Posted 06 June 2011, by Juanita Williams, allAfrica.com, allafrica.com
Cape Town — Feeding the world’s hungry is the challenge of our times, says Dr. Kanayo Nwanze, an energetic advocate for poor people, particularly poor, rural women. Nwanze is president of the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD), a specialized United Nations agency working to eradicate poverty among the 1.4 billion people living in rural areas of developing countries.
A recent IFAD report says world food production must be increased by 70% within 30 years to feed a projected nine billion people worldwide. AllAfrica’s Juanita Williams talked with Nwanze in Cape Town, where he was attending the World Economic Forum for Africa. Here are excerpts of what he said.
We focus on agriculture and rural development, so we work only in rural communities in the developing world. Currently we have programs and projects in 90 countries. We have invested close to U.S.$12.5 billion supporting hundreds of programs and projects. I think it’s fair to estimate that we’ve contributed to the reduction of poverty of about 350 million poor people. The internationally accepted line between poverty and non-poverty is $1 to $1.25. In most development communities, people talk about raising the income to $2. My belief is that when you move somebody from $1 to $2, you are not eradicating poverty. Essentially, you are managing poverty. When they go to $3 or $5 or $10, they can buy [food], but they can also go beyond that. They can buy medication when their child is sick. They can send their children to school. That is poverty eradication.
Our experience has been that poor rural people are not waiting for a government handout. They want to be able to have opportunities to enter into economic activity.
In rural communities where agriculture is the primary source of income and employment, we have to not only create opportunities for farmers to increase production and productivity. They should be linked to the markets. Oftentimes farmers, when they’re able to increase production and productivity, their access to markets is impeded because of roads.
In the last couple of decades we have been able to help poor people to improve their livelihoods by providing them access to financial services, access to inputs, better storage facilities, market information so that they have stronger bargaining power with the buyers, and, in some cases, infrastructure – the “last mile”, as we say. Rural space begins to be transformed.
Surpluses in agricultural production can also fuel non-farm activities: micro-processing, micro-finance. Communities begin to invest in their own development. I have seen this happening in many communities around the world where we support governments and rural communities.
Sixty percent of the African population is below the age of 24. So we focus on youth on the premise that if you invest in agriculture and rural development, you are able to transform the rural space into an economically viable space. Not only do you transform the community, the rural space, but you also stem the migration into urban areas.
In Africa, the majority of farm activities are conducted by women, so we focus on women’s empowerment. We invest in capacity building of the individual and the communities – particularly farmer organizations, women’s organizations – to build their own institutional framework and governance structures, so that they themselves can be able to enter into advocacy with their community leaders. That’s empowerment.
Because of the success of rural financing projects in Benin, the government in 2006 established a ministry of rural finance within the ministry of finance, headed by a woman. In many communities in the developing world – not only in Africa – women are not entitled to land. In Ethiopia, we worked with the government to support communities where women have the right to land, just as their husbands.
We focus on natural resource management, which is key in rural areas in terms of climate change. We help communities’ rural populations to be able to adapt to the impact of climate change.
So you can see the transformational activities that we’re in, transforming the mindset and getting people to allow women to have access to financial services, access to land, to resources, water for irrigation. I can go on and on!
The point is that we affect the policy environment of a country through results on the ground – convincing them that this is an investment that is good for the country, good for the future.
Let me conclude by saying the overarching issue for us here is the role of smallholder agriculture in food security. Eighty percent of farmers in the developing world, Africa included, are smallholder farms owning less than two hectares. You cannot bring about a transformation of agriculture and food security without smallholder population being part of the solution. We must stop looking at smallholder agriculture as a way of life where people have been condemned to poverty.
Smallholders, whether they are farmers, or fishermen and women, or foresters, are engaged in an economic activity at a subsistence level. If we see this activity as a business that needs to make a profit, our role therefore is to say, ‘How can we transform this business into a profitable entrepreneurship?’
What is gratifying for me is that a few years ago you would not hear people talking smallholder agriculture as a business. At the World Economic Forum on Africa, I heard over and over again where top government officials and the private sector have come to recognize that global food security cannot be achieved without the engagement of smallholder agriculture. I think that is the message: governments should invest in agriculture as a business and create the environment for smallholders to enter into economic activities that are profitable.