The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) (French: Organisation des Nations Unies pour l'alimentation et l'agriculture; Spanish: Organización de las Naciones Unidas para la Agricultura y la Alimentación; Chinese: 聯合國糧食及農業組織; Russian: Продовольственная и сельскохозяйственная организация, Arabic: منظمة الأغذية والزراعة للأمم المتحدة ) is a specialised agency of the United Nations that leads international efforts to defeat hunger. Serving both developed and developing countries, FAO acts as a neutral forum where all nations meet as equals to negotiate agreements and debate policy. FAO is also a source of knowledge and information, and helps developing countries and countries in transition modernise and improve agriculture, forestry and fisheries practices, ensuring good nutrition and food security for all. Its Latin motto, fiat panis, translates into English as "let there be bread!".
FAO's Regular Programme budget is funded by its members, through contributions set at the FAO Conference. This budget covers core technical work, cooperation and partnerships including the Technical Cooperation Programme, information and general policy, direction and administration.
Member states froze FAO's budget from 1994 through 2001 at $650 million per biennium. The budget was raised slightly to $651.8 million for 2002-03 and jumped to $749 million for 2004-05, but this nominal increase was seen as a decline in real terms. In November 2005, the FAO governing Conference voted for a two-year budget appropriation of $765.7 million for 2006–2007; once again, the increase only partially offset rising costs due to inflation.
Early in 1989, the organisation came under attack from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C. The Foundation wrote that The sad fact is that the FA0 has become essentially irrelevant in combating hunger. A bloated bureaucracy known for the mediocrity of its work and the inefficiency of its staff the FA0 in recent years has become increasingly politicised. In September of the same year, the journal Society published a series of articles about FAO that included a contribution from the Heritage Foundation and a response by FAO staffer, Richard Lydiker, who was later described by the Danish Minister for Agriculture (who had herself resigned from the organisation) as 'FAO's chief spokesman for non-transparency'..
Edouard Saouma, the Director General of FAO, was also criticised in Graham Hancock's book 'Lords of Poverty, published in 1989. . Mention is made of Saouma's 'fat pay packet', his 'autocratic' management style, and his 'control over the flow of public information'. Hancock concluded that "One gets the sense from all of this of an institution that has lost its way, departed from its purely humanitarian and developmental mandate, become confused about its place in the world - about exactly what it is doing, and why". Despite the criticism, Edouard Saouma served as DG for three consecutive terms from 1976 to 1993.
A year later, in 1991, The Ecologist magazine produced a special issue under the heading "The UN Food and Agriculture Organization: Promoting World Hunger". The magazine included articles that questioned FAO's policies and practices in forestry, fisheries, aquaculture, and pest control. The articles were written by experts such as Helena Norberg-Hodge, Vandana Shiva, Edward Goldsmith, Miguel A. Altieri and Barbara Dinham. Also included was an article by 'Khalil Sesmou', the pseudonym of a senior FAO official. Sesmou's article started with the following summary of the criticism FAO was facing at the time:
"FAO, set up to develop world agriculture so as to enable the world to feed itself has disastrously failed in its task. It has ignored and even derided traditional agricultural methods and permits no international criticism of its policy of promoting Western-style intensive farming and the export of cash crops. FAO's performance is judged on the amount of money it spends, not on the effectiveness of its projects, it ignores the voices of the people it is supposed to be helping and it has close links with agribusiness internationals, whose products it actively promotes. The organisation's Director-General has been much criticised by FAO staff and others for his autocratic style, and the political manoeuvring he has engaged in to ensure his re-election. A massive overhaul of FAO's basic philosophy, structure and function is urgently needed". (page 47)
In 1996, FAO organised the World Food Summit, attended by 112 Heads or Deputy Heads of State and Government. The Summit concluded with the signing of the Rome Declaration, which established the goal of halving the number of people who suffer from hunger by the year 2015. At the same time, 1,200 Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) from 80 countries participated in an NGO Forum. The Forum was critical of the growing industrialisation of agriculture and called upon Governments—and FAO—to do more to protect the 'Right to Food' of the poor, rather that protecting the profits of companies involved in agribusiness.
In 2004, FAO produced a controversial report called 'Agricultural Biotechnology: meeting the needs of the poor?'. The report claimed that "agricultural biotechnology has real potential as a new tool in the war on hunger". In response to the report, more than 650 organisations from around the world signed an open letter in which they said "FAO has broken its commitment to civil society and peasants' organisations". The letter complained that organisations representing the interests of farmers had not been consulted, that FAO was siding with the biotechnology industry and, consequently, that the report "raises serious questions about the independence and intellectual integrity of an important United Nations agency". The Director General of FAO responded immediately, stating that decisions on biotechnology must "be taken at the international level by competent bodies" (in other words, not by non-government organisations). He acknowledged, however, that "biotechnology research is essentially driven by the world's top ten transnational corporations" and "the private sector protects its results with patents in order to earn from its investment and it concentrates on products that have no relevance to food in developing countries".
In May 2006, a British newspaper published the resignation letter of Louise Fresco, an Assistant Director General of FAO. In her letter, the widely respected Dr Fresco stated that "the Organisation has been unable to adapt to a new era", that "our contribution and reputation have declined steadily" and "its leadership has not proposed bold options to overcome this crisis".
October 2006 saw delegates from 120 countries arrive in Rome for the 32nd Session of FAO's Committee on World Food Security. The event was widely criticised by Non-Government Organisations, but largely ignored by the mainstream media. Oxfam called for an end to the talk-festswhile Via Campesina issued a statement that criticised FAO's policy of Food Security.
At its 33rd Session in November 2005, the FAO Conference agreed to commission the first Independent External Evaluation (IEE) in the history of the organisation.
The final report of the IEE, more than 400 page in length, was published on October 18th 2007. The report concluded that "The Organization is today in a financial and programme crisis" but "the problems affecting the Organization today can all be solved"
Among the problems noted by the IEE: "The Organization has been conservative and slow to adapt", "FAO currently has a heavy and costly bureaucracy" and "The capacity of the Organization is declining and many of its core competencies are now imperiled".
Among the solutions: "A new Strategic Framework", "institutional culture change and reform of administrative and management systems".
The official response from FAO came on 29th October: "Management supports the principal conclusion in the report of the IEE on the need for ‘reform with growth’ so as to have an FAO ‘fit for this century’".
The IEE report will be discussed by FAO’s member countries in November 2007. If Member States accept the IEE proposal, a working group involving management and membership could be established to develop a three to four year Immediate Action Plan to address its 109 recommendations.
Meanwhile, hundreds of FAO staff signed a petition in support of the IEE recommendations, calling for " a radical shift in management culture and spirit, depoliticization of appointments, restoration of trust between staff and management, [and] setting strategic priorities of the organization".
In conclusion the IEE stated that, "If FAO did not exist it would need to be invented."
In May 2008, while talking about the ongoing world food crisis, President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal expressed the opinion that FAO was "a waste of money" and "we must scrap it". Mr Wade said that FAO was itself largely to blame for the price rises, and that the organisation's work was duplicated by other bodies that operated more efficiently, like the UN's International Fund for Agricultural Development.
The response to the summit among Non-governmental organizations was mixed, with Oxfam stating that "the summit in Rome was an important first step in tackling the food crisis but greater action is now needed", while Maryam Rahmanian of Iran’s Centre for Sustainable Development said "We are dismayed and disgusted to see the food crisis used to further the policies that have led us to the food crisis in the first place”.
As with previous food summits, civil society organizations held a parallel meeting and issued their own declaration to "reject the corporate industrial and energy-intensive model of production and consumption that is the basis of continuing crises"