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June 25, 2011

Brazilian Elected Head of UN Food Agency

by Sabina Castelfranco

Jose Graziano da Silva of Brazil was elected Director-General of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization on Sunday.  He replaces Jacques Diouf of Senegal, who held the position for 18 years.

Until now, Jose Graziano da Silva of Brazil held the FAO position of regional representative for Latin America and the Caribbean.  On Sunday, he won the organization's top job in the second ballot with the support of 92 of the 180 FAO member states voting.

Speaking in Spanish after the ballot, Graziano accepted his appointment. "I am no longer a Brazilian candidate," he said, "but a director-general elected by all the countries."

Graziano beat out main challenger Miguel Angel Moratinos of Spain and four other candidates to replace Jacques Diouf of Senegal.

He takes over the agency as high food prices are putting the lives of millions of already hungry and malnourished people at further risk, and raising fears of a repeat of the 2007-2008 high-price-driven social unrest in parts of the world.

Kathleen Merrigan, the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, expressed satisfaction with Graziano's election. “I’m very excited that Brazil has won this election.  They had an excellent candidate, someone who has a lot of experience here at FAO, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and we look forward to working with him," she said.

Graziano has served as food security minister under former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.  In that capacity, he helped implement a “Zero Hunger” initiative that helped decrease malnutrition in Brazil.

Prior to his election, Graziano promised to carry out FAO reform plans and said Africa should remain a priority for the agency, with FAO playing a central role in water and marine resources management.

The aid group Oxfam issued a statement following Sunday's vote, welcoming Graziano’s victory.  It said he has the expertise and commitment to “transform" the world's food system and to "make the shift toward a new agricultural future."