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Q&A: “Boosting Agriculture Is Not an Option But an Imperative”

Ernest Corea interviews KANAYO F. NWANZE, IFAD President

UNITED NATIONS, May 5 2009 (IPS) - New support from donors will enable the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) to help about 70 million poor smallholder farmers increase their productivity and incomes over the next five years, the Fund’s new president Kanayo F. Nwanze told IPS.

Kanayo Nwanze Credit: IFAD

Kanayo Nwanze Credit: IFAD

This effort will involve 3.7 billion dollars in support to agricultural projects and programmes, he explained.

Nwanze was elected by acclamation in March to lead IFAD, an international financial institution and U.N. specialised agency whose mission is “enabling poor rural people to overcome poverty.”

Previously IFAD’s vice president, Nwanze has over 30 years of development experience, including 10 years in India. He was director general of the Africa Rice Centre in West Africa where he promoted the development of the award-winning NERICA (new rice for Africa), a high-yielding, protein heavy strain that is resistant to drought and pests.

In an interview with Ernest Corea, Nwanze said IFAD’s priorities in the immediate future would include women’s empowerment and microcredit for small farmers.

“An estimated 500 million people in developing countries run micro-businesses, many of them farm related. Yet fewer than 10 million of these people, or about 2.5 percent, are able to obtain loans from banks or traditional lending institutions. That is why IFAD is a major supporter of microfinance projects,” Nwanze explained.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

IPS: IFAD’s most recent replenishment was its largest ever. What accounts for this generosity at a time of economic recession and uncertainty about Official Development Assistance (ODA)? KANAYO NWANZE: With 15 percent of the world’s population undernourished, in 2008 nearly one billion people didn’t have enough to eat. The global financial crisis and economic meltdown are hitting these people hard.

What’s more, the food security situation in many countries is no less precarious today than in 2008 when food prices skyrocketed – the new risk is price volatility. World leaders now know that boosting agriculture is not an option but an imperative to ensure food security and economic growth in developing countries. Studies show that growth generated by agriculture is up to four times more effective in reducing poverty than growth in other sectors.

IFAD’s record replenishment – an unprecedented 67 percent increase over the previous replenishment – is recognition of our development effectiveness. I see this support not solely as an act of generosity but as a bold step by donor countries to reverse the alarming trend of poor people in rural areas sliding deeper into poverty.

IPS: Within IFAD’s strategic framework, what are your major priorities for the next four years? KN: The twin food and financial crises have been a wake-up call. Here at IFAD, we must decide how to achieve the most impact in the least time.

Our focus is on poor, marginalised and vulnerable rural people. They are small farmers, landless people, labourers, herders, artisanal fishers and small-scale entrepreneurs who depend on agriculture and related activities to survive.

The empowerment of women in developing countries – who account for a disproportionate number of the world’s extremely poor – is an IFAD priority, as is increasing the access of poor rural people to financial services and credit. We recognise the particular needs of indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities, especially in Latin America and Asia.

In all our efforts, we cannot forget how climate change impacts smallholder farmers. Nor should we overlook their potential role in mitigation. New approaches to managing weather and other risks, including new forms of assistance, are thus vital for sustainable development and eradication of poverty. Farmers can contribute to carbon sequestration and limit carbon emissions, through planting and maintaining forests, managing rangelands and rice lands, as well as watershed protection that limits deforestation and soil erosion. Financial incentives for climate change mitigation must also include smallholder farmers.

IPS: To what extent can IFAD affect issues such as climate change, fair trade practices, commodity pricing, and urbanisation that can impact the livelihood of small farmers in developing countries? KN: Promoting sustainable natural resources management by poor rural people is part of IFAD’s core business and becomes even more urgent with climate change affecting these people’s lives and livelihoods.

Although adapting to the effects of climate change is vital, sound agricultural practices can also do much to contribute to climate change mitigation. Farmers can contribute to carbon sequestration and limit carbon emissions, through planting and maintaining forests, managing rangelands and rice lands, as well as watershed protection that limits deforestation and soil erosion.

Financial incentives for climate change mitigation must also include smallholder farmers. Together with our main partners in agricultural development we call for the inclusion of agriculture as a key component in the climate change negotiations in Copenhagen later this year.

IFAD also hosts the Global Mechanism of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. If we invest in people in rural areas, and enable them to have decent lives, there will be less drift to the urban areas where many end up living in shantytowns.

Regarding fair trade practices, IFAD is increasingly investing on the empowerment of smallholder farmers in value chains and market access. It is also helping farmers’ organisations to strengthen their capacity to negotiate better prices for their products and better market regulation policy.

IPS: Gender issues, including lack of empowerment and unequal opportunities, have been identified as obstacles to rural progress in some developing countries. How can IFAD help to overcome these obstacles? KN: Economic empowerment, decision-making and well-being are the three pillars of IFAD’s work on gender. We tackle the obstacles you refer to by, firstly, ensuring that a gender dimension is factored into our projects from conception. In many developing countries women are heads of households, farmers, business operators, and mothers. Around 30 percent of African smallholder farms are headed by women. Women in Africa produce between 60 and 80 percent of all food.

IFAD-supported projects enable women to have a voice and improve their access to natural resources, assets and microfinance. The challenge remains to give women a voice, to increase their role as decision-makers in community affairs and local institutions. Rural women give high priority to basic needs such as health services, water, education and infrastructure when consulted during planning of development initiatives.

IPS: As IFAD’s vice president moving on to be president, you are very much an “insider.” From that perspective do you foresee a need for changes within IFAD beyond the reforms already undertaken to make it more effective? KN: I do not believe in change for its own sake. If it isn’t broken there is no need to fix it. IFAD will continue to build on its reputation as a results-based organisation. Over the next few years, we will continue to consolidate and deepen the change and reform process already underway in IFAD, with a strong focus on human resource management. Our staff are IFAD’s major asset and investment in training is fundamental to allow them to give their best in all circumstances, but particularly in these challenging times.

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