By definition, a programme implementation report looks back at the past. This document is no exception. It sets out, for the attention of FAO Governing Bodies, what the Organization achieved in the 1996-97 biennium with the resources put at its disposal, both under the Regular Programme Appropriation and under extra-budgetary funding.
The modified timing of its submission, as decided by the same Governing Bodies, makes the reporting period coincide with a full biennium, obviating the need to rely on estimates and permitting the provision of firm figures and facts.
Strikingly, this return to the past is also an invitation to look at the future. In fact, several developments took place during the 1996-97 period which will have a long-term impact on the work of this Organization.
For the first time in its more than 50 year history, FAO convened a Summit at the highest political level. The implementation of the November 1996 World Food Summit approved commitments and attendant Plan of Action, embodies a major effort by Member Nations themselves and civil society at large.
FAO will need to lend maximum support to this collective effort and many of its programmes are expected to contribute.
By the end of 1997, much had already been achieved within the framework of the follow-up to the Summit, in particular: draft national agricultural development strategies towards 2010 had been prepared for almost all developing countries and countries in transition; the Food Insecurity and Vulnerability Information and Mapping System had been launched; the Special Programme for Food Security was fully operational in 29 countries and formulated or under formulation in 40 others; and an inter-agency mechanism had been established for the follow-up to the Summit by the UN system at global and local levels.
The past biennium also witnessed the virtual completion of the substantial decentralization initiated in 1994-95. This was buttressed by perhaps the most significant quantum jump in telecommunications capabilities. To borrow from journalistic language, FAO's far flung organizational entities are now "networked" at all levels. Messages, documents or data files flow freely across its entire structure, greatly facilitating exchange of information and concerted action.
The very presence of one-third of its total professional workforce in offices away from Headquarters implies redistribution of responsibilities across units. It leads, in effect, to a radically different mindset in designing and implementing the programme of work. This is not to say that no teething problems were, and may continue to be experienced. These are unavoidable when change is the preferred option to structural conservatism. However, they will be addressed with both determination and pragmatism.
To close this selective review of events of the last biennium, mention should be made of the innovative approach represented by Telefood to mobilizing public opinion and seeking additional resources in the fight against hunger and malnutrition. With the advent of Telefood, World Food Day takes on a truly global dimension.
While much was achieved, one should not overlook that the 1996-97 period was also very trying. The circumstances of the discussion of Programme of Work and Budget (PWB) proposals by the Conference and related decisions at the end of 1995 may seem water under the bridge at the time of writing. However, they did imply a major effort of identification of savings, and a very constraining climate of budgetary stringency for the subsequent biennium. A major reform of FAO's documents and publications activities was implemented, as part of this overall effort. Staff retrenchment was addressed as humanly as possible, despite the fact that no provision was made for the coverage of additional costs. Difficult periods may bring in their wake some benefits in terms of inventiveness and welcome streamlining, but they cannot become a permanent condition. This Organization needs stability to continue to exercise its worthwhile mandate.
Turning to the format of this document, it bears mentioning that, as its predecessors, it covers the entire range of FAO programmes. However, its size was kept within manageable proportions through an important innovative measure. The entire list of outputs included in the PWB 1996-97, and the status of their implementation, are now available for ease of reference or consultation by those interested, on FAO's Internet Web-site. This avoided burdening this Programme Implementation Report (PIR) with the attendant details.
It is also pertinent to observe that this type of ex post facto reporting of achievements, together with the companion Programme Evaluation Report (PER), are likely to undergo substantial change in scope and approach in subsequent biennia. Progress in the application of the revised programming framework endorsed by the Programme Committee and subsequently by FAO Governing Bodies, will substantially affect the basis of reporting implementation results and assessing impact, as traditionally conveyed by the PIR and PER. Therefore, the future versions of these documents are bound to increase their relevance to the enhanced "accountability" chain, as consistently sought by Member Nations.
While destined to be one of the last of an established series in its present form, I trust, nevertheless, that this document will demonstrate adequately the good uses to which the resources entrusted to FAO were put in 1996-97.