Elijah Mukhala

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations was founded in 1945 with a mandate to raise levels of nutrition and standards of living, to improve agricultural productivity, and to improve the condition of rural populations in the world. Today, FAO is the largest specialized agency in the United Nations system and is the lead agency for agriculture and rural development. FAO is composed of eight departments: Agriculture, Economic and Social, Fisheries, Forestry, Sustainable Development, Technical Cooperation, General Affairs, and Information and Administration and Finance. As an intergovernmental organization, FAO has 183 member countries plus one member organization, the European Union.

Since its inception, FAO has worked to alleviate poverty and hunger by promoting agricultural development, improved nutrition, and the pursuit of food security—defined as the access of all people at all times to the food they need for an active and healthy life. Food production in the world has increased at an unprecedented rate since FAO was founded, outpacing the doubling of the world's population over the same period. Since the early 1960s, the proportion of hungry people in the developing world has been reduced from more than 50% to less than 20%. Despite these progressive developments, more than 790 million people in the developing world— more than the total population of North America and Western Europe combined—still go hungry (FAO, 2004).

FAO strives to reduce food insecurity in the world, especially in developing countries. In 1996, the World Food Summit convened by FAO in Rome adopted a plan of action aimed to reduce the number of the world's hungry people in half by 2015. While the proper foundation of this goal lies, among others, in the increase of food production and ensuring access to food, there is also a need to monitor the current food supply and demand situation, so that timely interventions can be planned whenever the possibility of drought, famine, starvation, or malnutrition exists. With an imminent food crisis, actions need to be taken as early as possible because it takes time to mobilize resources, and logistic operations are often hampered by adverse natural or societal conditions, including war and civil strife. The availability of objective and timely information is therefore crucial. Over the years, FAO has successfully carried out timely interventions in cooperation with other United Nations agencies, especially the World Food Programme (WFP).

Several disasters affect agricultural production in many parts of the world. Agricultural drought, defined and discussed in detail in chapter 1, is one of the most devastating in bringing about hunger and food insecurity. Because agricultural droughts recur in many parts of the world, FAO has been involved in agricultural drought monitoring and mitigation for many years, as described in the remainder of this chapter.

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