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Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) was founded in 1945 and it is a neutral organisation composed of developed and developing countries, grouped together with the aim of defeating hunger in the world. It is a platform to negotiate agreements and debate policy. It also facilitates the modernisation and improvement of agriculture, forestry and fisheries practices in developing countries and countries with economies in transition. The headquarters of FAO are located in Rome.

FAO provides assistance to its members in the field of improving and modernizing agriculture, forestry and fisheries. Furthermore, it is a centre of excellence and of knowledge dissemination, a place where governments meet and discuss the organization�s main topics. Finally, FAO personnel are active in the field and work together with locals especially located in developing countries upon request of these countries.

FAO also has a wide network of regional offices (Chile, Ghana, Egypt, Hungary, Thailand), subregional offices (Barbados, Zimbabwe, Gabon, Ghana, Ethiopia, Tunisia, Turkey, Hungary, Samoa), liaison offices (USA, Switzerland, Belgium, Japan) and country representations. The country representation offices are small and usually include one representative, one civil servant and a few assistants; they aim at providing assistance and helping the professional team provided by FAO to implement specific projects in developing countries.

While agriculture and food related activities constitute the core of the FAO�s mandate, Article 1(2) of the FAO�s constitution mentions among the functions of the organization the promotion of national and international action in respect of �the conservation of natural resources and the adoption of improved methods of agricultural production�. It is important to emphasize that the constitution was adopted even before the principle of the protection of natural resources had been adopted by the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. FAO was the first UN agency to have a reference to the protection of environment mentioned in its mandate.

FAO has a department on natural resources management and environment, which deals with the scientific and technical aspects related to natural resources and environmental protection affecting food and agriculture. Any legal issue, including those related to international environmental law, is addressed in the Legal Office. The Legal Office is composed of approximately ten persons and is divided in two branches. The branch on General Legal Affairs (LEGA) provides advice to the Organization on corporate legal matters, relations with other organizations and issues related to conventions to which FAO is a depositary (International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture 2001, Convention on Fishing and Conservation of Resources 1958 and many other environmental treaties mostly on regional fisheries) and to other conventions which tackle problems related with the FAO�s main activities. The second branch is called Development Law Service (LEGN) and the core of its activity is providing legal assistance to the member parties upon request in sectors like forestry, fisheries, sustainable use of fauna, protected areas, water resources, plants (vegetal and animal health), food, trade and agriculture. Assistance is usually provided via specific and thematic projects where the legal part is combined with technical and more scientific assessments (economic, social, etc..). Projects are usually implemented by the staff of the Development Law Service, which is composed of selected international legal consultants and local experts. FAO�s activities in this regard imply assistance in the review and reform of national legislation in a participatory way and by on-the-job trainings. Often the legal part of such projects focuses on the approximation of national legislation with international law and soft law, as well as on the correct implementation of international environmental law. Furthermore, the Development Law Service provides assistance in the development of bilateral or regional treaties (i.e water resources or forestry in central Africa).

Part of the work of the Development Law Service is related to research and publications. There are two types of publications: FAO Legislative Studies and FAO Legal Papers Online.

The activities of the Development Law Service contribute to the development of international environmental law either through specific and concrete assistance projects, or with the publication of research studies and papers. FAO is not active in the field of enforcement and compliance with IEL since it is a neutral organization that remains independent. Indirectly, legal studies and papers published by FAO may contribute to the dissemination of information and awareness of particular cases related to the protection of environment in the sectors of food and agriculture. For instance, cases where a state request FAO assistance in order to investigate the reasons of a lack of enforcement of environmental law may contribute to shed some light on the general discussion on the enforceability of IEL.

FAO is also an important source of information in terms of environmental law. FAOLEX is an important database which includes national legislation from all state parties which are obliged to provide FAO regular information on developments in the field of national environmental legislation. FAOLEX also contributes to ECOLEX, a database that combines information from FAO, IUCN and UNEP. Similar to FAOLEX, Fishlex and Waterlex are also managed by FAO.

In terms of cooperation with other entities, FAO is affiliated with UNEP, the World Bank, as well as conventions and secretariats which deal with issues related to food and agriculture (i.e. CITES, UNCBD, UNFCCC, IUCN). Cooperation with other MEAs is more often technical than legal. Usually, this concerns the preparation of information, technical reports, contribution to secretariats� documents, reactions to COP decisions. Finally, it is important to mention that cooperation with other actors is only pursued if there is a particular interest in this respect shown by state parties.

A strong focus is placed on environmental policy since the FAO technical departments which are more staffed in comparison with the legal office cover these aspects. The main function of policy departments is providing assistance to the parties in the development and identification of national policies and strategies in the field of the management of natural resources. In this respect, not only legal concerns are taken into consideration, but also technical and socio-economic aspects.

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