contents page
previous next
zoom out zoom in
thumbnails double page single page large double page
fit width
Look up postcode 20437 Look up postcode DT10 1BB click to zoom in Go to page 49 click to zoom in  
contents page
previous next
zoom out zoom in
thumbnails double page single page large double page
fit width

pushing FAO to maintain its present policies — from dam builders and irrigation engineers to agrochemical corporations and farm machinery manufacturers. For them, the intensification of agriculture in the Third World is a bonanza — a bonanza mined at the expense of the poor and of future generations. Your job should surely be to fight the naked opportunism of such industrial lobbies, not to industrialize agriculture on their behalf. Third World farmers do not need FAO's expertise. They know more about farming their land than your "experts" do. If they have a need for an organization such as FAO it is to take up the cudgels against those who would undermine their livelihoods, to tackle those issues that they cannot tackle by themselves. You should be taking up the battle to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, not promoting an agriculture which will increase them. You should be fighting to prevent land and water resources being hijacked for non-agricultural uses, not pushing for

the expansion of industry. You should be fighting to prevent the food resources of the underfed being exported to feed the already overfed, not seeking to boost export crops.

But instead of making common cause with the farmers you say FAO seeks to support, you have consistently bowed to industrial interests. No doubt, their support — and particularly that of the multinationals — has gained FAO powerful political allies: no doubt, too, it has proved of great value in increasing your own personal power and influence. But it is not you, nor your employees, who have had to pay the price: it is the poor and hungry whose lives have been blighted — and, all too often, ended — as a result of your policies. That is why we we are launching this campaign.

Nicholas Hildyard

for The Ecologist

This letter has been endorsed by the following groups. Animal Welfare Institute, USA Asia-Pacific Peoples' Environment Network (APPEN), Malaysia Bank Information Centre, USA Both Ends, Netherlands Campagna Nord-Sud, Italy Centre for Environment and Development, UK Centro de Estudios Uruguayos en Technologlas Apropiadas (CEUTA), Uruguay Centro Latino Americano de Ecologfa Social (CLAES), Uruguay Coalition for Environment and Development, Finland Consumers' Association of Penang, Malaysia The Development Group for Alternative Policies, USA Ecoropa, France Environmental Defense Fund, USA Environmental News Network, USA Friends of the Earth, Australia Friends of the Earth, USA Gaia Foundation, UK The Humane Society, USA Instituto de Antropologia e Meio Ambiente (IAMA), Brazil International Rivers Network, USA International Workgroup on Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), Denmark

Ladakh Project, UK London Rainforest Action Group, UK Milieudefensie/Friends of the Earth, Netherlands Minewatch, UK Monitor, USA NOAH/Friends of the Earth, Denmark Permaculture International, Australia Pesticide Action Network-Latin America, Colombia Probe International, Canada Project for Ecological Recovery (PER), Thailand Rainforest Action Network, USA Rainforest Information Centre, Australia Red de Ecologia Social (REDES)/Friends of the Earth, Uruguay Regnskovsgruppen Nepenthes, Denmark Research Foundation fo r Science and Technology, India Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM)/Friends of the Earth, Malaysia Sierra Club, USA Third World First, UK Third World Network, Malaysia Transnational Institute, Netherlands World Economy, Ecology and Development Association (WO&E), Germany

We request others who wish to endorse this open letter to inform Th e Ecologist's editorial office (Corner House, Station Road, Sturminster Newton, Dorset, DT10 1BB, UK). The open letter may be translated and/or reproduced in whole or in part without prior permission, provided credit is given to Th e Ecologist. Please write letters in support of this campaign to: Mr Edouard Saouma; to your regional FAO liaison office; to relevant national government officials and politicians, especially in ministries of agriculture and development agencies and departments; to the media; and to environment, development, human rights and other relevant groups who may wish to join in the campaign. Mr Edouar d Saouma , Director-General, FAO, Via delle Terme di Caracalla, 00100 Rome, Italy. FA O Regiona l Offic e fo r Africa , PO Box 1628, Accra, Ghana. FA O Regiona l Offic e fo r Asi a an d th e Pacific , Maliwan Mansion, Phra Atit Road, Bangkok 10200, Thailand. FA O Regiona l Offic e for Europe , FAO Headquarters, Via delle Terme di Caracalla, 00100 Rome. FA O Regiona l Offic e fo r Lati n Americ a an d th e Caribbean , Casilla 10095, Santiago, Chile. FA O Regiona l Offic e fo r th e Near East , FA O Headquarters , Via delle Terme di Caracalla, 00100 Rome. FA O Liaiso n Offic e fo r North America , 1001 22nd Street NW, Suite 300, Washington, DC 20437.


The Ecologist, Vol. 21, No. 2, March/April 1991 The Food and Agriculture Organization

of the United Nations:

An Insider's View

by Khalil Sesmou

FAO, set up to "develop" world agriculture so as to enable the world to feed itself has disastrously failed in its task. It has ignored and even derided traditional agricultural methods and permits no internal criticism of its policy of promoting Western-style intensive farming and the export of cash crops. FAO's performance is judged on the amount of money it spends, not on

the effectiveness of its projects, it ignores the voices of the people it is supposed to be helping and it has close links with agribusiness multinationals, whose products it actively promotes. The

organization's Director-General has been much criticized by FAO staff and others for his autocratic style, and the political manoeuvring he has engaged in to ensure his re-election. A massive overhaul of FAO's basic philosophy, structure and function is urgently needed.

"It is astonishing how often and how badly development professionals have been wrong."

Robert Chambers1

The Food and Agriculture Organization was the first specialized United Nations agency to be founded after the Second World War. Officially it came into being in October 1945, a few days before the UN itself. It remains to this day the largest of the UN agencies.2

FAO currently handles something over $500 million each year in core and "extra-budgetary" funding (see Box, p.49). This is less than 10 per cent of the $5.2 billion in net official development assistance devoted to agriculture in 1987, and a very small share of the total ODAin 1987 of $39.4 billion. As of June 1989, FAO had a staff of 6483, divided roughly two-thirds to one-third between desk jobs and field work. Approximately half of the staff are employed at the Rome headquarters.

Though the following is essentially critical of FAO, the organization does a lot of good work which is insufficiently known. Its success in keeping the desert locust in check (albeit partly with toxic chemicals), its defence of plant genetic diversity and its vernacular languages programme (which brings technical literature to a wider audience), are among its many achievements which deserve recognition.

Modernizing Agriculture

FAO originated during the colonial period. As the Third World gained its independence, many in the colonial administrations left to place their "expertize" at the service of FAO. The agency's

The author is a senior FAO official. Khalil Sesmou is a pseudonym.

whole approach to development was moulded in those early days and has scarcely changed since: then, as now, the promotion of export crops and the application of modern inputs was seen as the key to agricultural development.

Although the introduction of modern techniques through the much vaunted Green Revolution (see Vandana Shiva, this issue) has arguably been a technical success, considerably increasing yields, it has proved an environmental, social and human disaster. Poor and small farmers have been systematically marginalized, the environment has been degraded, genetic diversity has been drastically eroded and the dependence of the South on the North has been increased. Even within FAO itself, voices of concern could be heard as early as the 1960s. By the mid-1970s, the criticism was out in the open, with a report from the UN's own Research Institute for Social Development highlighting some of the many problems.3

At the time, dissent was accepted and even allowed to flourish. Today, however, staff contest the official wisdom at their peril, and FAO remains committed to modernizing agriculture along the lines of the Green Revolution while disparaging traditional agricultural practices as out-moded and unproductive. One report notes:

"Many low-external input systems [i.e. those using fertilizer, seed etc. produced on the farm, instead of being bought] available for the tropics and sub-tropics cannot produce the required output levels or match the net producer returns of the high-input systems they would have to replace."4

This statement is not backed up by any supporting evidence. On the contrary, study after study reveals the farming systems being swept aside by FAO's modernization policies to be efficient and productive and well suited to their specific social and ecological contexts (see pp.93-106). Nevertheless, throughout its 45 years,

The Ecologist, Vol. 21, No. 2, March/April 1991