Maria Helena Semedo, Deputy Director-General, is an economist and politician from Cape Verde. A leading expert in global development issues, she has worked in public service for over thirty years. Over the last decade, FAO has helped shape a new global narrative where agriculture is prominently recognized as a solution in addressing increasingly complex emerging issues – from transforming food systems to dealing with climate change.
Leading to deliver, Semedo promotes an integrated, inclusive approach, resulting in greater cross-sectoral engagement and stronger strategic partnerships, better positioning FAO in its role to promote a
transition to sustainable food and agriculture systems. As part of the FAO Core Leadership Team, Semedo works to develop impactful initiatives such as the FAO Green Cities Action Programme and the corporate strategy for mainstreaming biodiversity across agricultural sectors, fostering multistakeholder dialogues that optimize the Organization’s 75+ years of technical expertise and experience, its global reach and innovative approaches, all contributing to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
As a key player in FAO’s Core Leadership, Semedo has been supporting the Organization’s COVID-19
Response and Recovery Programme in order to intensify collaboration across borders, sectors and disciplines. Recognizing that the health of people is connected to the health of animals and the environment, has meant strengthening the global One Health Approach, forging new partnerships
and unleashing innovative solutions that will help prevent future pandemics and build resilient and green agri-food systems.
Semedo is a firm advocate for women’s empowerment and is well-recognized for her work promoting gender equity and social parity. Since October 2019 she has chaired the FAO Women’s Committee, spearheaded the Organization’s mentorship programme. Acknowledging that we cannot end hunger
and poverty without empowering both men and women farmers, Semedo works tirelessly for the recognition of the role of women and girls, participating in many international fora and ensuring gender mainstreaming across the Organization’s policies.
Before taking up her current duties in 2013, Ms Semedo gained valuable experience and insight in Africa, first as FAO Representative in Niger (2003-2008), then as Deputy Regional Representative for Africa and Sub-regional Coordinator for West Africa (2008-2009) and Regional Representative for Africa (2009-2013). Prior to her international career, she worked as an economist for the Cabo Verde Ministry of Planning and Cooperation before becoming Secretary of State for Fisheries, then in 1993 Minister for Fisheries, Agriculture and Rural Affairs – the first-ever woman Minister in her country. After serving as Minister for Tourism, Transportation and Marine Affairs from 1995-1998, she became a Member of Parliament, a position she held until 2003.
Honors and awards
• Receives the Crans Montana Forum Prix de la Foundation
• The Government of Brazil bestows the honorific Order of Rio Branco
• The Universidade Aberta in Lisbon confers the Honoris Causa doctorate for her work in global sustainable development
• Named “Woman of the Year” at the commemoration of the 2018 Women Diplomats Day in Portugal
• Receives the Order of Niger for her distinguished service to the field of agriculture