19 June, 2011


Anyone can say what their ‘visions for a new FAO’ are, or promise to make changes. The comments here are based on many years of experience in the field and in the office of RNE and encompass the views of many members of staff who endeavoured to work under a management system that had lost track of what was required of both the organisation and its staff.

1.    It must be accepted that FAO has veered a long way from the goals and concepts that the first DG announced in his inaugural speech. While a lot of water has passed under the bridge in the last 66 years Mr Orr’s views on food security have not been matched by the management of FAO in recent years. The new DG must recognise the initial mandate of FAO when it was created in 1945.

2.    FAO was established as an agency for development but it seems to have gradually moved into the field of emergency and in doing so it has stepped on the toes of other UN agencies and organisations that were set up to deal with emergency and distress. It is essential that the new DG sorts out the priorities of FAO and refocuses the emphasis on developmental activities and not emergency. My experience in Somalia during the first six years of the civil strife and as FAO Representative was that there was no clear distinction between development, relief, emergency, beyond development etc. in the instructions and feedback that were received from Rome.

3.    The present DG and his predecessor, who have run the organisation since 1975, have allowed the organisation’s mandate to change from that which was formed on the conception of FAO. Both these two individuals have remained for too long at the helm and many people world-wide liken such a reign in power to that of those presidents in our region who have recently been forced out of their seat of power by the populace. A new DG must, from the onset, establish the timescale for which he intends to remain in office and be seen to adhere to it.

4.    It is common knowledge that the number of staff in the FAO headquarters in Rome is higher than the total number of staff in both the regional offices and in the field. This brings to mind the saying, ’too many chiefs and not enough Indians.’ This situation should be reversed by the application of a real program of decentralization and concentrating on field programs and reducing bureaucracy.
5.    I worked for FAO for almost a quarter of a century holding posts as consultant, staff, FAO Representative and as a Regional Officer. I was also the head of several, professional staff associations within the UN organisation, including acting as chairperson of FUNSA(Federation of UN Staff Associations) in Egypt until my retirement 3 years ago. Much of the time I, and my colleagues, found ourselves having to adjust to numerous changes, restructuring and the implementation of yet more new jargon with the result that many UN agencies changed their mandates. Consequently duplication or overlapping of the mandates of individual UN agencies has occurred. For many years FAO has been beset with a management system that has been preoccupied with both creating and abolishing programs, establishing then moving around sub-regional offices and changing the numbers of countries under the individual regional offices. Yet while the organisation was preoccupied with these changes, the programs in the field which are the main mandate and bread and butter of the organisation were being drastically reduced. This has been particularly noticeable in the last two decade. The newly selected DG must put an end to this farcical situation and ensure the establishment and maintenance of regional offices in Asia, Africa and South America with a European based office in Rome. All recently established sub-regional offices should be abolished and FAO should no longer compete with other UN agencies in establishing offices. It is a ludicrous situation when the cost of maintaining an office in a country is more than the funds available for programs in that country. I was astonished to see that one of the candidates for the new DG post is publicising his involvement in reforms within FAO. Reforms there may have been, but were they practical?
6.    It is common knowledge within FAO that appointments to Head of Regional Office and Sub-Regional Office, FAO Representative, Directors, Chiefs and, to some extent, the appointment of the higher grade professional officers, are directly under the discretion of the DG.  It may be that such appointments follow a system of geographical distribution. I am not sure what is happening worldwide, but some North African countries are certainly getting the lion’s share of appointments, not only in FAO but in many UN agencies. An examination of the employment records for most UN agencies will reveal the degree of political influence and nepotism that has been involved in appointments. The new DG should take a leaf from the WHO regulations by which the Ministers of Health within a region select the Director of that region’s regional office and it is not an appointment made by the DG. Other posts should be awarded on the basis of qualifications and ability with the best candidate being appointed. There should be no concerns raised that some countries may be missed out by such a selection process as the number of highly qualified technicians is on the increase, even in the poorest countries. However continuing to use a system based on quotas and regional distribution in the selection of international posts will lead to the loss of talent.
7.    When FAO was established there was one veterinary college and one agricultural college in the Arab world. Today there are some 40,000 veterinarians in Egypt alone and there are a huge number of agricultural specialists across the region and worldwide. In my career with FAO I have had experience of the standard of performance, same frankly bad poor, shown by international staff in FAO. I came across many local counterpart staff who were far better qualified than the international staff, often with good connections, who they had to work with and who received salaries many times greater than theirs. The DG should emphasise the importance of local staff and HQ should not be involved in any appointment made outside Rome.
8.    Revival of the field programs and sorting out FAO’s priorities is a large task that needs to be undertaken urgently. FAO’s client countries have lost faith in FAO and its ability to perform. The new DG will need to consult immediately with a group of specialists, ( including eminent professors, experienced FAO staff, field specialists and NGOs etc), to discuss the priorities of the organisation and the challenges faced in providing food for the world’s ever increasing population and hence ensure that FAO is fit for the task ahead.
9.    Discontent among staff in FAO headquarters and in the field has been regularly demonstrated by personal communications and through staff associations. Staffs have often been treated disrespectfully or have been overlooked in promotion opportunities. There have been occurrences that in western countries would be recognised as staff harassment and would result in dismissal of the offender. Recruitment of staff from outside FAO to fill a high post that is vacant because of retirement is known as ‘parachuting’ and has become an increasing occurrence and it is the result of  promises made to countries to employ their nationals. The new DG needs to consult with FAO staff associations, review the staffing and recruitment policy and ensure implementation of non discrimination at all levels and end to nepotism.
10.     FAO was once a staunch advocate for small-scale poultry production and backyard poultry keeping. You will be aware that small scale poultry keeping is critical to people’s food security and livelihoods in developing countries and also to the genetic diversity of the world’s poultry breeds. It is therefore with great alarm that we see FAO now identifying backyard poultry as a problem in the control of poultry diseases and, in statements to the media and official reports, FAO supports a long-term restructuring of the poultry sector towards greater consolidation and industrialisation as a way forward. It appears that FAO’s stand here has been over influenced by the unsubstantiated claims that migratory birds are the principle vectors for disease spread and that factory farms are somehow ‘biosecure’.  It also contrasts to an increase in backyard poultry keeping in developed countries as a result of people endeavouring to improve the safety of their food. This is a link to a letter sent by GRAIN.org to the FAO Director General and which highlights the continuous shift in FAO policies, http://www.grain.org/m/?id=74
11.     Allegations are also made in another letter by GRAIN.org, ‘FAO DECLARES WAR ON FARMERS NOT ON HUNGER An open letter to Mr. Jacques Diouf, Director General of FAO’. The New DG should investigate these allegations.
12.    Again in a letter from Grain.org, ‘New Studies Contradict FAO Report and       Show That Genetically Engineered Cotton Fails to Benefit Farmers’. The new DG should ensure that FAO independently investigates the value of the introduction of genetically modified crops in the developing world.
13.     I attended five biennial regional conferences and in my opinion all were a complete waste of the time of those attending and a waste of limited funds. In addition the host country has financial burdens resulting from their obligation to provide facility for an event that has little substance. I have seen Ministers who arrived in the private jet, sat for the two hours of the DG’s speech, then flew home. On the other hand in WHO regional conferences that I attended the Ministers of Health were in attendance for four days and dealt with a detailed program, including the allocation of funding and even the election of a regional representative.


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