Brazil, Spain candidates in lead to head UN food agency

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Candidates from Brazil and Spain were facing a tight two-way race in a vote to become the next head of the UN's Food and Agricultural Organisation on Sunday after all the other candidates bowed out.

Former Brazilian food security minister Jose Graziano da Silva and former Spanish foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos won 77 votes to 72 respectively out of 179 votes cast in the first round, leaving their rivals trailing.

The election for a new FAO head in Rome comes amid growing concerns over global hunger, spiralling food prices and the effects of climate change.

The candidates from Austria, Indonesia, Iran and Iraq pulled out of the election after winning only a handful of votes each.

Indonesian scientist Indroyono Soesilo won just 12 votes, while Europe's former agriculture commissioner Franz Fischler won 10, Iraq's Abdul Latif Tashid won six and Iran's former envoy to the FAO Noori Naeini won two.

Senegal's Jacques Diouf, the head of the FAO for 17 years, is stepping down at the end of the year and his successor is expected to tackle chronic inefficiencies at the agency as a key part of the fight against global hunger.

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

Mexico's ambassador to the FAO, Jorge Chen, who is supporting the Spanish candidate over the Brazilian, told AFP: "Right now FAO needs to become a political instrument and Moratinos has the right profile for that."

Each of the FAO's 191 member states gets one vote in the election -- unlike other UN agencies where the biggest contributors get more of a say. Voting began at 0830 GMT and the final result was expected late Sunday afternoon.

"The tradition is for the agency to go to a developing country and Brazil is not going to miss the chance to take advantage of this," a source informed about the inner workings of the FAO told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Members may also vote to keep the post out of European hands after France's finance minister, Christine Lagarde, was tipped to lead the International Monetary Fund, riling emerging economies who fear being left out of international decision-making.

© 2011 AFP

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