FAO reform: it is important to address our governements

Daniel Van Der Steen, 12 November 2008

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

The Development NGOs from the EU are worry about the current prospects for the reform of the FAO, which will be discussed during the week of the 17 at November 22, 2008 in Rome, at the time of the Conference of the FAO devoted to this issue.
Our concern relates first of all to the risk of a radical change of the FAO mandate compared to its historical mission, following the pressures of certain Member States which estimate that it should be limited to a normative work on the food safety and to the gathering of the information on the agricultural and food situation in the world.
Currently, the governments which wish it can benefit from the strong FAO expertise to establish support programs to the agricultural production, as well as policies allowing them to improve various aspects of their agricultural development. It is the case, for example, of the assistance to land reform, to the safeguarding of the natural resources or for reconversion to organic production. FAO helps also the governments to set up appropriate national (or regional) policies in conformity to the needs of the countries, that is to say programs that are conceived in appropriation with the needs for the countries, better than those which were proposed within the framework of the adjustment by the Institutions of Bretton Woods and which had sometimes harmful effects in the agricultural domain and of food safety.
With the reform, FAO could not only give up (or strongly reduce) these programs, but also the field activities in developing countries, whereas these activities constitute a strong help to combat hunger and poverty.
These activities are also essential for FAO in order to accomplish effectively its other missions, considering these activities ensure the permanent contact with the field realities. Consequently these activities are essential for FAO’s expertise and to ensure its normative work and its contribution to the definition of the policies of the agricultural and food global governance.
Celle-ci empêche l’institution de poursuivre les priorités que l’ensemble des membres ont fixées et qui disperse les activités en fonction d’intérêts particuliers. Cette domination des Etats les plus riches existe déjà dans d’autres institutions (celles de Bretton Woods) et elle oriente les politiques de ces institutions en fonction d’intérêts particuliers.

This redefinition of the functions of the agency is only possible by upsetting the democratic decision rules within the institution. Currently, the decision-making power in the governance bodies (Conference and Council) depends on the whole of the Member States (each one having a right to vote). We think it is necessary to refuse the tendency -infortunately already in progress for several years- to reinforce a situation where a “club of the donor countries” controls the institution through methods which more and more strongly direct the budget for the profit of the most powerful members’ interests. Indeed, the practice of reducing the contributions to the ordinary budget (defined on priorities voted by all the Member States) to the profit of contributions to the “trust funds” (by which the donor countries only fund the selected actions they want) constitutes an unacceptable drift. Indeed it prevents the institution from continuing the priorities which the whole of the members fixed and which disperses the activities according to particular interests. This domination of the richest States already exists in other institutions (those of Bretton Woods) and it directs the policies of these institutions according to particular interests.
This does not mean that no reform of the institution is necessary, but it should relate to other aspects such as for example:
- a definition of priorities for the activities of the institution according to food safety and rural development in the world (whereas the practice of the “trust funds” precisely contributes to reinforce dispersion) taking into account the needs for the poorest States;
- a better effectiveness of the FAO services and in particular of its local delegations, often victims of political pressures on the local or regional levels;
- an increased interaction with the various components of the civil society -and of the agricultural producers in first place- on the level of the decentralized offices at the national and sub regional level.

It is thus important to take care, in the light of the farm prices crisis we just experienced, so that FAO returns to its initial mandate, centered on food security, rural development and assistance to the poorest rural populations. It should be able to assume a true leadership on the level of the international agricultural and food governance in order to promote the initiatives and policies that are really able to fight hunger and marginalization of producers in the rural areas. Regarding governance, the FAO should particularly have a more important role in the orientation of agricultural policies, which cannot be subjected to the requirements of the most powerful trade actors of the planet.

It is thus urgent to addressed strongly the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister and the Minister for the Agriculture Minister of each country to ask them in particular:
- to reaffirm the fundamental mission of FAO in favour of the promotion of rural producers and food safety and its nature of United Nations Agency for agricultural and rural development;
- to block all the arrangements contained in the proposals of follow-up of the independent external evaluation of FAO by the “Friends of the President” for the 35th (extraordinary) session of the FAO Conference (Rome, 18 – 22 November 2008) that are against real democracy and the maintenance of the fundamental mission of the institution;
- to take care to restore the supremacy of the funding of the regular FAO program;
- to maintain FAO in its role of neutral space where the Governments work out strategies to establish the guidelines of the global agricultural and food policies;
- to reinforce FAO in its role of dialogue with NGOs (non governmental organizations), social organizations, movements and actors of civil society, in order to allow these actors to contribute to the definition of the guidelines of the global agricultural and food policies.

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