The new director general of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the world’s flagship agency for food policy, has indicated thatAfrica will be his priority at a time of limited resources.
In his first press conference, held on Tuesday, José Graziano da Silva said he wanted to see “one FAO” acting at country level.
“Many of these poor [African] countries have no facility of going to donors,” he said. “The FAO will be there to support those countries to achieve the desired results.”
Graziano da Silva, who played an important role in Brazil’s successful “zero hunger” initiative, argued the key to improving food security in Africa was the political will to eradicate hunger, which could in turn be translated into action through financial resources, research and good practice.
“This mix of political will and finance and technical research are the most important combination to defeat hunger,” he said.
Graziano da Silva said he would attend an African Union summit later this month and visit the Horn of Africa, which – plagued for decades by conflict – has been hit by the worst drought in 60 years in some parts,particularly Somalia.
The FAO was criticised for inefficiency and bureaucracy under Jacques Diouf, its leader for 18 years, but Graziano da Silva said he was commited to reforming the $1bn organisation.
“The reform process is advancing, but there is still a lot to do,” he said. “Decentralisation is essential. I attach great importance to regional FAOs and a bottom-up approach … I will also look for improving technical work and reducing administrative costs.
“You solve food security problems at your village, at your town, at your neighborhood – not at the global level. Nobody eats at the global level. You eat in the restaurant, in the cantina, at your house. That’s where you need to provide those answers.”
Graziano da Silva said he would cut excessive bureaucracy, travel and perks for top management, including himself. The FAO has faced long-standing calls from top donors, particularly the US and the UK, to get its house in order. Andrew Mitchell, the international development secretary, has urged the FAO’s new team to drive through “ambitious and comprehensive changes needed to make it the high-performing organisation the world so urgently needs”.
Britain last year threatened to pull out of the FAO unless the organisation improved its “patchy” performance, and some donors, such as the US, have started agricultural development projects of their own. The UK will review the FAO’s progress on reform in two years.
“We need to rebuild trust between the secretariat and member states to move forward, and I plan to do so by promoting a transparent and constructive relationship with member states and FAO governing bodies,” Graziano da Silva said.
As Brazil’s minister of food security and fight against hunger, Graziano da Silva was in charge of the country’s “zero hunger” programme, which helped lift 24 million people out of extreme poverty and reduced undernourishment by 25%.
“Ending hunger requires the commitment of everyone: neither the FAO nor any other agency or government will win this war alone”, he said, adding that he wanted to work “in the most transparent and democratic way” with member countries, small-scale farmers, UN agencies, the private sector and civil society.
Asked about “land grabs” – the purchase or leasing of land by foreign companies – Graziano da Silva said the FAO was working on voluntary guidelines on land tenure that will give countries in Africa, where there is a lack of legislation on land rights, access to a set of rules that would provide a “point of reference for countries that feel threatened”.
In June, Graziano da Silva narrowly won a contest to take over the FAO, which has a mandate to raise levels of nutrition, improve agricultural productivity, better the lives of rural populations and contribute to the growth of the world economy. He won 92 votes out of 180, beating Spain’s former foreign minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos Cuyaubé, who received 88 votes. The election showed a split between donor countries and developing countries, a divide that Graziano da Silva has pledged to bridge.