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Amid Criticism, U.N. Food Agency to Elect Chief

June 24, 2011
New York Times

Raphael Minder

MADRID — On Sunday, members of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization will elect a new director general amid pressure on the agency to improve its own administrative efficiency, as well as that of the world’s poorest farming nations.

The F.A.O., based in Rome, has already been pushed into making some reforms. Two years ago it decided to shorten the term of its director general to four from six years, as well as set a limit of two consecutive terms. The present head, Jacques Diouf, a Senegalese, has held the job since 1994, and is completing his third, six-year term.

Some member nations have continued to highlight inefficiencies at the agency. Britain’s Department for International Development concluded a critical review of the agency, published last February, by warning that, in terms of introducing much-needed reforms, “the current likelihood of full, successful implementation with the necessary urgency is low.”

Frédéric Mousseau, a food security consultant and policy director at the Oakland Institute, a research center based in California, said that the agency “has been caught in a decades-long chicken -and-egg game.” Developed countries have been shrinking their financial contribution in response to its poor effectiveness, bureaucracy and bad governance, but “the institution cannot perform its mandate and conduct necessary reform without adequate financial resources,” he said.

The election of a new director general, Mr. Mousseau said, was therefore “very important” because “the F.A.O. will need resources and strong leadership which can free itself from the grip of rich donor countries, restore confidence from member states, and move a heavy, partly dusty, machine forward.”

Predicting Sunday’s outcome is difficult. The agency is conducting a secret ballot in which each of its 191 member nations holds one vote.

However, among the six candidates that are vying to succeed Mr. Diouf, the frontrunner appears to be José Graziano da Silva of Brazil, according to Mr. Mousseau and other food sector experts. His bid is strengthened by his domestic track record as minister of food security under Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the former Brazilian president. An estimated 24 million Brazilians were brought out of poverty within five years, according to his candidacy Web site.