FAO business and decentralization: A conversation with DG candidate Jose Graziano

Jose Graziano da Silva, FAO’s regional representative in Latin America and the Caribbean. Photo by: http://www.grazianodasilva.org

In the midst of a grand reform expected to come to a head next year, the Food and Agriculture Organization is looking for a new leader. Jose Graziano da Silva, FAO’s regional representative in Latin America and the Caribbean, is a frontrunner among the six candidates seeking to succeed Jacques Diouf, who has led the agency since 1994.

In an interview with Devex, Graziano said he was happy with FAO’s growing role on food security, climate change and other issues, as well as its increasing engagement with civil society through the newly reformed Committee on World Food Security. Graziano sees FAO as a major player in collecting real-time data on food prices and shortages around the globe, and to help devise strategies to increase transparency and reduce the impact of speculators affecting the sale of wheat, soybeans, corn, rice and other commodities.

FAO’s ongoing decentralization process has improved the delivery of assistance at the country level, said the Brazilian national, who served as minister for food security and the fight against hunger during President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s first term. FAO members should be “deeply involved” on the local and regional levels before escalating issues to the Conference of the FAO – the same assembly that will choose the agency’s next director-general at its 37th session in Rome from June 25 to July 2, according to Graziano.

“I believe the decentralization is not only a problem of resource allocation; it’s first of all a political decision,” he noted. “We need to share power; we need to change our top-down approach for a bottom-up approach. We need to see concretely what are the demands of the country members, to make a bottom-up approach to build our program.”

Graziano added that while the international community should continue to play an important role helping small and low-income countries, “most of the other countries” that are not suffering from extreme poverty should spearhead their own development.

Devex spoke with Graziano about his vision for FAO.

What would be the role of technical cooperation in your vision of a decentralized FAO? Would there be any reform, for instance of procurement rules or the way civil society groups are involved in the agency’s work?

For sure. Decentralization implies that we continue the decentralization of the technical cooperation department. TC is key in this process. We already started a process of decentralization and now we need to implement the regional formulation of the TCPs [Technical Cooperation Programmes] that are [what] the FAO should do to the most poor countries. We need also to implement a procurement action to regional and sub-regional offices and even at country level.

And, very important also: We need to search for new sources of resources at [the] country, sub-regional and regional level. Nowadays we have few traditional donors for FAO, but some of these donors are facing very important difficulties with their fiscal crisis. And we have a lot of middle-income countries in most of the regions that could play an important support in technical cooperation, even in financing their own programs at country level, financing common sub-regional approach.

Does this mean also the involvement of farmer organizations, local NGOs, more than before?

Exactly. And emphasizing more South-South cooperation.

What do you see as FAO’s priorities in the fight against hunger?

For sure this local approach is very important. It means not only to improve local production, but to improve the capacity of the consumers to buy that food and to have access to that food. So, it’s very important to think about placing webs, social webs that could support those programs, especially in the most poor rural areas. Secondly, it is very important to assure investments in agriculture and in food production. We need better and regular production of food, not only to face nowaday’s demand, but thinking about that we will be nine billion people in few decades more.

Investments are very necessary because we need to find out a way of [achieving] to produce food for all, but in a very friendly way with natural environment. We cannot expand the actual basis of our producers; we need to change, we need a green green revolution […]. This is a concept elaborated in a lot of countries to provide a more environment [friendly] approach […].

What role do you envision for civil society, small farmers organizations, and non-governmental organizations at FAO? What would be their role in resource allocation, policy definition and project implementation?

I believe that, as I said, it’s important to involve all the stakeholders in this commitment to eradicate hunger. Civil society is part of it. As you know, usually the governments don’t have those webs that can identify and reach the real poor. Most of them are part of some webs or some communities that are only reached by religious approach or, let’s say, local approach or other kind of partnerships. One important use that we made [of] the football players in Brazil was that to find these people that are part of the support of a team to be involved in a campaign against hunger. So, they used to bring to the stadium a donation on food, but more than this kilo of rice, it was the behalf that supporter became with the fight against hunger: It became part of their lives, became part of daily concern. They begun to look and to see around them people with hunger. That’s very important to do.

I would like also to stress the importance of the participation of all the civil society, not only the NGOs, or those religious webs or other supporters, but also of the private enterprises. Nowadays, we know that there are big multinationals, big producer organizations that are involved in the export, supplies, transportation, etc., and they play an important role in this food management all around the world. They need to be involved, too. They need to be part of this concern and of this goal of eradicate hunger. They have a very important role to play, supporting politically this engagement.

You talked about coordination. Do you think a more integrated approach is required among the FAO member states and among the United Nations agencies here in Rome, such as FAO, the World Food Program and International Fund for Agricultural Development?

For sure. I would like to remember that [in] the last food crisis – 2008 – the United Nations established a high-level task force, and this high-level task force came out with this important comprehensive approach to establish a global food security mechanism and to combat hunger.

This approach is, in my opinion, valid until now. We need to implement it. It’s a common approach, a common view of our United Nations agencies, and especially it is a common framework for FAO [to] work together with WFP and IFAD. So, we have the framework. What we need now is a leadership. And I believe that FAO, as the more important agency and the leadership, needs to assume its responsibility in this implementation process, but not alone. FAO needs to bring together the other agencies, and, in that sense, I believe that the FAO needs to be more active in order to call for that partnership and to present these open doors to do it, with the participation of the other agencies.

And what about the coordination with the efforts that the European Union or the United States are undertaking? Is there any possibility of developing more coherent and coordinated plans?

For sure. That what we need to do. It’s very easy to talk about that. Very difficult to implement it because all donors have their own channels, different channels, their own priorities, their own conditions. So, it is not easy to put them all together, but we need to do it, we need to join efforts. Eradicate hunger is not, let’s say, part of only one agency, one government. It is something, as I said before, to be joined by all stakeholders in a common approach. I would emphasize that, again, we have that comprehensive approach. We have to work more on the implementation process. You know the devil is in the details, and that applies also to this case. We need to work more strongly, have more commitment in solving our differences, at pointing what we have in common. Most of the time, we are looking for our differences. I believe that nowadays it’s more important to look [at] what we have in common and move ahead implementing this process.

Do you thing that the involvement of countries like China in the development cooperation represents an opportunity or a threat for areas like Africa?

All cooperation means an agreement between the two parts, even [with] a third part that finances, usually. We need to discuss very carefully that kind of agreements, but when we agree with the two countries, [when] the two countries agree with – especially in a multilateral basis – [they] could be supervised by international organisation [like] FAO. That’s an important role that has the FAO as [a] neutral institution and a multilateral-based agency for cooperation. That’s an important role that this organization can play.

Sometimes there is disagree[ment] between two countries on that kind of support, but when it involves an international agency this international agency could provide the framework for that cooperation. I would emphasise more this kind of multilateral approach than [the] bilateral approach in the future, not only for Africa, but for all countries. It is important to revitalize this multilateral action.

Is this an approach that can be adopted in facing issues like land grabbing?

As long as we know – and we are finishing a survey in 17 countries in Latin America – there are few countries [where] you can talk about land grabbing in South America: Brazil, Argentina, perhaps Paraguay. There are few countries also in Africa [where] we can talk about land grabbing as this new phenomenon of corporate enterprises buying land in big scale; it’s a transfer of ownership, let’s say, of poor people, poor farmers to big enterprises, most of them international or even of other nationalities.

Land grabbing is a concern for those countries, but for FAO the main concern is access to land and the preservation of natural resources. We have been working on a proposal of voluntary guidelines for land use and land ownership. With great success we have been involving civil society, governments, private entrepreneurs on that and I believe it’s not sufficient that but it’s good staring point to build on a consensus on what about would be the approach to that problem and to avoid it become a problem.

Because it could be an important benefit to the countries, but it can be also a big problem. It depends on the way it is managed, it’s not good or bad per se: If you have rules, if you have social control of those lands, it would be a good investment that could provide a new opportunity for those countries also to expand, increment local production.

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About the author

  • Elena L. Pasquini

    Elena Pasquini covers the development work of the European Union as well as various U.N. food and agricultural agencies for Devex News. Based in Rome, she also reports on Italy's aid reforms and attends the European Development Days and other events across Europe. She has interviewed top international development officials, including European Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs. Elena has contributed to Italian and international magazines, newspapers and news portals since 1995.