Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO): What It Is and Does

What Is the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)?

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is a United Nations (UN) agency that works on international efforts to defeat hunger by developing agriculture.

Key Takeaways

  • The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), a UN agency, strives to combat hunger and reduce poverty globally by improving agricultural, forestry, and fishing practices.
  • Funded by industrialized countries and development banks, the FAO often works through public-private partnerships.
  • Rather than directly administer aid or food, the FAO attempts to set up sustainable food sources, resources, and operational systems in nations.

Understanding the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

Established by the United Nations in 1945, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is a neutral intergovernmental organization. It strives to provide information and support sustainable agriculture through legislation and national strategies, with the goal of alleviating hunger.

The FAO contributes to international efforts to defeat hunger and improve local economies by helping its member countries modernize and improve agriculture, forestry, and fishery practices.

Serving 194 member nations, two associate members, and the European Union, the Food and Agriculture Organization also aims to be a neutral forum where countries can negotiate agreements and debate policy. Its headquarters is in Rome, Italy, and it has offices in more than 130 countries, employing over 11,500 staff members.

More specifically, the FAO works to promote public-private partnerships, improve smallholder agriculture, and develop mechanisms to monitor, reduce, and warn about hazards to the food chain. Funding comes from industrialized countries, development banks, and other sources.

 The FAO is composed of seven departments:

  1. The Agriculture and Consumer Protection Department promotes agriculture to eradicate human poverty while also protecting the environment and ensuring safe food practices and standards.
  2. The Climate, Biodiversity, Land and Water Department promotes sustainable management practices for land, soils, energy, water, biodiversity, and genetic resources.
  3. The Corporate Services Department supports the entire FAO organization.
  4. The Economic and Social Development Department promotes economic development through internal production and trade.
  5. The Fisheries and Aquaculture Department promotes the management of aquaculture and fishing.
  6. The Forestry Department promotes the management of resources through forestry.
  7. The Technical Cooperation and Programme Management Department supports member countries in their programs and responds to food- and agriculture-related threats and crises.

Objectives of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

The FAO's official strategic objectives include:

  • Help eliminate hunger, food insecurity, and malnutrition
  • Make agriculture, forestry, and fisheries more productive and sustainable
  • Reduce rural poverty
  • Enable inclusive and efficient agricultural and food systems
  • Increase the resilience of livelihoods to threats and crises

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Initiatives

The Food and Agriculture Organization strives to help member countries become independent in providing sufficient food to their indigenous population, while also producing enough to become active trade partners with other countries—being able to generate revenue out of agricultural products, in other words.

Focusing on the types of food production that are suitable and prevalent for each country, the FAO works within local cultures with local staff to improve existing practices while leaving local economies intact.


The percentage of the world’s food that is lost after harvest, the FAO estimates.

Rather than providing food to countries suffering from famine, the FAO strives to set up sustainable food sources in those countries. For example, after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti left the country in shambles, the FAO quickly launched a series of initiatives designed to keep domestic food production and farm incomes up. Among these was the Haiti Food Security Emergency Tool, which aggregated data on usable roads, crop calendars, land use, livelihood zones, and damage information to help improve food production and distribution in the ravaged country.

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  2. Food and Agriculture Organization. "Legal Services for Development." Accessed Dec. 14, 2020.

  3. Food and Agriculture Organization. "Structure and finance." Accessed Dec. 14, 2020.

  4. Food and Agriculture Organization. "OUR PRIORITIES: The Strategic Objectives of FAO," Page 3. Accessed Dec. 14, 2020.

  5. Food and Agriculture Organization. "Food loss and waste must be reduced for greater food security and environmental sustainability." Accessed Dec. 14, 2020.

  6. Food and Agriculture Organization. "Web-based information tool for food security for Haiti." Accessed Dec. 14, 2020.