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8. the headquarters and other offices

The Headquarters

At the outset, the General Rules of the Organization provided that

The seat of the Organization shall be situated at the same place as the headquarters of the United Nations Organization. Pending a decision regarding the headquarters of the UN, the headquarters of the Organization shall be in Washington.

The selection of Washington as the temporary Headquarters seat was a natural consequence of the fact that the Interim Commission had established its base there, following a decision of the Hot Springs Conference.

The United Nations was founded eight days after FAO, and much time passed between its founding and the selection of a site for its headquarters. When New York was selected, following a Rockefeller offer of the land, it immediately became evident to most of those concerned with FAO that this large metropolitan centre would not be a suitable site for an organization dealing with food, agriculture, fisheries and forestry. A different site therefore had to be found, and the Rule changed. Neither proved to be easy, and it was not until the Fifth Session of the FAO Conference in November–December 1949 that final decisions were taken.

The actual voting process was much more complicated than the following summary suggests, and in the effort to break an impasse, actions on the two phases (i.e. the changing of the Rule and the selection of a site) were intermingled, as may be seen from the account in the Report of the Fifth Session of the FAO Conference. But, for the sake of brevity, the main elements are set out here in simplified form.

A two-thirds majority was required to change the Rule, and since it appeared that a majority of at least one half plus one would prefer the Organization to have its headquarters in Europe, the proponents of North America worked against changing the Rule in order to prevent a vote favourable to a European site. (In fact, a proposal to abrogate the Rule had been defeated by a vote of 22 against, 20 for, in the Third Session of the FAO Conference in 1947.)

However, in the end, the Fifth Session, by a vote of 40 in favour to 18 opposed, slightly over the two-thirds majority required, amended the Rule to read:

The seat of the Organization shall be at a place selected by the Conference.

This opened the way for a final decision on the permanent seat. Sites had been offered by Denmark, Italy, Switzerland and the United States; a small minority still holding to the view that FAO and the UN should be in the same place, New York was also included in the sites considered. On this question, only a simple majority of those voting was needed. Even so, five ballots were required to settle the issue, their results being tabulated below:

Proposed SiteBallot No.
 Votes cast5858585858
 Not voting33333
 Majority required3030303030
United Nations1363--
United States1521252728

Thus, the matter was decided by a very small margin, and in the small hours of the morning, since this plenary meeting of the Conference lasted until nearly 1.30 a.m. In the light of the final vote, the Conference formally accepted Italy's offer of a site in or near Rome, subject to the conclusion of a suitable headquarters agreement with the central and local governments concerned, and it authorized Director-General Dodd to negotiate such agreements and to refer them to the Council for ratification.

The complex of buildings selected for FAO's headquarters in Rome had been designed by an earlier Italian Government for use as a Ministry for Italian Territories in Africa. At the time of the transfer from Washington, in February 1951, only Building B of the complex was ready for occupancy by FAO. The foundations of Building A had been laid, and it was sufficiently completed during 1951 to allow the Sixth Session of the FAO Conference to be held there from 19 November to 6 December of that year. Work on Building C had been started in earlier years, but only a stairway and elevator tower had been erected, and this building was completed and made available to FAO only in October 1964. Building E, a small prefabricated “temporary” building in the courtyard between Buildings C and D, was completed in October 1965. Building D was occupied by the Italian Ministry of Posts and Telegraphs until August 1977, and after refurbishing it was turned over to FAO in two stages during 1980, the four upper floors in February, and the remaining four floors in September.

Over the years, as the Organization's programme and staff grew, it was necessary to rent increasing amounts of space outside the Headquarters complex. When Building D became available to the Organization, the amount of rented space was reduced to that in Building F, at 426 Via Cristoforo Colombo, where the World Food Programme, the Fisheries Department, the Forestry Department, and a few smaller units are currently housed.

At the time the transfer to Rome began, the FAO staff in Washington included approximately 580 persons. Of these, 390 were separated from the service, 20 were transferred to the newly created North American Regional Office, and 167 were transferred to Rome. A further 15 employees, newly recruited in Washington, were also included in the transfer. The staff so transferred was made up of about two thirds professional and one third general service personnel. In addition, 50 staff members were transferred from regional offices, mostly from the European Regional Office (which was closed as a consequence of the establishment of Headquarters in Rome), to the Headquarters staff.

The transfer to Rome was effected during the early months of 1951. A contract was made with the Italian Lines for the transport of the staff and their families, utilizing regular sailings of the S.S. Saturnia and the S.S. Vulcania. 76 staff and family members sailed out of New York on the Saturnia on 17 Feburary; 78 on the Vulcania on 1 March; 82 on the Saturnia on 22 March; and 5 on the Satumia on 28 April. A scheduled sailing of the Vulcania on 4 April having been cancelled, the travellers booked on that sailing were transferred to such other sailings as were available at the time. A few staff members and families made the crossing later in the year.

The 4 April sailing of the Vulcania was cancelled because on its previous passage it had encountered a very bad storm and had to go into dry dock for repairs. A few incidents will indicate the severity of that storm. The grand piano in the main lounge broke loose and, cruising about the lounge, reduced most of the furnishings to kindling. During the height of the storm it was impossible to operate the dining room, and waiters crept along the corridors with sandwiches and whatever else could be served in the cabins. One staff member was thrown from her berth and suffered some cracked ribs. Sir Herbert Broadley, then Deputy Director-General, recounted — with his usual wry humour — being seasick and having to crawl from his berth to the bathroom, where he had the misfortune of having the seat of the toilet fall down around his neck! It was an epic voyage, and one that the 78 FAO staff and family members who experienced it did not soon forget.

The intensity of the storm that struck the Vulcania can perhaps be more fully appreciated from Street's (1951) account, written shortly after the event:

The second ship was caught in one of the worst storms in recent years. For a day and a half it drifted helplessly, battered by mountainous seas. Passengers could not leave their rooms, not even for meals. They were thrown out of their bunks, were cut and bruised. Two sailors were lost overboard. The main hatch broke open and water poured into the hold, where automobiles and household furnishings were crashing about in destructive abandon. The captain himself had doubts that the ship would survive.

Since only a little over a fourth of the Washington staff was transferred to Rome, the Organization was faced with the very substantial task of rebuilding a staff. In addition, the Expanded Programme of Technical Assistance (EPTA) was at that time getting under way, so that apart from dealing with the ongoing programme of work, it was necessary to cope with a considerable increase in the workload, and to find the necessary additional staff both for field assignments as well as for the backstopping tasks at Headquarters.

Regional and Liaison Offices

The present sites of FAO's Regional and Liaison Offices are Rome (for Europe), Rome (for the Near East, following its transfer from Cairo as discussed on page 52), Accra (for Africa), Bangkok (for Asia and the Pacific), Santiago (for Latin America) and Washington (for North America). One region, formerly known as Oceania and more recently (for Council election purposes) as the Southwest Pacific, has never had a Regional or Liaison Office. There is also a Liaison Office with the United Nations in New York and one with the organizations and bodies of the United Nations family that are located in Geneva. The functions of the Regional Offices in the developing regions are of course different from those of the Regional Office for Europe, and the functions of all these offices are different from those of the Liaison Offices in North America, at the UN, and in Geneva.

FAO also maintains Joint Divisions with the UN Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) in Geneva, for Africa (ECA) in Addis Ababa, for Western Asia (ECWA) in Beirut, and for Latin America (ECLA) in Santiago. A similar unit maintained with the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) in Bangkok was subsequently replaced by an alternative arrangement. These Joint Divisions deal primarily with agricultural economic matters, although the one in Geneva also handles certain forestry questions, and the one in Addis Ababa certain aspects of both forestry and fisheries. They are thus essentially extensions of the Economic and Social Policy Department and of the Forestry and Fisheries Departments respectively, and for this reason they are not discussed in detail here as part of the Regional Office structure. However, it should be noted that the FAO sector of the Joint Division in Santiago has been progressively integrated into the Regional Office there.

The first official step leading to the establishment of regional offices was taken when the Third Session of the Conference, in 1947, instructed the Director-General to prepare plans, for Council approval, for the establishment of offices in some regions, and especially in Latin America, Europe, the Near East and Asia. The Council, at its Second Session in 1948, authorized the Director-General to proceed with the plans he had submitted, but expressed the belief

…that regional offices should be outposts of a strong FAO Headquarters and not in any way autonomous units, and that the technical programme of FAO in each region should continue to be the full responsibility of the Director-General.

Before turning to the development and evolution of these offices, a few additional general points should be made. In the early days of FAO, when there was no field programme as such, there was a feeling among Member Countries, and particularly among those far removed from the temporary headquarters in Washington, that if they were to obtain many benefits from the Organization they would have to have offices nearby. This feeling led to the establishment of Regional Offices and, in some regions, of sub-offices as well. With the advent of EPTA, and even more so with the establishment of the UN Special Fund (UNSF) and the subsequent merging of these programmes into the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the need for direct communications between FAO and its Member Governments in developing countries began to make itself strongly felt. This tended to bring into question the role of the Regional Offices, and over the years there have been sustained efforts to prevent them from becoming “little FAOs” and from assuming functions that would duplicate those which could best be assumed by Headquarters or within the respective countries. In fact, a Review Team which carried out its work during the first eight months of 1967 went so far as to recommend that the Regional Offices be abolished, but since they perform a number of important functions, and most of them have enjoyed a rather high level of political support, the recommendation was rejected. However, sub-offices have been eliminated, and in the many developing countries where FAO Representatives have been placed, the channel of communications between Headquarters and the respective capitals has increasingly become a direct one.

The Eighteenth Session of the Conference, in 1975, following the election of Edouard Saouma as Director-General, authorized him to review the Organization's Programme of Work for 1976–77 and to submit proposals to the Council for changes to it. This review necessarily included the options available regarding the Regional Offices, for which very large expansions had been proposed. He decided not to proceed with these, but to have the Regional Offices focus on activities which could best be carried out at the regional level. At the same time, he decided to place emphasis on decentralization at the country level, as discussed on pages 56–57. The Council fully supported this approach when it reviewed the Director-General's proposals in July 1976.

The present arrangements have been arrived at as a result of a long series of developments and adjustments, more complex in some regions than in others. These changes are summarized briefly below.


The first Director-General, in his second annual report, announced that he had set up a temporary Regional Office for Europe in December 1946, utilizing the buildings which had become available when the assets of the IAA had been absorbed into FAO (see page 7). The office was under the direction of S.L. Louwes (Netherlands), with the title of Special Adviser. The Council, at its Second Session in 1948, approved the Director-General's decision to maintain the office in Rome, pending a decision on the Headquarters site. The Second Special Session of the Conference, in 1950, decided that the Regional Office for Europe should be closed as of 1 May 1951, but that its technical and coordinating activities should be maintained within the Organization, in a manner to be determined by the Director-General. The budget for 1951 indicated that, although the office in Rome was closed at the end of April 1951, a small liaison office was maintained in Geneva.

In the same year, a proposal was made to the Sixth Session of the Conference to establish a European Regional Liaison Office within FAO Headquarters, but the Conference deferred action and asked the Director-General to consult with European Governments on the matter and report to the Council. It was not until 1961 that the Eleventh Session of the Conference decided to re-establish a Regional Office for Europe. It was set up in Geneva, but was transferred to Rome in 1970.

The successive heads of the Regional Office for Europe have been as follows:

Special AdviserCountryPeriod
 S.L. LouwesNetherlandsLate 1946–June 1948
Regional Representative for Europe
 A.H. BoermaNetherlandsMid-1948–Apr. 1951
 Paul Lamartine YatesUnited KingdomJan. 1961–June 1970
 G.E. BildesheimAustriaJuly 1970–Dec. 1980

Near East

In April 1947, a temporary Special Adviser for the Near East, Mr. Mahmoud Tewfik Hefnawy (Egypt), was appointed. He served in this capacity until 29 November 1947, when a Regional Office was set up in Cairo and he assumed the title of Regional Representative for the Near East. A formal agreement with the host government for the establishment of the Office was not, however, signed until 17 August 1952; it was approved by the FAO Council at its Sixteenth Session in November 1952.

The Regional Office continued to operate in Cairo until, in the light of the political situation prevailing in the region, the Twentieth Session of the Conference, in 1979, decided that henceforth and until decided otherwise by the Conference, the Cairo headquarters of the Regional Office for the Near East should be closed, and authorized the Director-General to implement measures to this effect, as set out in Conference Resolution 20/79. The Cairo Office was accordingly closed in early 1980, and the staff transferred to Rome, assigned to field projects or released. Regional activities are currently carried out from Headquarters under the supervision of the Regional Representative for the Near East.

The following officers have served as Regional Representative for the Near East:

Special Adviser and Regional Representative for the Near East
 Mahmoud Tewfik HefnawyEgyptApr. 1947–Sep. 1957
RegionalRepresentative for the Near East  
 Dr. A.R. SidkyEgyptNov. 1957–Sep. 1970
 Dr. M.A. NourSudanOct. 1970–July 1978
 Salah Jum'aJordanAug. 1978–

The level of the post of Regional Representative was raised from D-2 to Assistant Director-General on 1 August 1963.

Asia and the Pacific

In November 1948, the Director-General informed the Fourth Session of the Council that, without prejudice to a decision on a permanent site, he had selected Bangkok as a provisional centre for FAO activities in Asia and the Far East. The Fourth Session of the Conference, also in 1948, noted this action and endorsed the establishment of a Regional Office for Asia and the Far East. In November 1949 the Seventh Session of the Council, while accepting the principle that the Regional Office should rotate from country to country, approved the Director-General's recommendation that the Office should continue in Bangkok until the end of 1951. The Conference, at its Fifth Session in 1949, concurred with this latter recommendation, but called for a review of the position early in 1951. The Sixth Session of the Conference in 1951 agreed in its turn that the Office should remain in Bangkok at least until the end of 1953. When the matter arose again in the Seventh Session of the Conference in 1953, it was decided that Bangkok should be the permanent site. An agreement between FAO and the Government of Thailand regarding the site was approved by the Council at its Twenty-Second Session in October-November 1955.

The Conference, at its Second Special Session in 1950, noted a question regarding the establishment of an Information Centre in New Delhi, but took no action. At its Eighth Session in 1956, the Conference endorsed the appointment of a Deputy Regional Representative for Asia and the Far East, and the Director-General's budget for 1957–58, which was approved, included provision for an office in New Delhi, which was designated as a Sub-regional Office. It functioned as such until the end of December 1969.

Occupants of the post of Regional Representative for Asia and the Far East, which was raised from the grade of D-2 to that of Assistant Director-General on 1 December 1970, have been as follows:

Regional Representative for Asia and the Far East
 W.H. CummingsUnited StatesLate 1948–Jan. 1961
 Ahsan-ud-DinPakistanMay 1962–Oct. 1971
 Dr. Dioscoro L. UmaliPhilippinesNov. 1971–

In 1979 the Twentieth Session of the Conference endorsed a proposal to change the name of the office to that of Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific.

Latin America

In 1948, the Fourth Session of the Conference noted the Directed-General's decision to proceed without further delay to establish a Regional Office for Latin America. In 1949, the Fifth Session authorized him to select a site for the Office, but this proved to be quite a long and complex process. In 1950, the Second Special Session of the Conference observed that staff were already located at Santiago and Rio de Janeiro, and left the location of other subregional offices to the discretion of the Director-General. The budge for 1951 included funds for four offices: in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean; the Gran Colombian area; Eastern South America; and Western South America, but it was stipulated that if the budget had to be reduced, the proposal regarding the Gran Colombian area would not be implemented. The Conference, at its Sixth Session in 1951, approved arrangements for the continuation of the regional structure as it then existed; this included a Regional Office for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, in Mexico City; a Regional Office for Eastern South America, in Rio de Janeiro; a Regional Office for Western South America, in Santiago; and a Regional Statistics Office for Latin America, in San Jose, Costa Rica. The latter office was closed during the biennium 1954–55, but a decision on the status of the other offices was deferred for some years.

In 1955 the Council, at its Twenty-Fifth Session, noted a proposal by the Director-General to establish the Regional Office for Latin America at Santiago, with Sub-regional Offices in Rio de Janeiro and Mexico City, but felt that the matter should be considered by the Conference. The Eighth Session of the Conference, in the same year, while endorsing the proposals for centralization of the regional services but maintaining the three offices, asked the Director-General to consult with the governments of the region and to try to obtain agreement within two months on the location of the central office. At the same time, it endorsed his proposal to appoint two Deputy Regional Representatives in Latin America.

The available records indicate that by May 1956, agreement had been reached on Santiago, Chile, as the site of the Regional Office, and the first Regional Representative for Latin America took up his duties there in September 1956. The offices in Rio de Janeiro and Mexico City continued to exist as Sub-regional Offices until the end of 1969.

Officers who served as Regional Representative for Latin America, the level of which was raised from D-2 to Assistant Director-General in the autumn of 1961, have been the following:

Regional Representative for Latin America
 W.G. CasseresCosta RicaSep. 1956–Dec. 1958
 Hernán Santa CruzChileJan. 1959–May 1967
 Juan Felipe YriartUruguaySep. 1968–July 1972
 Dr. Armando Samper GnecoColombiaSep. 1972–Dec. 1974
 Pedro Moral LopezSpainJan. 1977–

North America

A Regional Office for North America was set up about 1 May 1951, immediately following completion of the transfer of FAO Headquarters from Washington to Rome, its establishment having been approved by the Second Special Session of the FAO Conference in 1950. In addition to servicing the United States and Canada, it had the task of maintaining liaison with the United Nations in New York, and for that purpose a small outposted office was set up at the United Nations. This dual role was maintained through 1955, after which a separate Liaison Office with the United Nations was established. The Office's responsibility for maintaining contacts with Canada and the United States has continued without interruption since 1951, but to reflect its somewhat different functions as compared with offices in other regions, it was redesignated Liaison Office for North America as of 1 January 1970.

The following officers have served as Regional Representative for North America:

Regional Representative For North America
 Gove HambidgeUnited StatesMay 1951–Mar. 1956
 Harold A. VogelUnited StatesJuly 1956–May 1969
 Dr. Howard R. CottamUnited StatesAug. 1969–July 1974
 Dr. Donald C. KimmelUnited StatesAug. 1974–


It was not until October-November 1958 that the Director-General submitted proposals to the Twenty-Ninth Session of the Council for the setting up of a Regional Office and two Sub-regional Offices in Africa, but since only enough funds were included in the budget for one office, the Council authorized only the installation of the main office during 1959. It also agreed that it should be located at Accra, Ghana. The Tenth Session of the Conference, in October-November 1959, approved an agreement between FAO and the Government of Ghana regarding this Office, and requested the Director-General to take all necessary steps to ensure its early implementation. The budget for 1960–61 included provisions for offices in Accra, Rabat and one undetermined location. The Conference, at its Eleventh Session in 1961, approved the Director-General's efforts to set up Sub-regional Offices in Rabat and at a site to be determined in Eastern Africa, and urged that these be set up as soon as possible. Owing to a number of problems, the proposed Rabat office was never established. A Deputy Regional Representative for the “East/South Zone”,appointed in April 1962, was stationed in Rome until August 1966, and in Nairobi, Kenya, from that time until the elimination of this post in February 1969. Eventually the idea of having subsidiary offices in this region, as well as in other regions, was abandoned.

Officers who served as Regional Representatives for Africa are shown below:

Regional Representative For Africa
 Pierre TerverFranceJan. 1959–Jan. 1962
 Chief G. Akinola DekoNigeriaJan. 1962–July 1968
 Moise C. MensahBeninJan. 1969–Jan. 1976
 Dr. S.C. SarSenegalJan. 1977–

The level of this Regional Representative post was upgraded from D-2 to Assistant Director-General on 1 December 1970.

United Nations

As noted earlier, liaison with the United Nations in New York was maintained from 1951 to 1955 through a small unit outposted from the Regional Office for North America and headed by Miss Alicia Baños (Mexico).

In June 1955, the Twenty-First Session of the FAO Council endorsed a proposal for the appointment of a Senior Liaison Officer, to be located at the United Nations in New York. From 1956 onward, separate provisions were made in the FAO budget for the Regional Office in Washington and for the Liaison Office in New York, and since 1956 a Director of the Liaison Office with the United Nations has been stationed in New York.

Those who have occupied this post have been the following:

Director of the Liaison Office with the United Nations
 Joseph L. OrrUnited StatesJan. 1956–Dec. 1966
 D.W. WoodwardNew ZealandJan. 1967–Oct. 1971
 Charles H. WeitzUnited StatesOct. 1971–Dec. 1979
 R.N. SarafIndiaJan. 1980–

In addition to the Liaison Office in New York, an Office of the FAO Representative to the United Nations Organizations in Geneva was set up on 1 January 1980, to maintain contact with the United Nations European Office, with subsidiary UN bodies located in Geneva, and with other organizations in the UN family that have their headquarters in Geneva. This office has been headed since its establishment by Mr. S. Akbil (Turkey).

Country Offices

Country offices of one kind or another have been in existence since the early years of the Organization. When field activities were initiated in the late 1940s under the UNRRA Transfer Fund, the teams in two countries, China and Ethiopia, were sufficiently large to justify having team leaders and small offices to service the teams. With the advent of EPTA, sizeable teams were placed in many developing countries, and it soon became necessary to designate one member of each such team to serve as the main point of contact between the Government and Headquarters.

As early as 1955, the FAO Conference had recognized the need for chiefs of mission and for using them to deal not only with assistance to the respective developing countries but also with matters relating to the Regular Programme. In 1961, the Eleventh Session of the FAO Conference adopted a detailed Resolution (No. 17/61) on “Country Representatives”, which, recognizing the growing volume and complexity of FAO's operational programmes and the need, where countries so requested, for full-time FAO country representatives, set out the functions of such representatives in detail. The Conference also recognized that it would be appropriate to make group-country appointments in some cases.

In 1966 the Director-General of FAO and the Administrator of UNDP entered into an agreement for the appointment of officers entitled Senior Agricultural Advisers/FAO Country Representatives, whose posts were financed two thirds by UNDP and one third by FAO. They served as advisers on the staffs of the UNDP Resident Representatives, but performed some functions on behalf of FAO.

When the Eighteenth Session of the FAO Conference, late in 1975, gave its general approval to the Programme of Work proposed for 1976–77, it also authorized newly-elected Director-General Edouard Saouma to review that Programme and to propose amendments to it for the consideration of the FAO Council. Among the proposals Mr. Saouma submitted to the Council in July 1976 was one for the initiation of a corps of FAO Representatives in the developing countries, which would gradually replace the Senior Agricultural Advisers/FAO Country Representatives. The Council authorized the initiation of this corps during the remainder of 1976–77, with perhaps 15 FAO Representatives' Offices to be established by the end of the biennium. In 1977, the Nineteenth Session of the Conference authorized an increase in the number of these offices to 47 during 1978–79. By the end of 1979, with the full cooperation of UNDP, all the Senior Agricultural Adviser/FAO Country Representative posts had been terminated. In that year, the Twentieth Session of the Conference authorized a further increase in the number of FAO Representatives' Offices to 62 during 1980–81.

In view of the importance of the offices of the FAO Representatives as links between FAO Headquarters and the governments of the countries they serve, their major functions are summarized briefly below:

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