This Week in History


Founding the Food and Agricultural Organization

For the week of Monday October 15, 2007

On October 16, 1945, the Constitution of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) was signed in Quebec City. The first United Nations (UN) specialized agency, the FAO would become the guardian of the world’s food and agriculture.

Forty-four nations met in Hot Springs, Virginia, in 1943, for the first formal conference of the UN. It was here that they asserted their desire to establish the FAO. Towards these ends, an interim commission was established with Canadian delegate to the Hot Springs conference, Lester B. Pearson, as its chairman. It was this commission that undertook the preparatory work behind the FAO Constitution.

Lester B. Pearson presiding over the plenary session of the founding conference of the United Nations
Lester B. Pearson presiding over the plenary session of the founding conference of the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization
© National Film Board of Canada / Library and Archives / PA-117587

When the UN member states met at the Château Frontenac for the Québec Conference, Pearson led the proceedings. It was here that the Constitution of the FAO was accepted, marking the establishment of the FAO.

As outlined in its Constitution, two governing bodies administer the FAO. The Conference, where all member nations are represented, is the supreme governing body of the organization. It meets biannually to discuss the work program and budget. An elected interim governing body called the Council, on which 49 member nations are represented through three-year rotating terms, leads the organization when the Conference is not in session. As of April 2006, the FAO consisted of 190 members, including both Canada and the United States.

Its mandate, “to raise levels of nutrition, improve agricultural productivity, better the lives of rural populations and contribute to the growth of the world economy,” has guided the FAO’s trailblazing efforts since its foundation. To accomplish its mandate, the FAO marries the work of specialists, including agronomists, foresters, fisheries experts, nutritionists and others, with the international might of its member states.

2006 World Food Day celebrated in Ethiopia
World Food Day celebrated in Ethiopia
© UN Photo / Rick Bajornas
On the 62nd anniversary of its founding, the FAO will celebrate World Food Day with the theme of The Right to Food. The theme is based on the principle that food and access to food is a basic human right. Using a set of guidelines negotiated at FAO, they aim, through practical means, to achieve the idealistic: the eradication of hunger. The guidelines operate on the belief that “the right to food is not a utopia. It can be realized for all.”

An international recognized day, the founding of the Food and Agricultural Organization in Quebec City is a National Historic Event. Its magnificent venue, Château Frontenac, is a National Historic Site. And, one of Canada’s great diplomats and later to be Prime Minister, Lester B. Pearson is a National Historic Person.

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