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II. The 1948 Conference of FAO

An Interpretative Summary

THE Fourth Session of the Conference of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations was held in Washington, D.C., U.S.A., 15 to 29 November 1948. The Honorable Charles F. Brannan (United States of America) was elected Chairman. The Vice-Chairmen were Dr. V.K. Wellington Koo (China), José Manuel Casanova (Cuba), and James M. Dillon (Ireland). The Conference elected Saudi Arabia to membership, making the total number of members 58. Of these, 51 attended the Fourth Session.


Again the Conference adopted the pattern of dividing its work among three commissions.

Commission I reviewed the current and prospective world food situation and the programs of member governments - the first such review undertaken by the Conference on so extensive a scale. The discussions were based principally on two reports prepared in advance by the Director General - The State of Food and Agriculture - 1948 and National Progress in Food and Agriculture Programs 1948. Also for the first time, the Conference considered production and trade problems on a regional basis, with Commission I organized in five regional sections, concerned with the Far Fast, Europe, the Near East, Africa, and Latin America. Viscount Bruce of Melbourne served as Chairman of the Commission; F.F. Elliott (U.S.A.) and Mahmoud Zaki Bey (Egypt) were Vice-Chairmen, and E. de Vries (Netherlands) was Rapporteur.

Commission II reviewed the past year's work of FAO and the program proposed by the Director-General for the coming year. Its basic documents, in addition to statements presented in person by the FAO division directors, were the Director-General's reports on The Work of FAO, 1947/48 and the FAO Program of Work for 1949. The Chairman of Commission II was B.R. Sen (India). K.T Jutila (Finland) and Josüé de Castro (Brasil) were Vice-Chairmen. H.J. van den Abeele (Belgium) served as Rapporteur.

Commission III dealt with budgetary, financial, and administrative questions, with Arthur Wauters (Belgium) as Chairman. The Vice-Chairmen were G.S.H. Barton (Canada) and Domingo Pagnirigan (Philippine Republic).


In this brief account of the highlights of the Conference, a few words will suffice to call attention to basic facts summarized in the Conference report itself and dealt with at greater length in The State of Food and Agriculture.

The better-than-average 1948 harvests eased the immediate emergency but not the two pressing world needs that keynoted this fourth session: to increase production of food and other primary products and to expand international trade in these products. The great economic unbalance in the world today heavily underlines these needs.

For a decade there have been notable increases in agricultural production only in North America. Most of the rest of the world has not yet caught up with the prewar position from the standpoint of supplies of food per person. In heavily populated areas especially, the number of human beings to be fed is in general increasing faster than food production.

North America has become the principal supplier not only of food but of production equipment for the areas that do not produce enough. In general only this one large area is rich in material goods; most of the rest of the world is poor, much of it desperately poor.

For both the physical and the economic health of their people, the underdeveloped areas must greatly increase their food production. But they do not have enough equipment and materials to do it on the necessary scale, enough hard currency to purchase these things where they might be obtained, or enough goods to exchange for them; and many do not have enough land.

At the same time, effective demand in the international market - that is, customers able to pay the going price - for food from the high-producing areas is about at the saturation point. Producers in these areas fear that they may break the market if they increase production further - perhaps even if they maintain it at present high levels. Yet they must maintain and even increase production if human needs, as against effective demand, are to be met.

There are three dangers in this precarious situation. There will be greater deprivation and unrest in the deficit areas if the gap between population and food supply continues to widen. In the areas producing exportable surpluses there will be difficult and painful economic adjustments to make if steps are not taken to increase commercial demand. Finally, with reserve stocks of food at a low ebb, as they are today, any serious crop failures in the area that, has become the world's chief food supplier would bring widespread suffering.


Several recommendations passed by the Conference were intended to go down to the roots of these problems.

(1) Of the many complex difficulties that stand in the way of increasing production to the necessary extent in underdeveloped countries, lack of adequate financial resources is probably the most fundamental.

Much of the financing for agricultural development in the underdeveloped countries - and for the industrial development that must accompany or even in some cases precede it - will obviously have to come from within the countries themselves. A large segment might also be furnished by investments of private capital from abroad. But some financing by public international agencies will also be necessary.

At this session of the FAO Conference a representative of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development outlined what that institution could and could not do under present circumstances. In the opinion of many of the Conference delegates, all present resources for international loans are unequal to the need.

On this question, which is so fundamental, of how world production development can be adequately financed it soon appeared in the Conference discussions that there is a dearth of definite knowledge. As a prerequisite for making adequate recommendations for further action, therefore, the Conference requested that the Director-General invite the assistance of appropriate agencies, including the United Nations and the International Bank, in preparing a fact-finding statement concerning all present financing facilities suitable for this purpose - their nature and magnitude, the demand for them, the use being made of them. The Council, in turn, is directed to report these facts to the 1949 session of the FAO Conference.

(2) In the case of international trade also, the Conference found that it is necessary to dig out and assess fundamental facts before clear decisions can be made.

That the past few years have witnessed great changes in the international trade pattern is widely recognized. These dislocations are both symptoms and causes of many present economic ills. But there is little definite knowledge concerning the nature and magnitude of the changes or the trends significant for the future.

To develop the facts necessary for adequate recommendations in this field, the Conference directed the World Food Council - in consultation with all appropriate international organizations, including the Economic and Social Council, its regional economic commissions, and the International Monetary Fund - to study the trends in international trade in food and agricultural products. The results of the investigation, together with suggestions for action by member governments, are to be submitted by the Council to the 1949 session of the FAO Conference.

(3) Meanwhile, the Council was also asked to undertake a preliminary review of the situation in a narrower range - that of the individual commodities and groups of commodities within FAO's fields. In many of these cases, expanded production in the "surplus" areas (and therefore expanded consumption elsewhere) cannot be attained unless producers have enough assurance regarding future market conditions and prices to enable them to plan ahead. The World Food Council's review is to deal first with intergovernmental commodity arrangements now in existence or under consideration, including their relations to the objectives of FAO and FAO's relations to bodies already established for commodity discussions or negotiations; secondly with commodities for which there are no existing or contemplated arrangements. The review was considered urgent; its results, together with any proposals or suggestions the Council may wish to make for governmental and intergovernmental action, are if possible to be submitted to member governments immediately after the first 1949 meeting of the Council.

In the case of wheat, an international commodity agreement was drawn up in 1948 but failed of ratification by several governments. In this Session of the FAO Conference the United States delegation announced that negotiations for concluding an agreement will be reopened early in 1949, and in a speech to the Conference the President of the United States said that he would press for ratification by his government.

(4) Another study of primary importance concerns the level of reserve stocks of basic commodities held by governments. World reserves of food and feedstuffs are in general very low.

Larger stocks, particularly of cereals, will have to be accumulated in most countries in the near future. The present balance-of-payment difficulties in many importing countries will necessarily put the burden of financing these stocks more than ever on the shoulders of the producers and the governments of exporting countries. Meanwhile, there is real danger, the Conference felt, that at current rates of increase the number of livestock, especially pigs and poultry, may soon be larger than is justified by the supplies of coarse grains that will probably be available in 1949/50.

The Conference therefore drew the attention of governments to the need for caution in utilizing the 1948 harvest, and it requested the FAO Council during the year 1949 to go into the whole question of stocks, including financing, in connection with its proposed review of commodity problems.

(5) The FAO Council was also requested at its first meeting in 1949 to review the question of continuing the international allocation of scarce commodities and to take such action as the circumstances: may require. The Conference agreed that the time has not yet come to dissolve the International Emergency Food Committee but that each commodity committee that no longer serves a useful purpose should be promptly disbanded.


The major recommendations outlined above are largely directed to determining more accurately than is now possible what needs to be and can be done about financing expanded agricultural production in underdeveloped countries and about expanding international trade. The studies to be made during the next few months are designed to lead to proposals for action on some of the world's most important economic problems. Meanwhile, by approving with little change or qualification the program of work for 1949 submitted by the Director-General, the Conference ensured the continuance of the work already undertaken and planned by the organization in agriculture, distribution, economics and statistics, fisheries, forestry and forest products, nutrition, rural welfare, and information. This also includes the establishment of regional offices and further development of co-operative relationships with other international organizations, in particular the regional commissions of the Economic and Social Council.

In considering the program of work, the Conference laid down a number of general principles. For example: First priority should be given to projects that will increase production and result in more effective use of available supplies; projects that transcend national boundaries and involve co-operation on a regional or a world scale should have special consideration; so should those arising from requests for technical advice e and assistance from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development or any other agency prepared to give material help to member governments in expanding production.

Much emphasis was given to the need for extension and educational activities if projects for developing and improving agriculture are to be put into effect on the world's farms. Noting that the services of expert technicians are often difficult to obtain, the Conference urged member governments to grant their officials leave of absence for periods ranging in exceptional cases to as long as five years so that they might accept temporary service with FAO. The Conference also noted with concern that, several projects which deserve high priority cannot be carried out because of lack of founds. As one means of stretching the available funds, it recommended that governments assume a substantial part of the cost involved whenever they call on FAO for special assistance. This would apply to technical mission as well as to visits of FAO staff members undertaken on the request of a member government. Action on this recommendation is to be postponed for a year, however, pending the preparation of a report by the Director-General for the Council.

The Conference emphasized the need for obtaining advice from the technical Co-ordinating Committee, witch was established at the 1947 session but did not meet during the following year. This Committee, it was suggested, should meet each year prior to the session of the Council dealing with the program of work for the following year, and assist the Director-General in selecting a limited number of projects to form the basis of a four- or five-year program. Also the Conference recommended that prior to the next annual session the Director-General convene regional conferences of government representatives and analysts for the purpose of developing regional appraisals and co-ordinating nationals plans and programs.

A few points were given special emphasis in connection with the 1949 program. For example in the case of fisheries, attention was directed particularly to the need for greater exploitation of inland fish resources and for the provision of gear and other requisites for expanding fisheries production. In the field of rural welfare, emphasis was given to the need for expanding FAO's work on co-operatives by providing a consultative service to member governments.

Convinced that the rice problems urgently demand concerted international effort, the Conference approved the draft constitution for an international rice council drawn up at the Baguio Rice Meeting but suggested changing the name to the "International Rice Commission" to avoid confusion with commodity councils. The Director-General was asked to proceed with the organization of the Rice Commission as quickly as possible.

In forestry, the need for establishing forestry schools in all countries with important forest resources was emphasized. The Conference urged all interested countries to participate actively in the forthcoming FAO conference on forestry and timber problems in the Far East and for a world forestry congress to be held in Finland were noted with approval. A recommendation was made that the Director-General convene a meeting of experts in agriculture, forestry and grazing management for a concerted attack on the problems of land utilization in tropical and subtropical regions.

Among recommendations regarding the information and publications program was one asking that member governments consider establishing national advisory or co-ordinating groups on information which would work with the National FAO Committees or other national FAO agencies. Another emphasized the need for enlarging the circulation of FAO publication among administrators, technicians, students, and others.

A number of activities not included by the Director-General in his proposed program were added to it by the Conference: Work on foot and mouth disease control, a survey of existing facilities for international reporting of outbreaks of plant and animal diseases, establishment of the consultative service on cooperatives already mentioned, continuance of the agricultural library at Rome during the coming year (including acceptance of an offer of temporary collaboration by UNESCO), and continuance of the work of collecting information on national laws relating to agriculture. Since no recommendations were made for dropping other projects to meet the additional costs of these activities, it was left for the Director-General to take up with the Council the problem of how and on what scale the additions to the program are to be carried out.


It has been noted that the regional discussions were a new element at this session of the Conference. Their purpose was not only to define some of the problems faced by individual countries and groups of countries but, in particular, to recommend steps that governments themselves might take nationally. Obviously national action in food and agriculture within the 58 member countries must bulk far larger in the world picture than the limited international action that can be taken by or through FAO.

These regional discussions and recommendations covered a wide range of problems in agriculture, forestry, and fisheries. They gave special attention to the inter-relations among different kinds of activities, no one of which can be effective by itself, and also to steps that might be taken at an early date to remove obstacles to increased production and expanded trade.

In the Far East it was agreed that food deficits must be overcome chiefly by increased production within the region. In addition, this region must again become, as it was in the past, an important exporter of agricultural products. The Conference particularly recommended that the industrial countries in consultation with the Far Eastern countries give careful attention to the needs of the region as set out in the Report of the Joint FAO/ECAFE Working Party on Production Requisites, and consider ways and means to implement the recommendations made in that report regarding many kinds of requisites for expanded agricultural production, regarding procurement and finance, and regarding agricultural practices and technical and administrative personnel. The same Conference recommendation urged that consideration be given by the member countries of FAO and the international monetary organizations to means for overcoming the difficulties in procurement arising from lack of capital in the Far East and the chaotic condition of international exchange, especially the dollar shortage.

Other recommendations on Far Eastern problems dealt with research, the provision of expert advice, improved production techniques, pests and diseases, food conservation, marketing, nutrition and consumption levels, rural welfare, government agricultural services, and forest utilization and conservation.

For the Near East a large number of recommendations directed mainly to governments covered such subjects as the problem of locust control, use of improved crop plants, distribution and manufacture of fertilizers, exchange of information, provision of expert technical assistance, rinderpest control, and animal breeding, all of which would play a-part in any general program of increased production. The need for more exact figures on possible increases in the cultivable area in this region was stressed. The Conference recommended that the plans for expansion of irrigation work noted in the report of the Cairo meeting of 4-14 February 1948 be carried out by governments as rapidly as possible.

Two outstanding recommendations relating to Europe dealt with cereals and oilseeds and with livestock and livestock products. The first provided that the Director-General make a full report to the next FAO Conference on the factors limiting the European trade in cereals and oilseeds, and particularly on the possibilities of rebuilding trade in these products between Eastern and Western Europe. Back of this was a feeling of doubt as to the degree to which Europe can in the future economically supply its needs for cereals from domestic production. The resolution on livestock and livestock products recommended that each European country work toward the maximum use of resources available for livestock production but adjust the number and nature of its livestock realistically to the feed and other resources available from domestic supplies and imports.

The co-operation between FAO and the Economic Commission for Europe was endorsed by the Conference as an example of a method of obtaining practical results while avoiding duplication of international personnel and minimizing expenses.

For Latin America the Conference considered that the problem of primary importance for the present is expansion of agricultural production to meet the needs of the people in the region, with higher levels of living and greater productive capacity as the goal. The discussions and recommendations were confined largely to certain practical lines of action that governments can begin to take immediately. These dealt, for example, with artificial insemination of livestock, better use of grazing lands, use of waste products as livestock feed, stimulation of fruit culture and of vegetable oil production, development of fisheries, conservation of soils, and a large number of other questions.

This region is also an important potential source of foodstuffs and other agricultural products for export to other parts of the world, but production for export depends on suitable trading arrangements and some assurance of prices that will give producers an adequate living. Expanding production for export will also depend on obtaining technical assistance, machinery and equipment, and seeds and fertilizers.

In the case of Africa, which must greatly increase production to raise the dietary levels of the people living in that continent but could also export some important products to Europe, it was proposed that FAO endeavor to interest manufacturers of agricultural machinery in developing equipment especially suited to African conditions. The Conference agreed that improvement of transport and research on problems of soil and climate need special attention. Much attention must be given also to extension or advisory work for the education of farmers if production methods are to be improved. The shortage of animal protein in native diets throws emphasis on the need to improve livestock production. The necessity for vigorous, co-ordinated work in controlling insects and diseases in large areas in Africa was also emphasized, with FAO stimulating and co-ordinating many of the activities in this field. The Food and Agriculture Organization, the Conference noted, should be tied in more closely with the agricultural planning of governments in Africa in order to bring about better continent-wide co-ordination of work on important problems.


Re-elected to membership on the Council of FAO were six countries - Egypt, Australia, Mexico, India, France, Denmark - whose terms expired at this session and who had served on the Council for only one year. In the debate on the Council election, it was clear that the Conference considered the circumstances exceptional and recorded its opinion that the principle of rotation of membership should be emphasized in filling vacancies in the future.

Lord Bruce was unanimously elected Chairman of the Council for another year.

The Conference accepted the application of the Holy See for status as "permanent observer". Action on the application of Israel for membership was postponed. The World Federation of United Nations Associations was granted Category I status among nongovernmental organizations. Draft agreements between FAO and the World Health Organization and FAO and the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization were approved.

The Conference accepted the standard clauses of the United Nations' Convention on Privileges and Immunities of the specialized agencies as modified by an annex relating to FAO, and ratified the supplementary agreement relating to the provisional use of the United Nations laissez-passer by FAO officials.

The Budget for 1949 ($5,000,000) was voted, and the audited accounts for the second financial year (1 July 1946 to 31 December 1947), closing with a surplus of receipts over expenditures of $145,400.50, were approved. The whole financial situation of the Organization was reviewed, as were staff and operations problems. A committee was appointed to review the scale of contributions. Decision on the permanent site of headquarters was postponed for another year.


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