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She has devoted the past three decades of her career to issues surrounding agriculture, food, forestry and rural development – first as an engineer and, more recently, in policy design and implementation in France and the EU. This vast and varied career has given her a solid knowledge both of how food systems work and of the related economic, environmental, health and social issues.
Ahead of the crucial vote to appoint the next FAO Director-General, Ms Geslain-Lanéelle has set out why she thinks this role is so important, and why she would relish the opportunity to take it on. "We live in a world of rising famine, ongoing climate change and recurrent food and health crises, this global choice is strategic for the future and the transformation of global food systems," she says.
Ms Geslain-Lanéelle is convinced that the new Director General must give renewed impetus to the FAO and offer governments assistance in transitioning their food systems to produce more and produce better, whilst respecting the environment and the health of consumers.
She is proud to be France’s candidate, supported by the European Union, and equally proud to be the first female candidate. Despite this, however, she stresses that project for the organisation is very much global in nature. “If I am elected,” she says, “I will not defend the interests of a particular region, nor favour any particular group. The vision I have is serve our shared objectives: eradicating hunger, reducing poverty, and producing more and better – all in the most sustainable way possible."
Moreover, as she explains, her project is clear: "putting the fight against hunger back on top of political agendas is a global priority that must be imposed on all governments. The solutions exist, but there is an urgent need to implement them! They are solutions based on the experience of local farmers and producers, but also on science, progress and innovation."
She knows the problems at hand all too well, not least because of her open, transparent and visible campaign. This has included dialogue to gauge the views and concerns of farmers, residents, governments and the media.
But for Ms Geslain-Lanéelle, the solutions to these problems are available. "Agriculture, fisheries and forestry are all promising sectors. We must focus on their needs to meet the challenges of engineering the transition in our food systems in a context of climate change. I want this organisation to work with all existing solutions. There are science-based solutions and innovations that do not pose a health or environmental risk. They can be used to help reduce hunger – even eradicate it altogether – reduce poverty, eliminate malnutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture. For this I would like more private and public investment, more technical cooperation, more science and innovation, more cooperation between institutional actors, governments, big banks and the private sector that deliver tangible benefits. I also want to promote the creation of wealth and jobs in rural areas to provide a future particularly for young people and women in those areas."
The new momentum that Ms Geslain-Lanéelle is seeking to bring to the FAO will make it a place of debate and dialogue without bias – a common house where everyone can assert their point of view, with the sole purpose of producing more and producing better sustainably to meet the planet's needs. With greater transparency and efficiency, the FAO will meet its strategic goals. For Ms Geslain-Lanéelle the fundamental principle is clear: "We must start from local needs, people who know what they need. If we do not put farmers, fishermen and ranchers back at the heart of the food production system, the sustainable food transition will not happen."
Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle has experience in designing, implementing and evaluating public policies at national, European and international levels. She has spent the past 18 years at the helm of large organisations in France and Europe (European Food Safety Authority), tackling complex challenges in agriculture, food, nutrition, rural development and forestry. The Council of the European Union nominated her as the EU’s official candidate for the position of FAO Director-General in October 2018.
The next FAO Director General will be elected by the 193 member nations and one member organisation during its 41st Conference on 23-24 June 2019 in Rome.
The FAO – the first UN agency – was created in 1945, at the end of the Second World War, to raise levels of nutrition, improve agricultural productivity, better the lives of rural populations and contribute to the growth of the world economy. The organisation international efforts to defeat hunger. Serving both developed and developing countries, it acts as a neutral forum where all nations meet as equals to negotiate agreements and debate policy. It helps countries to modernise and improve agriculture, forestry and fishery practices and ensure good nutrition for all.
Since 1991, when the EU became the 161st member (as a member organisation) of the FAO, the EU-FAO partnership has continued to grow. For the EU, the FAO is a centre of excellence and knowledge with regards to normative work and policy advice in the main areas within its mandate.