FAO Director-General responds to criticism by Senegalese President

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Issues raised need objective answers

In a 10-point press statement, FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf responds to recent criticisms of the Organization by the President of Senegal.

The FAO Director-General is currently working on all continents to deal with the global food crisis, together with Member States, development partners and other UN agencies. While duty-bound to defend an organization of 191 member countries that he was re-elected, unopposed, to lead in 2005, he has no intention of being distracted by a controversy motivated by Senegalese domestic politics with the Head of State to whom he owes respect and esteem.

However the issues raised need objective answers:

1. Regarding the “institutions which, in Niger, said there was a famine”. Which are those institutions? Is FAO one of them? In an article in “Le Quotidien” on 27/11/2007 the journalist Paul Diene Faye wrote, not without humour: “Senegal may not yet have a famine, or at least the Director-General of FAO, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, doesn’t want to say so. The reason, explains Mr Jacques Diouf, is that it is not FAO’s role to say which parts of the world are affected by famine. Its mandate, he explains, is to publish a document entitled “The State of Food Insecurity in the World”. FAO’s Director-General stresses that this is not an “instant” document; it is prepared over a long period of time, and with all due precaution.”

2. As to the statement that, “Feeding the poor is charity”: Does FAO distribute food? What bilateral, regional and multilateral institutions do that job?

3. “Technical assistance to agriculture is assistance to men and women standing on their own two feet”. Technical assistance is precisely what FAO does:

* with field training activities, including the Technical Cooperation Programme (TCP) and South-South cooperation (1,473 experts made available to developing countries);

* by strengthening veterinary services (against Foot and Mouth Disease, Rift Valley Fever, African Swine Fever, Contagious Bovine Pleuropneumonia, Avian Influenza, Newcastle disease, Peste des Petits Ruminants, Bluetongue disease, and plant health services (strengthening early-warning and response capacities against desert locusts and wheat stem rust);

* by using integrated biological control, halving pesticide quantities by 50 percent and obtaining a 15 percent increase in rice production;

* by disseminating hand and foot pumps, irrigation channels, small dams, metal storage silos;

* through projects aimed at increased production of rice, corn, cassava, vegetables, micro-gardens, poultry farming, small ruminants and the introduction and development of aquaculture;

* by re-establishing the productive potential of farmers, herders and fishers following natural disasters such as floods, droughts, tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, cyclones;

* by providing specialists, farmers, researchers, teachers and students with WAICENT, an Internet site that which receives four million visits a month for information and statistics on agricultural production, trade, water, soil and farm inputs;

* through the establishment with WHO of 200 Codex Alimentarius norms to protect consumers and serve as benchmarks for resolving disputes over WTO sanitary and phytosanitary regulations.

4. “The winter planting season, starting end May, early June, will soon be upon us in the Sahel. It lasts three months on average. Let us seize this opportunity because it won’t come again for another year.” Almost five months ago, on 17 December 2007, FAO drew international attention to the importance of the 2008 harvest, and launched an "Initiative on Soaring Food Prices”. It was vital for developing country farmers to have access to the seeds, fertilizer and feed they needed but whose price had increased. The Director-General announced that FAO, despite not being a financing institution, was contributing US$17 million to the initiative to increase agricultural productivity and appealed for the mobilization of US$1.7 billion. Such resources, in cash or kind, go through bilateral or multilateral channels under specific agreements with governments. It is therefore not correct to say that, “FAO in turn announced that it needed US$1.7 billion”. FAO’s appeal was approved by UN and the Bretton Woods Institutions at a meeting in Berne, Switzerland, from 28 to 29. It is mentioned in press communiqué of 29 April by the UN Secretary-General.

In December 2007 in Senegal, together with development partners and the Ministers for Agriculture, Water management and others, on 22 December 2007 with the media, and then again on 17 March 2008 with the technical and economic ministries, the FAO Director-General held a series of meetings to alert national authorities and public opinion to the risks of a food crisis and to discuss measures needed to present the programme. The meetings were widely covered by the national press. Why were appropriate actions not implemented then?

5. “The way ahead is clear to that part of the international community which really wants to help – innovative investment agriculture in Africa.” In the first year of his mandate in June 1994, the FAO Director-General launched the Special Programme for Food Security now operational in 100 countries. Priority is given to small-scale water harvesting and irrigation works by rural communities. National programmes featuring agricultural policy measures, institutional capacity-building and investment programmes (using a village-by-village approach) were initiated in 15 countries and are under formulation in 36 more. For 14 years the Director-General of FAO has been saying that Africa’s “agricultural lottery” has to cease (96 percent of farmland is rainfed while the continent only uses 4 percent of its renewable water resources). He has reiterated time and again that investments should focus on irrigation works, storage and packaging (post-harvest losses range from 40 to 60 percent), rural roads, slaughterhouses, fishing harbours, cold supply chains. All these points are contained in the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) prepared with FAO and adopted by the African Union Summit of July 2003. The costs were evaluated to facilitate the financing. At the request of African leaders, FAO also helped translate the CAADP into national programmes in 51 countries.

Since 2001, FAO has helped many regional economic organizations elaborate regional food security programmes (RFSP): In Africa the regional food security programme of UEMOA (2002), CEDEAO (2002), SADC (2002, still to be approved), COMESA (2002), UMA (2001), IGAD (2002), CEEAC (prepared in 2003 and adopted in 2004), CEMAC (2003) and CEN SAD (under formulation). Similar programmes were prepared in other world regions, i.e. the Caribbean (CARICOM, 2002) the Pacific countries (PIF, 2002), South Asia, SAARC, under formulation), Central Asia (ECO, under formulation) and South America (MERCOSUR, draft prepared in 2005).

If, as is clear from the facts, the required investments were never made, does that make FAO responsible? Which bilateral, regional and international organizations have reduced their support to agriculture to dangerous levels? Does FAO’s mandate include financing and investing in agriculture? Who took the decision that cut agriculture’s share of development aid from 17 percent at the beginning of the eighties to 3 percent in 2005? Didn’t FAO organize a World Food Summit back in 2002 to draw the international community’s attention to the situation and underline the absence of political will and resources to fight food insecurity? At the 2001 G8 Summit, in which the Director-General took part, in the United Nations General Assembly, in ECOSOC, and at the 2004 Extraordinary Summit of the African Union on Agriculture and Water in Syrte, didn’t FAO draw the attention of the world’s leaders to the situation and suggest solutions?

6. “FAO as an institution should be held responsible. The present situation largely stems from its failure”. Agricultural specialists, economists and journalists have all analyzed the causes of the food crisis and pinpointed the following factors:

- as concerns supply: agricultural production has been affected by climate change (floods, droughts, harsher winters, cyclones, hurricanes, earthquakes). Cereals stocks stand at their lowest level since 1980. Does FAO have a national territory with farmland and citizens, including farmers who produce food? Does it hold food stocks?

- as concerns demand: the world’s population is set to increase from six to nine billion in 2050. Does FAO bring 78.5 million babies into the world every year? Again, demand in emerging nations is growing very rapidly, especially in China and India. With their GDP growth of 8 to 12 percent as a result of national policies and the hard work of their peoples, they have been able to generate the income they need to improve their populations’ diets. FAO does not regret its excellent cooperation with those countries. Lastly, new demand for biofuels has diverted crops from food to energy. Is FAO responsible for the national incentives, the subsidies and the tariff protection, used to develop the sector?

- at international market level: support from OECD countries to their farmers in terms of Total Support Estimate (TSE) was US$372 billion in 2006, while duties, tariffs and technical trade barriers have also discriminated against agriculture in developing countries. Tough negotiations are taking place on these issues in the Doha Round. Does FAO determine and apply decisions taken in international trade relations? Again, the agricultural policies of developing countries have been liberalized and farmer support structures (extension, inputs, storage, marketing, price stabilization) have been gradually eliminated (better management of those structures would have protected their smallholders from the forces of an unequal international market). Was it FAO that pressured developing countries to adopt those policies? We also have the problem of financial speculation. Investment funds speculate on futures markets and help push up the price of commodities, including food commodities. Does FAO control those funds?

7. “Financially speaking, FAO is a bottomless pit”. FAO’s biennial budget is voted by the Conference of all its Member Nations. It amounts to the budget of the Ministry of Agriculture of South Africa. Various countries contribute according to a United Nations scale (Senegal’s share is 0.004 percent of the total). It is used to implement a programme of work and budget examined and approved by the Finance and Programme Committees. It contains a detailed list of all budget headings for personnel, equipment and running expenses. FAO’s accounts are regularly audited. They have always been approved for every biennium. Between 1994/95 and 2006/07, the budget shrank 22% in real terms, staffing was cut by 24.6%, while the number of Member Nations rose from 169 to 191.

8. “I told them (FAO’s top management) that if you continue ... I’ll have you brought to justice, you have to reimburse the 20 percent of the money collected on our behalf”. It is superfluous to comment on such charges. FAO is a United Nations organization whose collective, intergovernmental management system is determined and protected by international treaties guaranteeing its independence and immunity to unilateral interference by individual countries. Senegal has ratified these treaties and has undertaken to respect the Organization’s statute.

9. Lastly, under the United Nations system, agencies, funds and programmes are complementary and the Secretary-General is responsible for coordinating them. In 2005 and 2006 a High-Level Panel on United Nations System-wide Coherence chaired by the Prime Ministers of Norway, Pakistan and Mozambique undertook an in-depth study of how the United Nations worked and published a report on how the system could operate more efficiently and effectively in the field. The Ambassadors and Permanent Representatives of the 192 UN Member Countries regularly discuss the measures proposed at global and national level. FAO was naturally associated with the exercise and is participating actively, not least through eight ongoing pilot field projects.

10. Senegal has thinkers and intellectuals of international standing; some have left the country and are teaching in some of the top universities in the West. FAO is prepared, if the Government so wishes, to work with experts at the technical and economic ministries, at the Senegalese Agricultural Research Institute, at the Universities of Dakar and Saint-Louis as well as at the Senegalese Academy of Sciences, among other institutions, in order to examine the causes of the world food crisis and to consider possible short-, medium- and long-term solutions, the risks and opportunities for Senegal. The Government could thus benefit from the in-depth studies of competent people and obtain pertinent conclusions and analyses that could serve as a solid basis for concerted action aimed at ensuring Senegal’s agricultural development and food security.