By Dana Drugmand
José Graziano da Silva will take over as the new Director General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), replacing Jacques Diouf, who served as FAO head for the past 18 years. Graziano da Silva, who is currently the FAO regional representative for Latin America and the Caribbean, will begin his term as Director General on January 1, 2012.
As he prepares to take over leadership at the UN’s largest agency, Graziano da Silva faces daunting challenges, including high food prices and pressure to reform the FAO. Earlier this year world food prices reached a record high, and Britain threatened to pull out of the FAO unless it improved its “patchy” performance.
Graziano da Silva said he plans on fostering consensus within the organization and aims to bridge a divide between donor countries and developing countries. Speaking after the election, he said “We have to work on a minimum consensus so that this organization is not paralyzed by these divisions.” He also plans on the FAO doing more to help poor developing countries cope with volatile food prices. The FAO food price index, which is a measure of the monthly change in international prices of a basket of commodities, rose to 231 points in early February. This is the highest level recorded since 1990 when the agency begun monitoring prices.
Currently the FAO is preparing for the upcoming United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, also known as Rio+20, to take place in Brazil June 4-6, 2012. One theme of this Conference will be developing a green economy based on goals of sustainable development and poverty eradication. In particular, the FAO plans on examining how a green economy translates into the food and agriculture sector. The Worldwatch Institute’s State of the World 2012 report will focus on Rio+20 and will include a chapter on how agriculture can be an integral part of the new green economy.
A native of Brazil, Graziano da Silva is former Brazilian minister of food security. Under former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s “Zero Hunger” plan, Graziano da Silva worked to cut hunger in Brazil by half, reduce undernourishment by 25 percent, and lift 24 million people out of extreme poverty.
“We hope that Graziano will advocate for these successful policies to be replicated at a global level,” Oxfam policy adviser Luca Chinotti said in a statement. Chinotti called for bold leadership from the new FAO chief to fight global hunger. “The new Director General must be a strong leader who will champion action on hunger and malnutrition internationally.”
Marco De Ponte, director of ActionAid Italy, also said he hopes that da Silva’s success in reducing hunger in Brazil will transfer over to the FAO. “By supporting small farmers, Brazil is fighting successfully against hunger. This is the recipe for success that we hope Graziano brings to the FAO.”
Dana Drugmand is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.