The Practical Guide to Humanitarian Law

« Calling things by the wrong name adds to the affliction of the world. » Albert Camus.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

The Organization

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) was founded in 1945 and currently has 194 Member States plus the European Union (member organization). It is one of the Specialized Agencies of the UN, and its headquarters are in Rome.


The FAO’s mandate is to “free humanity from hunger” and to work toward providing “access for all people at all times to the food they need to lead an active and healthy lifestyle.” Its aim is to increase the quantity and improve the quality of available food around the world. Its activities range from agricultural development to fisheries, forestry, and nutrition. It also monitors the economic aspect of food production and distribution.

The FAO has four principal functions: to offer technical assistance, to collect and analyze statistical data, to make recommendations to governments on agricultural policies, and to act as an international technical forum where States and international organizations can debate food and agricultural issues.

In case of scarcity or conflict, the FAO usually does not intervene directly with food relief operations. Within the UN system, these activities are generally entrusted to the World Food Program.


The Conference of Member Nations meets every two years. It elects a Council of forty-nine Member States—elected for a period of three years—and a director-general—elected for six years (currently José Graziano da Silva, from Brazil, elected in June 2011). The Council meets once during the year when the Conference does not meet and three times during the year when it does. Conferences relating to local issues are held in one of the five regional offices (Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Near East).

The organization is made up of seven departments: Agriculture and Consumer Protection; Economic and Social Development; Fisheries and Aquaculture; Forestry; Corporate Services, Human Resources, and Finance; Natural Resources Management and Environment; and Technical Cooperation. As of May 2010, FAO employed approximately 3,640 people—two-thirds of them work at the headquarters, and the rest are based in other regions of the world.


The FAO’s biennial budget was set at US $1.6 billion for 2012–2013. Member States finance the budget for the “regular program” (65 percent) through fixed contributions set by the Conference. This covers the cost of the secretariat and operations decided on in the Conference. The “field programs” (35 percent) are financed through voluntary contributions from Member States, plus contributions from the UN Development Program (UNDP) and the regular FAO budget. These are specific aid projects for a location or region, established under the auspices of the FAO and the country in question.

The FAO has set up a system of information gathering that monitors the agricultural situation around the world. The Committee on World Food Security runs the Global Information and Early Warning System, which collects data on crops, worldwide commodity trends, and production capacity, so as to detect emerging food shortages and assess possible emergency food requirements. It also collaborates with the relevant bodies in the UN system—for instance, in ensuring coordination in the humanitarian domain. It is one of the lead agencies in the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), run by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).


In 2008, a comprehensive program of organizational reform and culture change began. A restructuration of the headquarters as well as the decision-making process has created a more responsive structure and reduced costs. As FAO is primarily a knowledge-based organization, investing in human resources is a top priority; capacity building, including a leadership program, employee rotation, and a new junior professional program, has been established.

FamineNutritionReliefWorld Health Organization

Food and Agriculture Organization

Via delle Terme di Caracalla

I-00100 Rome, Italy

Tel.: (39) 06 57 051

Fax: (39) 06 57 0531/06 57 0551/55


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