FAO Deputy Director-General Ann Tutwiler was in Washington recently for a series of meetings with various US government institutions, nongovernmental and private-sector organizations. The trip marks Tutwiler’s first visit to Washington since taking up her FAO duties. During her visit, she shared with us her impressions of the organization, its strengths and the ongoing reform process.
Can you tell us a little bit about the purpose of your trip? How is it to be back in Washington – albeit with a different hat?
It’s nice to be back and to have so many contacts within the US administration that I’ve worked with previously and can talk to about the good work that FAO is doing. That’s really what I’ve been doing this week. We brought to Washington through video conference our field office in Bangladesh and some of our experts in Rome to talk to an intergovernmental group here about the work we are doing in value chains, conservation agriculture and statistics to make sure that the people in Washington working on food security are aware of the depth of our expertise.
There’s been a lot of talk during your visit of comparative advantages. What do you see as FAO’s strengths?
One of the strong comparative advantages is as a provider of good solid information and policy analysis to help governments make the best decisions possible for their agricultural sectors and to address the problems of hunger and malnutrition. Another important area is the area of codes and standards. An industry group that I met with today actually requires their members to sign on to one of our codes of conduct in order to be members of that industry association. The third area that really has hit home to me during this trip is the fact that we are considered to be a neutral organization and we have convening power with ministries of agriculture, civil society and the business sector that really no other global organization can replicate.
What are your impressions of how the organization is doing in its ongoing reform process?
From what I’ve seen, senior management is taking the reforms very seriously and moving with all due speed to get the reforms finished. Most importantly, there’s been a renewed connection between the reforms, which are very important processes that we are undertaking, and the need to make sure that the culture of the organization also supports those reforms. We’re linking those two processes very closely, which is important for the sustainability of the reforms.
Your appointment broke historic ground in that you are the first woman Deputy Director-General, the highest-ranking woman since FAO’s founding in 1945. Can we take this as a sign of FAO’s changing culture?
It’s an important symbol – absolutely. But what’s more important is the work that we recently did on The State of Food and Agriculture, where we looked at what would happen if you actually gave women equal access to land, to finance, to inputs, to education and training, and the statistics are quite stunning in that if you simply did that it would reduce the number of hungry and malnourished people in the world by a 120-140 million people. That kind of groundbreaking work about the importance of gender as we are tackling the problem of hunger is really what’s most significant.