The three Rome-based United Nations agencies dedicated to food security – the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and the World Food Programme (WFP) – could be doing a lot more and a lot better. Given the complementarities of their missions and mandates, calls have been made for these three UN agencies to work more closely together to prevent inefficiencies and competition. The agencies could demonstrate solidarity and establish coordination by declaring a global initiative to end world hunger. They could share their respective advantages in a global partnership program.
Calls for closer cooperation between the thrree agencies continue for two prominent reasons. A different type of program for WFP assistance, called Protracted Relief and Recovery Operations (PRROs), was developed in January 1999 with three clearly identified components: protracted relief, refugee feeding, and recovery. The program was intended not only to maintain WFP’s dual mandate of providing development and relief assistance but also to attract donor contributions to its flagging development resources. PRROs are now the largest component of WFP aid.
The other major driver of closer collaboration has been WFP’s attempt to shift its focus from “food aid” to a “food assistance”, meaning that most donors are now providing cash contributions to WFP instead of the in-kind commodity contributions that they granted in the past. A major exception is the United States, WFP’s largest donor, which continues to provide aid in the form of US-produced commodities. The cash contributions can be used to purchase food in developing countries and to support cash and voucher transfer schemes, which give WFP greater flexibility to cooperate with other aid agencies, including FAO and IFAD.
Experience has shown the benefits of integrating humanitarian and development assistance, particularly in protracted or complex emergencies. Development activities in support of humanitarian efforts can help prevent further deterioration in economic and social structures, establish foundations for recovery and reconciliation, and help avert future emergencies. Conversely, effective humanitarian assistance can facilitate the implementation of development activities. Hence, the rationale routinely recommended for closer FAO, IFAD, and WFP cooperation.
A major asset could be the close coordination of the networks of FAO and WFP field offices and the partnership arrangements that the three agencies have established. Particularly significant, the rapid development and deployment of social information and communication media could help in the transformation of aid by responding to the needs and aspirations of governments and people in developing countries.
However, establishing effective cooperation among the three agencies will not be easy. They have separate constitutions, governing bodies, management structures, financial arrangements, and programs of assistance. Further, in the 1980s the FAO director-general attempted a bureaucratic-coup to dominate the WFP, an event that soured relations between the agencies. This unfortunate legacy must be overcome to establish closer working relations.
That experience showed the importance of leadership qualities in managing UN agencies. It also showed that effective reform is possible under the appropriate conditions. The preference, however, seems to increase bureaucratic transaction cost by establishing increasingly cumbersome mechanisms for coordination and consultation rather than choose a UN lead organization.
Various attempts have been made to improve coordination around food security. These include a High Level Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis established by the UN secretary-general, and the High Level Conference on World Food Security convened by FAO, IFAD, WFP along with the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research in January 2008. At the G8+ summit in July 2009, more than $20 billion was pledged for the Agricultural and Food Security Initiative.
There have been developments that could help establish closer cooperation between the three agencies. Both FAO and IFAD have had extensive independent external evaluations and are going through a period of reform based on their findings. WFP has completed a major transformation to become the world’s largest humanitarian agency and is carrying out changes to allow greater flexibility and facilitates cooperation among the three and other UN agencies; indeed, WFP is now the logistics expert of the UN system.
The agencies could demonstrate solidarity and establish coordination by declaring a global initiative to end world hunger. They could share their respective advantages in a global partnership program, similar to partnerships that address HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, the protection of children, the environment, and international agricultural research. As in the other global partnership programs, the three agencies could pool their resources, skills, and reputations towards achieving objectives over time, with a common governance and management structure.
The initiative could also include other UN agencies as the concept of food security has been redefined over the past 50 years moving it out of a purely agricultural sector concern into the broader arena of poverty and developmental problems and the large and dramatic ways in which the world food system has evolved.
D. John Shaw was associated with WFP for over thirty years, almost from the start of its operations in 1963, latterly as economic adviser and chief of the Policy Affair Service. He was also a consultant to the World Bank, FAO, and the Commonwealth Secretariat. He has written extensively on development, food security and food aid — including Global Food and Agricultural Institutions (London: Routledge, 2009) — and is currently on the International Editorial Board of Food Policy.