Brazil, Spain lead race to head UN food agency

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Brazilian and Spanish candidates are leading the field for an upcoming election for the next head of the Food and Agriculture Organisation in Rome, the UN agency leading the struggle against global hunger.

Former Spanish foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos and former Brazilian food security minister Jose Graziano da Silva are two of six candidates for Sunday's vote, with the others coming from Austria, Indonesia, Iran and Iraq.

"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.

"Especially if Europe is going to take over the International Monetary Fund," the source added, referring to French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde's emergence as the favourite to lead the Washington-based IMF.

The election of the new head of the International Monetary Fund has stirred anger in top emerging economies about being left out of international decision-making.

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

Senegal's Jacques Diouf, the head of FAO for 17 years, is stepping down at the end of the year at a time of rising food prices, persistently high levels of global hunger and growing concern over the effects of climate change.

Farming ministers from the world's G20 leading economies agreed this week in Paris on action to tame market speculation blamed for food price spikes.

Ministers said they would create a rapid response mechanism to respond to food price crises and an international agricultural market information system to remedy a chronic lack of data seen as a major source for volatility.

The ministers also decided to increase agriculutural production by 70 percent by 2050 -- when the world population will be over nine billion people.

Another challenge for the future head of the FAO is to complete an overhaul of the organisation that has been seen as too centralised and inefficient.

"FAO must be strong and effective," Graziano said ahead of Sunday's vote.

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."

But there is still a possibility for a compromise candidate to come forward like Europe's former agriculture commissioner Franz Fischler of Austria or Indroyono Soesilo, a veteran natural resources scientist from Indonesia.

The outsiders are Iran's Saeid Noori Naeini and Iraq's Abdul Latif Rashid.

Noori Naeini, Iran's former envoy to the FAO, is seen as one of the most experienced candidates but his nationality is believed to count against him.

"Unfortunately the election is a political process and this really annoys me because I don't think that is fair," he told AFP in a recent interview.

"The election is not really a meritocracy-based election," he said.

Global hunger rates have decreased slightly in recent years but 925 million people still suffer from hunger and high food prices threaten millions more.

It is estimated that every six seconds a child dies from malnutrition.

Faced with these giant challenges, FAO's budget of around one billion dollars (706 million euros) a year is relatively minor. "That makes about a dollar a year for every person who suffers from hunger," an expert said.

© 2011 AFP

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