Jose Graziano da Silva, Brazil's former food security minister, took over as director-general of the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization on Jan. 1. He told reporters Tuesday his top priority was to make good on the agency's mandate: eradicate world hunger.
Graziano acknowledged that the anticipated recession in much of Europe this year could affect his effort, with countries possibly renegging on their annual FAO dues. But he said the assessments are relatively paltry and that the main effect the global economic crisis will have on FAO is more work.
"There will be many more people getting hungry, unemployed and we will need to find new ways to assist those governments," he said.
Graziano said he expected that food prices wouldn't rise much but that they also wouldn't fall. "But volatility will remain, that is clear," he said.
FAO, which is the UN's biggest specialized agency with a $1 billion budget, has been battling the effects of wild swings in food prices that have particularly affected poor countries.
The FAO's food price index hit an all-time high in February. It has since decreased slightly, but experts warn that food prices remain far too high for many poor communities. The agency put the number of hungry people in 2010 at 925 million, the overwhelming majority living in developing countries.
Graziano is one of the architects of Brazil's much-lauded Zero Hunger program, which over the past eight years has helped lift 19 million Brazilians out of poverty. He has said one of his main priorities was to decentralize FAO's work to the regional and subregional levels, since that's where hunger is fought.
"You solve food security problems at your village, at your town at your neighbourhood (level) — not at the global level," he said. "Nobody eats at the global level. You eat in the restaurant, in the cantina, at your house. That's where you need to provide those answers."
FAO is at www.fao.org