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Incoming FAO Director Sets Priorities

Jose Graziano da Silva, director-general of UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), adjusts his glasses as he leads a news conference at the FAO headquarters in Rome, Jan. 3, 2012.

Jose Graziano da Silva, the new director-general of the U.N. food agency, the Food and Agriculture Organization, said Tuesday his top priority is eliminating hunger, undernourishment and increasing food security.

Two days after taking office, da Silva said he personally has no time to lose, as his term in office will be only three-and-one-half years.

"FAO will scale up its support on a number of low-income food deficit countries, especially those facing prolonged crisis," he said.

Nearly one billion people are estimated to suffer from chronic hunger, and many countries are far from achieving the Millennium Development Goal of reducing that number by 50 percent by 2015.

Graziano da Silva is the eighth person to head the organization since its establishment after World War II, succeeding Jacques Diouf of Senegal who held the post from 1994 to 2011.

Biography of FAO chief

Jose Graziano da Silva, the new director-general of the U.N. food agency, the Food and Agriculture Organization, has worked on food security, rural development and agriculture issues for more than 30 years. He led the team that designed Brazil's "Zero Hunger" program in 2001. That program helped lift 28 million people out of extreme poverty between 2003 and 2010. Before being elected as the FAO’s new director-general, Graziano da Silva headed the organization’s regional office for Latin America and the Caribbean. During that time he supported an initiative to make the region the first in the world to commit to eradicating hunger by 2025. Da Silva has written and edited 26 books on rural development, food security and agrarian economics. He is Brazilian and Italian. He speaks English, Portuguese and Spanish. He was born on November 17, 1949, and is married with two children.

"Africa will remain indeed a priority during my mandate, da Silva said. "I will travel to the continent at the end of January to participate in the African Union summit and visit the Horn of Africa to see the situation and the work being done and firsthand."

The new FAO chief warned that difficult economic circumstances may lead to a reduction in funds for development. He said he would prepare for the organization's regional conference that he said would be held early this year. Da Silva laid out five strategic priorities.

"Eradicate hunger, move toward a more sustainable system of production and consumption, achieve greater fairness in the global management of food, complete FAO’s reform in pushing for decentralization, and expand south-south cooperation."

He added that one of the FAO’s main challenges is to be more efficient and responsive and promised to look for ways to strengthen the organization’s technical work and reduce administrative costs, while working closer with member countries, U.N. agencies, and the private sector.

Graziano da Silva made it clear that political will translated into action is needed to end hunger, and this requires the commitment of everyone. He said neither the FAO nor any other agency or government will win this war alone.