FAO Liaison Office in New York

Interview with FAO New York Director

31/10/2020



For today's interview, we speak to Carla Mucavi, Director of the FAO Liaison Office with the United Nations in New York.



What attracted you to the work of the Rome-based Agencies when you first decided to make the jump from government official and ambassador to UN officer?

My eight-year tenure as Permanent Representative of Mozambique presented me with many opportunities to witness first-hand FAO’s work in support of people who depend on agriculture for their survival. The fact is that, even though I was born and raised in the city of Xai-Xai, my parents had always made sure that I would maintain a bond with the countryside, where our extended family was living. So, I grew up with a natural understanding and affinity for rural people and their way of life. All of these experiences fuelled my motivation to join the ranks of FAO and contribute to the transformation of more inclusive and sustainable food systems. 

 

You joined the FAO Liaison Office with the UN in New York at a pivotal moment, just one month before the UN formally adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Which aspects of this shared global vision resonate most with your work in food security and nutrition; and how do you view the progress made so far

Undoubtably, the adoption of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the Heads of States and Government in 2015 constitutes one of the most emblematic moments in UN history, and I feel proud and humbled to have been present for it. At that moment, as the world officially recognised the centrality of food systems to attaining the 2030 Agenda as a whole, FAO’s efforts were acknowledged and justified. Nevertheless, we are still not on track to achieve eradicate poverty and achieve Zero Hunger. Actually, the stark reality is that the number of people affected by hunger has been slowly on the rise and, according to FAO estimates, the COVID-19 pandemic could push an additional 85-132 million people into chronic hunger by the end of 2020. It is important that we maintain a strong front and keep on working to achieve a global food systems transformation. The 2021 Food Systems Summit will address these exact complex issues, and FAO will be present to foster progress.



Halfway through your tenure in the New York office, the newly-appointed UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, called for a set of far-reaching changes in the way the UN development system works to help countries around the world in achieving the SDGs. How has FAO supported UN reform efforts and what would you envision as an ultimately successful outcome?

FAO strongly supports the Secretary-General’s leadership and vision to re-position and re-invigorate the UN System. Our team has been attending all UN reform deliberations, and we have been integrating the “One UN” concept in the way we plan and carry out our tasks. I am a true believer in collective action, and I am convinced that the UN stands much to gain by streamlining cross-cutting processes among the various agencies. FAO’s vast field presence and decentralized technical capacity at regional and country levels, combined with a global normative and standard-setting toolbox, are at the disposal of our UN partners, so that we can boost the spirit of multilateralism and achieve lasting progress together.


Over the past year, you have led the FAO Liaison Office in New York through the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic. How did this new challenge affect the way you conduct you daily work, and what means did you use to adapt and move forward?

In more ways than one, FAO has been at the epicentre of this pandemic: first, as it swept through Italy, home of our headquarters, and then as it ravaged New York. Most of the scheduled meetings in the UN were downsized and postponed, therefore we had to adjust accordingly and adapt to the new normal by teleworking and conducting events on online platforms. The FAO New York team left our offices in mid-March and we haven’t returned since –at least not all of us and not on a regular basis. That withstanding, the pandemic has given us a chance to develop our skills in technologies and innovation, which we have used to continue our work and reach out to even more stakeholders than ever before. For example, for the first time we have been able to successfully organize a virtual launch for our flagship publication The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020. Moreover, we were able to coordinate a number of virtual events in the 75th session of the UN General Assembly, including the first observance of the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste. We even joined forces with a number of dignitaries from across the globe, as well as the UN Orchestra, to celebrate FAO’s 75th anniversary virtually. Harnessing the power of digital technologies to pilot and accelerate innovative ideas is at the heart of the Director-General’s vision for FAO who has encouraged us to explore the adoption of technologies in order to empower rural households and inspire youth entrepreneurship in food and agriculture. With that as our guide, we have made the most of the hand that we have been dealt with, and we continue to push forward with the same resourcefulness and positive attitude!

 

After having spent many years in Europe and the United States, you now stand ready to return to Africa and assume duties as the Director of the FAO Office in Kenya. How does it feel to be back in the field, and what are you most looking forward to in your new work environment?

I first visited Kenya in 2008 when the country was hosting the FAO Regional Conference for Africa, and I was immediately impressed by the buzzing local and diplomatic community. Nairobi is the hub of UN agencies in Africa, and I am very excited to join the dedicated team of FAO staff, and meet with my counterparts from the headquarters of UN Environment Programme, UN Habitat, and other UNON entities. The new generation of UN Country Teams is demand-driven, with enhanced skillsets that are tailored to meet the specific development priorities and needs of countries. I am glad to take an active role in their midst and collaborate closely with all of them. I strongly believe that this post will allow me tap on all the insights that I have gathered over years of work at the UN headquarters, and use them to attain substantial and impactful results on the field.

 

In New York you leave behind a rich legacy of supporting a number of UN resolutions and facilitating key partnerships between FAO and representatives from Member States, UN agencies, civil society, the private sector, and academia. What will you miss the most?

First and foremost, I will miss the people: my New York team with whom we have gone through so much, my colleagues from the UN System, including the RBAs and the SAs, with whom we have stood side-by-side under various circumstances. I will miss the atmosphere of negotiations and FAO’s engagement in the different inter-agency working groups. It has been a particular pleasure to have hosted so many esteemed officials, including the FAO Director-General who has visited New York numerous times and provided us with encouragement to make strides in our work. Also, I have enjoyed meeting with young people from universities and farmers who we have invited as guests in many events, and seeing the excitement in their eyes as they become part of the UN family. There have been so many moments worth remembering but the life of a UN officer is not bound to nostalgia. We take in all experiences and forge ahead. In Mozambique we have a saying that goes “mountains don’t meet; people do”, and I believe that I will meet many of my New York colleagues again.