FAO chief 'missing in action' in global hunger crisis, Politico says

FAO DG Qu Dongyu and Rissian Agriculture Minister Dmitry Patrushev in 2019. Photo credit: FAO

 ROME --The FAO DIrector General QU DOngyu is "missing in action" amid the global hunger crisis exacerbated by Russia’s war in Ukraine, Politico magazine says quoting Western diplomats. Mr Qu "has alienated the Western powers that are the agency’s main backers with his technocratic leadership style and connections to Beijing that, in their view, have damaged its credibility and capability to mitigate the crisis," according to a lengthy report by Politico writer Eddy Wax published in the magazine's for subscriber news service PRO.

 "The critical picture that emerges is of a leader whose top-down management style and policy priorities are furthering China’s own agenda, while sidelining the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals," Wax writes.
 Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February was met with weeks of eerie silence at the FAO, Politico noted and "although the messaging has since changed, Qu’s critics say FAO should be showing stronger political leadership on the food crisis, which threatens to tip millions more people into hunger."
 One former UN official was quoted by Politico as saying of Qu that “Nobody actually takes him seriously: It’s not him; it’s China. I’m not convinced he would make a single decision without first checking it with the capital.”
In his defense, Politico adds, Qu and his team say a U.N. body should not be politicized and that he’s delivering on the FAO’s analytical and scientific mandate.
As he prepares for a likely reelection bid next year to run FAO until 2027, Qu is under intensifying scrutiny over his leadership during the crisis.  France and the United States have criticised his "sluggish and mealy-mouthed response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a massive exporter of food to developing countries."
 "The EU and U.S. forced an emergency meeting of the FAO’s Council in the spring in order to pressure the FAO leadership into stepping up to the plate, with Ukraine demanding he rethink his language of calling it a 'conflict' and not a war. The communications division was initially ordered to keep schtum about the war and its likely impacts on food supply chains. In May, Ukrainians protested outside FAO HQ in Rome demandingRussia be kicked out of the organization."
 Officials at the agency, which has $3.25 billion to spend across 2022 and 2023, are expected to act for the global good — and not in the narrow interest of their countries.
 "Though Qu has now adapted his language and talks about the suffering being caused by Russia’s war, some Western countries still believe FAO should respond proactively to the food crisis, in particular to the agricultural fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine," Wax writes. "The FAO’s regular budget and voluntary funds are largely provided by EU countries, the U.S. and allies like Japan, the U.K. and Canada. The U.S. contributes 22 percent of the regular budget, compared to China’s 12 percent."
 Qu is determined to stick to the mandate of the FAO to simply provide analysis to its members — and to steer clear of geopolitics. Qu can hardly be said to be apolitical, Politico notes, as he is a former vice-minister of agriculture and rural affairs of the Chinese Communist Party.
 On top of his political background he has expertise in agriculture. He was part of a team of scientists that sequenced the potato genome while he was doing a PhD at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. In an email to POLITICO his professor, Evert Jacobsen, remembered Qu’s “enthusiasm about his country,” as well as is “strategic thinking” and “open character.”
"Three years into his term, there’s a much stronger Chinese presence at FAO and Chinese officials occupy some of the key divisions, covering areas such as plants & pesticides, land & water, a research center for nuclear science and technology in agriculture, and a division on cooperation between developing countries. A vacant spot atop the forestry division is also expected to go to a Chinese candidate."
 "Western diplomats and staffers past and present describe Qu as a poor communicator, who displays little care about engaging with or being accountable to countries and who tends to leave meetings after delivering perfunctory remarks, all of which leaves space for rumor and suspicion to grow."
 "Although FAO is still receiving bucketloads of Western funding, its fundraising drive specifically for rural families and farmers in war-torn Ukraine is still short $100 million out of $180 million, a pittance in an international context — especially amid deafening warnings of a global food supply crisis next year," Politico said.