources by using surplus stocks as a credit backing.

It is early yet to say how this modern approach to the surpluses which once brought economic disaster will work. The situation is still serious, but the early signs are encouraging. There are some signs of restriction of production, it is true. But there is also being planned considerable redeployment of agriculture away from the products for which there is least demand. Consequently surpluses are now accumulating at a much slower rate and stocks are being reduced in such a way as to cause a minimum of harm to normal trade and only after the fullest consultation with other countries which might be affected.

Our methods of dealing with surpluses today, in fact, are just about as different as they could possibly be from the methods of a couple of decades ago. I believe that FAO may justifiably claim some of the credit for this new outlook.

Technical Assistance

The third branch of our activities is our direct help to technically backward countries under the Expanded Technical Assistance Program. I shall not speak of this in detail, for a great number of our projects have received much publicity and are reasonably well-known. This program was started only in 1951, and one would not be justified in expecting too much progress. But, in fact, the speed with which it has become effective has been surprising.

In the beginning, governments asking for assistance under the Expanded Program were often somewhat uncertain about what they heeded. They were sometimes inclined to ask for too many experts in too many different fields of development without fully considering that a program of advice from FAO would have to be followed up by their own programs of action. But four years have wrought a huge change in the governments' attitudes. Now they are concentrating their requests on assistance in solving their major problems, and more and more they are basing programs of development on the experts' recommendations. To list the various fields in which the aggregate of twelve hundred experts assigned at various times to about sixty countries are and have been working would be to write a catalogue of virtually every branch of exploitation of the world's natural resources.

Up to the end of last year, FAO had spent a total of almost $19 million on Technical Assistance. With increased international interest in the work which FAO and the other United Nations agencies are doing in this field, we hope the present trend toward greater effectiveness will be maintained. This is essential to the improvement of agriculture, fisheries and forestry in underdeveloped countries.


Reprinted from United Nation, Review

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