Maria Helena Semedo

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Maria Helena Semedo
Deputy Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
Assumed office
June 2013
Personal details
Born (1959-05-29) 29 May 1959 (age 64)
Cape Verde

Maria Helena Semedo (born 29 May 1959) is a Cape Verde economist and politician who currently serves as Deputy Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization.

Early life and education[edit]

Semedo was born on 29 May 1959 in Cape Verde. She has a masters in economics from the Higher Institute of Economics and Management in Lisbon, Portugal.[1]


Semedo worked as an economist for the Bank of Cape Verde from 1986 to 1991 and for the Ministry of Planning and Cooperation from 1991 to 1993.[1]

Semedo was appointed as Minister of Fishers, Agriculture and Rural Development in 1993, making her the first female cabinet minister in Cape Verde. In 1995, she became Minister of Maritime Affairs, then in 1998 Minister of Tourism. She was elected to the National Assembly in 2001, serving until 2003. During this period she was vice president of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.[1]

Semedo joined the FAO in 2003 as a representative in Niger. She was appointed Deputy Regional Representative for Africa in 2008. In 2009, she was appointed Assistant Director-General in the regional office for Africa in Accra, Ghana. In June 2013, José Graziano da Silva, Director General of the FAO, appointed her Deputy Director-General and Coordinator of Natural Resources.[2]

At a speech in Rome in 2014, Semedo alleged that if current rates of degradation continue, all of the world's topsoil could be gone within 60 years.[3][4] This was an influential claim that has been frequently repeated, but appears to lack any basis in science.[5][6] In 2015, she noted that agriculture is often seen as a threat in the fight against climate change, but that the sector needs "to be integrated in climate policies."[7] At the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2016, she spoke about the crucial role agriculture can play in addressing climate change as well as poverty and hunger.[8] In January 2017 she called for an immediate response to drought in the Horn of Africa, telling a panel at the 28th African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, "The magnitude of the situation calls for scaled up action and coordination at national and regional levels."[9]

Personal life[edit]

Semedo is married. She speaks Portuguese, French, English and Spanish.[1] In December 2015, while in Kenya, she contracted the Zika virus but recovered well.[10]

Awards and honors[edit]


  • Semedo, Maria Helena (30 July 2010). "Human catastrophe looming". Mail and Guardian.
  • Semedo, Maria Helena (2012). "Message to Readers" (PDF). Nature and Faune. 26 (2): 1–2.
  • Semedo, Maria Helena (26 November 2015). "Global Bioeconomy Summit Statement" (PDF).


  1. ^ a b c d e "Nomination du Directeur général adjoint (Connaissances)" (PDF) (in French). Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. April 2013. Retrieved 4 February 2017.
  2. ^ Pasquini, Elena L. (16 December 2015). "Measuring success from COP21: Agriculture, food security and climate adaptation". devex. Retrieved 4 February 2017.
  3. ^ Arsenault, Chris. "Only 60 Years of Farming Left If Soil Degradation Continues". Scientific American.
  4. ^ Goulding, Keith (April 2015). "Is modern farming destroying soil?". Rothamsted Research. Retrieved 29 July 2017.[permanent dead link]
  5. ^ Ritchie, Hannah (14 January 2021). "Do we only have 60 harvests left?". Our World in Data. Retrieved 14 February 2021.
  6. ^ Wong, James (8 May 2019). "The idea that there are only 100 harvests left is just a fantasy". New Scientist. Retrieved 14 February 2021.
  7. ^ "EL PAÍS, Maria Helena Semedo: "Agriculture should be integrated in climate change policies"". Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 12 September 2015. Retrieved 4 February 2017.
  8. ^ "To fight climate change, invest in agriculture". Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 22 April 2016. Retrieved 4 February 2017.
  9. ^ "Warning of dire food shortages in Horn of Africa, UN agriculture agency calls for urgent action". UN News Centre. 30 January 2017. Retrieved 4 February 2017.
  10. ^ Donelli, Eva (30 March 2016). "FAO: Against Zika virus, no one can fight alone". devex. Retrieved 4 February 2017.

External links[edit]