"Nichts mehr davon, ich bitt euch. Zu essen gebt ihm, zu wohnen.
Habt ihr die Blöße bedeckt, gibt sich die Würde von selbst."
Friedrich Schiller
  May 2008 FOOD

FDR's Founding of the FAO: - `United in the War against Fear and Want'

In fighting to set the agenda of meeting the world's needs for food, and each nation's right to food self-sufficiency, we will find useful the history of the origins of the Food and Agriculture Organization.

The FAO came directly from the mind of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and the historic proclamations of principle which he composed with the Atlantic Charter (1941) and the Four Freedoms (1942). In 1943, with an eye to the fact that the Allies were on the verge of winning the war, FDR took the initiative of founding a United Nations organization based on these principles. The first of those was the FAO.

FDR convened a United Nations Conference on Food and Agriculture in Hot Springs, Virginia on May 18, 1943. Representatives of 44 nations participated, and hammered out an agreement calling for the establishment of an Interim Commission, entrusted with formulating ``a specific plan for a permanent organization in the field of food and agriculture.''

The Conference was successful, and completed its work on June 3 (!), 1943. The opening sentence of the Declaration the Conference adopted said:

``This Conference, meeting in the midst of the greatest war ever waged, and in full confidence of victory, has considered world problems of food and agriculture and declares its belief that the goal of freedom from want of food, suitable and adequate for the health and strength of all peoples, can be achieved.''

On June 7, FDR invited the participants to a gathering in the East Room of the White House, and addressed them for 14 minutes. The speech is available on the FAO history site in audio only, so I summarize here.

FDR said the meeting was ``epoch-macking,'' in that it was the first conference of the ``United Nations.'' He noted that the conference was based on the ideas of the Atlantic Charter. He endorsed the Declaration's statement that the principle responsibility of each nations is to see that its people have food, but added that for each nation to do this, it requires working with other nations. He formally accepted the declaration as head of the United States.

After some discussion of the issues of agriculture per se, he concluded by restating the goals: To build for all men, a world where each individual human being can live in peace, work productively, take care of his family, choose his own friends, and die in the knowledge that his children will have the same opportunity he did. This will not be easy to achieve, he said. But, he declared, ``Freedom from want and freedom from fear go hand in hand.'' And the world's nations should go forward ``united in the war against fear and want.''

The Interim Commission was set up in Washington, where it worked on issues of production and consumption. It was chaired by Lester Pearson of Canada until the FAO was formally establishedin the Chateau Frontenac at Quebec, in October 1945.

President John F. Kennedy played a major role in attempting to revive FDR's original outlook for the FAO. He addressed the World Food Congress on June 4, 1963, the 20th anniversary of the founding, as follows:

We rededicate ourselves to the objectives: ``that all nations, all people, all inhabitants of this planet have all the food they need, all the food that they deserve as human beings. We are here to renew a worldwide commitment to banish hunger and outlaw it. At the launching of the first World Food Conference, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared that ``freedom from want and freedom from fear go hand in hand, and that is true today.''