THE Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) emblem reads: ‘Fiat Panis’ (Let there be bread) – a universal statement and symbol of food security.

The First Session of FAO Conference was held in Chateau Frontenac, Quebec, Canada, from October 16 to November 1 1945. 

It was presided over by Lester Bowles Pearson of Canada.   

The plenary session of the founding conference concluded with the adoption of the Constitution of FAO and its Latin motto, ‘Fiat Panis’ (Let there be bread). 

John Boyd Orr of the UK was the first director-general of the organisation from October 1945 to April 1948.  

Nine director-generals have headed FAO since, namely the US (1948-1953 and 1954-1956), the UK (1956 acting), India (1956-1967), Netherlands (1968-1975), Lebanon (1976-1993), Senegal (1994-2011) and Brazil (2012-current).  

Senegal has been a member of FAO since November 9 1961.

In international efforts to defeat world hunger and ensure world food security, FAO has over the years formulated, developed, promoted and negotiated various agro-polices, treaties and programmes.  

For example, in 1952, it created the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) to prevent the international spread of pests and plant diseases in both cultivated and wild plants. 

Among its functions are the maintenance of lists of plant pests, tracking of pest outbreaks and co-ordination of technical assistance between member nations.  

Ratified in 1991 with 92 signatories, the treaty has since been adopted by 177 governments.

In 1960, FAO launched the ‘Freedom from Hunger Campaign’ to mobilise non-governmental support. 

During the same decade, FAO concentrated on programmes for the development of high-yield strains of grain, the elimination of protein deficiencies, the provision of rural employment and the promotion of agricultural exports.  

In 1969, the organisation published An Indicative World Plan for Agricultural Development, which analysed the world’s main problems in agriculture and suggested remedial strategies. 

In the interest of nutrition, food safety, standardisation and certification, in 1961, FAO and the World Health Organisation (WHO), created the Codex Alimentarius Commission to set international food standards guidelines of practice under the Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme. 

Operational since 1962, the Codex Alimentarius aims mainly at protecting consumer health, ensuring fair trade and promoting co-ordination of all food standards work undertaken by inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations. 

Food shortages in the southern Sahara African region in 1974, prompted FAO to promote programmes relating to world food security.  

The World Food Conference held in Rome, adopted the ‘International Undertaking on World Food Security’.  

Here, recommendations included helping small farmers implement low-cost projects to enhance productivity. 

Food security was defined at the 1996 World Food Summit’s final report as: “Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” 

Another major outcome of the 1974 World Food Conference was the establishment of an international financial institution – the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), as a specialised agency of the UN, dedicated to eradicating rural poverty in developing countries.

In the 1980s and 1990s, FAO programmes for sustainable agriculture and rural development emphasised strategies that were economically feasible, environmentally sound, and technologically appropriate to the skill level of each country, including Zimbabwe.

To afford greater flexibility in responding to urgent situations, in 1976 FAO established the Technical Co-operation Programme, and in 1986, launched AGROSTAT, the world’s most comprehensive source of agricultural information and statistics. 

The sustainable management of the world’s forests is one of FAO’s strategic goals.   

Its Forestry Department works to balance social and environmental considerations with the economic needs of rural populations living in forest areas.  

The World Forestry Congress, held every six years since 1926, is hosted by FAO and a member state for sharing knowledge and experience regarding the use, conservation and management of the world’s forests.

More recently, FAO initiated the Global Partnership Initiative for Plant Breeding Capacity Building (GIPB) – a global partnership dedicated to increasing plant breeding capacity-building to enhance the capacity of developing countries to improve crops for food security and sustainable development through better plant breeding and delivery systems.

A well recognised science, plant breeding can broaden the genetic and adaptability base of cropping systems, by combining conventional selection techniques and modern technologies. 

As the oldest permanent specialised agency of the UN, FAO co-ordinates programmes for developing agriculture, forestry, fisheries and land, as well as water resources for member governments and technical agencies.  

It also carries out research and provides technical assistance on projects in individual countries, including Zimbabwe, where FAO has assisted since 1982.

Dr Tony M. Monda BSc, DVM, is currently conducting Veterinary epidemiology, Agronomy and Food Security and Agro-economic research in Zimbabwe. For views and comments: e-mail: tonym.MONDA@gmail.com

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