FAO Council ends successfully and paves the way for the first virtual Conference in history

Council Members commended FAO’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic

1 May 2021, Rome - The 166th Session of the FAO Council, the third session held entirely virtually, ended today with its Members praising the Organization's main actions and initiatives to address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and to foster sustainable development, as well as supporting the proposed documents to guide the Organization's work over the next years.

The Council is the executive organ of the FAO Conference. It has 49 Members and meets between Conference sessions which bring all 194 FAO Members together every two years. The Council exercises functions dealing with the world food and agricultural situation and related matters, current and prospective activities of the Organization, including the Programme of Work and Budget, administrative matters, the financial management of the Organization, and constitutional questions.

In his closing remarks to the Council, the FAO Director-General QU Dongyu thanked the Council Members for their active and constructive engagement and noted that the outcomes pave the way for the success of the 42nd Session of the FAO Conference in mid-June, which will be the first Conference to be held virtually in the history of the Organization.

This session of the Council "took place as the world continues to cope with the pandemic and adapts to the digital world as the new normal," Qu said.

"The Digital FAO has been accelerating evolution and preventing involution," he added.

The FAO Conference in June will consider the approval of the proposed Strategic Framework 2022-31, as well as the Medium Term Plan 2022-25 and the Programme of Work and Budget (PWB) 2022-23. The documents received positive feedback and support from the Council.

The Director-General welcomed this support and noted that "It confirmed that the unprecedented, broad and inclusive consultation process that went into the preparation of these documents was recognized and appreciated".

The Strategic Framework seeks to support the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development through the transformation to MORE efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable agri-food systems for Better Production, Better Nutrition, a Better Environment, and a Better Life, leaving no one behind. The "Four Betters" represent an organizing principle for how FAO intends to contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG 1 (no poverty), SDG 2 (zero hunger) and SDG 10 (reduced inequalities).

The Programme of Work and Budget 2022-23 translates the strategic narrative into the biennial programme of work. It maintains a flat nominal regular budget of $1 005.6 million while reallocating resources to high-priority areas, including the new Programme Priority Areas, the Office of the Inspector-General and multilingualism. The total budget for the next biennium is estimated at $3.26 billion, with more than two-thirds coming from extra-budgetary voluntary contributions.

COVID-19 Programme and Hand-in-Hand Initiative

In its report adopted today, the Council commended FAO's timely response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its efforts for preventive actions, collection of data, and welcomed FAO's COVID-19 Response and Recovery Programme and its seven priority areas.  

The Programme has enabled intensive work on linking social protection to agricultural and rural-based livelihoods with a focus on more jobs for women and youth in agri-food systems as well as bolstering the use of digital technologies to assist smallholder farmers in maintaining production, productivity and market access. It is now expanding its areas to integrate Green Recovery plans.

The Council also welcomed the support that the Food Coalition can provide to the COVID-19 Programme and looked forward to further discussions and analysis on the Food Coalition within the G20 process in 2021 under the Italian Presidency.

FAO's Hand-in-Hand Initiative was recognized by the Council as a catalyst and important support to strengthening the Organization's capacity to deliver integrated, science- and evidence-based, technical, policy and investment support to Members.

The Council also commended the tangible progress made on the implementation of the Hand-in-Hand Initiative in supporting 37 participating countries despite the extraordinary circumstances prevailing due to the simultaneous impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the global economic recession.

"We are working very hard to produce concrete results on the ground, despite the pandemic and its impacts," stressed the Director-General.

Tribute to the Independent Chairperson of the Council

This week's session marked the last of Khalid Mehboob, from Pakistan, who is completing his second term of two years as Independent Chairperson of Council (ICC).

The Director-General paid tribute to Mr Mehboob, who has been involved in the work of the Organization since 1969. For 40 years (1969 to 2009), he worked for FAO at increasing levels of responsibility. From 2010 to 2017, Mr Mehboob served as Alternate Permanent Representative of Pakistan to FAO. He was elected by FAO Conference in 2017 as the ICC.

"My high respect and appreciation go to my brother, the esteemed Chairperson,
Mr Mehboob Khalid," said the Director-General, who explored the Chinese language and culture to propose a  Chinese name for the ICC, "Mu Kaili".

"Mu is a well-known family name - Mu Guiying was a legend, from a royal family of heroes; Kai Ming, which means open minded with inclusiveness, and Li Mao, which signifies courteous," explained the Director-General.

Qu also displayed on screen a poem, hand-written by him in Chinese calligraphy, dedicated to the retiring ICC.

Mehboob, by turn, said he was honored with the opportunity and privilege to serve FAO and its Members as Independent Chairperson of the Council. He also noted that Director-General Qu was the most dynamic and energetic FAO leader he had witnessed after having worked with other four FAO Directors-General during his professional life.

Members expressed their appreciation to Mr Mehboob and recognized his contribution as ICC.
The Conference in June will elect a new Independent Chairperson of the Council for the next two years.

Photo: ©FAO/...
FAO Director-General QU Dongyu and the Independent Chairperson of the Council Khalid Mehboob at the closing session of the 166th FAO Council.