PC 92/6a) - FC 108/18

Programme Committee

Ninety-second Session

Rome, 27 September-1 October 2004

Independent Evaluation of FAO’s Decentralization

Table of Contents


Independent Evaluation of
FAO’s Decentralization


The evaluation team gratefully acknowledges the support of all those staff of FAO in its offices throughout the world and in Rome, who gave so willingly of their time, providing information and frank views without which the team would not have been able to complete its task. Particular thanks for administrative support and analysis go to Maria Gattone, Nadine Monnichon, Carlos Tarazona and Heather Young of the Evaluation Service and for analysis of administrative systems and costs to Mina Dowlatchahi, Angelica Abrina and Michael Gotthainer of the Programme and Budget Service.

Evaluation Team

David Sands Smith and
Mary Chinery-Hesse, Team Leaders

Regional Consultants:

Minoli Santaipillai
Adel Aboul Naga
Roberto Cabral

Evaluation Service Support:

Tullia Aiazzi
John Markie
Rachel Sauvinet-Bedouin




1. Enhanced decentralization was a major pillar of the comprehensive package of reforms launched by the Director-General in 1994. The central aim of the decentralization was to increase the Organization’s relevance and ability to act in proximity to the problems of member countries. It was also seen as an opportunity to enhance the use of national capacities, to achieve economies in implementation, and to improve response time. Ten years later, this evaluation was commissioned by FAO senior Management and the Programme Committee of the Council to make a comprehensive independent assessment of this decentralization and to put forward recommendations to enhance the future benefits of decentralization to member countries.

2. The evaluation was externally led and conducted by a team of five independent consultants, supported by three members of the FAO Evaluation Service. An extensive programme of visits was carried out covering all Regional Offices, Subregional Offices and Liaison Offices, as well as sixteen country offices. During these visits, the evaluation team held meetings with governments at ministerial and senior official level, as well as with other UN organizations and decentralized offices of the donor community, NGOs and the private sector. Throughout the period of the evaluation, meetings were held with senior staff in headquarters. Questionnaires were responded to by developing country governments and FAO staff in the countries, regions and at headquarters. Points made by countries to the FAO Governing Bodies were also reviewed and information was obtained from other UN agencies on their decentralization.

3. Basing its work firmly on the evaluation terms of reference, the approach adopted by the evaluation team has been to:

4. Section 1.2 of the report summarizes the changes which took place in the decentralization, while the remainder of the report undertakes an analysis of the result of those changes. In undertaking this analysis and making its recommendations, the evaluation team was aware that the decline in FAO’s resources, including extra-budgetary resources, had very much changed both the resources available to the decentralization and some of the assumptions on which the decentralization was based. The evaluation team was further informed that original plans for the decentralization, including the establishment of additional sub-regional offices had had to be cut-back or cancelled.

Evaluation Findings

5. Views of Member Countries and Other Stakeholders on the Effectiveness of Decentralization: Countries, donors and the UN family were all found to be in favour of decentralization. Within this context, they emphasised decentralization of functions and authority. Judgements varied significantly by region and the evaluation found that in the Pacific and Caribbean islands expectations had been fulfilled. There was also an improvement in the countries of central Europe. Elsewhere governments, donors and other members of the UN family often said they had not seen evidence of greater FAO decentralization or its benefits.

6. Country Requirements for Development Support: There were significant differences between regions and countries according to levels of development, in the type of assistance being sought but there was a widespread demand for upstream support from FAO in developing and taking forward national policies and strategies. Trade was a major point of emphasis. Countries wish to turn to FAO for informed and neutral views in a fast changing and increasingly globalised world. At the same time, ministries of agriculture continue to look to FAO for a wide range of technical support. The emphasis of FAO’s current response did not adequately reflect country demands, especially in the capacity to provide broad based strategic analysis and address upstream issues in particular sub-sectors.

7. FAO’s response to countries through the decentralized structures demonstrates some convergence with the goals of the Organization’s Strategic Framework and the MDGs. Resource distribution also shows some correlation with the attention that needs to be given to LDCs, including those in Africa and to size of population dependent on agriculture. However, the evaluation did conclude that proportionality in the response to food insecurity and poverty needed to be strengthened, especially in countries with large numbers of food insecure in the agricultural sector, including India and China.

8. The evaluation also concluded that it was important for FAO to clarify its priorities in each country. The evaluation recommends this should be in the form of national priority frameworks which should be developed under responsibility of the FAOR, in close consultation with the government concerned and with the support of staff from the Regional Office. The frameworks would be considered in depth at the Regional Offices and at headquarters. The evaluation found that country priority frameworks would be very much welcomed by governments and by other UN organizations and donors, keen to enter into partnerships with FAO (Recommendation 1).

9. Partnerships with the international community at country level: The evaluation found that FAO was cooperating closely in the UN country team but partners considered that the lack of delegated authority to FAORs for TCP and for acceptance of small amounts of funds from donors, reduced possibilities for partnership. Closer collaboration with organizations such WFP and IICA, and in particular IFAD was particularly recommended (Recommendation 2).

10. Regional normative work: Normative work was found to be essential in all regions on common problems for groups of countries and is of particular interest to medium-income countries. Work on the border line between normative and technical support for such things as food security assessment or development of sub-regional trade often has a particular application in the least developed countries. The evaluation concluded that strong links between global normative work and the specific normative requirements of individual countries, groups of countries and regions are essential. However, the present arrangements are not fully achieving this, due to an inadequately interactive system for consolidated analysis of regional needs for normative work, and a need for stronger links between the decentralized offices and headquarters in the planning and execution of normative activities. It is recommended that, driven by the regional representatives and Regional Conferences, regional normative work should be instituted in the Organization’s Medium Term Plan and that this should integrate work by staff from headquarters as well as those in the regions (Recommendation 3).

11. It was also recommended that Regional Conferences should be flexibly designed as to format and content to meet the needs of the region and that their voice should be institutionalised in the Organization’s planning and budgeting processes, particularly with respect to activities for the region (Recommendation 4).

12. Country office presence: The evaluation found that modalities of country coverage had not been adjusted in line with needs and available resources and this had limited FAO’s effectiveness. The number and length of vacancies in FAOR posts was one of the most evident and damaging aspects of the budget shortfall. The evaluation considers that to respond effectively, some adjustment in coverage of FAORs is needed to ensure that appropriate attention is given to poor countries where agriculture is of major importance and where there are large numbers of undernourished people. Attention is also needed to countries with high needs for assistance which have little or no coverage at the moment, in particular the CIS group of countries. At the same time, there are some countries with small numbers of undernourished, where agriculture plays a less dominant role and where responding to needs does not require the same presence. For these countries, more appropriate means of providing coverage, including multiple accreditation, with frequent visits is desirable (Recommendation 5).

13. The evaluation reviewed and made proposals for a number of options in increasing resources for FAO country offices. These include sharing of resources with the Field Programme, the use of volunteers and secondments and the use of local expertise in country advisory panels (Recommendation 5).

14. The new FAOR/Outposted technical officers (FAOR/OTO) scheme was examined and it was found that the FAOR/OTO’s technical discipline may not be a priority for the country in which they are posted. Also, the time that they can devote to their technical duties outside the country in which they are stationed was found to be minimal. While the cost of FAOR/OTOs continues to be borne by their parent technical divisions, a considerable part of their time is devoted to their FAOR responsibilities. The evaluation thus recommends the discontinuation of the FAOR/OTO scheme in its present form. Elements of the FAOR/OTO approach are, however, incorporated into other proposals of the evaluation team for strengthening country level response (Recommendation 6).

15. FAO presence in countries affected by emergencies: The evaluation found that in some countries, there were conflicts of authority between FAORs and the emergency coordinators employed by TCE (which is budget holder for the funds). There were also divergences between emergency and rehabilitation strategies and development programmes (the first of these driven by TCE and its emergency coordinators, and the second by the FAORs supported to varying degrees by Regional and Subregional Office teams). For complex emergencies, the Organization should develop a cadre of FAOR/Senior Emergency Coordinators who are immediately rotated in to replace the FAOR when major complex emergency situations develop. When the necessary operational support is in place, they should be made budget holders. In other emergency situations, distribution of responsibilities should be handled on a case-by-case basis. The essential continuing central functions of TCE should receive increased Regular Programme funding through adjustments within Chapter 3 (Recommendation 7).

16. Technical services to countries and the role of the Regional Offices: The evaluation found overall levels of satisfaction by FAORs and governments with technical services were reasonable in South East Asia, China, South America and the Caribbean. The South Pacific was a special case, as there are no FAORs but services were found by the visiting team to be good. Dissatisfaction with FAO technical services was high in Africa, even in countries with a close proximity to Regional and Subregional Offices. FAORs were very strong in their statements that they did not get the technical services they needed and saw very little of the regional staff. There was also limited satisfaction in central Asia and to a lesser extent central America. Most of the CIS countries, especially those of central Asia were receiving limited attention and also had no FAORs. It was found that there is concentration of Regional/Subregional Office country visits on a limited number of countries. FAORs and countries have a relatively weak voice in determining the provision of technical services by the regional technical staff and the evaluation concludes that direct support to countries outside the Field Programme is more supply than demand driven.

17. With the demand for more upstream work by FAO, there was a need for regional technical staff who could provide an overall strategic perspective for their sub-sector or sector and recognise when there was a need to call in more specialist technical disciplines.

18. Regional and Subregional Representatives need to be more fully utilised in support of countries and in development of a responsive FAO programme for the region. The unity, pertinence and effectiveness of FAO’s programmes as a whole would benefit from their closer integration into the Organization.

19. The evaluation concluded that for technical support there was a sub-optimal use of available resources and that the present arrangements for provision of technical staff in the regions suffered from several major problems, including:

  1. staffing profiles need to be broader and better balanced with needs of the region for normative work and countries for direct assistance;
  2. capacity for a multi-disciplinary response needs to be increased;
  3. response needs to be more demand driven in line with agreed country priority frameworks;
  4. technical officers need to be able to travel more easily, have more resources for travel and spend more of their total time in countries; and
  5. Regional Representatives need to be able to travel widely in the region.

20. Recommendation 8 proposes solutions to these issues including that those posts in the regions which are needed for strictly headquarters based normative work, such as servicing fisheries bodies, should be designated as outposted technical staff working strictly under the direction of their technical units. Budgets for all remaining technical staff in regions (the great majority) should be transferred from the headquarters-based programmes of the Organization to regional programmes. This would allow planning on the basis of an overall analysis of the needs of the region and in relation to global normative work. However, this change also has potentially negative implications, including a reduced sense of commitment to the regional staff and regional programmes by the headquarters technical units. Measures to offset this include the strong involvement of headquarters in regional normative and technical support work and their responsibility for technical support to the quality of regional staff’s work. Close formal and informal contacts need to be reinforced between technical officers in the regions and the relevant headquarters units, together with a number of other complementary measures (Recommendation 9).

21. In order to improve the responsiveness to demand, annual work programmes of technical support should be drawn up for technical staff on the basis of requests from FAORs in line with the country priority frameworks. Monitoring should also be introduced of requests by FAORs for person-days of input by technical/policy discipline and by professional officer and possibilities piloted for strengthening internal market mechanisms (Recommendation 10).

22. Use of national and regional expertise: There has been an increase in the use of both national and TCDC expertise from within the regions. However, the present arrangements for its use are limited by each assignment being a stand-alone consultancy and the limited flexibility of FAO’s existing TCDC and South-South arrangements. The evaluation concluded that there was a need to make more use of national and regional expertise through call down (retainer) contracts. This should also include adequately flexible arrangements tailored to individual medium-income countries which would like to provide expertise as donors (Recommendations 14 and 15).

23. One of the factors in the ease and extent to which countries receive technical services is the geographical placement of the office in terms of centrality to the area, but even more important, the best available airline connections. It is recommended that technical groups be established on airline hubs through re-definition of existing regional posts. Staff in technical groups would provide a flexible source of reference and support for FAORs and be specialists in the more limited number of countries which they would serve (Recommendation 12). Also to improve the quantity and immediate responsiveness of technical staff support to countries, the evaluation has concluded that substantially more funds need to be available for travel (Recommendation 13).

24. Flexible adjustments to improve services in the various regions: In Africa, with a reduction of the staff in Accra and Harare, it is recommended to establish two technical groups to serve Anglophone central and eastern Africa and Francophone west Africa respectively. In Asia, a group of experts on call-down contracts is proposed to assist in better serving the needs of south Asia. In Latin America, consideration of a technical group is proposed for central America and the Spanish and French-speaking Caribbean. Two technical groups with FAOR multiple accreditation responsibilities are proposed for the CIS, which would be served in its entirety from a technical point of view by the European Regional Office.

25. The Liaison Offices in Brussels, Geneva, New York, Tokyo and Washington were reviewed by the evaluation team. Their functioning was found to be broadly satisfactory. Some suggestions are made for reinforcing aspects of their information and donor liaison roles and for some strengthening of the provision of technical assistance to developing countries by the Geneva and Brussels offices, especially as regards trade.

26. Staff competencies: FAO’s capability to deliver services to members through its decentralized structures is very much dependent upon the match achieved between staff profiles and capabilities and needs. Many very good staff were found in Regional Offices at all levels and some excellent FAORs in terms of the required competencies and overall quality. The evaluation team concluded, however, that there are a significant minority of decentralized staff in all categories who do not meet required competencies, quality or both. This was drawn to the attention of the evaluation team through the comments of other members of the international community, FAO staff questionnaire responses, as well as by the limited observations the evaluation team could make itself. Where staff without the necessary competencies or performance are in managerial positions, this reduces the effectiveness of subordinate staff, as well as undermining morale and hampering FAO in effective delivery of services. The evaluation concluded that the problem has been significant in reducing the effectiveness of the 1994-95 decentralization (Recommendation 17).

27. Supporting Human Resource Policies: Recommendations are thus, made to raise competencies including the introduction of an open and competitive selection process for FAORs and senior regional staff and; strengthened staff appraisal, rotation and training. It is also proposed that the gender balance in the decentralized offices be improved. Greater flexibility by FAO in its decentralized response will need capacity to periodically adjust staffing profiles and competencies. These changes will require changes in FAO staff rules, as well as action by FAO at common system level, together with like-minded organizations (Recommendation 18).

28. The FAO Technical Cooperation Programme (TCP) and FAOR authority to accept funds from donors: Although delays have been a problem, the evaluation found that TCP is important in providing a prompt response to governments. It could however, be used much more strategically and effectively by FAORs in the context of decentralization to: i) partner and leverage funds from donors; ii) provide ad-hoc technical support by FAO technical staff and consultants to the FAOR; and iii) provide TCP for pre-funding of project formulation, etc. (Recommendation 19). The evaluation also found that it was a problem that FAOR s could not generally accept directly even small amounts of funding from donors within the agreed country priority framework, although there have been exceptions for emergencies (Recommendation 20).

29. Delegation of administrative authorities: Lack of FAO administrative delegation, especially to FAORs was found to be an area for which FAO was criticised heavily by countries, other, agencies, FAORs and technical officers. The evaluation concluded that although FAO may not be particularly worse than the other specialised agencies, it is slow and bureaucratic in its managerial, administrative and financial decision-making. If the Organization is going to respond adequately to members needs, it must move more in the direction of the UN funds and programmes, against which governments and donors judge the Organization.

30. It is also recommended that levels of authority for FAOR offices should be differentiated, depending on levels of staff and infrastructure capacity and the needs of the country (Recommendation 21).Following assessment to determine differentiation, proposals are made for significant transfers of authority to FAORs and responsibilities for transaction processing to regional MSUs. Extra-budgetary funds managed by the FAORs are serviced by the regional MSUs and the evaluation recommends that Regular Programme servicing of the FAORs should also be handled by them with savings through the transfer of this function from OCD in headquarters. In this, a control environment is essential based on a better understanding of the nature of risk and the implications for impact and cost-efficiency of control measures. While retaining segregation of functions, the balance in control measures needs to become more ex-post, based on risk analysis and hold individuals clearly accountable (Recommendation 22).

Overall Conclusions - Strengthening and Deepening Organizational Unity and Coherence

31. The evaluation team has made an in-depth analysis and identified significant problems. These substantially reduce the cost-effectiveness of FAO’s regional and country staffing in terms of benefits to members. They also detract from the unity of the Organization. In line with the terms of reference, recommendations are made to render these services more effective. In making these proposals, the evaluation team hopes this report will contribute to recognition of the problems and a constructive debate on how they can be best addressed. In the absence of changes which, at a minimum, raise staff competencies, where necessary; devolve more decision-making authority; adjust resources so that staff can travel and work more in countries; and put in place meaningful priority processes at country level, - the further potential of the existing decentralization is undermined.

32. The evaluation found that developing country members of FAO wished to balance the internal institutional relationships within FAO to ensure country and region specific issues are given equal weight with the very important global normative work spear-headed by the central technical departments. At the same time, the evaluation found a headquarters’ culture which assumes that administrative and technical decisions can be better taken in Rome than in the regions and countries concerned. The international development community as a whole (UN and donors) and developing country governments feel a need for decentralised decision-making within unitary vision, policy and strategy objectives. The objectives for the decentralization were found by the evaluation team to have been insufficiently achieved due in large part to an imbalance in the weight given in FAO’s institutional structure between the needs of countries and regions on the one hand, and the technical programmes and administrative structures of the Organization, on the other.

33. Regional Representatives need to become the focus of the Organization’s work in their regions, in the framework of agreed strategies for the region, with regional work defined in the Medium Term Plan approved by the Council and Conference. It is particularly important that work at country level should be based on the country priority frameworks and these should provide strong under-pinning in developing the regional strategy. Regional Representatives need to travel widely in the region, to listen to the member countries of the region, follow-up at high level on the development processes initiated by the Director-General and to support FAORs and technical teams on critical issues. In order to better reinforce FAORs in their work, regional representatives should become the line of reporting for FAORs and regional technical officers on programme matters at country level and for the regional work. At the same time, care needs to be taken that this does not introduce extra layers of bureaucracy for normal communication. This should remain as it is now, i.e. between the parties most concerned, with FAORs and technical officers dealing directly with units in headquarters and the regions, as needed.

34. Also the Organization needs to become more networked with greater face-to-face contact wherever possible. A cost in the success of the decentralization will be an increase in meetings and inter-change within regions, across regions and with headquarters. All other specialised agencies of the UN system devote a considerably greater proportion of their resources to this than does FAO.

35. If these institutional changes are to achieve their objectives of greater unity, greater relevance and greater impact, the re-balancing of the internal responsibilities requires a considerable amount of time and attention at the top of the Organization to the issues of regions and countries. Without this, even with modern communications and fuller participation of Regional Representatives in the management meetings of FAO, the Regional Representatives will remain in a weak position vis-ŕ-vis headquarters ADGs and there is also a danger of the Regional Representatives receiving inadequate supervision and direction. It is difficult for the Director-General who is responsible for the totality of FAO’s work to handle these issues on a day-to-day basis but it is essential that they receive continuing attention at a very high level within the Organization. It is therefore proposed that, without in any way diluting the direct reporting lines between the Regional Representatives and the Director-General, the Director-General nominate the Deputy Director-General to handle on his behalf more detailed regional and country questions. The policy and overall management of appointment and posting of FAORs should continue to be managed through a unit in the office of the Director-General.

36. The evaluation set itself the task of making proposals which could be implemented within existing resources and it made tentative estimates, identifying some US$ 15 million per biennium which could be adjusted to cover the changes proposed. This having been said, and although there are significant weaknesses to be overcome, the team became convinced that with changes recommended in this evaluation, the decentralized action of FAO in direct service of member countries would be worthy of an absolute budget increase, without any reduction in the resources for normative work.

37. In view of the ongoing policy and political issues which may arise in further strengthening decentralization, including those issues related to the establishment of technical groups; the extension of multiple accreditation; and other changes in arrangements for country presence and technical support: - the Governing Bodies may wish to consider establishing a small ad-hoc task force to interface with the Director-General’s representatives on policy questions which arise in determining an implementation plan, deciding, as appropriate, on reference of any major issues to the Governing Bodies.



1.1 Background and Approach to Evaluation

38. Under its Constitution, FAO is mandated to serve its members through its global and normative work and through the provision of technical assistance to member countries. These roles are further reaffirmed in the Strategic Framework for FAO 2000-2015. The Director-General’s Review of the Programmes, Structures and Policies of the Organization presented a package of reforms to the FAO Council in May 1994. Decentralization had the overwhelming support of the membership and was defined as one of the “Guiding Principles” in that reform, underlying proposals for change to assure a reinvigorated and more effective Organization. The guiding principles envisaged “The largest possible measure of decentralization of technical activities to regional, sub-regional and country levels ……… FAO headquarters is too remote from the rural masses of Asia, the small-island states of the Pacific, the immense problems of the fragile countries of Africa, and the specific issues of interest to Latin America and the Caribbean, the Near East and Eastern Europe. It is imperative that the Organization remain relevant and visible and be seen to act in proximity to the problems. The positive spin-offs of an active decentralization policy are to enhance the use of national, sub-regional and regional capacities, achieve substantial economies in implementation modalities and shorten the time lag between the expression of needs of Member Nations and their satisfaction by the Organization”1.

39. This evaluation was undertaken at the request of FAO’s senior management and the Programme and Finance Committees, with the endorsement of the Council. The evaluation was to make a comprehensive independent assessment of the enhanced decentralization. It took place ten years from the decision to institutionally strengthen FAO through this further decentralization. The evaluation’s primary purpose was defined in the terms of reference (see Annex 1) as: “to suggest how to enhance the benefits of decentralization to member countries, while correcting any negative impacts and also ensuring increased cost-efficiency. Thus, the central purpose of the evaluation will be to further the aims encapsulated in the Guiding Principles quoted above, i.e. while ensuring the coherence of FAO as a unitary organization to increase the:

40. The evaluation was charged with assessing the strengths and weaknesses of decentralization with respect to organisational structures, functions and procedures with emphasis on identifying important adjustments to better meet the needs of the future. It was also required to analyse the validity and effectiveness of the overall decentralisation strategy to the evolving global environment and needs of member countries, drawing attention to relevant changes in those needs.

41. Factors to be examined in assessing overall adequacy and effectiveness of the decentralisation included:

  1. Expectations and levels of satisfaction of member countries and development partners;
  2. Allocation of functions in response to identified needs between the Organization’s various offices and headquarters and the capacity to carry them out;
  3. Clarity and coherence of overall organizational arrangements, procedures and responsibilities regarding the management and work of the decentralized offices, and complementarity between the work and functions performed at headquarters and in the decentralized offices; and
  4. The parameters imposed by corporate culture and the extent to which they strengthen or hinder effectiveness of decentralization.

42. The evaluation was conducted by an independent team: David Sands Smith and Mary Chinery-Hesse, Team Leaders; Regional consultants Minoli Santaipillai, Adel Aboul Naga and Roberto Cabral; supported by three members of the FAO Evaluation Service: John Markie, Rachel Sauvinet-Bedouin and Tullia Aiazzi (for summary CVs of the external team members, see Annex 2).

43. Work on the evaluation began in October 2003, with preparation of briefing materials and preliminary discussions in headquarters. Members of the evaluation team examined the various FAO internal reviews on aspects of decentralization. The stated positions of countries in the Governing Bodies on various aspects of the decentralization were also reviewed.

44. An extensive programme of visits was undertaken to all regions of the world (all Regional and Sub-regional Offices and all Liaison Offices were visited (15)), in addition to 16 country offices2, with different categories of representation. Working against structured check lists, during country visits governments were consulted in the ministries responsible for agriculture and those dealing with finance and planning. In the majority of countries visited (55%), views were obtained at ministerial or permanent secretary level. Also, during the country visits consultations were held with the UN and other international agencies and representatives of civil society and the business sector. The evaluation team observed two FAO Regional Conferences3. At the same time, questionnaires were responded to by developing country governments, FAORs, professional staff in the Regional and Subregional Offices and senior technical staff in headquarters. A series of further meetings were held with headquarters divisions at the beginning of June 2004. The institutional arrangements and performance of FAO were systematically bench-marked against other specialised agencies of the UN system during country visits, through visits to their headquarters and through questionnaires4.

45. From the outset, the evaluation team considered that paramount importance should be attached to ensuring the optimum service from FAO to the developing countries and the place of decentralization within that. It thus consulted in-depth with these countries on their expectations and extent of satisfaction on both aspects.

46. The evaluation team also became convinced that the only realistic course was to make its recommendations on the basis of a zero growth budget (in real terms), with no implications for a net transfer of resources between normative work and the various forms of direct assistance to member countries. It was very much aware that it had undertaken no comparable evaluation of the normative work carried out from FAO headquarters and has made no proposal for a transfer of headquarters technical posts to the regions or vice-versa. At the same time, the evaluation has been conscious of the strong link necessary between normative work and that in direct support of countries.

47. The resource constraints limit the proposals which can be realistically put forward and the team has been very mindful that effective decentralization (and here the team emphasises “effective”) is limited by resources. Areas for cuts and adjustments are indicated in order to resource the measures found important to enhance effectiveness. This having been said, areas where additional resources could be very well used are also very evident from the findings which follow and the evaluation team commends these to the membership in its consideration of resources for the 2006-07 biennium.

48. The main changes which were made following the further decentralization of FAO agreed at the special session of the Council in May 1994 are summarised briefly below. Later sections of the report assess the effectiveness of these changes. Conclusions are highlighted in the text and main recommendations with an indication of their time scale for implementation are separately numbered. Other recommendations and suggestions are highlighted in the text. The substantive sections of the report are divided into the following main chapters: 2. Context of the Decentralization; 3. The Overall Effectiveness of the Decentralization (views of member countries and other stakeholders); 4. Country Development Support Requirements and FAO’s Response; 5. Resources and Modalities for FAO Country Presence; 6. Provision of Technical Services in the Regions and the Role of the Regional Offices; 7. The Role, Relevance and Coverage of the Liaison Offices; 8. Human Resources and their Management; 9. Operational, Managerial and Organizational Issues; 10. Overall Conclusions – Strengthening and Deepening Organizational Unity and Coherence.

1.2 Decentralization - The Major Changes

49. There has been some decentralization in FAO since its foundation. The Conference approved the opening of a Regional Office for Europe in 1946. Between 1946 and 1959, four Regional Offices were established in their current locations. Three Liaison Offices5 as well as Joint Divisions with the UN Regional Economic Commissions were set up in the period between 1951 and 1974. The establishment of FAO Representations was initiated by the Council in 1976 with Regular Programme funding (previously there had been a system of senior agricultural advisors which were co-funded by FAO and UNDP but in practice reported to the UNDP Representatives). In the first steps of the increased decentralization during the 1994-95 biennium, five Subregional and two additional Liaison Offices were established and increased numbers of technical staff and policy officers decentralized. In 1996-98, project operations were transferred to the Regional Offices and then subsequently to FAORs, from 2000 onwards. In 2001, the first FAOR/outposted technical officers were appointed.

1.2.1 Office for Coordination of Normative, Operational and Decentralized Activities (OCD)

50. To facilitate the decentralization and support a direct line of reporting to the Director-General by all the decentralized offices, OCD was established with a D2 Director in 1994. Previously, FAORs had reported to the Director-General through an office in the then Development Department and the Regional Office staff had reported through their Regional Representatives. OCD provides support to the Director-General in the coordination of the regional offices. It holds the budget for FAORs and advises the Director-General on their recruitment and transfer. It provides the administrative servicing for the FAORs (excluding extra-budgetary resources). OCD is also responsible for development of the organizational guidelines and procedures which govern the relationship between headquarters units and the decentralized offices and the definition of functions between them.

1.2.2 Strengthening of the five Regional Offices and establishment of five new Subregional Offices

51. In the 1994-95 decentralization, the number of Regional Offices and their location remained unchanged. In addition, five Subregional Offices were established for: the Pacific Islands (SAPA); Southern and East Africa (SAFR); the Caribbean (SLAC); North Africa (SNEA); and Central and Eastern Europe (SEUR). The Subregional Offices are each headed by a Subregional Representative. FAO Representation in the countries in which they are located is also provided by the Regional and Subregional Offices (except REU and SEUR). Since 2004, the Subregional Representative, SEUR, has also been FAOR in two CIS countries with National Correspondents.

52. The Regional and Subregional Offices were expected to become the primary source of support to country offices and to service regional bodies. Regional Offices were made responsible for: (i) identifying the priority areas of action for the Organization in the region; (ii) monitoring and reporting on major regional developments and trends in agriculture; (iii) advising on the normative and technical cooperation work of the Organization in the respective regions; (iv) providing the first-line of technical support to countries and the Field Programme; (v) providing the managerial and administrative support for field programme implementation; and (vi) organising the Regional Conferences and technical meetings of a regional nature.

53. They were strengthened through the transfer of technical and policy assistance expertise and establishment of Management Support Units. At the same time, the joint divisions with the UN regional economic and social commissions were discontinued. Whereas technical staff in the Regional Offices had previously reported to the regional representative and had generally had little involvement with the Field Programme, they are now intended to spend at least 50 percent of their time on direct support to member countries. The staff in the Regional Office are organized in technical groups and in one multi-disciplinary team in the Subregional Offices. These groups are for coordination purposes but the reporting line is for each individual officer to their technical unit in Rome.

1.2.3 Liaison Offices

54. To improve liaison with major developed country members of FAO, the number of Liaison Offices was increased from one (covering North America) to three, with the addition of the Liaison Offices in Japan and Brussels (European Union and Belgium). The offices for liaison in the UN system in New York (LONY) and Geneva (LOGE) were maintained. They report to the Office of the Special Adviser to the Director-General (SAD).

1.2.4 FAO’s country presence

55. The role of FAO country offices has evolved from predominantly liaison functions to a more central one in carrying out the activities of the Organization. The FAO Representatives have had the responsibility for the operation of projects since 2001, and in 2004 it was decided to increasingly give them the formal lead role in field programme development. In order to achieve both economies in staffing and to make better use of national expertise, the international programme officer posts in the FAOR offices were converted to national professional posts.

56. The 1976 Council decision established the ceiling on the number of FAORs at 78. Other means have thus been employed to extend the country coverage to meet requests from additional countries:

  1. FAO Representation combined with Regional and Subregional Offices: In 1994-95, the Regional Offices already performed the function of representative in the country in which they were placed (except for Europe). With the establishment of the Subregional Offices, these also took on the function of FAO Representations with the host countries;
  2. Multiple accreditation has been extended. FAO is now represented by the FAOR in a neighbouring country in 32 cases and in three such countries, a national programme officer is stationed in the country and reports to the FAOR in a neighbouring country;
  3. National Correspondents are senior civil servants who devote a percentage of their time to liaison functions between the government and FAO. They are designated jointly by the Government and FAO. FAO provides them with a limited budget to cover some operational costs, a computer with an email connection, and a modest salary supplement proportional to the percentage of time devoted to FAO liaison functions. As of July 2004 twenty-four National Correspondents have been appointed, out of the 35 foreseen. Eight of these are in countries where there is no double accreditation by an FAOR;
  4. Appointment of FAOR/Outposted Technical Officers: In November 2000, the Council agreed that technical officers be outposted to countries to increase FAOR coverage. Under this scheme, technical officers are located in countries with no FAOR and perform FAOR duties. They are also intended to carry out technical duties either in the host country or for a group of countries. The costs of the officer are borne by the technical programme concerned and the country agrees to cover office accommodation costs, office support staff, a car, etc. A small allocation is made from the FAOR budget; and
  5. In countries not covered by any of these arrangements, FAO relies on the services of the UNDP Resident Coordinator for the performance of FAO-country liaison functions6.

Table 1: FAO’s country coverage (April 2004)

(April 2004)

Countries covered by a fully-fledged FAO Representation (outside a Regional/Sub-regional Office)


Countries in which a Regional or Sub-regional Office is located and provides FAOR representation


Countries covered under multiple accreditation


Countries covered only by a national correspondent


Countries covered by Outposted Technical Officer/FAOR





1.2.5 Decentralizing field programme operations

57. New arrangements for the implementation of the Field Programme, including decentralisation of operations, were phased into place, beginning in 1994:

  1. 1994-1996: operational units previously split between agriculture, forestry and fisheries, were regrouped into a single Field Operations Division in headquarters;
  2. 1996-1998: responsibility for project operations was largely transferred to the Regional Offices with the transfer of operations professional staff to the regions; and
  3. 2000-2001: national field project operational responsibility was further decentralized to the FAO representations, with a core group of operations officers retained in the Regional Offices operating regional projects and projects in countries with no FAORs. A very small coordination and monitoring function for the Field Programme was retained in Rome.

58. In 2003, the overall share of the FAORs in total delivery of extra-budgetary programmes and TCP (not including the Iraq Oil-for Food Programme) was 31 percent, and together with the Regional Operations Branches, they undertook a further 13 percent of FAO’s delivery. Excluding Iraq, 28 percent of delivery was accounted for by emergencies for which FAORs support headquarters-managed operations. The remaining 28 percent was accounted for by the technical departments, mainly for interregional and normative programmes.

1.2.6 Decentralization of policy assistance and field programme development

59. In 1995, the staff dealing with policy assistance to member countries in the former Policy Analysis Division were combined with staff responsible for field programme development in the Technical Cooperation Department and this new division (TCA) was largely decentralized to the Regional and Subregional Offices.

1.2.7 Improvement of IT infrastructure and system enhancement

60. As part of the 1994 reforms, priority has been given to the enhancement of information technology and associated administrative and accounting systems of the Organization, including in the support of effective decentralization. The Oracle system was progressively established to replace the previous financial, planning and personnel management systems. Communication infrastructure has been greatly enhanced. Regional Offices have all been given Oracle access and all FAORs have Internet access, which in most cases is of reasonable quality. With the implementation of the Wide Area Network (WAN), a large number of FAORs also have FAO intra-net access. The Country Office Information Network (COIN) provides direct access to country office information. The new Field Accounting System (FAS) and office automation brought significant changes in communication and the overall reporting and account management at country office level. COIN is also now being developed to facilitate transaction processing.

1.2.8 Procedures and management information systems

61. Administrative, financial, personnel and procurement related procedures, as well as the management information systems, have been considerably revised over the period and are still under review. This is being carried out through a number of initiatives, including the Field Programme Committee and the establishment of the Standing Working Group on Administrative and Operational Procedures. Through the Internet, country offices have access to a steadily expanding set of services. The data-warehouse was developed and is now available to 75 country offices for access to basic budgetary and financial information. They can also access a field programme information system (FPMIS) and a wide range of help tools for the Field Programme and increasingly for other applications. The Field Programme Manual is being revised and adapted. Some of the procedures such as those for budget holder responsibility, project operations and procurement have been revised.

62. The procurement ceiling of FAORs was increased in 1997 from US$ 20,000 to US$ 25,000 and those of Subregional Representatives to US$ 50,000 and Regional Representatives to US$ 100,000. The FAORs can now recruit national consultants for up to eleven months against project budgets while in the past this was restricted to four months. This has expedited recruitment of project personnel.

1.2.9 The resource shifts

63. Table 2 summarises the overall shifts in staff and resource distribution. It can be seen that the percentage of FAO professional posts in the Regional and Subregional Offices has moved from 10 percent of the total to 17 percent between 1994-95 and 2004-05 and there has been a corresponding drop in the headquarters proportion from 80 percent to 70 percent, while that in FAORs (including national professionals) has risen from 10 percent to 13 percent. The picture in terms of financial resources is less clear cut, with the increase in proportion going to the regional structures being less substantial. The reasons for this include the fixed infrastructure servicing costs in Rome and the steep rise in the cost of Rome-based staff compared with those in the regions. Indeed, a function of the decentralization has been the savings in General Service staff costs.

Table 2: Changes in Staff and Budgetary Resource Distribution Following Decentralization


Percentage of Total Professional posts

Professional % change in total post numbers 2004-05 to 2006-07

Percentage of Budget











Regional, Sub-regional and Liaison Offices






FAORs (international prof)






FAORs (national prof)




64. By way of comparison, it may be noted that only 43 percent of WHO staff are in headquarters. The respective figures for other major specialised agencies are: UNESCO - 65 percent; ILO - 66 percent; and UNIDO - 80 percent. In terms of the WHO budget for 2003, 40 percent was at country level and 23 percent at regional level. The WHO target is to shift 70 percent of resources to countries and regions in the 2004-05 biennium.

1.2.10 Savings resulting from decentralization

65. All these changes have resulted in a reduction in duplication of work and in particular a reduction in General Service salary costs. Savings reported by the Organization since 1994-95 amount to US$ 26 million as follows:

Table 3: Savings as a result of decentralization

Savings US$ million per biennium (current prices)

Replacement of country office international programme officers with national programme officers


Decentralization of technical, policy and operations functions to regional/sub-regional level


Decentralization of field programme operations




Source: FAO Programme and Budget Service


2.1 External factors

66. Decentralization has to be viewed in the context of global developments, including an overall decline in the annual average for agricultural development assistance, which fell in constant US$ (2000) from US$19,300 million in 1985-89 to US$ 10,300 million in 1995-99 (see Chart 1). There have also been major changes in developing country policies and priorities for development assistance as well as in the way donors are delivering assistance. At the global level, the Millennium Development Goals focused the attention of the international community but have not led to a major increase in overall development assistance. Many developing countries have developed poverty reduction programmes (PRSPs) and, in the case of African countries, programmes subject to peer review under NEPAD. Developing countries are also giving close attention to global issues – particularly the issues of international trade.

Chart 1 External Assistance for Agriculture in Developing Countries (constant 2000 US$ billion)

Undisplayed Graphic

67. Within the UN, action has been taken to increase coherence and collaboration between its Programmes and Specialised Agencies, as well as with the Bretton Woods institutions. International and regional financing institutions and national donors are generally decentralising more to country level. They are also working closer together, as well as more closely with developing country governments and civil society (including NGOs), and with the private sector. Increasingly, these agencies are providing assistance in conjunction with one another through sector-wide programmes and budget support linked to national poverty reduction programmes. Alongside these developments, events have led to an increase in the need for emergency assistance, which at US$ 5,500 million per year accounts for 10 percent of official development assistance and has doubled in real terms compared with the previous decade.

68. This evolving context presents new challenges for FAO in responding appropriately to country and regional needs, and in working in partnership with others. It is also a context in which the presence of the Organization at regional and country levels assumes an increased importance.

2.2 The Internal Context

Chart 2 Decline in the FAO Regular Programme Budget US$ million
Undisplayed Graphic

69. The 1994-95 decentralization took place within a context of shrinking FAO resources. Between the two biennia 1994-95 and 2004-05, the FAO Regular Budget in constant 1994-95 US$ shrank from US$ 673 million US$ 541 million. This has had major implications for the eventual effectiveness of the decentralization in terms of responsiveness to members.

70. There was also a significant decline in extra-budgetary resources for field development programmes (with unfortunately an increase in emergencies). Excluding the Iraq Oil-for-Food programme, the volume of extra-budgetary expenditures (expressed in current US$) in 1992 was US$ 343 million per year, of which US$ 22 million were for emergencies and US$ 152 million came from UNDP. Extra-budgetary expenditure then fell to a low point of US$ 224 million per year in 1996, due largely to the UNDP decision to move away from UN agency execution. Thus, UNDP funding fell from US$ 152 million for 1992 to only US$ 12 million in 2003. At the same time Government Cooperative Programme funding has risen, so that together with UTF funding it increased from US$ 169 million in 1992 to US$ 258 million in 2000, a level at which it has more or less stabilised but with an increased proportion of the resources for normative headquarters based work. Emergency extra-budgetary funding, excluding Iraq Oil-for-Food rose from a level of between US$12 million and US$ 22 million (around which it fluctuated in the period 1992 to 1999) to US$ 65 million in 2003. Chart 3 summarises these trends.

Chart 3: Extra-budgetary Funding of FAO’s Programmes (excluding Iraq Oil-for-Food)
Undisplayed Graphic

71. At the time of the decision to decentralize, much of the thinking was thus influenced by the recent past when there had been a large extra-budgetary Field Programme and the roles of both Regular Programme technical staff and the TCP were less prominent than they are today in ensuring technical support to countries.

72. In drawing its conclusions, the evaluation team has been aware that no matter how great the resources of FAO, not all expectations can be met. The team has also been mindful that the successive budget cuts have seriously constrained the effective implementation of the decentralization. It also needs to be kept in mind that these cuts throughout the decentralization process limited capacities in FAORs and other decentralized offices, with the abolition of posts and less non-staff money available. The evaluation team was further informed that original plans for the decentralization, including the establishment of additional sub-regional offices had as a result of the budgetary constraints been cut-back or cancelled.


73. Countries, donors and the UN family were all found to be in favour of decentralization. Within this context, they emphasised decentralization of functions and authority, not primarily staff. There was general agreement with the objectives set for the 1994-95 decentralization process, i.e. to ensure for FAO:

  1. relevance;
  2. visibility and action in proximity to problems, shortening the time lag between the expression of needs by Member Nations and their satisfaction by the Organization;
  3. enhanced use of national, sub-regional and regional capacities; and
  4. efficiency savings (there was however, questioning of the realism of this objective as many partners noted that supporting measures, infrastructure investments, etc. were required).

74. The increased decentralization met a felt need of developing countries and was in line with developed countries’ views on ways of maximising the Organization’s effectiveness. It thus received the full support of the Governing Bodies and the actual process was driven by the Director-General, with some resistance from headquarters administrative and technical divisions. The decentralization of field operations, first from headquarters to the regions and then from the regions to FAORs, also met with some resistance from the units affected. Together with the shortage of resources, the result was that decentralization proceeded in a rather iterative way and in jerks, as a decision was pushed through and then adjustments were made to ensure the decision worked. Any institutional change is disruptive and the evaluation team concluded that there was little alternative but to proceed in this way, in view of the need to break through organizational inertia.

75. Increased visibility, proximity and responsiveness of FAO and its services to member countries were defined by the Council as major objectives of the 1994-95 decentralization. Overall judgements by those consulted on FAO’s decentralization varied significantly by region. The evaluation team found during its country visits that in the Pacific and Caribbean islands that this objective had been fulfilled. This was particularly the case in the Pacific. There was also an increase in visibility and responsiveness in the countries closest to Hungary in Europe. Elsewhere, governments, donors and other members of the UN family often said that they had not seen evidence of greater FAO decentralization or its benefits. It was disappointing that in Africa, South Asia, the CIS and, to some extent, Central America, the great majority of countries reported no benefit from the increased decentralization of staff, including to the Sub-regional Offices. This has to be seen in a context of a decline in the size of the Field Programme, as well as declining resources for FAO staff travel, which reduce countries’ exposure to FAO, independently of the decentralization as such.

76. MDG 8 and the FAO Strategic Framework both recognise the special needs of small island states. It was thus encouraging that in the Pacific and Caribbean, all those to whom the evaluation team spoke strongly emphasised the value of having an FAO office that focused on their sub-region. The value came from the knowledge that each of the two Sub-regional Offices had in respect of the countries it covered, - both the overall socio-political context and the specific issues facing the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors. This knowledge had enabled the sub-regional offices to ensure that FAO responses were both appropriate and effective. The fact that the sub-regional representatives and some members of the teams came from the sub-regions in question was judged to add to the strength of the offices.

77. While there were significant possibilities for improvement, member countries were broadly satisfied with the services of Regional Offices in Asia (excluding the CIS) and Latin America. In Africa, there was a high level of criticism during team visits of FAO’s orientation and ways of working, but governments and donors often look on FAO as the best of the UN specialised agencies (as distinct from Funds and Programmes). This did not appear to always be the case in the countries of Asia, where FAO was not necessarily ranked as highly as other UN specialised agencies by planning and finance ministries or by donors and UN Resident Coordinators. In Europe, there was dissatisfaction with the coverage of the CIS countries.

78. National governments and all other development partners consulted by the evaluation team emphasised the need for deepening FAO’s decentralization, especially in terms of devolution of decision making, to meet the challenges of a changing and more globalised world in which decentralization and interconnectivity were both becoming the norm. They felt that FAO must match the changes by others in the international community and at national level. In particular, there was a common call for a more responsive technical capacity to serve countries and for:

  1. FAO to be more of a listening Organization, with officials asking members and other stakeholders what were their concerns and priorities and carefully considering the response, rather than promoting FAO standard approaches;
  2. The need for a more strategic approach by FAO, whether at national or regional level, with FAO’s resources being used in a more catalytic and focused way, rather than on a number of disparate actions which do not always have the impact national governments would wish;
  3. FAO to increase its attention to the strategy and policy levels, as a partner and facilitator in countries;
  4. Decentralization to facilitate consensus and transfer of experience on emerging issues between countries and regions; and
  5. Much greater delegation of authority covering the degree to which FAORs and regional representatives feel able to: express the organization’s views; use of the TCP; enter into agreements with donors; and exercise implementation authority, including for contracts and expenditures. Such delegation was believed to be an important prerequisite for mobilising additional resources from donors and in strengthening the confidence of governments in programme execution.

79. The international community and governments in a number of countries expressed the view that FAO needs more proportionality in its use of decentralized resources vis-ŕ-vis the needs and potentials of countries (including attention from regional technical support staff, capacity of national offices and use of TCP).

80. Senior management has rightly emphasised that decentralization must reinforce, rather than detract from the unity of purpose of the Organization, as well as the need to maintain financial and administrative standards and minimise the risk of abuse. In response to questionnaires, a majority of senior FAO headquarters technical staff respondents think that there was a loss of effectiveness due to decentralization. The evaluation team has also heard, mainly from some of those consulted at headquarters, that there is a danger of lack of realism in the drive for decentralization, in particular: a) greater decentralization has reduced efficiency of implementation; b) that it is not possible to have the same overall calibre and motivation of staff in decentralized offices as headquarters due to a number of factors, including that the staff cannot be sufficiently expert in any one field; c) the costs of assuring acceptable risk levels of abuse or ignorance of procedures are unacceptably high outside a headquarters environment; d) decentralization has had a negative effect on FAO having the critical mass of staff in essential technical disciplines for normative work (almost 40 percent of senior headquarters staff responding to questionnaires felt that this was a problem); and e) the UN common system of staff employment regulations does not allow for the flexible adjustments in staffing essential to institutional restructuring.

81. The evaluation has examined these issues and the extent to which each presented a justified risk, if the effectiveness of decentralization was to be further strengthened. They are addressed in subsequent sections of the report.


1 CL 106/2, paragraph 24 and Executive Summary, paragraph VI, e.

2 Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Mali, Togo, China, India, Laos, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey, Brazil and Nicaragua.

3 Latin America and Caribbean and Near East.

4 ILO, UNIDO and WHO responded to questionnaires. Unesco, UNDP and WFP provided written information on several aspects.

5 Liaison Office with the United Nations (New York - LONY), Liaison Office for North America (Washington - LOWA) and Liaison Office with the United Nations (Geneva - LOGE).

6 UNDP represents FAO in 17 countries and contributes to FAO representation in a further six of the eight in which FAO has a national officer and two covered by multiple accreditation.


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