FAO is a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN) that leads international efforts to defeat hunger and achieve food security for all. FAO was established on 16 October 1945 when 34 nations signed the Constitution at the first session of the Conference held at Château Frontenac in Québec, Canada.
The original headquarters of FAO was in Washington, USA. In 1949, a vote was held by the Member States to relocate headquarters and it was decided that FAO would move to Rome, Italy. The move officially took place in 1951.
The new headquarters of FAO became the building that was originally designed for the Ministry of Italian Africa. A team of architects, led by Vittorio Cafiero and Mario Ridolfi, designed these buildings in 1938 and the works were completed between the early 1950s and 1960s. Two of the six buildings were added in the late 1980s and early 1990s to accommodate the need for more space.
Today, the headquarters complex consists of a total of six buildings. And the eight-storey complex covers more than 100 thousand square metres across a total area of four hectares– that’s more than seven football stadiums!
What you see here, engraved in marble, is the Preamble to the Constitution of FAO. It explains that the Organization’s mandate is centred around:
- the eradication of hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition;
- the elimination of poverty and the driving forward of economic and social progress for all; and
- the sustainable management and utilization of natural resources, including land, water, air, and genetic resources for the benefit of present and future generations.
Have you seen FAO’s logo? In the centre, is a head of wheat with the letters of FAO and the Latin motto FIAT PANIS (Let there be bread). This motto emphasizes the Organization’s goal to end hunger and make sure that people everywhere have enough healthy food to eat.
The FAO logo is not to be confused with the UN logo. The UN flag has a light blue background with a white central map of the Earth with five concentric circles that are framed by olive branches.
Did you know there are six official languages of the UN?
English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese and Russian were chosen because they are the topmost spoken languages in the world.
In 2015, world leaders came together to commit to achieving sustainable development and ending poverty in all its forms across the globe by 2030. This commitment is known as the 2030 Agenda. And the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are at its core. The SDGs are a blueprint for creating a sustainable future. From Zero Hunger (SDG 2), protecting Life Below Water (SDG 14) and Life on Land (SDG 15), ensuring Gender Equality (SDG 5) to Climate Action (SDG 13), every goal matters and must be reached!
Did you know that 2020 marks the beginning of the United Nations Decade of Action – the last ten years to achieve the SDGs? While progress is being made towards achieving the SDGs, overall action is not advancing at the speed or scale required. We need a common goal for global action from our governments to ensure better leadership and access to more resources; local action to embed and implement changes in policies, budgets and regulations; and people action, including all stakeholders, from youth to the media and the private sector.
The Plenary Hall has seen a parade of world leaders, such as heads of state, even the Pope! It’s the most important meeting room at FAO headquarters and has about 1 200 seats. It was designed to hold high-level meetings, including the Conference, the World Food Summit and the World Food Day official ceremony – just to name a few.
The Conference is the supreme governing body of FAO and is comprised of all 194 Member States, its two associate members and its member organization - the European Union. This body meets every two years in the Plenary Hall to determine policy and approve the budget of the Organization. Each Member is represented by one delegate and, when voting, Members can cast one ballot each. The Conference also elects a Director-General for a four-year term, renewable once. The current Director-General is Mr. QU Dongyu.
The Red Room was designed to host meetings of the Council. This body is comprised of 49 Member States that are elected by the Conference.
The delegates serve a three-year rotating term and carry out executive activities including the programme of work and budget. And the Council normally holds five sessions in between meetings of the Conference over a period of two years.
While FAO headquarters is situated in the heart of Rome, the Organization has a very extensive network of decentralized offices and is present in over 130 countries! There are five regional offices, ten subregional offices and 85 country offices of which six are Partnership and Liaison Offices.
As a neutral forum, FAO headquarters provides the setting where developed and developing nations come together to build a common understanding. FAO creates and shares critical knowledge and information about food, agriculture and natural resources. This knowledge is turned into action when implemented in the field through various projects.
Let’s take a journey to learn about FAO’s projects!
FAO believes that producing more food is not enough to achieve truly sustainable food security. Going forward, we will need innovative technologies to help transform the ways in which we produce and consume food for the well-being of our communities, economies, and planet. This means producing and growing food with limited natural resources; one such innovative method is aquaponics. FAO is supporting the development of this method in various countries, such as in Rwanda. Aquaponics is a system that combines aquaculture with hydroponics – a method of growing plants without soil. Essentially, it’s a system that uses the fish water as fertilizer for the plants and the plants clean the water for the fish. Aquaponics provides small-scale farmers with limited access to land and water the potential to grow food and have a viable business.
Exchanging knowledge is important in order to learn new ways to be efficient with our resources and achieve sustainability. For example, capacity building and training workshops have been developed by FAO to create a roadmap for ways in which to prevent and reduce food loss and waste in Armenia, Albania, Moldova and the Republic of North Macedonia. The goal of this project is to facilitate the reduction of food loss and waste because it contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change by producing, processing and distributing food that is thrown away. If reduced, the pressure on food systems for increased agricultural production will also decrease.
Digitalization helps farmers to face challenges, such as climate change and plant pests. The desert locust is a destructive migratory pest that feeds on large quantities of vegetation and is a serious threat to agricultural production, livelihoods and food security. In East Africa and Yemen, FAO has implemented interventions using digital agriculture to help control the upsurge of this pest, such as providing equipment like sprayers and protection suits, as well as using digital technology, like satellites, to help monitor, control and forecast its movement.
Having more access to information and knowledge helps farmers to make better informed decisions. In the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, the Strengthening Agro-climatic Monitoring and Information System (SAMIS) enables policy and decision makers to access detailed previsions of crop distribution and productivity. It aims to improve adaption to climate change and food security. The project is building the infrastructure and a comprehensive agro-climatic monitoring and information system focused on boosting sustainable production by optimizing farmers and smallholder’s resilience against climate change.
Access to digital technologies and promoting sustainable practices using digitization improves agricultural production as well as the management of natural resources. FAO and Telefónica – one of the largest telecommunications companies in the world – developed a water efficiency project for communities in Colombia, El Salvador and Peru. Smallholder farming is the main sector in the rural economy of Latin America and plays a key role in national food security and nutrition as well as rural employment. Many farmers depend on rain-fed agriculture and are vulnerable to the changing patterns of rain and water availability as a result of climate change. Better access to information using cloud storage, specialized hardware and data processing facilitates decision-making and allows farmers to better manage natural resources which further strengthens the production of their crops.
David Lubin Memorial Library
Researchers, from around the world, visit FAO’s library to consult its various documents and rare books. It contains over one million FAO and non-FAO documents, as well as special and digital collections, adding to the reputation of the Organization as an agency of knowledge. It’s considered one of the world's finest collections in food, agriculture and international development.
The David Lubin Memorial Library was established in 1952 and was named after David Lubin, the founder of the International Institute of Agriculture (IIA). In the late nineteenth-century, Lubin was concerned about the difficulties farmers were facing in agriculture. He had the idea to bring together world leaders to share knowledge and raise awareness about these issues. In need of support, he proposed the idea of creating an international institute to King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy, and in 1905 the IIA was launched. After the founding of FAO in 1945, the Organization inherited the assets and wealth of resources from the IIA’s library.
In 1951, the Conference adopted Resolution No. 90 in which Member States were invited to donate artworks, furniture and other examples of their national and rural crafts to display at FAO headquarters to celebrate the diversity and unique cultures around the world that make up the Organization.
While some of the donations are inside meetings rooms, others are visible as you walk down the hallways.
“Give me agriculture, and I will give you civilization”.
This quote, engraved on the entrance door of the Sheikh Zayed Centre, is by His highness Sheikh Zayed - the first President of the United Arab Emirates. The statement highlights the crucial role farming has played in human progress. It’s written in the UN’s six official languages, as well as in Italian, Japanese and hieroglyphics. The artist Sadika Keskas, designed this corten steel door and the stained-glass palm trees that hang at the entrance of the room.
Inaugurated in 2012 and funded by the United Arab Emirates, this space is used for press conferences, screenings, publication launches and briefings. It is equipped with interactive television transmission capacities, video conferencing, video streaming, remote broadcasting and digital media distribution services, and has 170 seats and seven language channels.
Inaugurated in 1985 and donated by the Government of China, the China Lounge is used by the Director-General to receive distinguished guests like heads of state, prime ministers and other officials. There is even a secondary breakaway room, with its own entrance, that serves for brief private meetings prior to attending larger ones.
“We from immense Africa in the continuous space” (1992) and “The sun of my country will always warm us” (1990) by the Mozambican artist, Bertina Lopes, were displayed at FAO during the World Food Summit (WFS) in 1996. The Government of Mozambique donated them to the Organization as a sign of gratitude for all that FAO had done to help the country.
“The Creation” (1997) by Pedro Pablo Oliva was made while he was holding a workshop for art students at FAO headquarters. This mural explores themes of the birth of love and humanity - two components that provide form to creation. The Cuban artist donated this mural to FAO in celebration of the Telefood Concert which was held simultaneously in Rome and Havana on 26 October 1997.
Throughout the year, FAO hosts several exciting events and exhibits on a wide range of topics with the aim of sharing knowledge and raising awareness about the Organization’s mandate.
Many of these high-level events are hosted in the Atrium.
Every year on 16 October, World Food Day is celebrated in over 150 countries. World Food Day 2020 and FAO’s 75th Anniversary is being marked during an exceptional time as countries around the world are dealing with the widespread effects of the global COVID-19 pandemic. This World Food Day is calling for global cooperation and solidarity to help all populations, and especially the most vulnerable, to recover from the crisis, and to make our food systems more resilient and robust, capable of delivering healthy and sustainable diets for all, and decent livelihoods for food sector workers. This year’s theme, “Grow, nourish, sustain. Together.” is a call to action for people of all ages and nations to end hunger and build a better future.
In 2019, the exhibit for World Food Day, “Our actions are our future. Healthy diets for a #ZeroHunger world", raised awareness of the importance of healthy diets and emphasized how Zero Hunger (SDG 2) is not only about addressing hunger but also nourishing people while nurturing the planet.
FAO believes that young people everywhere are the future – they are the generation with the tools and expertise to end hunger.
Education is power and can inspire change! Learn more about FAO and how you can take action through our various online resources, such as our publications and Activity Book series.