FAO 70th Anniversary

Welcome to FAO’s 70th Anniversary portal!

Do you know what FAO has done over the past 70 years to end hunger in the world? Test your knowledge with this short quiz!

Do you want to know more about the story of FAO? We prepared some materials that will take you on a journey through the main events, our leading figures and their endeavors over the past 70 years.
Click here to know more



1955 - 65

Harnessing Resources

In its first ten years of existence, FAO worked with Governments to tackle urgent issues of hunger and malnutrition worldwide. During the second decade, as it was clear in the words of the then FAO Director General B.R. Sen before the UN General Assembly in 1957, the Organization started addressing long-term issues contributing to the fight against hunger. 

Reducing hunger from the planet did not only imply bringing food to people, it also entailed an overall increase in investment in agriculture and in the farmers’ know-how and access to technology. Farmers worldwide needed technical assistance, support and advice to improve their production. This is also why one of the most important developments in FAO’s work has been the increased emphasis to helping farmers with technical assistance, support and advice. 

1971, Republic of Korea - Korean Coastal Fishing industry (UN Special Fund): unloading, sorting mackerel, hauling net, activities aboard training vessel.

On 14 October 1958, it was decided to widen the scope of the UN Programme technical assistance and as a result the UN’s Special Fund was created. A high proportion of projects approved by the Governing Council of the Special Fund were now assigned to FAO to implement. This didn't come as a surprise: FAO was on the road to becoming a major world technical aid agency.

The Special Fund was to concentrate on large projects in the fields of resources, including assessing and developing manpower in various industries such as handicrafts and cottage, agriculture, forestry, transport and communications, building and housing, health, education, statistics and public administration.

Assistance took the form of surveys; research and training; demonstration including pilot projects and was implemented by the provision of staff, experts, equipment, supplies and services as well as the establishment of institutes and other appropriate means, including fellowships. 

Cultivating Fertile Ground to increase crop production

Improving overall agricultural production was a key strategy to support the fight against hunger. 

Advances in technology and modern agriculture were key to reaching substantial increases in food production especially in developing countries, as highlighted by the then FAO DG, B.R Sen at the World Food Congress.

June 1960, Rome, Italy - Headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome when representatives of 72 international non-governmental organizations joined together to discuss how they can contribute to the "Freedom from Hunger Campaign".

Advocating for high quality seeds and fertilizers, mapping out the world’s soil landscape were all priorities set in that period as a contribution to this overall strategy.

In 1957, in order to push for the use of high-quality seed of improved varieties, FAO launched a World Seed campaign which culminated in the World Seed Year of 1961.

Moreover, as of all the crop inputs needed for better farm performance, fertilizers provide the most far-reaching results, FAO established in 1961 a Fertilizers Programme under the umbrella of the Freedom from Hunger Campaign. 

The Programme started out to improve crop production through the increased use of fertilizers and soon expanded its scope to include all aspects of efficient crop production such as improved varieties, better soil management and weed control as well as more efficient plant protection.

It is estimated that overall, the use of fertilizers has increased by 14 percent annually in the 1960s. 

Mapping soil resources worldwide
FAO and UNESCO Soil Map of the World.

The use of high quality seeds and fertilizers was only a part of the whole strategy. A good knowledge of soils, their properties and distribution was also considered strategic for more accurate and more useful predictions for how soils would react to specific production inputs. However in the late 1950s, understanding the soil cartography was chaotic at best and non-existent at worst.

The International Union of Soil Science (IUSS) - at its Seventh Congress in Wisconsin, USA, in 1960 - recommended that soil maps of continents and large regions be published. As a follow-up, in 1961 FAO and UNESCO embarked on preparing a Soil Map of the World at 1:5 000 000 scale. The ambitious project took 17 years to complete and was the fruit of world-wide collaboration between innumerable soil scientists. The map’s purpose was to enable farmers understand how the soil would react to different farming techniques that would give the best yields.

The map has remained, until recently, the only global overview of soil resources.

A global campaign to free the world from “want of food”
Freedom from Hunger Campaign - Boys from Newton College raised 638 dollars as a contribution to the Campaign during a five-day walk to Dublin pushing a pram holding a giant loaf of bread.

As the years went by, food problems in the poorest and most populous parts of the planet showed little sign of improvement. The conviction grew that if hunger were to be eliminated successfully, an all-out effort was needed by governments, NGOs and private citizens.

On 16 March 1955, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt with Frank McDougall travelled to FAO to mobilize the United Nations Programme into creating the Freedom from Hunger Campaign.

It took five years of negotiations before FAO officially launched the campaign in 1960.

Its ambitious aim was to eradicate hunger in the world once and for all. Governments agreed that the “persistence of hunger and malnutrition is unacceptable morally and socially, is incompatible with the dignity of human beings and the equality of opportunity to which they are entitled, and is a threat to social and international peace.” (Sen, Director-General of FAO)

The campaign’s purpose was two-fold: first, to create a world-wide awareness of the problems of hunger and malnutrition that afflict more than half of the world's population. Its second objective was to promote a climate of opinion in which solutions to these problems could be organized both on a national and on an international basis.

The campaign was supported by a number of countries and, to its success, was extended until the early eighties.

A Code to set standards for food commodities

Work on standards for food commodities also began in earnest in the early 1950s. At the first meeting of the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Nutrition, international trade and nutrition experts stated:

"Food regulations in different countries are often conflicting and contradictory. Legislation governing preservation, nomenclature and acceptable food standards often varies widely from country to country. New legislation not based on scientific knowledge is often introduced, and little account may be taken of nutritional principles in formulating regulations" (FAO/WHO, 1950).

Noting that the conflicting nature of food regulations presented an obstacle to trade and affected the distribution of nutritionally valuable food, the committee suggested that FAO and WHO should study these problems more closely. Established in 1961 the FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission is one of the best known and most successful cooperative projects between two United Nations agencies, setting international food standards. 

Responding to Famine

One of the founding principles for creating FAO was to address the issue of food surpluses in the advanced countries, mobilizing them to areas of need in developing countries, while protecting farmers in international trade by ensuring that prices for agricultural produce remained competitive. 

FAO’s Guiding Lines and Principles of Surplus Disposal (1952) were used as a blueprint in many studies on famine carried out by FAO’s independent experts in different parts of the world in the 1950s. These studies showed that surpluses continued to build up in the second half of the 1950s as did food aid.

It was important, at that stage, to devise “a workable scheme […] for providing food aid through the UN system”, as stated by US President Dwight Eisenhower before the UN General Assembly, in 1960.

The crucial role of food aid as source of assistance for poor countries was also highlighted few years later at the World Food Congress by the then DG, B.R. Sen. 

A clear definition of responsibilities within the United Nations Family was necessary and in December 1961, the FAO and the UN General Assembly adopted parallel resolutions establishing the World Food Programme to deal with bringing emergency food relief in real time to afflicted areas.

This was a three-year experimental programme that was not due to enter into operation until January 1963. In reality, it was up and running several months early, as an earthquake hit Iran, a hurricane swept through Thailand and newly independent Algeria was overwhelmed by five million returning refugees. Food assistance was needed urgently and WFP was given the mandate to supply it.