Senate confirms ambassador to UN food agencies ahead of election
April 15, 2019
The Senate late Thursday confirmed Kip Tom, an Indiana farmer, as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations agencies in Rome including the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Food Programme and the International Fund for Agricultural Development.
The confirmation of Tom, which has been pending since 2018, comes a little more than two months before the election of a new FAO director general to succeed José Graziano da Silva, a Brazilian.
The election is scheduled to be held between June 22 and 29 during a meeting of delegates of the member countries at the FAO headquarters in Rome. Each member country gets one vote.
The candidates for the post of FAO director-general are Ramesh Chand of India, Davit Kirvalidze of Georgia, Qu Dongyu of China and Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle of France.
The Trump administration has not announced which candidate it will support.
Sources with FAO experience who are watching the run-up to the election say that China is promoting its candidate and they believe he is ahead. That raises questions of whether China sees holding the director=generalship of the FAO as a way to advance its international strategic goals.
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One source also noted that an American has traditionally held the No. 2 position at the FAO and that the potential election of a Chinese candidate raises the question of whether that pattern would continue.
The four candidates addressed the council last Thursday, but their speeches were not webcast.
On Friday Chatham House, the British public policy group, and the Italian Institute for International Political Studies sponsored a discussion in Rome entitled "Beyond Food Security: The Challenges for the next FAO Director-General." That event was webcast. (See link.)
Chatham House and the Italian institute invited all the candidates to take part, but only two agreed to participate, Kirvalidze and Geslain-Lanéelle.
During that event, Per Pinstrup-Andersen, a professor emeritus at Cornell University, said that FAO needs to move beyond trying to make sure that everyone in the world has enough calories to improving diets.
In some countries people do not have enough iron, in others not enough Vitamin A, while in many countries people are overeating, resulting in obesity, Pinstrup-Andersen said.
The FAO's goals should be improving human and environmental health, reducing poverty and mitigating climate change in helping countries adapt to it, he said.
Gerda Verburg, coordinator of the UN Scaling up Nutrition (SUN) movement, agreed, saying "The future of food is not in the calories, it is in the quality" of food.
Verburg said it is also important to bring technology to female food producers in developing countries.
In her presentation, Geslain-Lanéelle said agriculture needs to be made more productive and efficient while more food processing and retail jobs are created in rural areas. She also said that FAO should be a "convenor" with other international organizations to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Kirvalidze emphasized that trade should be fair as well as free.
When Graziano da Silva addressed the FAO Council last week, he said that FAO will focus over the next two years on promoting nutrition-sensitive food systems and innovation in agriculture.
"We cannot only focus on tackling hunger anymore," said Graziano da Silva. "The Sustainable Development Goal number 2 calls for the eradication of all forms of malnutrition. And there is a steady growth in the levels of overweight and obesity all around the world."
"While hunger is circumscribed to specific areas, obesity is everywhere. In fact, we are witnessing the globalization of obesity," he added.
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