CFS: 99/5



Twenty-fifth Session

Rome, 31 May - 3 June 1999



This document has been prepared as a discussion paper, in accordance with the guidance provided by the CFS at its Twenty-third and Twenty-fourth Sessions. The subject matter is limited to issues relating to the work of CFS itself, and does not enter into issues relating to FAO's overall relations with civil society, which are being addressed separately.

Many of the proposals discussed are already under implementation or being actively pursued. Thus it seemed most appropriate to report on and provide evaluative remarks about the various actions underway or being considered, without presenting any formal recommendations for decision. Instead, the Committee's views and guidance are sought on the various points discussed.

The Bureau has considered this matter, and given its consent to the approach that has been adopted, but has requested that, when the secretariat transmits the document to member countries and invited observers, a cover note explaining the secretariat's reasoning regarding the nature of the document be attached. This note responds to that request.

Table of Contents


1. This paper discusses suggestions for broadening the participation of civil society organizations in the work of the CFS and the Summit implementation process. It takes into consideration and synthesizes the various proposals that have emerged during the previous CFS debates, as well as the wider review of FAO's cooperation with non-governmental organizations (NGOs); and experiences of UN agencies and fora in managing participation of civil society organizations (CSOs) in follow-up to major international conferences. Information and suggestions are provided on activities that the secretariat, governments and CSOs themselves are pursuing or could pursue to enhance the participation of civil society and other partners in the work of the CFS and in the Summit follow-up process more generally. The ongoing and suggested activities discussed in the document are summarised below.

2. Enhanced information exchange

3. Contributions of civil society and other partners to technical documents

4. Participation in CFS meetings

5. Enhanced dialogue



6. The World Food Summit Plan of Action encourages governments to collaborate with civil society organizations, international organizations and UN system agencies in implementing the Plan. In particular, governments have undertaken, where appropriate, "to formulate and launch national Food for All Campaigns, in collaboration with civil society, to mobilize all stakeholders at all levels of society and their resources in each country, in support of the implementation of the World Food Summit Plan of Action" (WFS PoA, 7.1.c).

7. Many CSOs are actively lobbying for and taking direct action to implement the Plan of Action at the national, regional and international levels. CSOs are active participants in national World Food Day observances and Food for All Campaigns, both of which contribute to raising of awareness about food security issues and to mobilization of resources.

8. Collaboration among international agencies that are involved in summit follow-up at field level is managed through the Administrative Committee on Coordination (ACC), and its Network on Rural Development and Food Security. This network of 20 UN System organizations is jointly managed by FAO and IFAD, in close cooperation with WFP. Thematic Groups on food security issues are backstopped by this network in a number of countries; local CSOs participate in these groups on an ad hoc basis. It is anticipated that as these Thematic Groups become more well-established, CSOs that are already engaged in direct action to support Summit goals, will participate more systematically in their work. In a number of countries donor agencies are exploring ways to mobilise support for people's organizations and other CSOs active at the field level, especially through capacity building and training. Such support should enhance the effectiveness of these local CSOs as full partners in the implementation of the Summit Plan of Action.


9. Broadened participation of civil society in the work of the CFS must be situated in the overall context of FAO's evolving relationship with civil society.

10. At the request of the Director General, the Unit for Cooperation with the Private Sector and NGOs (TCDN), has coordinated a review of FAO policy and strategy for NGO/CSO cooperation in consultation with NGOs from all regions, FAO decentralized offices and technical departments. The review examined the scope for enhanced cooperation between FAO and CSOs in four areas: information sharing and analysis; policy dialogue; field programmes; and resource mobilization. The active participation of civil society representatives has been sought throughout the process. The report of the review will present FAO's strategy and priorities in these areas and will respond to the CFS's concern to see civil society participation strengthened in all aspects of the implementation of the WFS Plan of Action.


11. The World Food Summit (WFS) Secretariat was mandated to encourage the participation of civil society organizations (CSOs) at national, regional and international levels in the Summit preparatory process. At the national level, the Secretariat provided information on how to become involved in country preparations. At the regional level, consultations were organized prior to the 1996 FAO Regional Conferences. At the international level, non-governmental organizations (NGOs)1 were invited to give feedback on the Technical Background papers and to participate in the open-ended working group and the Special Session of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS 22) that prepared the Plan of Action.

12. NGOs, particularly those that participated in preparatory activities at the regional level, were invited to attend the World Food Summit as observers and to attend the NGO meeting held prior to CFS 22. At the Summit itself, over 800 persons representing more than 400 international and national organizations of a wide range of different types participated, in addition to some 100 CSO representatives who participated as part of their government delegations.

13. The World Food Summit Plan of Action (PoA) recognizes the indispensable role of civil society in attaining the seven commitments stipulated in the Plan and adopted by the Summit, and urges governments to act in partnership with civil society in carrying out the majority of actions envisaged. The Plan of Action also specifically encourages collaboration with other intergovernmental organizations and UN system agencies in implementing its actions.

14. The Plan of Action also calls for active monitoring of its implementation and entrusts this responsibility to the Committee on World Food Security. Thus Objective 7.3 of the PoA calls on the CFS to monitor the national, regional, sub-regional and international implementation of the World Food Summit Plan of Action (para.7.3.e), and to encourage the effective participation of relevant actors of civil society in the CFS monitoring process, recognizing their critical role in enhancing food security (para. 7.3.g).

15. The Committee on World Food Security, in its Twenty-third Session in April 1997 (the first session following the Summit), recognized the important role played by civil society organizations in the preparatory process of the World Food Summit and encouraged them to continue to participate in the work of the CFS. The CFS requested the Secretariat to take interim measures to broaden NGO participation at its next session.

16. In its Twenty-fourth Session in June 1998, the CFS decided that the subject of Broadened Participation of Civil Society and Other Partners in the Work of CFS should be a main agenda item at the Committee's Twenty-fifth Session and requested that the Secretariat prepare a discussion paper on this subject. This document responds to that request.



Facilitation of information exchange by the FAO Secretariat

17. Enhancing information exchange is a fundamental step in broadening participation of civil society and other partners in the Summit follow-up implementation process. Better communication flows should help to mobilize public awareness and promote a dialogue on key food security issues at national, regional and international levels. Actions that the secretariat has initiated or is actively considering to enhance information exchange and improve communication, in addition to a planned FAO-wide "partners site" for civil society organizations, are discussed below.

18. The FAO web site currently contains several locations that cover food security issues: e.g. a page on the World Food Summit with the Declaration and Plan of Action; a page giving access to documents and reports of CFS meetings; and a page dedicated to the ACC Network on Rural Development and Food Security. In order for this information to be readily accessible, clear indications are being introduced on the FAO home page about where CFS information can be found, and how the various pages dedicated to food security issues are linked to each other.

19. Greater use of the FAO web site offers an excellent means to enhance information exchange and can be done with existing resources. Civil society organizations and other partners in all parts of the world increasingly have access to the Internet. Many NGOs make it a point to transmit information available on the Internet to others who do not have access.

20. The FAO web site can be used to foster discussion on food security and the implementation of the World Food Summit Plan of Action by developing a page dedicated to this discussion. The FAO secretariat is exploring the modality and feasibility of establishing an Internet Forum on WFS Follow-up along the lines of the model provided by the electronic conference already in operation on the FAO/Netherlands Conference on Multifunctional Agriculture and Land Management. This model includes: background information on the Conference; an invitation to civil society organizations to join in the discussion; a periodically updated summary of the contributions to the discussion; and a questionnaire to guide civil society organizations in making their contributions to the discussion.

21. The secretariat is also exploring methods that might be used to facilitate direct communications between the Secretariat, civil society organizations and other partners. Methods under consideration include greater use of direct mailings and sharing of mailing lists, as well as of the interactive Internet web page, and action by FAO Representatives and Regional Offices to encourage and engage in dialogue with civil society organizations and other partners (UN system agencies, bilateral donors). More specifically, in their countries or regions of assignment, FAORs and outposted officers may be asked to:

Reporting by civil society organizations on actions taken to support implementation of the World Food Summit Plan of Action

22. Many CSOs are already supporting local and national action to implement the WFS Plan of Action in a number of concrete ways that may not be yet fully reflected in existing reporting procedures. The national reports, prepared by governments, on actions taken to implement the commitments to the Plan of Action are expected to cover contributions of all relevant partners at the national level. Several of the country reports received for CFS 24 mentioned collaboration with CSOs and other partners in different areas, but coverage has not been systematic.

23. The intergovernmental organizations and UN system partners of the CFS are involved in resource mobilization and implementation of actions to attain the goals of the World Food Summit as well as those of the global agenda emerging from the other major conferences of the 1990s. Mechanisms to coordinate response to these conferences have been developed by the UN Economic and Social Council and the ACC.

24. The CFS already invites international organizations and intergovernmental bodies to submit their own progress reports on WFS PoA implementation, in accordance with agreed reporting formats and procedures. The CFS received reports from 14 United Nations agencies, 13 international organizations and 6 regional bodies prior to its 1998 meeting. This practice is expected to continue unchanged.

25. While participation of intergovernmental organizations and UN system partners in implementing the Summit Plan of Action is well coordinated and reported to the CFS, there are few mechanisms available for CSO partners to become systematically involved and to inform the CFS about their participation in implementing WFS follow-up actions. Some possibilities that the secretariat is considering for redressing this situation could be to:


26. Based on the positive experience during the preparations for the World Food Summit, it has been suggested that civil society organizations and other partners be given the opportunity to make known their views on technical issues that are going to be discussed by the CFS and/or be the subject of technical documents presented to it. Possibilities for encouraging and facilitating inputs of CSOs and other partners into the preparation of technical documents are summarised below.

Contribution of written views on technical issues

27. Civil society organizations (CSOs) and other partners could be offered the opportunity to give written views on technical issues to be debated by CFS through e-mail or post, and an e-mail conference could be set up that would allow those with access to e-mail to read and react to these views. This approach would be quite open-ended in terms of giving wide opportunity to all partners to make contributions. However, it would also be demanding in terms of time and resources required if the secretariat had to read, filter and synthesize all the views expressed. The secretariat would also not wish to undertake the task of discriminating amongst conflicting views that might be expressed by different segments of civil society on particular issues. A simpler alternative could be to post draft outlines of technical documents for CFS meetings on the Internet, and invite written contributions.

28. Civil society organizations and other partners could be invited to identify technical issues that, in their view, have emerged as particularly important for WFS PoA implementation, and to inform the secretariat of their findings and conclusions on these issues.

29. Inputs from the above processes, as well as from informal dialogue with CSOs, would be used by the secretariat in preparing the background documents for consideration at each session of the CFS. In addition, they could be circulated and presented in summary form during the course of the CFS debate on the issue concerned, providing resources were made available from within the NGO community for the preparation of such summaries, and translation into the working languages of the Committee, if required.

Invited papers and reports

30. A number of CSOs and other partners possess specialised technical expertise that is relevant to themes that the CFS will likely wish to debate as part of its consideration of thematic issues relevant to the WFS follow-up process. In preparing its future agendas, the Committee could request the Bureau and the secretariat to invite partners with competence on a subject of particular interest to the Committee to present reports or statements for the record on these specified topics.

31. Some CSOs have expresssed an interest in the possibility of their presenting a consolidated CSO assessment report on progress in implementing the WFS Plan of action and achieving the WFS goals. The Committee could invite CSOs to prepare such a report for circulation as part of the documentation at each biennial monitoring session".


Attendance at meetings

32. Existing procedures for inviting civil society organizations and other partners to CFS sessions are already quite flexible and open-ended. According to the current criteria, any international NGO that has a record of activity relevant to food security is eligible to be invited to attend the CFS. The secretariat extends an invitation to any eligible NGO or other partner if the organization has traditionally participated in the work of the CFS, or if it participated actively in the work of the Inter-Sessional Working Group of the CFS created to oversee the process of preparation of the World Food Summit, or if an explicit expression of interest is received. In addition, the secretariat also invites all UN agencies and other international and inter-governmental bodies and organizations that have an interest in WFS PoA implementation to participate as observers in the work of CFS. Governments are encouraged to include national CSOs in their national delegations. This offers benefits such as access to information and capacity building, and gives the CSO delegation members the opportunity to speak during plenary debates, with the permission of their delegation leader. National NGOs desiring to attend CFS which are members of INGOs and/or international NGO networks, can be accommodated as members of their national delegations.

33. The Global Forum on Sustainable Food and Nutritional Security, which groups a number of CSOs in different regions, has presented a proposal (see CFS:98/Inf.6) to broaden participation to achieve balanced regional representation, in particular to ensure better participation of developing country CSOs; and gender-balanced representation, recognizing the fundamental role of women in sustainable food and nutrition security. However, achieving such a balanced representation depends essentially on the CSOs themselves. CSOs could consider setting aside a certain percentage of funds for women participants. CSOs could also be encouraged to include the views of women and of other disadvantaged sectors of society (e.g. indigenous groups, landless communities, minorities) in making their technical contributions.

34. In view of the flexibility of existing procedures, no formalisation of criteria for participation of civil society organizations and other partners in CFS meetings beyond those that are already in use appears warranted, unless more general changes are introduced into the General Rules and Regulations governing attendance at all FAO meetings.

Participation in meetings

35. At present, CSOs and other partners are invited to participate in the work of the CFS as observers. They are normally granted the right to speak only after the CFS members have finished speaking. CSOs attending the CFS, while grateful for the chance to speak, would like to be able to intervene earlier in the meeting and take a more active part in the debate, and to have their views reflected in the Report of each of the Committee's Sessions. While, according to existing rules, this is a matter that lies entirely within the discretion of the Committee Chairman, the Committee may wish to provide some guidance to the Chair from amongst the following possibilities.

36. In all three cases, CSOs representing different interests should not be required to present consensus statements, but should be encouraged to synthesize their various views (see box for options that the CSOs might consider for designating their spokespersons).


37. Civil society organizations that regularly attend CFS have requested that a number of measures be introduced or strengthened to enable them to interact informally with CFS members on Summit follow-up issues of mutual concern.

38. The secretariat proposes to facilitate informal dialogue between CSOs and CFS members by arranging periodic meetings between CSO representatives, the secretariat and the CFS Bureau, and by providing space and facilities to CSOs just prior to and during CFS meetings for pre-CFS preparatory meetings, caucuses, workshops and informal meetings, exhibits and displays, meetings with the media, and preparation, duplication and distribution of statements and other information materials.

39. CSOs could be encouraged by the CFS to hold regional civil society consultations in conjunction with the FAO Regional Conferences' bi-annual reviews of the implementation of the WFS Plan of Action. NGOs greatly appreciated the opportunities provided by the regional NGO meetings held before the 1996 FAO Regional Conferences to discuss the issues of the World Food Summit and to consolidate regional perspectives. They would like to see this practice continued. Since the financial implications of arranging such consultations are considerable, appropriate mechanisms for extra-budgetary funding would need to be found.

40. The idea of holding an international conference for civil society organisations in the year 2006, i.e. at the time of the mid-term review of the progress in reducing the number of undernourished, could also be considered. This would serve to mobilize public support for continued effort to implement the WFS Plan of Action and to share good practices and activities to accelerate the achievement of its goals.


In the event that the CFS agrees that a small number of designated spokespersons may intervene in its meetings, CSOs will need to decide among themselves how to select them. CSOs have various options for selecting spokespersons, including but not limited to the following:

a) Nominate representatives of CSOs prior to each CFS meeting
CSOs could nominate spokespersons during a pre-CFS meeting prior to each CFS session. These spokespersons could be the main interlocutors with the CFS until the next CFS.
Pros and cons
: This would allow the CSOs most active and present at a given CFS meeting to ensure that their views are presented. However, INGOs with representatives in Rome and Geneva would have a distinct advantage because of their physical proximity to Rome. CSOs from other parts of the world may find it more difficult to find the funds to travel to Rome for the meetings.

b) Select representatives on the basis of categories
CSOs may wish to group themselves into categories and select a spokesperson for each category. Such categories might include:

  • People's organizations based on membership, such as farmers'associations and consumers'groups.
  • Advocacy CSOs dealing with food security and sustainable development issues.
  • Service delivery CSOs that support and implement development projects and programmes.
  • Business, professional and academic associations.

Pros and cons: Representation based on categories such as these would help ensure the participation and contributions of a wide range of civil society organizations that are involved in food security activities at different levels. However, some CSOs that may find it difficult or may not wish to place themselves within a given category.

c) Select representatives on the basis of region
CSOs could select their spokespersons by region. CSOs in any given region would have to negotiate among themselves to ensure representativity of the range of views in the region. They would also have to establish some means of consolidating their views prior to the CFS meetings.
Pros and cons: This would ensure a more balanced regional CSO input to the CFS. Those regions that are unable to send a large number of CSO representatives to the CFS meetings would not be disadvantaged as compared to those regions that can send more representatives because of greater financial means or proximity. However, it may be difficult to represent the range of views among different types of CSOs in region.

d) Select representatives on the basis of caucuses of different interest groups
CSOs may wish to consider organizing themselves in specific interest groups that cut across regions and other categories.
Pros and cons: This would help ensure that all points of view are presented to the CFS. However, there could be a proliferation of special interest caucuses to the extent that it becomes impossible to accommodate all of their interventions.


Experience of other UN agencies and programmes

41. There is a wide range of experience of relationships with civil society organizations within the UN system. This section gives a brief overview of the relationships of some UN agencies and programmes with civil society organizations. Further information is available in the publication The NGLS Handbook of UN Agencies, Programmes and Funds Working for Economic and Social Development (1997).

42. The Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (ECOSOC) recently conducted a review of it relations with Non-Governmental Organizations which resulted in Resolution 1996/36-1, updating the procedures for NGO consultative status with UN economic and social bodies.

43. Two important innovations are embodied in the new resolution as compared to the 1968 version:

44. The Secretariat of ECOSOC has had to face logistical problems of handling an increasing volume of requests for consultative status as a result of the 1996 resolution. It has also been noted that while the resolution was intended to achieve a better balance of NGO representation from all regions, Southern NGOs often lack the means and structures to take advantage of these new possibilities. Unless consideration is given to communicating and facilitating applications from Southern NGOs, the result could be a greater imbalance of Northern NGOs, which are better placed to submit and defend their requests.

45. Many UN organizations and agencies have developed relations with CSOs that do not have consultative status with ECOSOC. These relations are pragmatically based on the needs of both the agency and the CSOs. For instance, both the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) work extensively with service delivery CSOs, in particular in implementing their work in emergency situations.

46. Some agencies consider it important to develop practical cooperation with the private sector because of the growing importance of the market sector. The United Nations Conference of Trade and Development (UNCTAD), for instance, has developed joint activities with businesses. The presence of business associations was also considered indispensable during the negotiation of the Climate Change Convention, although conflicts arose between business associations and environmental CSOs and even within the private sector community itself as some businesses were more interested than others in promoting environmentally friendly policies.

47. On the whole, most UN agencies provide for formal consultative relations with CSOs with expertise in the specific competence of the agency and also maintain informal relations on a case to case basis with CSOs at the operational level.

Experience of other UN fora in follow-up to major international conferences

48. A great deal of experience has been accumulated in follow-up to the major UN conferences held in the 1990s. A wide range of civil society actors has participated in this follow-up on various levels.

49. The UN world conferences have succeeded in mobilizing widespread awareness of the issues of environment, human rights, population, sustainable development, and women. In general, the greater the involvement of CSOs in the preparatory activities and the Conferences themselves, the greater has been their involvement in mobilizing awareness within their own organizations and in society at large. User-friendly information issued by UN organizations has also been extremely useful in building awareness and debate on the key issues. This information has been issued through publications of the UN organizations and through their web sites.

50. On the national level many CSOs have been actively involved in cooperating with and lobbying their governments to implement the Plans of Action and other instruments resulting from international UN fora. Reports and updates issued by UN bodies on progress made by governments in implementing these instruments are very useful for CSOs to see where their governments stand in comparison with others.

51. Mechanisms have been established to allow CSOs to participate in the monitoring of the implementation of Plans of Action and other instruments that have resulted from UN world conferences. Some examples:

52. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) has invited CSOs to submit information to its Special Rapporteurs and thematic working groups on violations of human rights. Instructions for filing complaints or submitting information on the violation of human rights are posted on the UNHCHR web site. The UNIFEM web site also gives accessible and user-friendly instructions as well as advice on how best to submit such information.

53. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has provided financial support to CSO projects designed to build awareness and monitor implementation of the six priority areas of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action in several countries.

54. The Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW) has issued an invitation to CSOs to contribute ideas and suggestions for further actions and initiatives for the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action for consideration at the Special Session on the implementation of the Platform to be held in 2000.

55. Civil society organizations have been invited to participate in the five year review processes in follow-up to major UN Conferences. The International Forum ICPD+5 (International Conference on Population and Development Five Years Later), for instance, will bring together civil society representatives as well as governments to review the progress made in implementing the ICPD Programme of Action. An NGO Forum will be held prior to the government meeting. The UNFPA is also organizing round tables in different regions on key themes from the Programme of Action.

56. CSOs have a very visible presence at the regular meetings of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR). Facilities are provided for CSOs to meet and form caucuses on key issues and to hold round table discussions and other events. The CHR has also held special sessions during their regular meetings for "interactive dialogue" among governments, intergovernmental agencies and CSOs on key issues.

57. The annual meetings of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) have become significant places for dialogue between governments and CSOs, as well as amongst CSOs themselves on the key issues taken up by the Commission. Facilities are provided for CSO caucuses, exhibits, round tables and briefing sessions. The caucuses, which are both thematic and regional, release statements which are also presented through formal interventions at the CSW sessions. In some cases, as many as five CSO representatives have been allowed to raise crucial issues through formal interventions. The Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW) also organizes an orientation session for CSOs attending the CSW sessions and informal evening dialogues for CSW participants from CSOs and governments.

58. NGOs/CSOs have been very active in the follow-up to the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). The Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD), which is the principle focus for international follow-up to UNCED, posted detailed information on its web site on participation of NGOs at the national level as well as in the CSD meetings and the Special Session of the UN General Assembly. NGOs were allowed to make oral statements during the CSD Intersessional meetings and distribute their own papers. Many opportunities were provided for information consultations between NGOs/CSOs during the meeting.

59. In follow-up to Habitat II - the Second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements - the Habitat Online Partnership Plan of Action has been developed. This is designed to encourage and enable the participation of NGOs and other sectors of civil society in implementing the Habitat Agenda. A form has been developed that can be used to record any project, activity or commitment that any of the partners is undertaking relating to one or more sections of the Agenda. The form is available in a conventional printed format and as a plain text electronic file that can be filled out via e-mail, and in an HTML form that can de filled out directly on the World Wide Web.

60. Some UN organizations have also organized interactive conferences on key issues from the UN world conferences on their web sites.

1   The United Nations system's definition of NGOs is broad: all not-for-profit actors who are not governmental or inter-governmental. The expansion and diversification of this sector and of its relations with the UN, however, is being accompanied by an evolution in terminology. "NGO" now tends to be reserved for formally consistuted organizations which often do not represent sectors of the population but provide services and/or mobilize public opinion in areas of relevance to the UN system. The term "civil society" refers to the sphere in which citizens and social movements organize themselves around objectives, constituencies and thematic interests. "Civil society organizations" (CSOs) include both NGOs and popular organizations - formal and informal - as well as other categories such as the mass media, local authorities, business leaders, and the research community. The term "non-State actors" is even more comprehensive, including also for-profit businesses.