FAO Council considers Organization's Programme of Work and Budget for 1998-99

FAO's budget for 1998-99 and post-World Food Summit activities were among the main topics of attention and discussion during the 112th session of FAO's Council, which concluded Saturday 7 June.

Money matters topped the agenda of FAO Council meeting held at headquarters in Rome
Opening the discussion on the budget for the next biennium, Dr Jacques Diouf, FAO's Director-General, proposed a zero-real growth budget of US$689 million, which would cover inflation-related cost increases of $39 million. But he also presented the Council with two alternative scenarios: a $700 million real growth budget and a zero-nominal growth budget of $650 million that would require FAO to absorb the $39 million cost of inflation. Dr Diouf warned that there are limits to efficiency savings, and that a $650 million budget would require significant programme cuts: "The zero nominal growth scenario would entail no increase in assessments, but it carries a price in terms of substantially reduced programme activity and substantive output for the benefit of the membership."

The largest group of countries held out for the zero-real growth proposal ($689 million) as the minimum that they would accept, but clearly stated their preference for a $700 million budget that would provide a modest increase in available resources. Other members backed the zero-nominal growth ($650 million) option as the most financially realistic, suggesting that by taking an innovative approach to setting priorities FAO could reduce the budget and still deliver on its core functions of reducing food insecurity and serving as a centre of international excellence. A single country continued to push for cuts that would bring the budget down to between $610 million and $615 million.

In the light of these differing positions, the Council called for further intergovernmental dialogue to achieve consensus. It concluded by endorsing the Programme and Finance Committee's recommendations, instructing FAO to continue developing the zero-real growth proposal while identifying clear options for a zero-nominal growth budget as well as activities that would be eliminated should the budget be cut even further.

Special Programme and TeleFood highlight World Food Summit follow-up

Dr Diouf said the most important contribution expected from FAO in the wake of the World Food Summit was in the area of agricultural development. "In this connecton, the Special Programme for Food Security will continue as one of the central pillars of FAO's action in the field," he stated. "The ultimate goal, of course, is to improve living conditions of the poorest sectors of the rural population, particularly the women."

The Council, in its report, reaffirmed its support for the objectives of the Special Programme, which aims to reduce hunger rapidly and sustainably by increasing production and availability of food in low-income food-deficit countries. Members from participating countries reported on their positive experiences and results achieved so far. Several urged expansion of the programme to all LIFDC countries and other developing countries where there are pockets of food insecurity. Some other members questioned the approach of the Special Programme, and stressed the need to maintain the independence of FAO's Technical Cooperation Programme rather than submerging it within the Special Programme.

The Director-General also disclosed plans for a worldwide television event, dubbed TeleFood, which he said was "designed, first, to hold the decisions taken at the Summit in the public eye and, second, to invoke the solidarity of all people concerned about the problem of hunger in the world." In response to concerns expressed by some members about the costs and the use of the funds that would be generated, the Council was informed that all the money that is collected will be used to foster food security and will be subject to audit by reputable international firms.

The Council is the Organization's interim governing body between biennial meetings of the FAO Conference, the 29th session of which is scheduled for November. The 112th Council session was cut from ten days to six as part of the Organization's ongoing efforts to save funds by reducing operating and administrative costs.

16 June 1997

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