FAO Conference ends: 1998-1999 programme approved,
budget frozen at US$650 million

The 29th session of FAO's governing Conference came to a close Tuesday 18 November, after approving the Organization's Programme of Work for the next two years and voting to hold the budget flat at the level of US$650 million. This "zero nominal growth" budget, which will force the Organization to absorb cost increases of about 4 percent, was approved without opposition and with only Germany abstaining.

Gabonese President Omar Bongo delivers the 20th McDougall Lecture

Dr Jacques Diouf, FAO's Director-General, had proposed a budget of $675.3 million for 1998-1999, sufficient to maintain the Organization's programmes at the same level as 1996-1997. In his keynote address to the Conference, the Director-General mentioned that anything less would not allow the Organization to maintain its full capacity in many priority areas, such as the International Plant Protection Convention, the Code of Conduct on Pesticides, genetic resources conservation and management, and responsible fisheries. Technical assistance provided to member countries at their own request would also be curtailed, as would policy advice and help with implementation of the World Food Summit Plan of Action.

Commenting on the zero nominal growth option, the Director-General said, "Despite all efforts to the contrary, only some FAO priority areas could be maintained: forestry, Codex Alimentarius, Technical Cooperation Programme and the Special Programme for Food Security".

But the Conference voted for the lower figure of $650 million, which will also force cuts in staff to offset increased costs. To this end, the Director-General was authorized to spend up to $12 million to meet staff redeployment and separation costs over and above the net budgetary appropriations approved. The Conference invited FAO's 175 member countries to contribute additional funds for this purpose voluntarily.

"State of Food and Agriculture 1997"

At the 11-day meeting held at FAO headquarters in Rome, delegates also discussed the global food and agriculture situation. According to FAO's annual report, The State of Food and Agriculture 1997, world economic growth accelerated in 1996 in both developed and developing countries and medium-term prospects for sustained growth in developing countries' agricultural sectors look promising. But the global survey, released during the first week of the meeting, also clearly shows that the gap between those with access to sufficient food and those who suffer from hunger is growing.

"The widening gap between haves and have nots is a most disturbing trend and must be reversed to comply with the commitments and objectives of the World Food Summit," said Mr Jacques Vercueil, Director of FAO's Agriculture and Economic Development Analysis Division. The advance of globalization and free trade is a threat for many economies, and many countries continue to be ensnared by debt that prohibits any possibility of sustainable growth. Shrinking development aid to agriculture - continuing to decline for the eleventh year in a row - is also a worrying trend.

"Developing countries need the solidarity of the industrialized world more than ever," said President Omar Bongo of Gabon, who delivered the 20th McDougall Lecture, instituted to commemorate Australian economist F.L. McDougall, a leading player in the foundation of FAO. The Gabonese leader warned, "Many of the targets set last year in the World Food Summit's Rome Declaration will be meaningless unless it is appreciated that most governments in developing countries do not have the resources to create by themselves - and rapidly - the economic and social conditions needed to achieve food security".

In addition to its global review of agriculture, forestry and fisheries issues, the SOFA report contains three special sections - Forests in a Global Context, Raising Women's Productivity in Agriculture, and Global Climate Change Abatement Policies - and a special chapter on Agroprocessing Industry and Economic Development.

TeleFood media initiative endorsed

In other business, the Conference adopted resolutions on TeleFood - FAO's media initiative meant to increase global awareness of the plight of the world's hungry and to raise funds to finance grassroots projects in the field - and the "right to food". FAO member countries were urged "to reaffirm the right of everyone to have access to safe and nutritious food, consistent with the right to adequate food and the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger".

Countries elected to the FAO Council, the Organization's interim governing body between biennial Conferences, were: Argentina, Austria, Bangladesh, Barbados, Brazil, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, China, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Gabon, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Kuwait, Madagascar, Mexico, Morocco, Namibia, Nigeria, Paraguay, Poland, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Spain, Thailand, United States and Venezuela.


19 November 1997

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