UN food agency members vote to elect new director general

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Qu Dongyu from China, one of the candidates for the Director-General position of the FAO (UN Food and Agriculture Organization), addresses a plenary meeting of the 41st Session of the Conference, at the FAO headquarters in Rome, Saturday, June 22, 2019. The new FAO Director-General will be voted on Sunday. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

ROME (AP) — Members of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have started voting to elect the new head of the U.N. food agency, and China’s candidate is seen as the front-runner.

The 194 member countries, convened at the FAO’s headquarters in Rome for the agency’s 41st conference, were picking the new director general on Sunday among three candidates from China, France and Georgia who all have extensive experience in the sector. The candidates for the first time include a woman.

China has nominated its agricultural deputy minister Qu Dongyu, who, if elected, would be the first person from a Communist country to hold the FAO director-general’s chair.

The U.S. backs Davit Kirvalidze, the former Georgian minister of agriculture, while Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle, former head of France’s agricultural ministry, is the European Union’s candidate.

The successor to Brazil’s Jose Graziano da Silva in the four-year U.N. post will focus on policies to fight world hunger, which has been fueled by wars and global warming.

The voting goes on until one candidate has majority support. If no candidate gets that on Sunday, the voting continues on Monday.

The FAO, which has over 11,500 employees around the globe, works closely with other U.N. agencies to achieve the goal of a hunger-free world by 2030. Today, more than 800 million people are facing hunger and many experts doubt that the body’s 2030 goal will be reached.

Georgian candidate Kirvalidze has underscored the significance of public-private partnerships in fighting hunger.

Geslain-Lanéelle has said she believes that scientific progress was important in trebling world agriculture output, but now science needs to be consulted again in order to keep producing in the most sustainable way as possible.

China’s Qu says he aims to focus on hunger and poverty eradication, tropical agriculture, drought land farming, digital rural development and better land design through transformation of agricultural production.

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