ROME, ITALY — The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director-General José Graziano da Silva, in his first policy statement since his re-election, on June 8 outlined that eradicating hunger, raising levels of nutrition and addressing climate change will be among the organization's top priorities over the next four years.
"I thank you for showing confidence in the organization under my leadership," Graziano da Silva told members of FAO's governing conference meeting in Rome, Italy. "You have given me a clear mandate to lead this organization in my second term, pressing on the path that we charted together.”
On June 6, Graziano da Silva received a total 177 of 182 votes cast by FAO member countries. That represents the highest number of favorable votes ever garnered by a candidate for the organization's top post.
Setting another record, this year's meeting of the biennial conference is being attended by 191 delegations, the highest level of participation in the organization's history. These include 15 heads of states and government.
FAO, which this year celebrates the 70th anniversary of its foundation, has together with its member countries made a "great contribution to increasing food production" in the world, Graziano da Silva said.
On June 7, at an awards ceremony held at the organization's headquarters, 72 countries received recognition for having achieved the Millennium Development Goal target of halving the proportion of hungry people. Of these, 29 have also met the more stringent goal to halve the number of hungry people as laid out by governments when they met in Rome at the World Food Summit (WFS) in 1996.
In his speech the FAO director-general underscored that now the next step must be the complete eradication of chronic undernourishment. This, together with ending malnutrition has been included in the Sustainable Development Goals which will be finalized later this year setting the global development agenda for the decades to come.
Raising levels of nutrition has always been "at the heart" of the mandate of FAO, Graziano da Silva said.
He described how the organization has been responding to this challenge, and that adequate nutrition is the complement to food security.
"We need both. Quantity and quality must come together," he said. "While global undernourishment numbers are falling, obesity is going up. It is a problem in developed and developing nations, for poor families and rich families, especially in middle-income countries.”
Global warming is having an impact on food security and agriculture on all countries, especially drylands and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) where many of the world's poor and hungry live, Graziano da Silva said.
He referred to some of FAO's work in this area, including through the Blue Growth Initiative, which proposes to integrate fisheries and sustainable environmental management in coastal areas and oceans.
"Our primary concern is to help developing countries, including the SIDS, to adapt to climate change," Graziano da Silva said, underscoring that agriculture, including fisheries, aquaculture and forestry, has the potential to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.
"With the right policies, we can increase food security, adapt to and mitigate climate, but this will require a paradigm shift from the dominant input intensive approach to more sustainable and resilient food systems," he added.
In his statement the FAO director-general also drew attention to social protection, which falls under the spotlight at this year's Conference, lasting through June 13 and including a series of side events showcasing FAO's work.
"Today, around 150 million people are able to stay above the poverty line thanks to social protection programs. They are essential for responding to the main cause of hunger today: insufficient access to food," he said.
To end hunger or extreme poverty social protection, must however, be part of wider action that includes productive support, health and education, the FAO director-general said.
Bringing these elements together would create what he described as "virtuous cycles of local development.”
In particular the FAO director-general cited the giving of cash transfers to women. "With money in their hands, families can buy food locally, stimulating family farming. And family farming can provide healthy school meals for children."
In his speech, the director-general noted that during his first term in office, FAO had emerged leaner and with a sharper focus, including in its work around five strategic objectives.
FAO is responding to national and regional needs by strengthening its presence in the field - since 2012 the proportion of professional staff serving in decentralized offices has increased by 16% while funding allocation to the field also went up, from 36% to 42% of FAO's total regular program budget, Graziano da Silva said.
"This is being a knowledge organization with its feet on the ground," he said, noting that the decentralization is being accomplished without weakening FAO's global technical capacity.