ROME, ITALY —  Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director-General José Graziano da Silva opened on April 22 the FAO Council, presenting the 2014-15 Program of Work and Budget (PWB) that calls for an increase of 1% of the organization's budget to support work in fighting hunger and malnutrition and promoting sustainable agricultural development.

The director-general also presented the accomplishments over the past year in cutting bureaucracy and other costs that will help the organization to operate more effectively.

"We are speaking of an ambitious transformation that has just started. Its impact is not always immediately visible. But it is, nevertheless, essential so that FAO can function in the 21st century and fulfill the role for which it was created," he said.

Looking back over the past 16 months since he took the helm of the organization, Graziano da Silva noted that in addition to the $6.5 million in savings that member countries mandated FAO to identify, the organization was able to cut costs by an additional $19.3 million. The total savings of $25.8 million, nearly four times what was required, consisted mostly of savings in administrative areas especially at FAO headquarters.

Graziano da Silva also pointed out that this process made it possible to advance with the Organization's decentralization, which includes the creation of 55 professional posts worldwide while maintaining technical capacity at Headquarters.

"As I have argued before, I believe that a strong presence in the field is the way to truly make FAO a knowledge organization with its feet on the ground," Graziano da Silva said.

The director-general asked countries to consider efforts to deliver best value for money - the unprecedented savings, the overall reduction of established posts and the net increase in decentralized positions - when discussing the Program of Work and Budget.

Graziano da Silva underlined that the significant changes already undertaken, and those needed to continue the process, will mould a new FAO that drives toward its ultimate goals. "For the first time in FAO's history its budget will be driven by the objectives and outcomes we aim to achieve, and not simply by the activities we carry out."

Graziano da Silva said he is proposing a strengthening of FAO's capacities in social protection. The reasoning behind this, he said, is quite simple.

"FAO's main mission is to eradicate hunger. When FAO was created after World War II, the main cause of hunger was insufficient food production. Back then, the first and only priority was to increase production," he said.

Today, he explained, although food production has since exponentially increased, there are still nearly 870 million people that are chronically undernourished.

"The problem now is more complex and more difficult to resolve. The main cause of hunger today is lack of access to food. It is related to poverty, especially rural poverty. Improving social protection is an effective way to raise the capacity of poor people to buy the food they need in the short term and complements initiatives that enhance smallholder productivity and rural employment," Graziano da Silva said.

Graziano da Silva noted that looking forward, there are four key areas in FAO that need to be reinforced: the technical cooperation program (the core of FAO's expert technical work in the field); the integration of social protection into poverty reduction efforts; the areas of communication, advocacy, partnerships and capacity development; and the monitoring and evaluation function.

In its new Program of Work and Budget (PWB), FAO is seeking an increase of less than 1% that will usher in major changes in the way the organization carries out its work.  Some highlights of the PWB are:
• A budget increase of  $10 million  for strengthening priority areas of work such as the technical cooperation program (FAO's technical work at the field level) including the capacity for social protection; 
• The development and implementation of regional programmatic initiatives as part of the Strategic Objective Action Plans; and
• The further strengthening of decentralization.

The FAO Council confirmed the appointment of Maria Helena Semedo as the new deputy-director-general (knowledge). Semedo, a national of Cape Verde, has been with FAO since 2003 when she joined the organization as FAO representative in Niger. In 2008, she was appointed deputy regional representative for Africa and subregional coordinator for West Africa.