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FAO Secretary General Elections – Part 2: What is to be Done?

Published on May 7, 2019        Author: 

In this second post, I want to provide some more details about how the budget works within the FAO. My purpose is to highlight how the majority of Member nations wield political power, while top donors wield financial power.

Today, to win the FAO, is to gain the authority to define the right to food and to significantly influence, if not determine, the right to food’s ability to change the world food regime. Lately, however, the FAO has not invested enough into the right to food for it to even appear as a line item in its budget. Instead, it is buried in a way that is difficult for the public to determine how much is actually spent on the right to food.

The FAO broke new ground in 2004 with the publication of the Right to Food Guidelines. But the work seems to have stopped there. If the right to food is not constantly contested, redefined and operationalized as the world changes, it loses its relevance. In the last two decades, the right to food was re-empowered as a political tool wielded from below by the transnational peasant movements, Indigenous peoples, fisherfolk, pastoralists, and others who overcame their differences to form the food sovereignty movement. But in important spaces such as Committee on World Food Security it remains unclear what role the right to food will play in world’s future food regime. If the FAO continues to disinvest from the right to food, this tool will be blunted from above.

With these normative stakes in mind, I think the political question surrounding the FAO should be: what would a right-to-food budget look like? More specifically: how can the world’s most food insecure have more control over the FAO’s budget? Read the rest of this entry…

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FAO Secretary General Elections – Part 1: What is at Stake?

Published on May 6, 2019        Author: 

The FAO Member Nations are set to elect a new Director General this 22-29 June. The four candidates, nominated by UN Member States, are Qu Dongyu (China), Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle (France), Davit Kirvalidze (Georgia), and Ramesh Chand (India). Social movements, Indigenous peoples, and NGOs are frustrated because they do not have an opportunity to directly interact with the candidates and engage in a conversation about expectations and plans. They have started a campaign around the hashtag #AskFAO to encourage people from around the world to publicly engage in the process. The implicit purpose is to put pressure on the FAO to make the Secretary General more accountable to the people they serve.

Since the 1990s, a very popular way to engage in questions of democracy and international institutions has been through the language of legitimacy. In these terms, political questions become something you measure as a matter of normative theory, sociological fact, or political reality. This emphasis on measuring makes legitimacy a passive idea. Even when people attack international institutions for being illegitimate or defend it as legitimate, this is still a muddled politics. These argument are often opaque because they rely on a principle that remains implicit and avoids debating the stakes in clearer terms such as power, status, and wealth (but here is a wonderful exception to that generalization).

I want to instead rely on the language of authority and treat the FAO as something someone may want to politically win in order to wield power. In this post I examine what is at stake in the Secretary General elections. In my second blog post I touch upon what is to be done more as an introductory outline than a detailed plan.

My thinking is informed by a very basic notion of fairness: the more vulnerable you are, the more you should be politically empowered. An exemplary Secretary General has to figure out how the FAO can empower all people living with hunger, famine, and starvation. Read the rest of this entry…

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