FAO’s Modus Operandi for Multi-Stakeholder Platforms

Interview with Ren Wang

The way entire societies are organised depends on them

In this in-depth interview, FAO Assistant Director General Ren Wang provides a comprehensive view of the future of GASL and partnerships in general: In a successively converging world, the important, unprecedented challenges were only to be tackled in a coordinated fashion, and that needed the facilitation of intergovernmental entities such as the UN.  

“We need to educate people, we need a change of behaviour of everyone”, says Wang. “That means engaging a wide range of people, which requires partnerships. In my view, it is not a fashion. Attacking these challenges needs partnerships. Partnership is going to go strong. It is the future!”

In this sense, Wang portrays FAO’s dual role with the GASL – as a partner and a secretariat facilitator – as a critical forward-looking engagement, leading the way for other partnerships in the future.

About the new video interviews

In this interview series Global Agenda members get the opportunity to speak about their experiences and expectations of the partnership. Stakeholders from the adjacent development cooperation arenas will be requested for interviews as well. The aim is to highlight the importance of the Global Agenda’s political perspectives.

Please feel free to suggest prospective interview partners to the secretariat, including ideas on the subject and possible critical angles for the questions.


Interview Transcript

Pascal Corbé, communications consultant, GASL: SDG17 is about partnerships. It is very important for the UN to look at how to actually operate those partnerships. Where do you see the importance of SDG17 for the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock?

Ren Wang, Assistant Director General, Agriculture and Consumer Protection Department, FAO: The GASL has a very much aligned vision with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, to begin with. The UN SDGs aim at achieving the sustainable development for mankind. The SDGs are different from the previous MDGs, first of all, in that the MDGs, was a rather top-down approach. It was decided and agreed [upon] by the Heads of State, and it was coming from the UN. Whereas, the SDGs, were developed truly from the bottom up. It was the agreement of 190 Member Countries and it requires the commitment of all countries. Iit emphasises that no one be left behind. And in that sense, the GASL is committed to mobilising multi-stakeholder participation in achieving the SDGs. Also because of its multi-stakeholder nature, emphasising that no one be left behind. With that common commitment and vision, it is very much on an aligned commitment and approach toward achieving sustainable development.

The mission of the GASL is to engage the livestock sector to facilitate the commitment of the livestock sector toward achieving the SDGs. As a partner of the GASL, the International Dairy Federation worked with FAO and launched the Rotterdam Declaration, announcing a commitment of the dairy sector to the UN SDGs. That federation represents 75% of the world milk production. As you can see, this is a very large-scale engagement of a particular sector, illustrating the commitment and role of the Global Agenda in mobilising the livestock sector for the SDGs.

PC: FAO usually works with governments. In the new environment it is very important to operate with multi-stakeholder approaches - especially in livestock, where there are players with opposing interests at times. Where do you see the importance for FAO to operate with multi-stakeholder approaches, especially in livestock?

RW:  FAO as an intergovernmental organisation, or UN Agency. Our primary role is to provide support to the Member Countries. We work closely with governments of Member Countries. But in implementing our work plan and achieving our goals, we have to work with the partner organisations and non-state actors. This has become a normal part of FAO’s work. In FAO, we have partnership policies and partnership committees. Partnership are built into everyday’s work of FAO. In setting standards, we work with experts from research organisations and academia industries. In providing technical and policy support to governments, we also engage experts from different sectors. In the livestock sector, in particular, we work with producer organisations. We work with governments through partnerships. It is actually one of FAO’s primary functions to promote and coordinate partnerships.

PC:  Maybe you can qualify where the importance is? Give an example of why FAO is unique.

RW: A main part of the work that FAO carries out is what we call “normative work,” or developing of international standards and guidelines for different sectors, and also on particular issues. For instance, recently we launched voluntary guidelines for sustainable soil management. Another example would be the development of the international food safety guidelines. Animal source protein is one of the areas where these food safety guidelines apply.

In developing these international standards and guidelines, it is fundamental that these guidelines and standards are based on science and evidence. FAO needs to mobilise scientific expertise around the world on that particular topic. These experts are coming from research organisations, universities and the industries around the world.

PC: Why is it important to focus on scientific evidence? It seems obvious and intuitive but for the farmer it might not be as clear.

RW: One of the functions FAO has, especially in the livestock sector, is to promote best practice. But how do we know it is best practice? This is not only based on the empirical practice of farmers, but also based on trial and error and evidence. What has shown to be best practice. The most efficient use of natural resources or practices that can reduce GHG emissions.

How do we know this is a practice that can contribute to the reduction of GHG emissions? It is through scientific experiments and tests, where it proves to be efficient. There are numerous examples to illustrate, in terms of the quantity or the litres of milk you can produce out of one kilo of feed. That efficiency needs to be calculated and tested. Another example, in terms of managing and controlling trans-boundary diseases, is work FAO does relating to the livestock sector. And of course the surveillance, gathering of data, monitoring the emergence and the spread. And the epidemiology of these diseases or viruses. That requires the support of science and technology, experts and laboratories. That comes to the value of international standards and a coordinated approach by all countries.

That also brings us to the topic of partnership. It is such a task monitoring or managing a disease regionally, or globally. For instance, avian influenza, now affecting many countries. It cannot be done by one institute or one organisation. It requires coordinating the work of governments, institutions, extension agencies, industries, and the farmers themselves all together. It requires a multi-stakeholder approach.

PC: At the last COAG, you emphasised that GASL is not a regular project, but a multi-stakeholder partnership that needs to have a certain position and standing. How is FAO supporting the Global Agenda, especially in terms of looking after that uniqueness of a multi-stakeholder partnership?

RW: FAO’s role in convening platforms such as the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock  and also FAO’s role as a stakeholder of such platforms is dual.

First of all, as the COAG emphasised and encouraged FAO to facilitate this platform. In the sense that we say that the Global Agenda is not owned by the FAO, it is owned by the partners. FAO facilities, we host, we offer the secretariat that supports the operations of the Global Agenda. As part of FAO’s work, we provide the guidance on the governance issues of global agriculture development, including livestock. We provide policy support and technical expertise support for the Global Agenda. We facilitated the communication, the participation of the multi-stakeholders. And also, we coordinate the technical working groups, as far as the governing mechanisms. That is a function of the secretariat.

On the other hand, the topics and the issues dealt with by such a platform as the Global Agenda has a lot to do with FAO’s mission and FAO’s work. In that, FAO actively participates in the discussions and the dialogue of the Agenda itself. That is the aspect where FAO plays a role as a stakeholder together with other partner organisations.

PC: Sometimes it seems though that two different roles do not trickle down on the operations of FAO, to accommodate for the fact that multi-stake holder partnership has a different identity.

RW: During the discussions with our Member Countries, such as at COAG, questions also arose that Member Countries representatives don’t see the convergence of these two roles of being a facilitator or the host of the Secretariat for the GASL, and also being a player or part of it. They do not see the linkage of this. Let me explain, the Global Agenda, when it functions, it needs a Secretariat. The [question] of “who” is that Secretariat - it has been recognised and agreed by the members that FAO is well positioned to play that role [for the Global Agenda]. That’s why we have our staff committed, and funded by both our regular budget, voluntary contributions of the Member Countries, and donor organisations to support the functioning of such a Secretariat - that does the work of organising meetings, partnership assemblies, contacting members, communication, organising training. Those are the day-to-day activities of the Global Agenda, especially the advocacy part. Sometimes people tend to forget the FAO, [standing alone] as an International Organisation, and the biggest and most important UN Agency in the area of Food and Agriculture, which has a vast network of country offices and technical expertise. Our Organisation also provides guidance to the Member Countries, and to the sector. We also comment, facilitate discussions, and we provide our inputs to the discussions and the agreements on subject issues. For instance, assessment of the livestock sector contributions towards climate change, and also the impact of climate change on the livestock sector. FAO has the expertise and we have our work that is in the assessment. We are a stakeholder, a player and an actor in that.

PC:  Not sure whethr you answered the question. More practical in terms of operations of the Body FAO. How does it trickle down? How do they know there are two different ways of working?

RW:  Whether it will truly reflect some people’s thinking, it is sometimes confusing to say that FAO claims itself to provide a Secretariat to the Agenda and in the meantime, they are also a stakeholder. People should not see a conflict of interest there. In our view, there’s no conflict of interest, just convergence of roles. It’s not a judge and player relationship.

One of the core functions of FAO - there are several - but one is that FAO plays a convening role and convening dialogue. Providing forums and opportunities for discussions of cross-sectoral representatives or multi-stakeholder representatives to come together to exchange views, to debate, and to hopefully reach consensus on key issues. This is a very important part of international development work, nowadays. That is a role FAO can play. For instance, the Committee on World Food Security, the CFS, is a typical example. This is a new mechanism that the FAO is leading, and a UN mechanism. And that brings people from different sectors together - governments, private sector, NGOs, and CSOs - to come together and debate on key issues relating to food and agriculture. That is a role FAO can play. Another role, or another core function, is to provide policy support through providing statistics on the world food supply and market information to governments. To help governments to make an assessment and a decision regarding their national policies and the investments in agriculture and food systems. Also technical support.

PC: What is the most critical issue that the Global Agenda needs to tackle right now?     

RW: We help Member Countries to develop their strategies and mechanisms for assessing the risks related to food safety. We provide scientific advice on that. As you can see here, this is typically a dual role. In one way, we can help to convene here in the Global Agenda. That role is played by the Secretariat, which is provided by FAO. On the other hand, we provide all the others - support and the input - as a stakeholder.

We all agree that the GASL has been there for a few years, but as for the challenges globally, they remain and they evolve. We see a number of major tasks that the GASL needs to tackle. There is still a congenial need to mobilise government and policy makers to recognise the role of agriculture, including livestock, in achieving sustainable development goals. Also, in achieving the Global Climate Change Agenda. It is not universally recognised - or there has been no universal commitment yet - from all Member Countries to the central role of agriculture and livestock in achieving the SDGs. And that’s one of the challenges and tasks that GASL needs to continue to tackle.

Last year, during the partnership assembly of the GASL, which was held in Panama City. A very interesting exercise illustrated the need and the effectiveness of this approach. And that is what we called a “pizza game.” We put the 17 SDGs on a round plate, and let participants to recognise where livestock should be positioned on that chart. How has your work, your farm, or your activity, relating to one of those seventeen goals? And in the end, it was very surprising the high level of consensus. First of all, people did not realise there was a direct linkage. And secondly, they clearly see now there is a direct linkage to nearly all of those goals. That’s the awareness raising, commitment, and also prioritising agriculture, including the livestock sector in SDGs. That’s the number one challenge.

The second, I think, is the GASL needs to move from purely dialogue to actions in promoting certain recognised high potential areas, contributing to the SDGs. [For example,] at the last Partnerships Assembly, it was recognised that the silvopastoral system - in other words trees or agriculture production system, that includes components of trees, pastures, livestock, and perhaps some crop production in that whole system - needs to be looked at as a whole. [This also is] including the people involved in it, the pastoralists. That is an area full of dynamism, which also needs to be addressed. What will be the actions for coordinating in such a system? To facilitate the farmers and pastoralists involved in that system in achieving the SDGs? That will also be another area.

We also have to mention that the GASL has to mobilise and encourage investment. Continued investment not only in the livestock sector but in general. I would emphasise particularly in supporting the development and dissemination of public goods. Research, assessment, capacity development through investment - not only by international financial institutions and donors - but also national governments and industries into these areas.

PC: The UN System is full of fashions - things come and go: MDGs, SDGs, as well as certain modi operandi. Partnerships could be a fashion, too. If it is to stay and the UN really moves toward a different type of partnerships system, where do you think it will go?

RW: It means a couple of things as we are seeing a universal convergence, recognised by all nations, which I hope will go on gradually.

First of all, the world is changing. The challenges are there and we have to tackle it all together: the increase in population, the demand for adequate food ,the need to eradicate hunger. Let us be the first generation of eradicating poverty and hunger, and the last generation to allow the impact of climate change to continue. Those calls are recognised.

Secondly, I think it is universally recognised, the way the world is producing and consuming cannot continue. It is not sustainable. I mean, relying heavily on fossil fuel based energy, relying on food production with heavy inputs of chemicals - fertilisers, pesticides, and so-on - cannot continue. Producing foods at the expense of the environment and natural resources, malnutrition - this cannot continue.

Tackling these unprecedented challenges cannot rely upon the power of one country or a handful of countries or governments. It needs universal efforts and that is recognised. It is everyone’s task. For instance, FAO has been advocating “let’s stop wasting food. ⅓ of the food produced worldwide, is wasted or lost, even before they reach the table of people.” We cannot let that happen. But then, we look at it further. Is it only the supermarket that wastes and loses food? No, it is everyone. We need to educate people, we need a change of behaviour of everyone. So, that means engaging a wide-range of people, which requires partnerships. In my view, it is not a fashion. Attacking these challenges needs partnerships. Partnership is going to go strong. It is the future!