BINAY RANJAN SEN, the former Indian diplomat and the first Asian to head the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation, the FAO, worked successfully towards eradicating global hunger and want. A member of the 'heaven-born' Indian Civil Service, the ICS, he was also Indian Ambassador to Rome, the former Yugoslavia, the United States and Japan.
But it was as Director General of the FAO, a post he held from 1956 for a record 12 years, that Sen established himself as an internationally respected bureaucrat. He transformed the FAO from an organisation limited to collating data on food and agriculture to one committed to eradicating hunger around the world. Such was his success that though, by fiat, the FAO Director General's term was limited to a maximum of eight years, a special provision exempted Sen.
Scarred by the horrific famine he saw in his native Bengal province in eastern India in 1943, Sen believed one man's hunger and want is every man's hunger and want. He worked tirelessly to focus world attention on food shortages in newly emerging decolonised nations.
In 1958 he launched a world-wide drive to encourage farmers to use improved varieties of seed for increased production and soon after merged this with the freedom-from-hunger campaign. Two years later, having caught the world's imagination and support, he convened a special meeting in Rome, attended by numerous world leaders including 11 Nobel laureates, on man's right to freedom from hunger. This was followed up a few months later with the first World Food Congress in Washington, which succeeded in arousing the conscience of the world, firmly placing Sen's goal of alleviating hunger high on the international agenda.
Sen was born in Dibrugarh in Assam state, north-east India, in 1898. He graduated from Calcutta and Oxford before joining the Indian Civil Service in the mid-Thirties. One of his first postings was as district magistrate in Midnapore, Bengal, in 1937, after three successive British ICS officers had been murdered by revolutionaries demanding independence.
During the Bengal famine in 1943 in which millions died, Sen was appointed Food Secretary in New Delhi and after a series of senior postings, including Food and Agricultural Secretary, he was seconded to the diplomatic corps as Minister in the newly opened Indian embassy in Washington in 1947. Thereafter he was ambassador to Rome and the former Yugoslavia twice, the United States and Mexico and Japan.
In 1956 Sen was elected director- general of the FAO and during his period in office completely transformed its role, increasing its budget by almost 350 per cent and expanding its technical assistance programme. It is ironic, however, that Sen's candidature as head of FAO was recommended not by the India government but by developed countries. After retiring in 1967, Sen returned home to Calcutta and busied himself with social work.