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Graziano da Silva of Brazil elected FAO director general

A SPECIAL REPORT


Jerry Hagstrom is in Rome for the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization conference and election a new director general. He will be reporting on developments at the conference throughout the weekend.


By JERRY HAGSTROM

ROME — Delegates from member countries of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization today elected José Graziano da Silva, an architect of the Brazilian anti-hunger program, as director general of the FAO.

Graziano da Silva, 61, will take office in a period of concern that world hunger, which had fallen in recent years, now involves a billion people. In an acceptance speech, he hinted that he would take a more aggressive approach to fighting world hunger than the current U.N. goal of halving it by 2015. Noting that the FAO had celebrated the eradication of rinderpest, a cattle disease, on Saturday, Graziano da Silva said he wondered what the result would have been if the goal had been to cut the incidence of rinderpest in half. He also pledged to find consensus within the FAO and bridge the internal differences, which he said have “hindered” the agency.

Graziano da Silva’s term will begin Jan. 1, 2012 and conclude on July 31, 2015. He will succeed Jacques Diouf, a Senegalese, who has held the job of director general for 18 years. Under new rules, the director general is eligible for only two four-year terms.

In a campaign speech before the delegates on Saturday, Graziano da Silva noted that countries have long neglected agriculture, fisheries and forests. He said that while individual nations can address many agriculture problems, a a multinational approach is required to address animal and plant diseases that cross national borders, food security, ocean fish stocks and climate change.

Among his stated goals:
  • Convince “the middle income countries” to contribute more to FAO.
  • Expand “South-South,” meaning improved relationships among developing countries.
  • Get more assistance from foundations.
  • Respond to the concept of the “blue economy,” meaning the sustainable use of the oceans.
  • Address water issues in Central Asia and the Near East.
  • Enhance the status of women.
  • Improve geographic representation among employees of the FAO.

Graziano da Silva also said that FAO’s solutions should be more individually tailored to countries and regions, and that he would procure items for FAO on a local basis. He also said ”Africa must be given the highest priority of FAO.”

He ended his campaign speech on a ’60s note, quoting John Lennon, who wrote, “A dream you dream alone is a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.” He told the delegates he wanted their shared dreams to become reality.

In the speech, Graziano da Silva urged the delegates to give the next director general “a huge majority” so that he would have a mandate to run the organization, but he did not achieve that in his election. In a second round of voting, Graziano da Silva won 92 votes out of 180 votes cast. Miguel Ángel Moratinos Cuyaubé, a Spaniard who had visited 90 countries in a campaign for the job, got 88 votes. Voting was by secret ballot, but there appeared to be a divide in the voting between the less developed countries of the South and the more developed countries of the North.

In his acceptance speech, Graziano da Silva thanked the Brazilian delegation, the Portuguese speaking countries, Latin American, Caribbean and African countries and the G-77, a group of less developed countries. He said they saw that “South-South cooperation was the way forward.”

Graziano da Silva will be the first South American to hold the post, a factor that contributed to the momentum in his favor. But he had also worked within the FAO and criticism of his management style in that position probably contributed to a lower vote for him than expected. He is regarded as impatient with bureaucrats, but will now run a large bureaucracy.

Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, who is representing the United States at the FAO conference, declined to reveal the U.S. vote to The Hagstrom Report, but she gave a short speech congratulating Graziano da Silva and said the United States looks forward to working with him, particularly on fighting hunger.

The second highest post at the FAO, deputy director general for knowledge, is held by Ann Tutwiler, an American who earlier this year took that post after serving in the Obama administration as Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s adviser on global food security. FAO hired Tutwiler under a minimum three-year contract.

The other four candidates for director-general — former European Union Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler, an Austrian; Indroyono Soesilo, an Indonesian; Mohammad Saeid Noori Naeini, an Iranian; and Abdul Latif Rashid, an Iraqi — dropped out after receiving only a few votes in the first round. Fischler got only 10 votes, and an FAO employee said that developing countries viewed him as a defender of the EU Common Agricultural Policy and trade barriers that hurt their agriculture rather than as the reformer he portrayed himself to be.

Graziano da Silva is known for formulating and implementing the “Zero Hunger”or “Fome Zero” program in the administration of Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

When Lula was elected in 2002, Brazil was already a big agricultural producer and exporter, but had only just begun to confront the issue of hunger within the country. Lula gave Graziano da Silva the title of “Extraordinary Minister of Food Security and Fight Against Hunger,” and the program of increasing the availability of food for urban consumers and also involving small farmers as providers of food has won praise in development circles.

According to Graziano da Silva's official biography, “a particularly relevant aspect of the program is its holistic approach; its openness to civil society participation in policy planning and resource allocation as well as its monitoring; and the focus on gender as reflected in cash transfers to the women in the households, as a means of empowerment and ensuring more effective use of the resources.”

Graziano da Silva said the program helped lift 24 million people out of extreme poverty and cut undernourishment in Brazil by 25 percent.

In 2006, he became FAO regional representative for Latin America and the Caribbean and assistant director-general, based in Santiago Chile. He worked on both rural development and anti-hunger campaigns in that post.

Graziano da Silva received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in rural economics and sociology at the University of Sao Paolo in Brazil and also holds doctorates from the State University of Campinas in economics, from University College of London in Latin American studies and from the University of California, Santa Cruz, in environmental studies. Before joining the Lula administration, he worked in academia and labor, always with a focus on rural development and fighting hunger.