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Brazil's Jose Graziano da Silva elected UN food agency head

28 june 2011, 13:29
0
Jose Graziano da Silva of Brazil (C) is elected as the new Director-General of Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). ©AFP
Jose Graziano da Silva of Brazil (C) is elected as the new Director-General of Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). ©AFP
Brazil's former food security minister Jose Graziano da Silva on Sunday became the first Latin American to head the UN's food agency, a move hailed by aid groups and the United States, AFP reports.

Graziano was elected to lead the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization, beating off his main competitor, Spain's former foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, by 92 votes to 88.

"I'm no longer just Brazil's candidate," an emotional Graziano said in Spanish to his celebrating supporters.

"Over the years I have learnt that we have to walk together to achieve consensus and obtain our objectives," he said.

The election of a new FAO director-general comes amid growing concerns over global hunger and spiralling food prices. Graziano's efforts to tackle hunger in his native Brazil have won him acclaim worldwide.

His success was quickly welcomed by two major aid agencies.

"By supporting small farmers, Brazil is fighting successfully against hunger. This is the recipe for success that we hope Graziano brings to the FAO," said Marco De Ponte, director of ActionAid Italy.

"The FAO has to drop for good the purely technical role it has had until now and be able to show what its experience is worth... around the tables where economic, commercial and financial policies are discussed," he added.

"Graziano has the commitment, expertise and skills needed to help transform our broken food system and make the shift towards a new agricultural future," Oxfam's policy advisor Luca Chinotti said in a statement.

The United States also welcomed his appointment.

Washington looked forward to working with him "...to ensure that the FAO continues to reform and to push for more sustainable agricultural development...," US Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan said in a statement.

President Dilma Rousseff expressed "great satisfaction" and said: "I wish him great success on his new assignment. He has the solid support of the Brazilian government."

Senegal's Jacques Diouf, who has held the top post at the FAO for 17 years, steps down at the end of the year, leaving an agency that critics consider to be too centralised and chronically inefficient.

"We need a strong and effective FAO, now more than ever," Graziano had said ahead of the vote, adding that food security, transboundary disease, fish stock conservation and climate change were urgent issues for the food agency.

Brazil's first-ever nominee for the FAO, the 61-year-old professor has devoted his career to tackling hunger, raising awareness and urging policy changes in the public and private sectors at home and across the region.

Graziano served from 2006 as FAO's assistant head and regional representative for Latin America and the Caribbean.

At the FAO, Graziano played a key role in fostering the "Hunger-Free Latin America and the Caribbean Initiative," which saw the region become the first in the world to commit itself to eradicating hunger by 2025.

But it was his role in designing and implementing the Brazilian "Zero Hunger" ("Fome Zero") programme, which helped lift 24 million people out of extreme poverty, that brought him international recognition.

Each of the FAO's 191 member states had one vote in the election -- unlike other UN agencies where the biggest contributors get more of a say.

A source privy to the inner workings of the FAO had already told AFP that the food agency's members were likely to snatch the opportunity to have a representative from a developing economy at the helm.

Members may also have been swayed by a desire to keep the job out of European hands.

The emerging economies have already called for an end to the tradition that gives the top job at the International Monetary Fund to a European.

But France's Finance Minister Christine Lagarde is tipped to beat rival candidate Agustin Carstens, the governor of Mexico's central bank, to the position.

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