The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is turning 70 this year. The organization is headquartered in Italy and has deep roots in the commitment to end global hunger and poverty. More than 190 countries are a part of this organization.
While digging into the history of FAO, I came across Canada’s role in the founding of this organization — mainly through the leadership of Lester B. Pearson. I found a website called peace.ca and read up on Canada’s 14th prime minister. My heart tingled as I learned how he was/ is the only Canadian to have ever been awarded a Nobel Peace Prize.
Lester Pearson attended universities in Toronto before he began teaching history at the University of Toronto. In 1927, he began a career as a public servant though the Department of External Affairs as first secretary. For the next 20 years, he served mainly in Ottawa, although his special missions took him to other capitals throughout Canada.
In 1942, Pearson got involved with the United Nations as a member of the Canadian delegation to the Hot Springs Food Conference, which laid the foundation for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. In July 1943, he became Chairman of the United Nations Interim Commission on Food and Agriculture, which was appointed to prepare the plans for the permanent organization of FAO.
Lester Pearson speaking at the first FAO conference held in Quebec City, Quebec, in October 1945.
70 years ago, in October of 1945, he was the Chairman of the first FAO conference in Quebec City, Canada. Pearson hosted many men from around the world who came together to lay the road for the very first United Nations agency in history.
Although Pearson was asked to be the first director general of the FAO, he is reported to have declined the position. While he enjoyed deliberations and bringing people together, agriculture was not the man’s utmost passion. It seemed, rather, that Pearson’s path was that of a promoter of peace and justice, of countries working together, of harmonious international order and non-violent ways to solve conflict.
From 1948 – 1957, Pearson served as Canada’s foreign minister. Pearson won the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1957 for organizing the United Nations Emergency Force to resolve the Suez Canal Crisis, which earned him the title of the father of modern peacekeeping.
And then Pearson was voted prime minister of Canada in 1963. During Pearson’s time as prime minister, his Liberal minority governments introduced universal health care, student loans, the Canada Pension Plan, the Order of Canada and the new flag of Canada. According to UN historical records, Pearson was “courteous, clear, and frank in his dealings with the press”. He was known to have loved reporters, and the reporters to have loved him.
Lester Pearson. Photo: Vancouver Sun
Well, I won’t make this post too long. I’ve learned the Pearson wrote a book called Peace in the Family of Man (available online here) and I’m going to delve into the life of someone I now consider one of our greatest leaders and peace visionaries. Not only did Pearson advocate for international harmony, this leader also had a true gift for making it happen.