FAO Liaison Office in New York

FAO at 75: a retrospective by Dan Gustafson


FAO’s 75th Anniversary

by Daniel Gustafson, Special Representative of FAO's Director-General


Any institution that has been around for 75 years, has a lot of stories to tell. That is definitely true for FAO but, at this distance, the stories about the early years are not so well known. A big milestone, like this one, is an opportunity to look back at what people were thinking in 1945. What were they hoping for in this new concept of a specialized United Nations agency? How have things evolved and how does this relate to current challenges? It truly is a fascinating story.

John Boyd-Orr, FAO’s first Director-General, was a visionary, a nutritionist, among other things, who understood the connection between food, peace and conflict, and who received the 1949 Nobel Peace Prize for his contributions. Likewise, the writings of the founders were inspired by their lofty idea of achieving “freedom from want…through the separate and collective actions of nations so that hunger and extreme poverty will be on the way to extinction.” Such statements are obviously refected in the Agenda 2030.

Succeeding over time as a membership organization of nations, working on separate and collective action, have never been simple endeavours. Boyd-Orr himself resigned in 1948, following rejection by Members of some of his most visionary proposals. Reaching consensus, blending FAO’s country-level work with normative guidance, producing lasting results through collaboration, are all continuous institutional challenges.

The progress made since 1945 has proved to be beyond what most people –outside those visionaries– would have thought possible. A lot has changed. Science has advanced; we now have a far better understanding of farming systems, livelihoods and poverty; we recognize that women are central to progress; and in FAO we share our knowledge equally amongst all our 194 Members.

Nevertheless, the original challenges are far from met, and new ones have emerged, no less daunting. All require different actions to transform food systems and make them sustainable for all, thereby contributing to healthy lives, a healthy planet and a healthy global economy. 

Looking back on FAO’s 75 years, how we got from there to here, and what has changed and how, it's worth noting that the core elements of the organization have stood the test of time. I am delighted to be part of FAO's evolving story and diverse community. Here's to the next 75 years together, for the people and for the planet!