PC 85/7


Eighty-fifth Session

Rome, 7 - 11 May 2001

The Level of FAO's Field Programme -
A Progress Report

Table of Contents

I. Introduction

1. The Programme Committee, at its 83rd Session in May 2000, emphasized the key dual functions of the field programme of translating into action the results of its normative activities, and enhancing the relevance of its normative work through feedback from field applications. It also noted that FAO's overall field programme delivery had increased between 1998 and 1999, although it recognized that this was largely due to Emergency Operations. While the Committee welcomed FAO's action in providing assistance to member countries in emergency situations, and the increasing reliance of donors and recipients on the Organization's capacity to provide such assistance in a prompt and efficient manner, it also noted with concern the declining trend in extra-budgetary resources for non-emergency field programme activities. As regards the on-going process of decentralization of operational activities, the Committee expressed concern at the possible negative impact on FAO's technical activities and agreed that this additional decentralization process should be implemented in a gradual and phased manner.

2. This paper presents a progress report on activities undertaken by the Organization since May 2000 both in response to these concerns, and in order to halt and reverse the declining trend in extra-budgetary resources for non-emergency field programme activities.

II. Strategic Context

3. Since the early 1960s, extra-budgetary resources have been of vital importance to FAO in delivering the programmes requested by the Organization's Members. Such resources are expected to be of continued importance to future programmes as well, as is recognized in The Strategic Framework for FAO 2000-2015 which, under the cross-Organizational strategy "Leveraging Resources for FAO and its Members", states that "Emphasis needs to be placed on expanding the total resources applied to the principal programmes espoused by the Organization...", and which contains a specific strategy "to increase the leverage of resources in support of the Organization's mandated functions... ".

4. In approving the Strategic Framework, the membership recognized the importance of operational field activities as being essential to FAO because of their contribution to the Organization's normative work through the feedback they generate from field experience - field activities test concepts and methodologies developed by normative work and then lead to their implementation on a large scale following successful pilot activities.

III. Historical Delivery Data

5. An analysis by the Technical Cooperation Department of the field programme over the last two biennia shows a decline in delivery (around 10% per year) of non-emergency, extra-budgetary projects in direct support of developing countries, as well as a concentration in geographic coverage and of sources of funding. Thus, total delivery of donor-funded technical cooperation (DFTC)1, excluding emergencies, decreased by US$52 million over the past four years, from US$202 million in 1996 to US$150 million in 1999.

6. The geographic distribution of DFTC also showed a trend towards concentration: in 1996, 50 countries had over US$1 million in project delivery, while in 1999 only 24 countries registered delivery levels above US$1 million. In 47 countries, FAO's presence through donor-funded technical cooperation was very low or non-existent.

7. The decline in the delivery of DFTC to countries from 1996 through 1999 varied by region. The decrease was most pronounced in the Near East, where it declined by 38%, followed by Africa, 33%, and Asia, 26%, whereas in Latin America it remained stable. Inter-country projects showed a decrease over the same period of 26%.

8. For the year 2000, delivery continued to decline even though budgets were adequate to maintain 1999 delivery levels. This decline is expected to be of a temporary nature, due to adjustment problems related to the introduction of new modalities for project implementation and of new financial accounting systems, as well as staff reductions in the establishment necessitated by declining support cost income.

9. Given that the problems in meeting delivery targets during 2000 are expected to have been overcome, the overall prospects for halting the decline and recovering delivery in 2001 to the levels of recent years or even higher are positive. This view is reinforced by the fact that the level of approved budgets for the current year is healthy and demonstrates that funding for both technical and emergency assistance is not a major constraint to improved performance.

IV. Assessment of the causes of the decline of the non-emergency Field Programme

10. In response to this situation, the Director-General established in July 2000 a Task Force on Field Programme Development, headed by the Deputy Director-General, to conduct an Organization-wide review into the causes for the decline of the non-emergency Field Programme and propose remedial measures.

11. The Task Force identified that external factors partially beyond direct control of FAO and related to changes in the level of investment in agriculture, the modalities of providing technical assistance, the modes of cooperation with donors, and in the demand for technical assistance by developing countries and countries in transition had a major impact on overall resource availability. But at the same time, FAO's performance was not up to its potential due to a variety of internal factors related to the degree of involvement of technical departments in field programme activities; the capacity of Regional, Sub-regional Offices and Country Offices; the dialogue with donors; management and administrative shortcomings; and the need for a redefinition of the roles and responsibilities in the project cycle.

12. The Secretariat believes that this reversal can be managed by concentrating on five crucial dimensions of the problem:

  1. Targeting Priorities: A systematic effort needs to be undertaken to assess the technical assistance needs of countries and the priorities of donors, and to relate them to FAO's own capacity, strengths and weaknesses. As an ad hoc measure, multi-disciplinary teams will be sent to selected countries where there is potential for project funding (either under Unilateral Trust Fund arrangements or from traditional sources) with a view towards developing, on a pilot basis, a summary description of priority areas for technical assistance from FAO for each country visited. A key outcome would be to develop a replicable methodology, including the necessary linkages with CCA/UNDAF exercises, to be followed by future multi-disciplinary missions.

  2. Strengthening the Field Programme Development Process: The internal chain of command and the assignment of responsibilities for programme development and implementation require more precise definition and clarification, as they currently appear dispersed over a number of units whose respective roles and relationships are not sufficiently clear. The Task Force supported the review of functions and responsibilities within the Technical Cooperation Department, including the roles and functions of the Regional and Sub-regional Offices in the project cycle. It also recommended a critical review of the budget, staffing and existing programmes of country offices as well as the mobilization of additional funds for programme and project formulation to complement the limited resources of the Project Identification Facility.

  3. Technical Quality: There seems to be evidence of a decline in the level of involvement of technical department Headquarters staff in field activities (20% in 1998-99, compared to more than 30% in preceding periods). This reduced level of participation seems to be the result of an under-appreciation of the mutually beneficial synergies existing between normative and operational activities. In response to this trend and as priority action, technical departments are reviewing their Medium Term Plans to identify those normative areas in which technical assistance needs are increasing as well as other normative activities for which there is a reasonable likelihood of donor support.

  4. New Partners: There is need to improve the existing means of dialogue with donors and to adapt to the changes that have occurred in recent years in the way donors operate and how they fund technical assistance. New forms of partnership with donors, the private sector and NGOs are being explored, including the delegation of selected functions for dialogue with donors to the Regional and Sub-regional Offices and FAORs. Moreover, donors will be invited early in the project cycle to participate, more systematically than in the past, in project development, particularly at the formulation and appraisal stage.

  5. Field Programme Management: One of the constraints to expanded donor support for FAO's technical cooperation activities is the perceived inefficiency in administrative and operational support and resulting high costs. In order to address those issues that can only be resolved through interdepartmental cooperation and consultation, the Field Programme Committee has been reactivated to guide and monitor the field programme development process, and to conduct, inter alia, a comprehensive review of FAO's administrative and operational policies, procedures and practices that are relevant for field operations.

V. Reorganization of the Technical Cooperation Department

13. The trends observed in the volume and structure of FAO's field programme required a review of the capacity of the Technical Cooperation Department to operate in the changing context. It was found that the Department's structure was too complex and unwieldy (e.g. three divisions and five units reported directly to the ADG-TC) and therefore no longer adequate to meet the challenges described above. It was decided to approach restructuring in a phased manner, thus permitting adjustments as the implementation progresses.

Restructuring of TCO

14. The first step in this effort is the reorganization of the Field Operations Division (TCO), which is currently underway. It is expected to improve the Department's capacity to carry out its mandate and strengthen its role in coordinating and monitoring the field programme in its emerging configuration. The reorganization of TCO is a major step in the effort of reversing the current declining performance in the delivery of non-emergency field activities. The following factors made this reform necessary:

  1. The implementation of the decentralization of operations through the Change Management Team foresees a diminished role for TCO in direct project execution. Global and Interregional projects, as well as projects in the Europe Region, for which TCO was hitherto responsible, have been transferred to the Technical Departments and REU/SEUR respectively. In contrast, the transfer of operational responsibilities to a diverse range of operating units including FAORs and Regional Technical Units calls for a sharper focus on trend analysis, monitoring, quality control, programme policy and procedures to ensure coherence and reporting.

  2. The unprecedented growth of emergency projects operated by TCOR, including an increasing emphasis on rehabilitation, also requires attention in terms of resources and methods of work but without structural implications at least for the near future.

  3. Within an overall framework of otherwise declining resources and operational projects, the Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS) is growing at an accelerated pace both in quantitative and qualitative terms. The number, volume and complexity of its operations and the primary role played by TCO in its conception, development, financing and monitoring require a greater concentration of resources in this area.

  4. The setting for technical cooperation is evolving rapidly outside FAO because of a number of external factors including UNDP's declining resources for funding technical assistance. An important new element is the emergence of UNDAF, CCA and other comprehensive development frameworks under the aegis of the UN or the World Bank, to which donors are according progressively more importance. Such changes have an effect on the critical area of resource mobilization.

15. The first part of the reorganization of the TC Department has been implemented. TCO now is composed of the following four services:

16. While TCOT, TCOR and TCOS will be strengthened, partially by redeploying professional staff, their functions remain essentially unchanged. The creation of TCOM constitutes a major strengthening of the Organization's capacity to coordinate and monitor the implementation of the field programme that will in the future be operated by FAO Representations, Technical Officers and by a very reduced number of Country Project Officers (CPOs) in the Regional Offices for those countries without FAO Representation. TCOM will monitor the field programme, covering the entire project cycle, and be responsible for the preparation of analytical reports on delivery performance and forecasts permitting rapid assessment of project delivery performance for management. It will for this purpose operate the web-based Field Programme Management Information System (FPMIS) that will be ready for testing by mid 2001. The FPMIS is an essential cornerstone of the decentralization process as it will provide FAO managers in all locations with an easy, user-friendly access to project-related financial and qualitative information, procedures and project related documents and donor information. Much of this data will come from existing databases, including the Data Warehouse.

17. Pending the creation of a module in the FPMIS for monitoring the evolution of the project pipeline, TCO is conducting periodic reviews of the project pipeline in collaboration with the Regional Offices and TCDM. Furthermore, the TC Department has started a review of the entire project cycle, involving the Policy Assistance Division (TCA), TCO, TCDM and the technical divisions in order to assign clear responsibilities and accountability throughout the project cycle, aiming at cost-effective formulation of project documents meeting the requirements of recipient and donor governments alike, while ensuring compliance with FAO's goals and priorities.

18. TCOM is playing a central role, through the re-activated Field Programme Committee, in the review of operational and administrative procedures.

Review of TCA

19. The Policy Assistance Division (TCA) resulted from the 1996 restructuring that, among other changes, transformed the Development Department into the Technical Cooperation Department. TCA inherited some of the functions of the Policy Analysis Division (ESP) and of the Field Programme Development Division (DDF). This diverse origin is still reflected today in the staff of TCA and the mixed experience and skills of its individual officers. Shortly after its creation, the Division was decentralised through the creation of the Policy Assistance Branches (PABs) and Policy Assistance Units (PAUs) in the Regional and Sub-regional Offices.

20. In January 2001, TCA conducted a seminar to review its present and future activities and to assess the activities, potentials and constraints of the PABS/PAUs in the context of the mandate of TCA within the Organization. The most important finding of the seminar was the confirmation of the enhanced role of TCA in field programme development, and the clarification of its role in the management of the project pipeline. For this, specific mechanisms are being worked out and established to ensure speedy formulation and processing of projects.

21. In the recent context of zero nominal growth budgets, taking on additional responsibility in field programme development carries the risk of allocating reduced resources to policy advice, with consequences for its quality and effectiveness - despite a growing demand for policy assistance by countries, as stated in the PBEE Evaluation Report (PC 85/4). This difficulty can only be resolved by an increased productivity of the available resources (both human and financial), and by more effectively tapping all sources of funding (SPPD, TCP, SPFS and others). Staff productivity can also be enhanced by training and upgrading of skills, so as to better adjust staff profiles to responsibilities (increased specialisation reflected in the internal organisation of the Division and its Units), and by improving criteria for recruitment.

Relations with Funding Sources

22. The Technical Cooperation Department has initiated a strategic dialogue with bilateral and multilateral donors with a view to identifying areas of cooperation that reflect shared priorities, leading to the mobilization of extra-budgetary resources. In this connection, emphasis is being placed on the need to promote the programme development process and the formulation of marketable programmes by providing the tools for the development and presentation of proposals, information about procedures for extra-budgetary resource mobilisation, identifying niches for high-quality expertise where FAO has a strong comparative advantage, coordinating market studies, and contributing to the elaboration of FAO's field programme development strategy.

23. This strategy also foresees a number of other elements:

- the coordination of FAO's contacts with public and private external partners;

- the dissemination of needs in support of emerging issues in line with FAO's strategies and programmes;

- the maintenance of strategic and up-to-date information on policies and priorities of donor governments and other partners, disseminated within FAO to all concerned units, including Regional, Sub-regional and Country Offices.

- guidance for project formulators on funding criteria of the individual donors, also made available to the field offices through the FPMIS;

- continuation of the regular annual donor meetings with bilateral donors;

- multi-donor meetings on particular high priority programmes; and

- ad-hoc donor meetings on a specific theme with individual or selected groups of donors.

24. Examples of the above can be seen in the multi-donor consultations which have already been held on the Integrated Pest Management Programme (IPM) and in the regional workshops/seminars on food safety issues (application of Codex standards). A multi-donor meeting is planned for end May/early June 2001 in order to assess funding prospects for priority programme needs identified by the Technical Departments and Regional Offices in support of FAO's normative activities. Multi-donor meetings are also planned on specific themes, such as the International Year of Mountains.

25. Intensive consultations are underway with the European Community in order to (a) identify areas, both technical and geographic, for joint action particularly in ACP countries and (b) to review and update the Implementation Arrangement of 1993 with a view to reviewing current legal, financial and administrative mechanisms so as to facilitate future cooperation.

VI. Decentralization of operational activities to the country level

26. The Secretariat reported to the Joint Meeting of the Programme and Finance Committees (JM 2000/INF/3) about the planned transfer of operational responsibilities to 21 country offices (Group A). This transfer was completed in October 2000. Reports from the concerned country offices are satisfactory, even though it is premature to arrive at a final conclusion. The situation is being closely monitored through the financial reporting systems (FPMIS and Data Warehouse) as well as a system of Quarterly Project Implementation Reports.

27. The second phase (Group B) began in February 2001 and is currently ongoing. It began with 10 briefing/training sessions at the Regional Offices, to be followed by on-site visits to each FAO Representation by a CPO for additional practical reinforcement of concepts imparted at the group training sessions. It is recalled that Country Offices were grouped into three categories (A, B and C) in accordance with their degree of preparedness to execute projects:

VII. Reactivation of the Field Programme Committee

28. The internal Field Programme Committee (FPC) has been re-activated under new terms of reference and a renewed composition, regrouping the technical and administrative departments, with a view to promoting, coordinating and monitoring the Organization-wide activities and initiatives aimed at improving and expanding the field programme of the Organization. It involves the Regional and Sub-regional Offices and associates selected country offices in its consultations. In particular, the Committee will :

  1. advise the Director-General through the Senior Management Meeting (SMM) on substantive policy and procedural matters relevant to the field activities of the Organization;

  2. ensure continuing interaction between the Organization's normative and operational activities so that these are mutually supportive;

  3. review issues and constraints of an inter-departmental nature related to quality, efficiency and effectiveness in the Organization's programming and delivery of its field programme, and recommend actions to be taken, considering FAO's comparative advantages and priorities as defined by its Governing Bodies;

  4. arrange for and monitor the conduct of in-depth reviews of relevant substantive issues of an inter-departmental and inter-office nature as well as those related to external factors particularly those that affect the needs and priorities of recipient countries and donors, and make resulting recommendations;

  5. ensure the circulation of relevant information on the field programme; and

  6. promote the adoption of sound operational and administrative policies and procedures to facilitate efficient field programme management and monitor the distribution of operational responsibilities, with a view to ensuring cost-effectiveness and consistency of the Organization's operational activities.

29. As first priorities, the FPC has established two Working Groups that will deal with "Enhancing the Participation of the Technical Department in the Field Programme" and the "Review of Operational and Administrative Procedures relevant for Field Programme Operation and Management". It is expected that the interaction generated by these two Working Groups will greatly enhance the synergies between technical divisions and project operators, as well as with the administrative divisions, and improve overall efficiency and cost-effectiveness of FAO's delivery of technical cooperation to its member countries.

VIII. Prospects for the future

30. The Secretariat is taking vigorous action on several fronts to enable the Organization to operate effectively in the challenging environment of the new decade and in order to halt and to reverse the decline of FAO's technical support to developing countries funded from extra-budgetary resources. The reorganization of the Technical Cooperation Department, the decentralization of the field operations and the reactivation of the Field Programme Committee will together modernize the way the field programme is managed, making it more responsive to the needs of member governments, and make it more cost-effective and efficient in performance.

31. The measures proposed by the Task Force and the on-going efforts by the Secretariat under the overall leadership of the Technical Cooperation Department focus on the internal factors influencing field programme trends. The Secretariat is however mindful of the fact that the external environment, over which it has virtually no influence, is not conducive to a rapid reversal of current declining trends for non-emergency assistance. Some of these external factors have been exhaustively studied in recent reports issued by the WB and IFAD on the subject of Poverty Alleviation. In the view of the Secretariat, four are particularly relevant to future field programme prospects.

IX. Conclusion

32. It is a function of the Organization "To furnish such technical assistance as may be requested" according to its constitutional mandate. Throughout its history, FAO's activities have been oriented towards action at field level producing a fruitful cross-fertilization between its normative and technical assistance functions.

33. Since 1996, the non-emergency field programme has lost about half of its volume. If this trend is allowed to continue, there is a clear risk that FAO's field activities may gradually become irrelevant. This would affect the very nature of the Organization, impoverish its normative work and dramatically affect its effectiveness in reducing hunger and malnutrition, which are key to poverty alleviation, which, in turn, now figures high on the international agenda.

34. While the Secretariat is confident that these grim prospects will not become reality and is making all efforts to avoid such a possibility, the collaboration of Members and in particular the donor community will be essential to the achievement of our common goals.


1 Donor-funded Technical Cooperation (DFTC) regroups the following funding sources: APO, GCP, various trust funds, UN trust funds, UNDP and UTF. It therefore covers the Field Programme as defined for the purpose of this document, [TF not mentioned above] plus the APO programme which represents 7.5 to 9% of DFTC over the period analysed.