A brief history of the WFP

By Sam Ursu

A brief history of the WFP

Initially, the organization now known as the World Food Programme (WFP) was meant to be a temporary deployment of FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) resources with a three-year mandate to supply emergency food supplies to developing nations via the auspices of the United Nations. However, after just two years, the need for a permanent agency became clear, and the WFP has been operating ever since.

The roots of the WFP can be traced to a U.S. government program known as “Food for Peace” that began work in the 1950s to donate surplus agricultural commodities to other nations rebuilding from World War II and to developing countries in need of assistance, many of which had recently become decolonized.

After President Kennedy was elected in the United States, he chose George McGovern (a former U.S. Representative) to helm the Food for Peace agency. And it was during the FAO Conference of 1960 when McGovern first proposed establishing an agency at the United Nations similar to the “Food for Peace” program, that later became the WFP.

The WFP is headquartered in Rome, Italy, and employs more than 21,000 people around the planet, 90% of whom are based in the countries where the organization is providing assistance.

What Is the WFP?

The World Food Programme (WFP) is the world’s largest humanitarian organization responding to hunger and promoting food security. Its primary mission is to provide emergency food relief for populations suffering from natural disasters and/or wars as well as to provide sustainable nutrition for pregnant women and children.

What Does the WFP Do?

On average, the WFP provides food assistance to some 90 million people a year, 58 million of whom are children.

On any given day, the agency has 100 airplanes, 30 cargo ships, and 5,600 trucks delivering food and other emergency assistance.

The primary activity of the organization is to gather and then transport food to areas where there is a crisis caused by floods, droughts, earthquakes, storms, epidemics, pandemics, crop failures, and/or war. In addition, the Programme also provides food assistance to meet longer-term needs of vulnerable groups such as young children, pregnant and nursing women, and the elderly.

The WFP also indirectly serves to stimulate the economies of developing nations as it is top purchaser amongst UN agencies of food and other goods produced by developing nations.

Who Owns the WFP?

As an agency operating under the umbrella of the United Nations, the WFP is “owned” by all UN member nations. The agency is entirely funded by voluntary donations from UN member nations as well as corporate and private sector partners.

In 2021, the WFP raised a record-breaking $9.6 billion.

Operations of the agency are governed by an Executive Board composed of 36 representatives from member states, half of which are elected by the UN’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and half by the council of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The four official languages used by the Executive Board are Arabic, English, French, and Spanish.

The head of the Programme is known as the Executive Director, who is jointly appointed by the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization. The WFP Executive Director serves a fixed five-year term. Of 13 people who served in this role since the agency’s inception, six were from the U.S. The others were from India, El Salvador, the Netherlands, Canada, Brazil, Uruguay, and Australia.

The WFP also works closely with two other agencies also based in Rome, Italy, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

What does WFP Stand For?

The acronym WFP stands for the World Food Programme. Because it is a part of the United Nations, British spelling is used for the English names of all agencies and organizations.

In French, the WFP is known as Le Programme alimentaire mondial or “PAM” for short.

What Are the WFP’s Goals?

The WFP’s overarching goals are to end hunger and achieve food security and improved nutrition for everyone on Earth by the year 2030 as part of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

According to the WFP, one in nine people worldwide still do not have enough to eat, and providing food assistance is essential to breaking the cycle of poverty and hunger. Furthermore, as hunger is often widespread in conflict-affected areas, the WFP works to bring peace and stability by preventing hunger from being used as a weapon of war.

Other goals of the WFP include fighting micronutrient deficiencies in vulnerable populations, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, and combating diseases (including HIV and AIDS) via improved nutrition.

Do you like this article? Check more of the DevelopmentAid’s series of multilaterals’ brief history: AfDB, EBRD, USAID, EIB, UNDP, ADB, and the World Bank (WB), and stay tuned for future publications.