FAO, whose resources come from about 40% of member states, is considering diversifying and increasing the volume of its resources through partnerships with the private sector. The mobilization of private partners would also have the advantage of strengthening its interaction with the food industry and its capacity for innovation.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), created after the war, has the mission of promoting food security and leading the collaboration between agronomists, scientists, diplomats and humanitarians. The intergovernmental organization has 194 member states and operates in 130 countries. Its 2018-2019 budget is 2.6 billion dollars, 39% of which is contributed by member countries and 61% by additional voluntary contributions from them or other partners. This emanation of the UN must therefore ensure a major part of its funding to carry out its mission of fighting hunger.
Last November, the 165th session of its Council was held to develop a new strategy for mobilizing the private sector for its action for the period 2021-2025. The strategy initially established in 2013 was updated in 2019 and was further revised last November, based on the following foundations:
- The recommendations and needs expressed by the members ;
- The recommendations and comments collected from private sector actors ;
- Lessons learned by other organizations within the United Nations;
- Past experiences with regard to the 2013 Strategy;
- The expression of the regional offices for more mobilization of the private sector;
- An independent evaluation conducted on the subject in 2019.
The objective of the Strategy is to place FAO in a more active position to build partnerships with the private sector by respecting a relational framework in favour of the principles set out in the Guidelines on UN-Private Sector Cooperation.
The private sector as an actor for sustainable development
The Council recalls that the establishment of a sustainable food system is a common objective that all actors, including the private sector, must work towards in order to give the 2030 Programme a chance to succeed on time. The obstacles have multiplied since the adoption of Agenda 2030 by the UN in 2015: pandemic, pests, climate shocks?
How do we define a sustainable food system? Organizations describe it as a system capable of providing sufficient, nutritious and affordable food while limiting environmental degradation during its production.
In recent years, the obligations of sustainable development have been imposed on the private sector, whose objectives now include some of those of the States and the FAO. It is no longer a question of participating to compensate for its actions but to achieve its objectives.
In this trio of FAO, States and the private sector, national policies are a decisive element in achieving sustainable development objectives (SDOs). They guide investment choices, ideally towards sustainability. The FAO wishes to support the States in the implementation of their action plans for the agro-food sector.
Since the initial strategy of 2013, the FAO has formalized only 52 new partnerships with the private sector, in a sporadic and unorganized manner, which does not allow to draw a clear experience. It therefore appeared necessary to better organize these partnerships through various governance recommendations:
Strengthen the role of the private sector in the implementation of SDOs;
Support the priority policies of governments;
Integrate the partners in the actions carried out between the offices and the countries;
Convert all partnership opportunities;
Facilitate the readability of internal processes for private actors;
Reduce the public/private “cultural gap”;
Find a balance between urgency and respect for procedures.
The Committee on World Food Security (CFS) has also contributed to the involvement of the private sector by bringing to bear on it the notion of “RAI”, responsible agricultural investment, in favor not of the environment but of human rights.
The FAO’s primary desire is to see a real change in the organization’s way of working emerge from this strategy and, why not, lead to innovations born of these collaborations.
At present, the FAO no longer sees the private sector as a support but as an equal partner for the realization of its essential mission: “leaving no one behind” – côté́, through sustainable, inclusive and resilient food systems that produce better, feed people better and lead to a better environment and better living conditions (Strategic Framework 2022-2031).
The commitments made in these partnerships will not be allowed to deviate from the values of the UN. They will have to be preserved at all stages of the implementation of partnerships, from the choice of actors to the drafting of collaboration modalities. The interests to collaborate are defined as follows:
- Evidence of a net contribution to SDOs;
- Respect for FAO and UN values;
- Preservation of the integrity, independence, credibility and respectability of FAO;
- Avoidance of any conflict of interest;
- Respect for the sovereignty of the members that make up FAO;
- Support for a scientifically neutral approach to FAO’s work;
- The preservation of FAO’s free position in defining policies and standards;
- The transparency of the actions initiated within the framework of the partnership.
- The concentration of results on the local level, especially for smallholders, their associations, youth and women.
How is a private sector partner defined? To define it, the FAO uses two definitions:
- The approach common to the entities of the United Nations Group for Sustainable Development (UNDG). It defines the mobilization of the private sector through all interactions with commercial entities, in the form of dialogues or via knowledge exchange platforms, in order to achieve a partnership leading to funding. The UNDG adds that “these forms of mobilization can be implemented in different ways, including, but not limited to, through partnerships, and involve varying degrees of public visibilité́”.
- The definition set out in its own initial strategy, that is, collaboration with external actors for a common goal beyond the financial relationship.
External actors are considered in a broad sense and include farmers, fishermen, producers and their cooperatives, social enterprises, large corporations and their representative organizations, philanthropic foundations, etc., except for educational and research institutions.
Each partner will have to confirm its membership to :
- Ten principles of the United Nations Global Compact;
- The Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights (United Nations 2011).
FAO’s interest in partnering lies in the strong potential of the private sector to innovate, trade, finance and invest in transforming food systems.
It could thus benefit from its development intelligence, its inclusion in value chains, its field expertise and more globally from its skills at the service of FAO missions and SDOs.
At the same time, this mobilization can help raise awareness of the private sector on its new responsibilities by giving them an operational reality.
The consultations carried out by FAO with private actors confirm the good reputation of the organization in the eyes of the private sector:
- An influential, organized and reference organization ;
- A “matchmaker” partner that allows to be visible to the nations;
- An entity with international experience in understanding the issues and deploying programs.
The private sector is also aware that a partnership with the FAO gives it additional credibility to access funding and gives it access to project governance.
What are the implications for the private partner?
Collaborative project management between the private sector and FAO also implies a new way of working for the private sector, its mercantile vision must give way to a more societal objective.
First of all, it must integrate an additional “specification”, that of its partner. Then, the guiding thread of its research work and experiments is no longer quite the same: one does not carry out the same work for a marketed commodity as for the improvement of a world food system. The target is more vulnerable, the sanitary quality of foodstuffs is essential, we must either eradicate hunger by guaranteeing nutritional intake, or fight against obesity by proposing a balanced diet. In both cases, the actions are associated with a strategy to combat poverty.
The private sector must also learn to work with different data, on regions where it does not usually intervene: socio-economic criteria coexist with geopolitical or environmental criteria, in a more constrained context. It is easier to implement an environmental solution in countries where the infrastructure exists and where all that is missing is the will of the people.
Its beneficiaries are primarily smallholders and micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, as in the case of the “Main dans la Main” initiative. The actions are accompanied by the provision of information to the public without disrupting the local competitive environment.
The tools of the strategy
To ensure the “professionalization” of partnerships, the FAO proposes the implementation of two new support tools that aim to link the two worlds:
- A Connect portal for private partners: this official channel takes the form of an online directory listing all partnerships, past, present and projected, which FAO members and staff can access in the framework of their regional missions.
- An informal Private Sector Consultative Group (PSCG): without being a decision-making body, it is a place for exchanges, a kind of forum. The group is composed of representatives of the external actors to be mobilized, i.e. farmers, cooperatives, large companies, inter-professional organizations, financial institutions and foundations. It has a duration of 2 years from the official implementation of this strategy. At its term, if the evaluation is positive, the group will be renewed and regulated (mandate, duration, functioning…).
In view of the emergence of these partnerships, FAO plans to issue new regulations governing its brand image and the use of its logo by the actors.
It must also acquire a tool for measuring results in order to extend the system in the best possible conditions. Thus, the FAO will publish its observations and quantifications through the Connect portal:
- Information sheets ;
- Good practices;
- Data directories…
Training on FAO’s mandate and values is planned to be provided to private actors, but also to government entities in charge of mobilizing national initiatives, especially to gain the support of the agri-food sectors.
FAO also plans to stimulate private sector collaboration with regional institutions such as the African Union, the League of Arab States, the European Union, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, the Central American Integration System and the Caribbean Community.
The purpose of establishing this strategy is to guide and protect the organization in the execution of its missions and the preservation of its philosophy.
It has listed the most likely risks to which it will be subject when mobilizing the private sector:
- Conflicts of interest for the actors on both sides, or even for a third party;
- Undue or abusive influence exerted on the work by financial pressure;
- Negative impact on FAO’s mandate or image;
- Unilateral benefit to the private sector;
- A form of approval of the partner brand, such as an “organic” or “fair trade” logo;
- An exploitation of the FAO in the form of blue washing, a new practice that consists in “dressing” its activities with the blue banner of the United Nations in order to improve its social image;
- The non-existence of the capacities or skills advanced by the private actor when signing the partnership.
In addition to risk reduction measures by reference to the organization’s various frameworks and charters, exclusion criteria are defined, particularly in relation to business practices that are incompatible with UN values. These include channels suspected of promoting crime, terrorist financing, money laundering, arms trading, tobacco and more generally human rights violations.
Generally speaking, entities that do not demonstrate their adherence to the various agreements are also excluded: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Rio Declaration, the International Labor Organization’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, the United Nations Global Compact, and the United Nations Guidelines on Business and Human Rights.
A risk assessment of the risks mentioned here will precede any partnership signature.
Governance of the strategy
FAO’s central management team provides overall oversight of the strategy. The operational function is carried out by the Private Sector Partnerships and Resource Mobilization Division (PSR), including deployment to decentralized offices.
Governance has defined its action plan to enable the implementation of the project :
- Institutional set-up ;
- Capacity building and training ;
- Operational policies and guidelines ;
- Systems and processes ;
- Cooperation and Awareness Raising
As an intergovernmental representation, FAO will report to its members on its achievements through an Annual Report (in addition to its comments posted on the Connect portal) and through the relevant Programme Committee.
The business community has expertise and financial resources, making it an attractive player with great potential. FAO hopes to benefit from this while keeping its hand on its mission and credibility, associating itself without losing its soul in any way.