Brazil’s José Graziano da Silva, the newly elected chief of the United Nations food agency, FAO, anticipated high and volatile food prices will persist for several years. He was elected on Sunday to replace Senegal’s Jacques Diouf.
After a series of failed attempts to place Brazilians in important positions in multilateral organizations (World Trade Organization, Inter-American Development Bank and UNESCO), the former minister José Graziano was elected head of the FAO.
Graziano, 61, is an agronomy engineer and was the minister of Food Security and Hunger Combat (Zero Hunger) in the Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva administration. Since 2006, he has been the FAO representative for Latin America and the Caribbean.
In a runoff vote, Graziano defeated the former Spanish minister of Foreign Relations, Miguel Angel Moratinos by 92 to 88 votes.
FAO was created in 1945 and has 191 nation members (some of them did not vote on Sunday). The organization’s mission is to eradicate hunger and ensure food security. For the last 17 years it has been presided over by Jacques Diouf of Senegal.
Unlike Diouf, who had a mostly eventless period in office, Graziano faces a two-pronged crisis: food shortages and a spike in food prices in many parts of the world. Another problem that will land on Graziano’s desk is the controversial question of whether or not harvesting crops for fuel (ethanol) is putting pressure on food prices.
“The world will still have problems especially poor countries that need to import most of their food,” said Graziano. “This is one of the things I would like us to get much more involved in. For coming years…FAO could play an important role to help these countries deal with price volatility”.
The Brazilian said volatility can be even worse than sustained high prices for farmers and consumers because of the uncertainty it creates.
World food prices hit a record high earlier this year, triggered mainly by bad weather, reviving memories of soaring prices in 2007-2008 that sparked riots in countries such as Egypt, Haiti and Cameroon.
Graziano said a meeting of G20 leading economies this month had started to correctly address the ways to handle price volatility, and that the implementation of its decisions should help.
Last week’s G20 action plan included measures to boost agricultural output, food market transparency and policy coordination but fell short of calls by Paris for a tough crackdown on speculators.
Graziano will serve a three and a half year term starting in January next year, renewable for another four years.
FAO adopted a package of reforms in response to a withering independent assessment funded by its members in 2007, which said it risked “terminal decline” due to its weak governance and lack of transparency and accountability.
Earlier this year Britain threatened to pull out of FAO unless it improved its still “patchy” performance and some donors, such as the United States, have initiated agricultural development projects of their own.
Graziano replaces Senegal-born Jacques Diouf after 18 years at the head of the biggest UN agency. He takes office January 1st until July 31st, 2015.
World food prices tracked by the FAO rose to a record in February, and the World Bank says costlier food has driven 44 million people into poverty since June 2010.
There were a total of 180 votes cast by the FAO 191 member countries, the FAO said. Other candidates were Austria’s Franz Fischler, Indonesia’s Indroyono Soesilo, Iran’s Mohammad Saeid Noori Naeini and Iraq’s Abdul Latif Rashid.
The FAO, set up in 1945 as a specialized UN agency, says it leads international efforts to defeat hunger and helps developing countries improve farming. The mandate of the agency, whose headquarters moved to Rome from Washington in 1951, includes raising nutrition levels and agricultural productivity.
The FAO has a 2.2 billion US dollars budget for the two-year period through 2011, with 45% from contributions by member countries and the remainder provided through voluntary payments by members and other donors.
Graziano da Silva was in charge of former Brazilian president Lula da Silva’s “Zero Hunger” plan started in 2003. The plan reduced hunger in Brazil by half and cut the percentage of Brazilians living in extreme poverty to 4.8% in 2009 from 12% in 2003, according to the FAO, which awarded Lula the 2011 World Food Prize for “Zero Hunger.”
The FAO must work more transparently and “free staff from time-consuming bureaucratic procedures,” Graziano da Silva said in a statement before his election. “Country offices need to enjoy greater autonomy in initiating and implementing projects.”
Graziano has been the FAO’s regional representative for Latin America and the Caribbean as well as an assistant director-general since 2006.
Diouf, 72, was elected on November 1993 and began the first of three six-year terms in January 1994, with his final term starting in January 2006. Diouf’s Lebanese predecessor Edouard Saouma also served three terms as the head of FAO. The FAO’s governing conference in 2009 limited the post to a four-year term, renewable once, after already setting term limits in 2003.
The agency’s income climbed to US$ 2.21 billion for the 2008- 2009 biannual period, from US$ 1.87 billion in 2006-07, US$ 1.56 billion in 2004-05 and US$ 1.41 billion in 2002-03 as both member- country payments and voluntary contributions increased.
A 417-page evaluation report published in September 2007 found “a great need for change” in FAO, and absence of reform would likely lead to “accelerating decline.” The FAO was called “conservative and slow to adapt,” with a “heavy and costly bureaucracy” that created a centralized and risk-averse corporate culture.
The FAO funding fell 31% between 1994 and 2005, and staffing dropped 25%, according to the evaluation report. FAO finances were “dire” and “rapidly deteriorating,” and concerns by member states about FAO priorities and effectiveness were “well-founded,” according to the report.
Relations between the FAO headquarters and field operations followed “an ‘all things lead to Rome approach’ which has been high on costs and low on benefits, with an absence of shared goals,” the 2007 report concluded.
Graziano said FAO should bolster its capacity to help countries design and implement hunger-eradication plans.
“I subscribe to the view of FAO founders that ending hunger is entirely possible,” the Brazilian director-general elect said in the statement before the election. “Ending hunger is not a charity, but an investment in our poorest people and a key to sustainable development”.
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