ROME: Qu Dongyu on Sunday became the first Chinese national to be elected to head the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, clinching the post in the first round of voting. Qu, 55, a biologist by training, won 108 votes, followed by Catherine Geslain-Laneelle of France with 71 votes and Georgia's Davit Kirvalidze with 12, according to official results. "I'm very grateful to all member countries for your active participation," the new FAO chief said after the results were announced. "Thanks also to other candidates who helped make me better. "I will be committed to FAO's original aspirations, mandates and the missions of the organization."
His election to the helm of the Rome-based agency, which brings together 194 member countries, comes as the fight to eradicate world hunger takes a blow from global warming and wars. Hunger blamed on the combined effects of extreme and erratic weather, economic slowdowns, and conflicts, particularly in Africa and the Middle East, has risen for the past three years. FAO has sounded the alarm over rising food insecurity and high levels of malnutrition, and Qu will have to ramp up support for smallholder farms and fisheries to combat the ills of intensive farming, food waste and poverty.

The successor to Brazil's Jose Graziano da Silva will have to put policies in place now in preparation for feeding a world population expected to increase from 7.7 billion people to 9.7 billion in 2050. The UN agency tackles issues that are "important for both advanced and developing countries," Manuel Lafont Rapnouil, from the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), told AFP. They include "food security, (and) agricultural development, but also agro-business, trade, biotechnology and, increasingly, climate and environment", he said.

Chinese nationals also run the International Civil Aviation Organisation, the UN Industrial Development Organisation and the International Telecommunication Union, as well as leading the UN Department for Economic and Social Affairs, Rapnouil said. "China is also very concerned to increase the presence of its nationals in the ranks of the United Nations, especially in the highest positions," he said. "It is particularly active in elections for the heads of agencies, funds and programs." Meng Hongwei, the Chinese former head of the international police agency, Interpol, last week pleaded guilty in China to accepting $2.1 million in bribes, in a spectacular fall from grace for the former vice minister.

Epidemic, trade war
Many analysts had seen Qu as the frontrunner to win the four-year post, which he will take up on August 1. "Beijing has made a big push to get more senior jobs at the UN in the last few years," Richard Gowan, an analyst at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, told AFP. The country is currently grappling with a swine fever epidemic that has killed more than a million pigs in China, according to FAO figures. It has also had to contend with a trade war with the United States that has forced it to go elsewhere for cereals and soya.

These crises have pushed the food sector to the top of the government's priorities, Beijing said in its bid letter, seen by AFP. Qu has 30 years experience, from developing digital technologies in agriculture, to introducing micro-credit in rural areas. Rival candidate, Georgia's Kirvalidze, a former agriculture minister, had said he believes the private sector has a key role to play in eliminating global hunger.

French candidate Geslain-Laneelle, former head of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), spent her entire career in the agricultural and agri-food sectors at the highest level in France. The first woman to vie for the job has said the FAO should help "develop value chains around agriculture, fisheries and forestry", a reference to the storage, processing and distribution of food.-AFP