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II. The 1949 conference of FAO - An interpretive summary

This foreword has been written with two purposes in mind. I hope both may be useful to the reader.

One purpose is to highlight the significance of the important actions from the viewpoint of my responsibility for executive direction of the Organization. This necessarily reflects personal views, to which experience may be thought to give some value.

The other purpose is to sum tip in one place the principal actions of the Conference. These are presented in much greater detail in the main body of the report, but of necessity are scattered throughout that document in accordance with the place of each item on the Conference agenda.

In this foreword, I propose to give particular attention to the following: The value of the review of the world food and agriculture situation drawn up by the Conference; the action taken on the proposed Clearing House for Commodities; the value of the groundwork laid for an expanded program of technical assistance for economic development; the benefit of the closer examination which the Conference was able to give to the Organization's program of work, and the results of a series of actions oil various administrative and financial problems.

In all of these matters highly significant steps were taken. In many respects the Fifth Session was one of the best which the Organization has yet held. It marked growth in the Organization's maturity, as the election of five new governments - Afghanistan, Indonesia, Israel, Korea, and Sweden - marked growth in FAO's size. The membership now stands at 63 nations, of which 62 attended the Conference.


The world-wide review of the production, distribution, and consumption of food and agricultural products served as background for many of the other actions of the Conference. The basic points of the situation are set forth in the Conference Report itself and many aspects are treated in considerably greater detail in The State of Food and Agriculture, 1949 and other documents prepared for the Conference.

I should like to stress the importance of the Conference's own findings derived from its study and discussion. Nowhere else is there opportunity for responsible officials of all these governments to consider together a subject so vital to all their people as the world's production, trade, and consumption of food and agricultural products. Nowhere else does there exist such a broadly agreed-upon statement of the situation. The major trends, so viewed, are striking.

Total agricultural production has regained the prewar level. But world population has risen by 10 percent so that the average supply available per person remains below the prewar mark, which was in itself nutritionally inadequate.

The composition of the world food supply is inferior to what it was before the war. The proportion of grains, potatoes, and sugar is larger and the proportion of protective foods is smaller.

The situation varies widely among regions. While production has not yet regained the prewar level in the Far East or Europe, in North America it remains far above it and in some districts the proportion of tilled acreage is so great that sound farming practices and soil conservation may be endangered.

Disparities in food consumption among countries have become even greater than in the recent past. In some countries where diet levels were among the lowest, people have even less to cat. In other countries where diet levels were already among the highest, people are eating even more.

World trade in food and other agricultural products continues to be marked by the great gain in North America's share of total exports and by corresponding reductions of the shares of other regions. Thus, the world is relying more heavily than in the past on food imports from dollar areas at a time when the difficulty of paying in dollars is increasing. Imports by soft-currency countries thus fat, have been maintained by the depletion of their reserves of gold and dollars and by large loans and gifts on the part of the United States and Canada. This situation is unstable. Unless it is remedied, the soft-currency and underdeveloped countries face further reduction in needed food imports and the North American area faces shrinkage of the export outlets needed to sustain full production.

The situation just outlined is reflected in the current policies of many nations. In a number of countries, special efforts to improve the diets of the vulnerable groups and the poorer classes in general are being begun or intensified. Also, many countries in which numbers of people are underfed are making special efforts to increase their own food production. Simultaneously, however, the dollar shortage and other difficulties of international exchange are leading some countries into expedients that may conflict with these efforts. Some underdeveloped countries want to reduce their imports of food and to expand their food exports. Some highly developed countries are following the same course in their quest of greater self-sufficiency. At the same time, a few of the most developed countries are taking, or considering, steps to limit their output of food and agricultural products for export.

The general picture, then, is this: The world needs more food and other products of agriculture. In most areas there is need to expand domestic production, and in some to increase imports. But in some highly developed areas there are already fears of producing more than can be profitably sold. Exchange difficulties not only are keeping the deficit countries from importing food from the surplus countries, they are actually driving the deficit countries to export food in their search for dollars.

Thus, two great problems with which the Fifth Session of the Conference grappled were:

1. How to increase world food and agricultural production and to contribute to the general development of the world.

2. How to find short-term answers to "surplus" problems that are arising from the inability of deficit countries to pay for food imports.

In an effort to deal with these problems the Conference approved two lines of action for FAO - creation of a Committee on Commodity Problems and participation in the expanded program of Technical Assistance for Economic Development.


Difficult problems of international trade in rood and agricultural products, particularly in relation to existing or potential unsalable surpluses, were revealed in the Conference review. The Fourth Session of the Conference had regarded them as important. The Council of FAO, meeting in June 1949 at Paris, had considered them urgent, and had requested me to bring to the Conference with the assistance of independent experts a report on the situation and proposals for action. The Report on World Commodity Problems, which was submitted to the Conference, pointed out that the root of the current trouble lies in the fact that the expected surpluses will be principally in hard-currency areas, whereas the principal deficits are in areas which lack convertible currencies. The Report recommended establishment of an International Commodity Clearing House. Details of the ICCH proposal are given in the Report. The principal points are mentioned in the Conference Report itself, together with the reasons which led the Conference to decide that a Clearing House should not be established under present world conditions.

Briefly, ICCH would have sought to expand international trade by holding, until world conditions improve, inconvertible currencies given in payment for imports of food and agricultural products. ICCH also would have sought to facilitate hard-currency sales at concessional prices of surpluses which could not otherwise move in world trade. In addition, ICCH would have had a longer-range function of encouraging trade in food and agricultural products, principally through the holding of buffer stocks.

The Conference, after full discussion, concluded that the activities Proposed for ICCH either could be performed by governments and existing international agencies or might create as many problems as they solved.

The Conference, however, was keenly aware of the seriousness of the present world trade situation for food and agricultural products. It saw a need for further machinery to deal with commodities for which international agreements either do not exist or do not cover disposition of surpluses. Consequently, the Conference directed establishment of a Committee on Commodity Problems, consisting of representatives of 14 member governments. This Committee, responsible to the Council of FAO, is to receive information from countries which find it difficult to obtain supplies and transmit these statements to governments of countries holding surpluses. It also will receive information from governments seeking to dispose of surpluses on special terms, and make recommendations on such proposals in the light of the interests of other countries. The Committee is empowered to initiate discussions among governments for the purpose of promoting international action.

The Conference also proposed that, pending the establishment of the International Trade Organization, greater use be made of the Interim Coordinating Committee for International Commodity Arrangements (of which FAO is one of the three members).

I must express my disappointment that the proposed Clearing House for Commodities was rejected in favor of what seems to me a less concrete and immediate approach. The fact must be accepted, however, that governments are not ready to go so far together. We must endeavor to meet the problem insofar as possible within the substantial area of agreement that has been reached, hoping that, if this proves inadequate, continued exploration of a continuing problem will reveal new possibilities of effective international action.

The Committee on Commodity Problems began its work soon after the Conference. The members have approached their task earnestly and good must come of it. To this end the utmost effort of myself and the entire staff is pledged.


The Session was noteworthy for its unreserved endorsement of the expanded program of Technical Assistance for Economic Development, approved earlier by the United Nations General Assembly. It went further and laid the policy groundwork for full participation by FAO in the program, which aims at raising levels of living in less developed areas and thus contributing to world peace and prosperity.

For a long time thoughtful of economic people have noted the great economic gulf between the more highly developed areas and the less developed areas. They also have realized that the absence of economic development throughout much of the world is a heavy burden upon the whole world - including the better developed areas. Further, it is clear that the disparity in development will not cure itself - in fact, if vigorous action is not taken, the disparity will continue to grow.

The Economic and Social Council of the United Nations took up this problem in March 1949, soon after the President of the United States of America had emphasized the need for a program to raise the levels of economic development throughout the world. Following the ECOSOC meeting, a comprehensive report was prepared by representatives of the United Nations and its Specialized Agencies, including FAO. This group agreed that the two prerequisites of large-scale economic development are diffusion of technical knowledge and adequate financing. Recognizing that technical assistance must precede investment as well as parallel it, the special group dealt solely with problems of technical assistance. Its report points out that national governments have the primary responsibility of fostering and guiding development programs, but that many of the governments will need outside assistance in deciding what is needed to be done, in starting specific projects, and in training local technicians who will carry on continuing programs. The report, which was approved last July by the Economic and Social Council, calls for an integrated program in which the United Nations and its Specialized Agencies would participate and which would be financed by special contributions from the more highly developed countries.

The Fifth Session of the FAO Conference was interested primarily in the food and agricultural aspects of the proposed development program, but it recognized that nutritional levels cannot be raised and that the well-being of the producers cannot be improved without full mobilization of the resources of the countries concerned. That is, a balanced development of industry as well as agriculture, fisheries, and forestry, is needed to sustain better production and trade in food and agriculture products.

The agricultural aspects of economic development are extremely complex. Essentially, the aims are to increase supplies both through expanding production and conserving what has been produced, to increase consumption, to raise living levels of producers, and to encourage allocation of a fair share of each nation's resources to its agriculture.

FAO's part in this is to help nations help themselves. No relief operations, no large-scale direct international programs are contemplated. They would not work. The idea is to help nations - when they request aid - along the road to economic development and to put them in a position where they can attract whatever outside investments may be needed. FAO's job would be to supply expert assistance and advice in analyzing needs, training personnel, starting specific technical programs, and helping organize demonstrations.

The Conference, in a series of resolutions, authorized the Organization to participate fully in the Technical Assistance Program, working closely with the UN and its Specialized Agencies; made the necessary financial provisions for the Organization to receive special funds as they become available; and requested the Director-General to do all that is possible, in the limits of the regular 1950 budget, to make ready to participate in the Technical Assistance Program as soon as it begins.

The President of the United States of America in an address to the Conference said that the proposed Technical Assistance Program was in line with the type of development assistance lie had suggested in his last inaugural address. President Truman commended FAO's part in working out detailed proposals in co-operation with other United Nations agencies, and added: "The United States will continue to look to FAO for leadership in the international co-operative effort to increase food and agriculture production throughout the world."

(Note: The proposed Technical Assistance Program is discussed in chapter IV of the Conference Report. Other material appears in Appendix D)


Adequate international investment and financing are essential to significant development of farm, fisheries, and forest resources. The Conference considered the Director-General's Report on International Investment and Financing Facilities as well as a supplementary statement by the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Inevitably, in dealing with a subject so much broader even than the direct interests of FAO, the Conference, for the most part, noted major needs and possibilities of co-ordinated action. For example, the difference in the annual savings per person per year ranges from around $100 in the more highly developed countries to $5 or less in the underdeveloped countries. The latter average is utterly inadequate to finance the development programs which are required. Outside investments must supplement domestic savings in many countries.

The Conference noted that although the volume of investment that ultimately will be required for development far exceeds the amount now available, the volume of well documented requests for loans has not yet equaled present resources. The Conference recommended that FAO assist countries requesting technical aid in developing adequate loan applications, and that FAO continue to work closely with the International Bank in its appraisal of loan applications which involve projects concerned with food and agriculture.


At its Fifth Session, the Conference established, for the first time, special panels in Commission II to review the past year's work and plans for the year ahead in the various technical fields. The Conference expressed satisfaction with the work done during the past year and gave general approval to the Program of Work for 1950. Some specific changes in the 1950 plans were recommended in the light of discussions during the session. Also, the secretariat was requested to improve the presentation of the work accomplished and work planned, so as to facilitate review by the Conference. The Conference welcomed the increasing emphasis being given to programs which aim specifically at increasing production and improving nutrition, and recommended that this emphasis continue in the shaping of future programs. The Conference urged that, in view of the limited resources of the Organization, a relatively small number of projects representing work of the greatest urgency be undertaken each year.

Critical review of performance and plans of the secretariat is among the most important tasks of the Conference. No attempt will be made here to summarize the views of the Conference on work programs in the various technical fields, which are presented in the full report. A few of the more general comments and actions follow:

The Conference devoted much attention to extension and advisory services. It pointed out that the greatest differences in technical knowledge in FAO's fields are not between experts of the various countries, but between the knowledge of each country's experts and its own food and agricultural producers. These gaps can be closed only by services especially designed to convey knowledge from the experts to the farmers, fishermen, or forest workers. The Conference recommended that member governments strengthen or, when necessary, create extension or advisory services and that FAO integrate the advisory activities of its various divisions so that maximum assistance can be given to member governments.

The Conference noted with satisfaction the increased decentralization of FAO's activities during the past year. Examples of this trend were the holding, for the first time, of Pre-Conference Regional Meetings and the continuation or creation of regional councils or commissions in various technical spheres. The Conference approved a draft agreement developed at Rome in September 1949 by nations interested in the creation of a General Fisheries Council for the Mediterranean, and it recommended that governments of the area give favorable consideration to the draft agreement.


Selection of Permanent Headquarters Site

The choice of a site for the permanent Headquarters of the Organization has been under earnest consideration since the First Session of the Conference at Quebec in 1945. Subsequent sessions debated the question, aware of both the desirability of an early decision and the need for careful weighing of all pertinent considerations. The Fifth Session had before it a report on the site question, prepared by a committee of the Council of FAO at the request of the Fourth Session of the Conference. It also had before it offers of sites from Denmark, Italy, Switzerland, the United States of America, and the United Nations. As the result of a series of elimination ballots, the Conference decided that the offer of the Government of Italy of a site in or near Rome be accepted, subject to the development of a satisfactory headquarters agreement. It authorized the Director-General to negotiate with the Italian Government. The Conference also requested the Council to establish a small Headquarters Advisory Committee, composed of representatives of member governments, to give policy guidance in working out details of the move.

This policy guidance will be helpful, for while the delay in deciding on permanent Headquarters had become troublesome, the problems of transferring headquarters with a minimum of expense and disruption of work are complex and difficult.

Fortunately, however, the Organization has since 1945 had time to work out a clear picture of its objectives, its pattern of work toward attaining them, and its procedures. From whatever headquarters it may work, these should not be materially changed. This fact should be a guiding and stabilizing force throughout the period until headquarters is fully re-established.

Timing of Sessions of the Conference

Previous to the Fifth Session, the Constitution of FAO provided that sessions of the Conference be held at least annually. Recently there has been wide discussion of the advisability of holding regular Conference sessions less frequently, once the Organization had passed through its stage of early development. The Council of FAO last June recommended that regular sessions of the Conference be held every two years unless unusual circumstances arose. The Conference, at its Fifth Session, accepted this proposal and left the time of regular biennial sessions open, pending further study. It decided, however, that the next session of the Conference should be held in April 1951 unless special circumstances should warrant a Conference session in the autumn of 1950.


The Scale of Contributions, which set forth the percentage of the total budget payable by each member nation, was revised. Previously, the sum of the contributions of all member nations did not equal the Organization's maximum budget of $5 million because the proportionate shares established for member countries by the First Session of the Conference made allowances for payment by members of the Interim Commission who have not, up to now, joined FAO. The revised Scale of Contributions, in addition to reflecting changes in the relative inability to pay of some member nations, is so constructed as to make the amounts due from all members add up to the $5 million budget. The Conference requested that the special committee of the Council, which had recommended the revised Scale of Contributions, continue its study, with the aim of suggesting any additional refinement or improvement in the Scale which might be developed.

The seats of six members of the Council of FAO, whose terms ended with the 1949 session, were filled. The United Kingdom was re-elected to the Council membership and Pakistan, Venezuela, Yugoslavia, Belgium, and Burma were elected to the other vacant seats.

In recognition of the number and importance of Spanish-speaking members of FAO, the Conference decided to add Spanish as a working language of the Conference, in addition to English and French. The Conference recommended that the change become effective from the session after the Organization moves to its permanent Headquarters, and requested that meanwhile special efforts be made to expedite the issuance of technical reports in Spanish.

In the belief that the establishment of different categories for international nongovernmental organizations had been too rigid, the Conference decided to establish a single consultative status for all of these important groups which have major interests in common with FAO. It also recommended that other nongovernmental organizations not eligible for permanent consultative status but having certain common interests with the Organization, be accorded adequate recognition on an ad hoe basis.

The Conference decided that the Regional Office for Asia and the Far East should remain in Bangkok until the end of 1951, and that some months previous to that time the situation should be reviewed. In 'view of the impending move of Headquarters to Rome, the Conference felt that the selection of a site for a Latin-American regional office might best remain open, pending developments during the next few months. It authorized the Director-General to select a site in consultation with the governments of the region and to choose a regional representative as soon as practicable during 1950.


Oscar Gans (Cuba) was elected Chairman of the Fifth Session. Vice-Chairmen were S. L. Mansholt (Netherlands), Norman J. O. Makin (Australia), and Darwish Al-Haidari (Iraq).

As in past years, the Conference established three commissions, each to deal with one of its three types of work.

Commission I dealt with the world review and outlook and national programs and plans. It dealt also with the commodity problem. Viscount Bruce of Melbourne was chairman of the commission. Vice-Chairmen were Antonio Carrillo Flores (Mexico) and G. Ugo Papi (Italy).

Commission II dealt with the Organization's technical work of the past year and its plans for the year ahead, including the expanded program of technical assistance. For the first time, this commission established a number of panels, each of which reviewed work and plans in its particular technical field. Louis Maire (Switzerland) was chairman of the commission. Vice-chairmen were H. S. M. Ishaque (Pakistan) and Nicolas Christodoulou (Greece). A. N. Duckham (United Kingdom) was rapporteur.

Commission III dealt with constitutional, administrative, and fiscal questions. B. R. Sen (India) was chairman of the commission. Vice-chairmen were S. J. J. de Swardt (Union of South Africa) and G. Henri Janton (France). John Trevaldwyn (United Kingdom) was rapporteur.

I should like to add to the Conference's own expressions my personal appreciation to these gentlemen for the energy and understanding which they gave to their tasks.


Article XI of the FAO Constitution requires member governments to report periodically on progress towards meeting the aims of FAO and on actions taken to carry out the recommendations of the Conference. More recently, these reports have been broadened to include information for use of the annual Program Review. Experience during the past two years has indicated that the type of report requested has been too comprehensive for many governments to submit within the time allotted. The Conference recommended, therefore, that material concerning national programs and targets be obtained separately by the Organization, and that the scope of the remainder of the Article XI reports be reduced so that all governments will be able to promptly supply reports, of value.

Many delegates at the Fifth Session of the Conference expressed the view that coordination among the three commissions of the Conference was frequently faulty, especially in relation to the work of Commissions II and III connected with the budget for the ensuing year. Under systems used hitherto, Commission in has been responsible for all aspects of the budget, while Commission II has been responsible for the direction and scope of the technical program for the ensuing year. Some delegates felt that the budgetary aspects of changes in program recommended by Commission II were not adequately considered by Commission III. The Conference, therefore, recommended that in the following sessions, Commission II be responsible for the income aspects of the following year's budget as well as the purely administrative part of the budget, that Commission II assume responsibility for the expenditure side of the budget, and that the two commissions keep in daily communication.

The establishment of technical panels for detailed consideration of performance and plans in FAO's different fields met with general approval, although it was requested that in future years a schedule be worked out that would make it possible for members of small delegations to participate in more panel discussions.

This would undoubtedly be desirable, as would the presence among national delegations of still more adequate numbers of technicians in all the various fields, as well as representation at the level of national policy making.

The closer study which the panel system permits delegates to give to the Organization's work and plans has two advantages: It affords greater guidance to the secretariat. It also enables delegates to gain greater understanding of the problems, often very difficult, which the Organization must meet in trying to carry out the objectives and directions of the Conference.

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