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administered. And the stronger the bureaucracy's hold becomes, the more paperwork we have to do, diverting our time away from technical work."

The staff at FAO are frustrated, cowed and resigned. Demoralization was compounded when, at the November 1989 conference, no less than seven major contributors voted against the budget (passed nonetheless by the Third World's built-in majority). At the end of September 1989,107 of FAO's 158 members were in arrears; 80 had made no payment at all for the year.17

FAO and the International Order

The problems of Third World agriculture are intimately linked to power politics. Any examination of FAO and its performance during the past 45 years, must take due account of the fact that it operates within a world system biased in favour of the well-off, the powerful, the North, the multinationals. Its primary clients are ministries of agriculture, which are orientated the world over towards large, commercial farms. In order to survive over and above its inadequate regular budgetary resources, FAO is permanently seeking funds: from rich country governments, from banks and from big transnational companies. This must never be forgotten when castigating FAO for the mischief it does. But it cannot excuse it for doing the opposite of what it was set up to do — in effect, for aiding and abetting the very system which keeps the poor, poor and the hungry, hungry.

FAO's 6000 staff do some sound technical work and its policy bodies also sometimes even adopt the right resolutions. But these are rarely reflected in action at field level, either by FAO itself or by Third World governments.

A massive overhaul of FAO's basic philosophy, as well as its structure and function, is clearly overdue. A new approach is urgently needed: one that starts from peasant practices and seeks to solve problems as the cultivator sees them. It must make the "experts" realize that peoples' aspirations are not necessarily purely material and that the solution to world hunger is not to be found in imposing Western agricultural technologies and practices on the South.

The author envisages developing this article into a book. Anyone with experience of FAO (former or current staff members, consultants,

field workers or farmers) wishing to contribute comments, documents or experience is invited to contact The Ecologist. All contributions will be treated in strictest confidence.


1. Chambers, R., Putting the Last First, Third World Affairs, 1985. 2. As one of the UN "specialized agencies", FAO was created to be the

technical body for the agricultural sector. Originally, it had clear-cut supremacy in its field of action but this has been seriously eroded since the mid-1970s. In addition to the World Food Programme, founded in 1961, there are two other agencies with complementary roles: the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Council (WFC), both, like FAO, based in Rome. IFAD, operational since 1978, is a bank which lends to Third World governments for projects aimed at relieving rural poverty, in a sense it is almost the antithesis of the World Bank, at least in its objectives. WFC, operational since 1975, has a particularly difficult role to play within the UN system. It is supposed to "review major problems and policy issues affecting the world food situation . . . recommend remedial action", and ensure, "successful coordination and follow-up of policies" by the UN agencies. 3. Pearce, A., Seeds of Plenty, Seeds of Want, UNRISD, 1980. 4. FAO, Agriculture: Toward 2000, (rev.ed.), Rome, 1987 5. FAO, 'Report of the Feasibility Study on Expanding Aid-in-Kind in Farm

Inputs', Rome, October 1987, Doc. C 87/20. 6. International Foundation for Development Alternatives, Special United

Nations Service No. 1827, 20 November, 1987. 7. George, S., 'Some Effects of Bilateral and Multilateral Aid Organisations

on Food and Nutrition', World Food Assembly, Rome, 1984. 8. FAO, op. cit., 5. 9. FAO, 'Investment Centre Staff Paper: Problems in Agricultural Project

Design*, Rome, October 1988. 10. FAO, 'Report of the World Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural

Development', Rome, 1979. 11. IFPAAW, 'Statement on FAO/WCARRD Activities', 20 February, 1989. 12. Ibid. 13. FAO Committee on Commodity Problems, 'Report of the 57th Session',

Rome, July 1989. 14. Matzke, O., Insufficient Control of Efficiency and Development Impact in

the UN System: The Example of FAO, Verfaftung und Recht in Ubersee, 2 Heft, 1981. 15. FAO, 'Review of Certain Aspects of FAO's Goals and Operations: Report

of the Programme and Finance Committees', Rome, October 1989. 16. The 1989 FAO Review lists the abilities which FAORs should (and by

inference do not) have, including "economic and policy expertise", the ability to prepare "reliable and informative reports" and an ability to "command the respect of local ministers and senior officials." 17. Whether or not its criticisms of FAO and the way it operates are justified,

the refusal by the US government to respect its constitutional obligations and pay its contributions was deplorable, and provided a bad example which many Third World countries have been only too willing to follow. It is ironic that the anti-US rhetoric at the political level which has cost the organization so dearly is matched by pro-US policies at the technical and operational levels.

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