In 2011, the British government assessed the work of 42 international organizations based on the “value for money” they offered British taxpayers. The initial result was not very flattering for the Food and Agriculture Organization: the Department for International Development’s multilateral aid review rated FAO as delivering “poor” value for money.
The MAR identified a series of problems including a limited focus on results, over-heavy administration and bureaucracy, poor staffing policies, “patchy” performance in many countries around the world and a lack of focus on the priorities that mattered.
I subscribe to many of the findings of the MAR. I believe that it presented a fair and correct evaluation of the FAO that existed then. But then was two years ago. Today, we have a different FAO.
Since taking office, I have worked to tackle the issues identified. Administrative costs have been slashed, we have a new strategic framework with a much sharper focus, our management systems are being overhauled and I am committed to ensuring that every penny we spend is used in the most efficient and effective way possible.
FAO is now a fundamentally different organization from the one that was rated so poorly by the MAR in early 2011. FAO is already delivering far greater value for money and I am fully committed to a process of continuous future improvement. I sense that this has been recognized in the many meetings and written exchanges I have had with British authorities in recent last months. I am confident that this positive outlook will be confirmed when the next review is released.
DfID will soon publish an update to its MAR, examining the progress that organizations such as FAO have made since 2011. Recognition that we are doing everything possible to correct the shortcomings previously identified would be a great source of encouragement as we the make necessary — but not always easy — changes that are needed.
Making the best use of our resources is especially important considering the size of our budget, roughly £660 million ($999 million) per year — about 75 pence a year for each of the world’s 868 million hungry people — that comes from a mix of assessed contributions paid by all member governments and voluntary contributions.
About £43 million of this total comes from the United Kingdom each year, the equivalent of less than 0.5 percent of the British foreign aid budget or about the same as it costs to build a mile and a half of motorway in the United Kingdom.
And this is a price that could fall by some £4 million pounds in 2014 because countries such as Brazil, China, Russia and Turkey are set to pay a bigger share of the budget through assessed contributions. Hopefully, this difference can be reinvested in the important work FAO does in some of the most crisis-affected countries around the world, for instance, to increase the resilience of drought-stricken rural families in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel so that they can cope through harsh times, thereby reducing future demands for highly expensive humanitarian assistance and helping to reverse recent trends.
What do the United Kingdom and other FAO contributors get for this money, and is it being spent well? Like any U.N. institution, a large part of our money is invested in services to poor countries where, working with other partners, we help governments and communities combat the scourge of hunger and to boost sustainable agricultural and rural development.
As Lord Boyd Orr — who played a leading role in British wartime food strategies in World War II and was appointed FAO’s first director-general in 1945 — recognized, ending hunger is crucial for building a sustainable and peaceful future.
In this globalized world, we must care about food security in other countries, if only for our own security since hunger has been a factor in many recent conflicts.
Rich countries, including the United Kingdom, also benefit from FAO — and in ways that are often not shouted about. The long shadow of BSE and foot and mouth disease will haunt the British countryside for many years to come. This year’s horsemeat crisis has highlighted the importance of knowing what we are eating, where it comes from and that the food we consume is safe. In recent years, we have all seen our shopping bills hit by food price increases and similarly, have held our collective breath at the threats posed by global pandemics such as avian influenza. FAO plays a vital role in all these areas.
Many of the international standards for the quality and safety of imported foodstuffs that are followed by national governments are set through FAO.
Did you know that almost every wooden food pallet and food crate entering your country has been designed and manufactured using standards developed at FAO that guarantee that no beetle, bug, pest or disease will find it a comfortable place to make a home and so use it to enter the place you live in and its food chain?
Many of the international efforts to protect the world’s rapidly diminishing wild fish stocks, including encouraging the growth in aquaculture (the controlled, managed farming of fish) are led by FAO along with the international treaties that govern what can and cannot be done by the world’s fishing fleets.
All these efforts benefit farmers, taxpayers, consumers and households in Britain and beyond. When you look at it, it is rather a lot for the price of a mile and a half of motorway. Or less.
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José Graziano da Silva is the director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization. He has worked on issues of food security, rural development and agriculture for over 30 years. Prior to his election as FAO's director-general, he headed the organization's regional office for Latin America and the Caribbean. He led the team that designed Brazil's "Zero Hunger" program, which helped lift 28 million people of out extreme poverty. In 2003, he was named special minister of Food Security and Fight against Hunger by then Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.