to marginalize and impoverish them? Why, in effect, should they participate in their own annihilation?
Promoting Industrial Interests Indeed, reviewing FAO's record, it is hard to resist the conclusion that it is less concerned with supporting the efforts of small farmers in the Third World than with promoting the interests of national governments and multinational agribusiness corporations.
The close relationship between FAO and the agrochemical industry, for example, has been well-documented (see Barbara Dinham, this issue). From the early 1960s to 1978, the FAOIndustry Cooperative Programme was an official part of FAO's structures and among the most prominent industry participants in the programme were major chemical companies. According to a
recently-retired senior executive of the Swiss chemical giant Ciba-Geigy: "We always enjoyed very good relations with FAO. Sometimes there were a few problems but generally relations were excellent." In 1978, amidst growing criticisms of this special relationship, Director-General Saouma closed the Programme. This did not stop FAO from continuing to "market" pesticides through its advice and projects and it is only fairly recently that integrated pest management (the control of pests using largely biological methods and only small amounts of pesticides) has become part of its rhetoric.
The hand-in-glove relationship between FAO and the pesticide industry also explains the lax pesticide standards established by the Codex Alimentarius system — jointly administered by FAO and the World Health Organization. Codex standards are up to 40 times less stringent than those set by the US Environmental Protection Agency (see Mark Ritchie, 'GATT, Agriculture and the Environment', The Ecologist, Vol. 20, No. 6, 1990).
A Lord of Poverty Edouard Saouma's position as head of the UN's largest specialized agency confers upon him great responsibility. In the words of one observer: "He can, and often does, decide over life and death in the middle of famine".
Some extremely grave charges have been levelled against Saouma, and it is difficult to turn a blind eye to all of these. For example, it is alleged that in 1984, at the height of the Ethiopian famine, Saouma held back food aid for 20 days at a time when emergency consignments were urgently required. According to testimony from other FAO officials and the from the former Ethiopian Relief and Rehabilitation Commissioner Dawit Wolde-Giorgis, this delay occurred simply because Saouma disliked Tessema Negash, then Ethiopia's Assistant Delegate to FAO, and wanted him removed from office: only when Negash was recalled to Addis Ababa was the food released. In Dawit's own words:
"I went [to FAO Headquarters in Rome] and tried to brief [Saouma] on what was going on in Ethiopia .. . He interrupted the discussion and told me that our representative was not a very likeable person .. . that it would be difficult for him to really cooperate with the Ethiopian government as long as we had Tessema Negash as our FAO representative .. . There I was trying to brief a senior UN official about the impending disaster and the number of people dying every day and I was confronted with personal problems .. . that was sickening." When I approached Saouma in 1989 for an interview to clarify this and other matters, he declared himself unable to receive me because of his "many commitments". I was, however, sent a duplicated press handout in which the accusations concerning Ethiopia were strenuously denied. I would have been more convinced if I had been given the opportunity to question Saouma face to face.
Edouard Saouma's third six-year term in office is worth a significant sum of money to him personally: $813,276 excluding fringe benefits. Not even his most impassioned detractors suggest that his single-minded pursuit of reelection was motivated entirely — or even mainly — by an urge to keep his hands on the Director-General's fat pay packet; it has been pointed out by more than one, however,
that there is something rather anomalous about running a development agency and at the same time earning so much. This, as simply stated by Raymond Lloyd — who himself resigned from FAO in disgust after 20 years service — is the "paradox of working for the poor and underprivileged from a position of wealth and power."
It is a paradox that is undoubtedly heightened by the style of FAO's autocratic Director-General. He insists on being called "Your Excellency", occupies an office that would do justice to an oriental potentate and makes full use of his annual "representation allowance" of $32,000 to entertain visiting VIPs.
More generally, the way that business is conducted at the agency's Rome Headquarters seems to be an extension of the Director-General's dominant personality. Visitors to the six-story white marble building near the ancient Coliseum only get past the patrolling security guards if they can prove that they have appointments; once inside they are required to wear coloured tags indicating their destination. In the case of journalists an escort from the Press Room is provided — presumably to ensure that no "snooping" takes place and that officials talked to give the right answers to questions. Several senior members of staff have been suspended for making "unauthorized statements" to the press and Saouma maintains additional control over the flow of public information about FAO by denying his more outspoken critics any access to Headquarters. Meanwhile the agency's information division disposes of more than $12 million a year producing lavish brochures and reports extolling — in full colour — the virtues of FAO's services to the dispossessed and disadvantaged.
One gets the sense from all this of an institution that has lost its way, departed from its original purely humanitarian and developmental mandate, become confused about its place in the world — about exactly what it is doing, and why.
This piece is extracted with permission from Graham Hancock's book Lords of Poverty (MacMillan, London, 1989 (hardback) and Mandarin, London, 1989 (paperback)).
The Ecologist, Vol. 21, No. 2, March/April 1991