"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

Private Auditors Forced FAO to Cut Financing of IAEA/FAO Joint Division on Agriculture, while African Nations and China Fight to Save it

An internal report dated February 18, 2008, by the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), obtained by EIRNS, denounces the FAO's implicit criminal decision to dismantle the FAO/IAEA Joint Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture.

The Joint Division, set up in October 1964, originates from the earlier times of Eisenhower's Atoms for Peace policy. It's aim was "to ensure that the technical capacities of both FAO and the IAEA are fully utilized for the benefit of Member States of both organizations, by making available to them the results of state-of-the-art scientific research and development in nuclear techniques that are applied to soil science, plant breeding, animal reproduction and health, insect pest control, and food and agrochemical residue analysis. Nuclear and isotopic techniques provide unique or substantial complementary value in addressing food security and safety. Nuclear techniques are of great socio-economic importance, as they are the only solution in certain areas, and combined with modern biotechnologies, are essential in providing more efficient ways of improving food availability, accessibility and affordability."

The Joint Division is currently responsible for the technical support of some 220 national and regional projects, with an annual expenditure of some $10-15 million for equipment, expert advice, and training. The fact that the number of projects supported increased by 44% between 2002 and 2007 demonstrates the relevance of these services. The Joint Division manages also cooperation, publications, expert panels, and symposia connecting over 400 research institutions and experimental stations in member states and brings "scientists from developing and developed member states with the aim of solving specific problems of agricultural significance to developing countries."

"All major activities of the Joint Division address urgent needs and requirements identified by both FAO and IAEA Member States. The following achievements are but a few examples of where the Joint Division has made significant contributions:

    "* Development and release to farmers of thousands of crop varieties improved through induced mutations which today cover tens of millions of hectares;

    "* Introduction and improvement of soil conservation measures and efficient land and water management;

    "* Control of major livestock disease vector and plant pest populations through the integrated application of the sterile insect technique and biological control agents;

    "* Eradication of cattle diseases (e.g. rinderpest), through the development of animal disease diagnostic tools;

    "* Elaboration of international standards on pre- and post-harvest pest control, including the irradiation of foods and agricultural commodities to kill pathogens and insect pests."

The director general writes that "the withdrawal of FAO's contribution to the Joint Division in 2009 (about 15.2% of total funding) would result in a loss of resources of Euro 2.2 million, primarily used for the funding of six professional and 20 technical staff members, the majority of whom are based at the FAO/IAEA Agriculture and Biotechnology Laboratory in Seibersdorf."

According to a high level source at the IAEA, the main countries fighting to keep the funding are South Africa, Algeria, China, Cuba, African nations, and others of the group of the 77; while those silent or favorable to the dismantling of the Joint Division were mainly the US and Europe.

The policy resulted after the FAO Conference decided on November 2005 that an Independent External Evaluation (IEE), i.e. private audit, of FAO should be conducted by a team of evaluators whose report was submitted to the FAO Secretariat in October 2007. As our source indicated: auditors write what you ask them to write.

The IEE report, which called on the FAO to restructure its activities, was welcomed by the FAO Conference of November 2007. Among its many other recommendations, the IEE proposed that FAO "should cease to resource this joint work" with the IAEA, primarily because the long-standing partnership "has ceased to be one on which there is a high return in terms of outcomes and impacts from FAO's investment." However, the IEE suggested that "where there are strong synergies," they should be taken up in partnerships under the respective FAO programs.

Notwithstanding that FAO's policy-making organs have not yet made a final decision on this matter, the Director General of FAO, in a letter dated 29 November 2007, gave the IAEA one year notice, as contemplated by the existing cooperation arrangements, to terminate the Joint Division.

The IAEA director general states that the programmatic implications of the loss of FAO support to the Joint Division's activities would "severely affect meeting the needs of Member States, particularly in areas such as crop improvement and soil conservation; land and water resources management; control and eradication of major insect pests, as well as livestock and plant diseases; elaboration and application of international standards related to food safety; and the facilitation of international trade. In addition to field projects, much of the applied research conducted at the FAO/IAEA Agriculture and Biotechnology Laboratory in Seibersdorf would also be negatively affected. Another major consequence would be a significant decrease in the ability of either or both organizations to deliver valuable capacity building in developing member states. The above mentioned loss of staff members would have significant negative impacts on delivering the 2009 program of the IAEA and future activities would also be constrained as highlighted in the following examples:

Crucial and timely technical support for the important pilot tsetse project in Ethiopia would be imperiled due to staff loss, delaying R&D activities and implementation of mass rearing facility which is of Africa-wide significance; Human capacity-building in pesticide residue analytical services would be discontinued, which would negatively impact both food safety and access to markets for least developed countries; Activities in support of mutation techniques at the cutting edge of plant breeding would be at risk, limiting future successes to higher yields, quality, disease-resistance, better adaptation to the environment and improved nutrition for crops such as rice, wheat, banana and cassava. Current work related to the early response to avian influenza, which is a significant and potential deadly threat to both human and animal health, would cease."

Heading the team of the Independent External Evaluation (IEE) that advised the FAO to cut crucial funding of the lifesaving Joint Division of the FAO and the IAEA on food and agriculture, was the Norwegian Leif E. Christoffersen, a green development economist, with an address in Alexandria, Va. Working for 28 years for the World Bank in the fields of agriculture, rural development, environment and development finance, he's also involved in Norwegian efforts to strengthen the technical and scientific capacity of United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) in his capacity as Chairman of the GRID-Arendal foundation in Norway (arctic studies). Linking economic analysis with social and environmental analysis has been a continuing professional interest.

His own CV says that Christoffersen sits on the Boards of several environmental and educational institutions, including Earth University in Costa Rica, and has led several institutional and program evaluations, including the Global Environment Facility (GEF) in 2001/2002, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) (1993 and 1996), and Earth University (2000).

In a long piece written in 1997 for the {Green Globe Yearbook}, Christoffersen presents his mother, the IUCN, an organisation founded in 1948 that, while for several decades has played major leadership roles at both international and national levels, it is not generally well known. Its members include most of the environmental organizations around the world concerned with nature conservation, but it has little if any name recognition in the media or among public agencies outside its own field. It has wielded considerable influence on international environmental discussions and on the formulation of environmental agreements, but this has been largely behind the scenes.

No wonder Christoffersen wants to avoid nuclear science to protect humanity from tsetse flies: IUCNs aim was to mobilize international support for efforts to preserve living species and for the protection of habitats for increasingly endangered species. Protecting nature against damaging interventions by human activities was a major theme.

In a chronology of IUCN, Christoffersen indicates that in 1961, after years of continuing funding problems in IUCN, several eminent personalities from science and business decided to create a parallel, but complementary, body called World Wildlife Fund, to focus on fund raising, public relations, and large scale public support.

Of course, Christoffersen reminds us the fact that the British scientist Sir Julian Huxley, one of IUCN's early supporters, had also advocated a strong science base for the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), of which he was Director-General when IUCN was established in 1948.