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



1985 - 95

The years 1985 to 1995 saw incredible movements in ideology that brought about, through technological advances, nutritional thinking and social responses to crisis. This was the decade of the first nuclear disaster and its effects on agriculture across two continents. This was the decade that witnessed a growing impatience to rid the world of hunger once and for all. This was also the decade that began to recognize the important role women played in agriculture.

The fifth World Food Survey released by FAO in 1985, provided a comprehensive picture once again of food and nutrition in the world. The survey indicated that the proportion of undernourished in the developing countries had decreased; still, the number of hungry people was still very large. Solutions to malnutrition were not an option anymore.

In 1992, FAO and the World Health Organization convened the first global conference devoted solely to addressing the world’s nutrition problems, the International Conference on Nutrition (ICN). 

The conference saw a tidal wave of commitment by governments who pledged to eliminate starvation, widespread chronic hunger; undernutrition, especially among children, women and the aged, before the next millennium. Governments also pledged to address head on a host of food related issues ranging from micronutrient deficiencies to non-communicable diseases, from inadequate sanitation to unsafe drinking water. Lest anyone forgot the urgency of eliminating starvation and chronic undernutrition, the world food situation was confirmed again in 1993 at the FAO Conference as it reviewed World Agriculture: Towards 2010. The report stated that despite an increase in food production and food security there were still 800 million chronically undernourished people in the world.

Toxicity in Food: Chernobyl and its disaster

As if the number of undernourished people in the world was not enough, the world had to contend with man-made disasters aggravating the situation.

The nuclear catastrophe known as the Chernobyl Disaster on that fateful 26 April 1986, saw the release of radioactive materials into the environment with a devastating effect on trade in agricultural and food commodities, not only near the nuclear power plant in Chernobyl or in the Ukraine where the accident happened, but the fallout of radionuclides into the atmosphere spread over a wide geographic area of Europe and Asia. It caused serious disruptions to food production and trade in food products. These disruptions were exacerbated by the lack of uniformity of actions taken by national authorities and the lack of preparedness to respond to such an emergency. A year later, FAO issued its recommendations on what were safe levels for radioactive contamination of food in international trade. 

Since August 1988, ARTEMIS has been supporting FAO’s programmes on early warning for food security, migrant pest and disease control.
Food Crisis in Horn of Africa

Major famines in Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia decimated entire populations. In 1984/85, no less than 30 African countries experienced life-threatening famines that led to massive loss of human and livestock life. In East Africa as a whole, 42 percent of the population was undernourished, and the figures for Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia, were among the highest in the world.

The response of the international community reflected a remarkable wave of solidarity from the public in more fortunate countries. Almost 7 million tons of cereal aid were pledged to the 21 countries hit by shortages. This showed people that famine was still present and much work was done to improve the monitoring of indicators that led to famine. One instrument that was set up in that period worth noting was the Africa Real-Time Environmental Monitoring System (ARTEMIS) installed in FAO in 1988. Policy makers realized that they needed to protect and cultivate their lands if they wanted famines to be a thing in the past. 

Information Systems

Advancing information technology has permitted FAO to create, in response to the various needs of member countries, a number of information systems, databases and data banks. Indeed, this lies at the heart of FAO’s work. FAO’s constitution (Article 1 paragraph 1) states that the Organization’s function is to ‘collect, analyse, interpret and disseminate information relating to nutrition, food and agriculture.’
The most basic form of information is statistics. Over the years, FAO has gone from having 4 punching machines, 2 verifying machines, one collating machine to a couple of tabulating machines in 1963 to creating one of the UN’s most sophisticated information systems in 1986, one that governments can count on using when setting their own national agenda concerning agriculture. It was in that year that FAO launched its comprehensive statistical database covering the world’s agricultural information, changing its name
in the mid-1990s to FAOSTAT.

Protecting Plants from Pests

Although the devastating effects of plant pests, including diseases and weeds, have been known throughout history, it was only recently that legal standards were drafted to prevent the spread of plant pests and protect plant resources. In fact, as international movements of people and goods were increasing and countries borders were becoming more porous, plant pests also started moving faster and faster. The international community set about course correcting in a number of ways. Firstly, the International Plant Protection Convention that came into force in 1991 addressed these changing circumstances, and to keep pace with successful international interventions led by FAO with regard to plants and plant products. Secondly, in the same year, FAO Conference on Agriculture and the Environment was convened in the Netherlands, discussed the requirements for sustainable agriculture and rural development and the conference acted as a precursor to the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). Three years later, FAO launched the Emergency Prevention System for Transboundary Animal and Plant Pests and Diseases (EMPRES), which strengthened the Organization's contribution to prevention, control and, when possible, eradication of animal and plant diseases and pests.

The Role of Women in Agriculture

There were many reasons for paying special attention to the role of women in agricultural development, as women have traditionally constituted the principal labour-force for both cash crop and food production.

During the 1980s and 1990s there was still a general issue of inequity: the place of the woman as the ‘unequal half’ in a male dominated society.

This reason alone was enough to warrant efforts to secure the social advancement of women in rural areas. Secondly, there was the bias in institutions that prevent women from being able to access credit, join cooperatives, or worse, under some systems of traditional law, they were unable to inherit land. 

To address these issues blocking women, FAO carried out substantial programmes to assess the impact of its actions on women, and introduced components to ensure that women obtain real benefits. Over $24 million received by FAO from UNDP has funded a wide range of special projects for women. The Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS) that FAO launched in 1994, targeting low-income food-deficit countries (LIFDCs) has touched and improved the lives of many female farmers.