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UN Food Agency to Elect New Chief as World Hunger Worsens

Candidates from China, France, and Georgia are vying to head the UN’s food agency, as the fight to abolish world hunger takes a blow from wars and global warming.

The election of the new chief of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is being held today at the headquarters in Rome during the agency’s 41st conference, that brings together 194 member countries.

Hunger is the distress associated with lack of food. The threshold for food deprivation, or undernourishment, is fewer than 1,800 calories per day.

Global hunger has been rising for the past three years because of the combined effects of extreme and erratic weather, economic slowdowns, and conflicts, particularly in the Middle East and Africa.

FAO sounded the alarm over high levels of malnutrition and rising food insecurity. This entails that the new head will have to ramp up support for small-holder farms and fisheries to battle the ills of intensive farming, food waste and poverty.

FAO headquarters in Rome, photo courtesy of Scopritore.

Whoever takes over the four-year posting from Brazil’s Jose Graziano da Silva needs to put policies in place now in preparation for feeding a world population expected to increase from 7.7 billion people to 9.7 billion in 2050.

Manuel Lafont Rapnouil, from the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), told AFP that the UN agency addresses issues that are “important for both advanced and developing countries.” They include “food security, (and) agricultural development, but also agro-business, trade, biotechnology and, increasingly, climate and environment,” he explained.

Brazil’s Jose Graziano da Silva is handing over after his four-year term at a time when the FAO has been sounding the alarm over rising food insecurity and high levels of malnutrition. Photo courtesy of Eduardo Soteras.

The candidates —who for the first time include a woman— each boast extensive experience in the sector. China nominated its agricultural deputy minister, 55-year-old Qu Dongyu, who many analysts see as the front-runner. Qu, a biologist by training, has 30 years experience, from developing digital technologies in agriculture to introducing micro-credit in rural areas.

Richard Gowan, an analyst at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, shared, “Beijing has made a big push to get more senior jobs at the UN in the last few years.”

Qu Dongyu, photo courtesy of FECC Agri.

The country is currently grappling with a swine fever epidemic that is decimating its livestock, as well as a trade war with the United States that is forcing it to go elsewhere for cereals and soya. The crises have pushed the food sector to the top of the government’s priorities, Beijing stated in its bid letter, AFP reported.

Georgia’s candidate, Davit Kirvalidze, is a former minister of agriculture who believes the private sector has a key role to play in eliminating global hunger. He said that It is important that small family farmers have market access, with FAO acting as a “broker” of change to launch “public-private” partnerships to that end.

Davit Kirvalidze, photo courtesy of CNFA.

In an apparent nod to criticisms of the UN agency over management practices in recent years, Kirvalidze said his tenure would be “one marked by unprecedented transparency”. He also mentioned, “I know hunger personally, and it drew me to farm. Eventually I was able to feed my family, my community, and this is what led me here today.”

Catherine Geslain-Laneelle, photo lifted from Twitter.

French candidate Catherine Geslain-Laneelle, former head of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), has spent her entire career in the agricultural and agri-food sectors at the highest level in France. She remarked how FAO should help “develop value chains around agriculture, fisheries and forestry”, a reference to the storage, processing and distribution of food. As well as tackling the red-button issue of food waste, such chains would also help combat poverty by creating jobs for young people, in particular in rural areas and developing countries, she added.

Banner photo courtesy of YPARD.

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