FAO opens first office in South Africa

FAO has opened its first office in the Republic of South Africa, both to help the country reform its agricultural sector and to tap into its vast reservoir of agricultural expertise to the benefit of other developing countries. Florence Chenoweth, former FAO Representative in the Gambia and former Minister of Agriculture of Liberia, has been named as head of mission. Ms Chenoweth, 53, is an agriculturalist with a PhD in land resources from the University of Wisconsin, United States.

South Africa, which was readmitted to FAO in 1993, has a modern commercial farming sector but also a less productive small farming sector. Its agriculture has many of the same conditions and problems of other countries in southern Africa. "My first priority, after I set up the office, is to identify areas in which FAO can be of greatest help to South Africa's efforts to reform their agricultural sector, and to work within our own system to ensure that our assistance is timely, meaningful and in a spirit of true cooperation", Chenoweth said.

Florence Chenoweth, in her new post as FAOR to South Africa

"South Africa itself is not food-deficit," she continued. "However, they have a food security problem since a sizeable percentage of their people are food-insecure. Determining the right mix of policies and actions to bridge the gaps and lead to a situation of sustainable food security for all is their goal. Assisting them to achieve this in ways acceptable to the Government and compatible with our mandate is our goal."

"South Africa, in accepting FAO, knows that the relationship is going to be two-way. The country has much to offer in terms of transfer to other countries. For example, it has some excellent institutions, advanced technologies, farming systems and farm inputs," Chenoweth said. Under FAO's Partnership Programmes, for example, South African technical experts might work on specific problems in other African countries with similar conditions under a relatively inexpensive cost-sharing arrangement. "We can act as a catalyst and plug into their experts through our partnership and training programmes, and through our Special Programme for Food Security. That excites me," she said.

Chenoweth has had a long career in African development. In 1976, at 32, she became the only woman minister of agriculture in the world in her native Liberia, a source of confusion when she and fellow ministers, in Rome on official business, were invited to visit the Vatican. "When we arrived they tried to turn me back, saying it wasn't for wives," she recounts, laughing at the memory.

Ms Chenoweth resigned from politics in 1980, and in 1982 began what would become a ten-year professional commitment to Zambia, for the first four years as a policy advisor on a World Bank technical advisory team. Finally, she returned to the University of Wisconsin as a senior scientist in 1993 before being invited to join FAO in 1995 as the Representative to the Gambia, West Africa.

"It was a tough assignment. Since multilateral and most bilateral donors had suspended all aid after the 1994 military coup, we and the country had little to work with," Chenoweth said. Nevertheless, she found resources to support a number of activities, including a natural resources and agricultural sector review that would prepare the ground for future activities.

FAO's South African office will be located in the Metropark Building on Schoeman Street in Pretoria with other UN agencies.


9 March 1998

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