United Nations Holds Its First Conference on Food and Agriculture Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

During World War II, representatives of forty-four nations met to discuss improving the living standards of the world’s hungry poor by influencing scientific, technological, and economic aspects of world food production and trade. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations was formed at this conference, which was called by U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt at the urging of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

Summary of Event

In his now-famous Four Freedoms Four Freedoms speech (Roosevelt) State of the union address;1941 state of the union address in 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared four essential human freedoms, including “freedom from want . . . everywhere in the world.” Just two years later, after war had broken out around the world, Roosevelt called a conference on food and agriculture to be held from May 18 to June 3, 1943. Warfare, however, made international travel difficult and dangerous. When Roosevelt asked nations to send representatives to the conference, forty-four sent delegates. Because the conference predated the formation of the United Nations, the forty-four countries were mainly associated with the Allied Powers of the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom during World War II. [kw]United Nations Holds Its First Conference on Food and Agriculture (May 18-June 3, 1943) [kw]Conference on Food and Agriculture, United Nations Holds Its First (May 18-June 3, 1943) [kw]Food and Agriculture, United Nations Holds Its First Conference on (May 18-June 3, 1943) [kw]Agriculture, United Nations Holds Its First Conference on Food and (May 18-June 3, 1943) United Nations;hunger relief Food and Agriculture Organization, U.N. Hot Springs Conference (1943) Hunger;United Nations United Nations;hunger relief Food and Agriculture Organization, U.N. Hot Springs Conference (1943) Hunger;United Nations [g]North America;May 18-June 3, 1943: United Nations Holds Its First Conference on Food and Agriculture[00810] [g]United States;May 18-June 3, 1943: United Nations Holds Its First Conference on Food and Agriculture[00810] [c]United Nations;May 18-June 3, 1943: United Nations Holds Its First Conference on Food and Agriculture[00810] [c]Social issues and reform;May 18-June 3, 1943: United Nations Holds Its First Conference on Food and Agriculture[00810] [c]Agriculture;May 18-June 3, 1943: United Nations Holds Its First Conference on Food and Agriculture[00810] [c]Organizations and institutions;May 18-June 3, 1943: United Nations Holds Its First Conference on Food and Agriculture[00810] Roosevelt, Franklin D. [p]Roosevelt, Franklin D.;United Nations Roosevelt, Eleanor McDougall, Frank L. Bruce, Stanley Pearson, Lester B.

Nutrition, the scientific study of how calories, vitamins, and nutrients affect human health, was still a relatively new science in the early twentieth century. Increasing knowledge of nutrition created the idea that a nation, by promoting and nutrition and food production, could improve the health, living standards, and productivity of its citizens and the citizens of less-developed nations. With new standards of adequate nutrition, malnutrition was exposed in populations of every nation of the world, even the affluent. Malnutrition proved to be a symptom not only of agricultural shortcomings but also of problems in infrastructure and trade, economics, dissemination of information, and the governance of nations.

The International Institute for Agriculture International Institute for Agriculture (IIA), established in 1905, was the first intergovernmental organization devoted to studying agricultural productivity. Headquartered in Italy, the IIA gathered agricultural statistics, funded research and development, organized international conferences, and published technical and statistical reports. Political turmoil in Europe surrounding World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II led the IIA to molder.

Even while the storm of World War II was gathering, several publications linking economics and nutrition catalyzed an interest in food and agriculture as a means of improving living standards. As a member of the League of Nations, Frank L. McDougall began working with American and British nutritionists to establish political policy on nutrition. In 1935, McDougall analyzed the dire findings of these specialists and wrote The Agricultural and the Health Problems. Agricultural and the Health Problems, The (McDougall) Stanley Bruce, a leading proponent of food security, addressed the league on the same topic in 1935. Bruce, who was an outspoken complement to McDougall’s persistent academic presence, would later have a leadership role in the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. In 1937, the league published another report that was widely read across the world: The Relation of Nutrition to Health, Agriculture, and Economic Policy. Relation of Nutrition to Health, Agriculture, and Economic Policy, The (League of Nations) This publication became a best seller among league documents. The New York Times editorialized it as a book of the year, and several nations, including Germany, implemented its ideas. At the time these items were published, the Great Depression—with its simultaneous surpluses and famines—was fresh in the memory of world leaders and citizens. Unfortunately, World War II erupted before the league committed to a plan of action in nutrition.

McDougall, who continued to research and write extensively to promote solutions for food insecurity, produced a memorandum for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on international food problems. Called “Draft Memorandum on a United Nations Programme for Freedom from Want of Food,” "Draft Memorandum on a United Nations Programme for Freedom from Want of Food" (McDougall)[Draft Memorandum on a United Nations Programme for Freedom from Want of Food] the memo was privately distributed in October of 1942. McDougall stated that more than half the world’s laborers work in agriculture; food, he added, would be a major preoccupation after the war. By this time, World War II had disrupted productivity and food trade routes across the continents. The war had been forcing many nations to think about nutrition policy. Government food rationing would become necessary to ensure survival of civilians and troops during a time of decreased productivity, disrupted trade, and inflated prices.

Eleanor Roosevelt, after reading McDougall’s memo, arranged a meeting in response. She encouraged President Roosevelt to organize a conference. Despite the perils of travel, forty-four nations sent representatives to Hot Springs, Virginia, from May 18 to June 3, 1943. Attendees included representatives from Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Ethiopia, France, Great Britain, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Iceland, India, Iran, Iraq, Liberia, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, the Philippines, Poland, Union of South Africa, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, United States of America, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Yugoslavia. A representative from Denmark unofficially attended.

Roosevelt named Judge Marvin H. Jones Jones, Marvin H. , the United States’s wartime food administrator, the chairman of the Hot Springs Conference. The initial goals for Hot Springs included laying the foundations for a permanent intergovernmental organization for developing nutritional and agricultural policies for member states.

Many of the participating nations sent topical specialists—namely in agriculture, trade, and statistics—rather than strictly diplomatic representatives. Consequently, scientific and economic subjects were covered along with political subjects. Participants made recommendations on nutrition, malnutrition and disease, the formation of national organizations, the exchange of information and technology, the gathering and dissemination of statistics, research, cooperative efforts in water and land management, and international security for food production and trade. Politically tense topics included a funding structure for the organization, provisions for market control, and consequences for both food-producing and food-importing countries. Conference attendees, however, agreed on the major goals of improving national diets, increasing food production, disseminating technical and scientific knowledge, and creating a permanent international organization. The name Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) was established.

The Interim Commission on Food and Agriculture Interim Commission on Food and Agriculture, U.N. , charged with creating “a specific plan for a permanent organization in the field of food and agriculture,” also was formed at the conference. Each of the original forty-four participating countries was allowed one representative for this commission; Lester B. Pearson, a Canadian diplomat and politician, was made the chairman.

The interim commission’s first charge was to draft the FAO constitution. It planned the scope of activities for the Food and Agriculture body of the United Nations. The commission’s first report to participating nations included the draft constitution. When the constitution was acceptable to the forty-four nations, the FAO would have its first official conference.

The interim commission established committees and subcommittees to prepare reports on important topics, including nutrition and food management, agricultural production, fisheries, forestry, and statistics. Forestry was not originally discussed at the Hot Springs Conference, but it was advanced by the interim commission. The commission also recommended that the IIA be merged into the new FAO. With the signing of the FAO constitution at the first session of the Food and Agriculture Conference Food and Agriculture Conference, U.N. (1945) in Quebec in 1945, the Hot Springs Conference goals came to fruition and the FAO was formed as a specialized U.N. agency.


The problems of wars and famine that haunted the first half of the twentieth century brought food and hunger to the forefront of policy makers’ consciousness. Contemporary developments in economics, agriculture, and nutrition paved the way for food policies that could improve living standards for all on an international level. These advancements, combined with the twentieth century interest in the development of intergovernmental agencies, made the FAO a flourishing entity.

The FAO, the first specialized agency of the United Nations, has improved awareness of and standards for nutrition, particularly among rural and poorer nations. The FAO continues to promote scientific and economic initiatives in peacetime, and it organizes humanitarian relief in times of drought, famine, and war. The FAO has grown to be the largest agency in the U.N. system, with 180 member states and more than 4,300 employees. United Nations;hunger relief Food and Agriculture Organization, U.N. Hot Springs Conference (1943) Hunger;United Nations

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Aall, Pamela, Daniel T. Miltenberger, and Thomas G. Weiss. Guide to IGOs, NGOs, and the Military: In Peace and Relief Operations. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Institute of Peace Press, 2000. An overview of the FAO’s role among specialized agencies in the late twentieth century.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. http://www.fao.org. The Web site for the FAO, which includes many resources. Includes links to online primary sources, including the FAO’s original constitution, signed in 1945. Highly recommended.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hambidge, Gove. The Story of FAO. New York: Van Nostrand, 1955. A definitive source on the conditions leading up to the conception of the FAO.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hoopes, Townsend, and Douglas Brinkley. FDR and the Creation of the U.N. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1997. Examines President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s role in creating the United Nations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Miller, Berna, and James D. Torr, eds. Developing Nations. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Greenhaven Press, Thomson/Gale, 2003. Examines the social, economic, moral, and ethical implications of a world in poverty.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">O’Brien, John B. “F. L. McDougall and the Origins of the FAO.” Australian Journal of Politics and History 46, no. 2 (2000): 164-174. Describes Frank L. McDougall as a driving force in the international food and economics movement.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Phillips, Ralph W. FAO: Its Origin, Formation, and Evolution, 1945-1981. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization, 1981. Introductory chapters list the key players leading up to the Hot Springs Conference.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Staples, A. L. S. The Birth of Development: How the World Bank, Food and Agriculture Organization, and World Health Organization Changed the World, 1945-1965. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 2006. Focuses on the development of international organizations in the post-Cold War period that pioneered issues such as worldwide economic development and its necessary role in enhancing the quality of life for all individuals.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wells, Robert N. Peace by Pieces: United Nations Agencies and Their Roles. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1991. Describes the historical foundations and the scope of U.N. agencies, comparing and contrasting FAO with other international food agencies.

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UNICEF Is Established

Eisenhower Begins the Food for Peace Program

Famine Decimates China

United Nations World Food Programme Is Established

European Economic Community Adopts the Common Agricultural Policy

Hardin Argues for Population Control

Categories: History