A new Director General for the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) will be elected in June by the nearly 200 countries, including the United States, which are members of this organization.
While the UN’s World Food Programme is concentrated on the logistics of providing food urgently to those in need, the FAO focuses more on developing and sustaining the underlying agricultural and fisheries systems producing the food the world needs, but also combats malnutrition and hunger, illegal logging and illegal unreported and unregulated fishing.
The candidate for the position of Director General for FAO selected by France, and by all the 28 member states of the European Union for the first time, is Catherine Geslain Lanéelle. Formerly the official in charge of food, then later of agricultural and international affairs in the French Ministry of Agriculture and the former Director General of the European Food Safety Authority, she is the first woman to be a candidate for to lead the FAO.
Ms. Geslain-Lanéelle visited Washington, D.C., and New York at the end of January to discuss her plans for the FAO, and to meet with US authorities (both in the administration and in Congress). Additionally, she met with representatives of international organizations located in those two cities, and also NGOs working in the field of agriculture, scientists who research hunger and food systems, and think-tanks that evaluate needs and policies. Her goal was to promote her candidacy, but primarily to initiate a debate, including with civil society, on the priorities that the FAO must address.
While citing the fact that in recent years the world has gone backwards in its fight against hunger and malnutrition, Ms. Geslain Lanéelle stated her desire for agriculture to produce “more and better.” She hopes to help build agricultural models that are well adapted to facing climate change all while creating value chains in rural areas, that benefit farmers, ranchers and fishermen and rural communities. A key component of this will be to ensure that rural populations, especially the young and the women whose role in agrifood systems is essential, can access the economic circuits and earn a living wage for their work, and to meet the Sustainable Development Goals enacted by the UN.
She also believes in an inclusive role of the FAO, which she believes must be a “common house” for all countries. The vast knowledge of this organization and its science-based approach are very important assets that must be further promoted to enhance the cooperation of FAO’s actions with international, public and private actors to combat food and malnutrition, and enable sustainable development oriented and innovative food and forestry systems in the world.