05 January 2012

FAO DG's first news conference: 5 things we learned

On Tuesday, 2 days into his 3 and a half year tenure, the new FAO DG, Graziano da Silva, held his first press conference. The 10 minute presentation was a restatement of the 5 pillars upon which the DG ran as a candidate: end hunger; move towards more sustainable systems of food production and consumption; achieve greater fairness in the global management of food; complete FAO's reform and decentralization; and expand South-South cooperation and other partnerships.

Much more interesting was the 45 minute Q and A session with the press. Both of these sections of the press conference are available as audiofiles at the link above.

What did we learn?

1. Political Will will have a high priority. When asked by an African newspaper what was the one thing that needed to happen to end hunger in Africa, the DG said build political will and then translate that into concrete action at the technical, financial and support levels. It is refreshing to hear the political coming before the technical and not as an afterthought. Concrete tools and measures need to be developed to assess, spur and build political will for hunger reduction and FAO should lead on this.

2. A whole of society approach is needed. It is not just FAO and not just governments that have the responsibility for ending hunger, a whole of society approach is required: civil society, the private sector. This is great, but someone needs to take responsibility and be accountable. Orchestras still need conductors. FAO should focus on accountability and transparency in the food system.

3. "Nobody Eats at the Global Level". FAO decentralisation and getting closer to the ground is going to be a feature of the new DG's tenure. Quite what this means for a normative organisation is not clear, but the recognition that solutions to hunger need to be found on a nation by nation, community by community basis is clear. There is no blueprint, adaptation to existing capacities and political processes is important. It is clear that the DG will draw heavily on his Brazilian experiences in this and other areas. The South-South sharing of experiences will be particulalry important here. It would be good for FAO to set up the world's best learning hub on what works in ending hunger.

4. The DG is serious about completing the FAO Reform process. In response to a question about FAO expenses and benefits da Silva was clear that he would be looking for savings throughout the organisation, cutting inefficiency and reducing bureaucracy, including in his own office. Good, but don't do this in a mechanistic way.

5. FAO will become more open. Putting the press Q and A out in an unedited audiofile was brave for a UN organisation and indeed for any big bureaucracy. I very much hope this openness lasts beyond the honeymoon period.

A good start for the new DG.

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