Food and Agriculture Organization Director-General José Graziano da Silva. Reform is finally coming to the United Nations agency after two years of negotiations, staff protests and internal resistance. Photo by: Giulio Napolitano / FAO

At the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s headquarters in Rome, everyone is excited about what 2014 will bring, as well as slightly anxious about many expected changes.

FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva’s ambitious reforms will finally come into effect on Jan. 1 after two years of exhausting negotiations, staff protests and and internal resistance. Now it’s time to see if the new architecture will work. Is the U.N. agency prepared? What remains to be done? What questions are still open?

Everything is almost ready for the reform, according to a senior official in FAO’s planning and resource management division who has closely followed the whole process and spoke to Devex on condition of anonymity.

Ringing in 2014, however, will mark not the end but the beginning of more challenges for the process. So what’s in store? Here are our five main takeaways:

1. Cross-cutting teams

For the next two years, FAO will allocate resources based on five strategic objectives, instead of by departments like it has done until now. Each objective has its own action plan and a cross-cutting team led by a strategic objective coordinator, who will actually manage the money for programs and actions.    

“The teams are [right now] in place, it’s very exciting. There have been a lot of tensions back and forth. Initially there was resistance,” said the official, who admitted that establishing the teams has not been easy, especially as department heads feared to be left out of the process, but now the new architecture seems promising. There will be a learning curve for everyone, he added.

A first test for the new cross-cutting strategy could be the global initiative on “blue economy” FAO is building up to link food security and fisheries, which will be across strategic objectives, regions and sectors.

2. Resource mobilization

FAO gets its funding not only from its regular budget, which represents about half the money the organization needs to carry out its programs, while the rest comes voluntary contributions from member states managed by trust funds. Those resources must now be aligned with the U.N. agency’s strategic objectives.

In a recent exclusive interview with Devex, Graziano da Silva stressed that he will do his best to convince member states to fund FAO’s priorities. That won’t be a simple task. According to the official, some donors, like the Nordic countries and the Netherlands, agree to giving money that’s not earmarked for specific projects, but they insists that other member states do the same.

FAO is also looking at innovative ways to raise funds, like for instance using technical cooperation as seed money to mobilize resources from other donors at country level and in line with local governments’ priorities, or strengthening South-South cooperation.  

3. ‘Emphasis’

At the FAO headquarters in Rome, one of the buzzwords associated with the reform process is “emphasis.” Which sectors will be prioritized? Which programs will become less relevant to the strategic objectives? This is a pressing matter for member states, who tend to pledge funding based on their own priorities and have requested details on which type of programs will have less “emphasis” than before.

4. Mainstreaming social protection

Graziano da Silva made a real shift when he asked member states to vote on a strategy for social protection.

“To eliminate hunger you need to do more than just increase production … FAO can no longer just say [that] we are a technical organization, we just increase yields of plants and livestock,” explained the official, who pointed out that many member states are not convinced of the need for FAO to work on social protection.

Despite that, Graziano da Silva’s proposal has been approved and resources allocated, so the next step is to build internal expertise on this new topic, that has never been a priority before.

5. Savings

In June, the FAO Conference — a bi-annual meeting that approves the budget — gave an unprecedented “blanket approval” to Graziano da Silva’s reforms and agreed to a 2.2 percent budget increase. But member states also asked for $37 million efficiency gains and savings — in other words, do everything you said you will do, but do it for less. Then, early this month, the revised figures after controversial staffing changes show that the organization needs to save money, but now only $2.7 million.

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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.