By Foster Obi
In a strong show of support and recognition for the leader who has successfully showcased the importance of long-term rural development as a key solution to the global challenges the world is currently facing, Member States have reappointed Gilbert F. Houngbo as President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) for a second term at its annual Governing Council meeting yesterday.
With an even more ambitious agenda at the heart of his second mandate, and a particular focus on technologicial solutions, innovative financing models and new private sector partnerships, IFAD will continue tackling hunger and poverty and address the devastating impacts of climate change, youth unemployment and most recently COVID-19, leading on the ground to ensure no one is left behind.
“With the pandemic still devastating rural areas and the projections for increased poverty and hunger, the need for IFAD to scale up is more urgent than ever,” said Houngbo, who has been IFAD’s President since 2017. “Today it is COVID, yesterday it was a tsunami, and we don’t know what will happen tomorrow. The threat from climate change and extreme weather will not diminish, and we should prepare. No rural woman or man should ever be in a position of having to sell his or her meagre assets – or be forced to migrate – in order to survive”
Under Houngbo’s continued leadership, IFAD aims to double its impact by 2030 and offer a life out of poverty and hunger to millions more people. The goal is to ensure 40 million people per year increase their incomes by at least 20 per cent by 2030, which is double what IFAD currently achieves.
To this end, Houngbo has called on donors to contribute significantly more to IFAD, to deliver an overall programme of work of at least US$11 billion from 2022 to 2024, including through a new private sector financing programme and an expansion of its pioneering climate change adaptation programme. This will help rebuild stronger rural economies as countries recover from the impacts of COVID-19, and help these marginalised rural populations become far more resilient to climate change and other shocks.
In his acceptance speech, Houngbo said that addressing the devastating impacts of climate change and reversing the decline of biodiversity are amongst his highest priorities. Last month IFAD launched the Enhanced Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme (ASAP+), which aims to be the largest fund dedicated to channeling climate finance to small-scale producers. Houngbo envisages the programme to mobilise $500 million and help more than 10 million people adapt to an unpredictable climate. Despite their disproportionate vulnerability to climate change, small-scale farmers currently receive only 1.7 percent of global climate finance.
Another of Houngbo’s goals is to address the major challenges rural young people face in finding decent employment, which has an enormous impact on instability and migration. In Africa, 60 per cent of young people live in rural areas and between 10 and 12 million young people enter the job market every year. With increased investments in agri-preneurs and rural small and medium-sized enterprises, IFAD aims to create greater employment opportunities for rural youth. This builds on Houngbo’s focus over the past four years, to engage more with the private sector to bring expertise, innovation and much needed investments to rural areas.
Under Houngbo’s leadership, IFAD expanded its programme of work to reach 36 per cent more poor and vulnerable people. At the end of 2019, 132 million people in more than 90 countries benefited from IFAD’s investments. However in his speech Houngbo recognised the huge financing gap threatening the world’s ability to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goal of zero hunger by 2030. To this end, he has led IFAD to start diversifying its funding sources to maximise the support it can give to the world’s poorest people. In 2020, IFAD was the first UN fund to receive a credit rating, with both Fitch and Standard and Poor’s announcing AA+ ratings. These strong ratings will help IFAD mobilize more funds from various potential investors at a favourable cost.
Houngbo also spoke about the importance of food to rural people. As the majority of them work in agriculture, food is not just critical for sustenance, but also for their livelihoods. He stressed the need for investing in sustainable food systems that enable rural populations to earn decent incomes, have nutritious diets and to lead dignified lives, and the key role IFAD will play in putting this on the global agenda during the upcoming UN Food Systems Summit.
Small-scale farming systems produce half of the world’s food calories, but these farmers are often the ones that go hungry. IFAD is the only multilateral organisation focused solely on addressing hunger and poverty in rural areas where three quarters of the world’s poorest and most food insecure people live. Decades of progress on extreme poverty are now in reverse due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As many as 150 million people could fall into extreme poverty by 2021 and an additional 136 million people are expected to go hungry.
IFAD invests in rural people, empowering them to reduce poverty, increase food security, improve nutrition and strengthen resilience. Since 1978, we have provided US$23.2 billion in grants and low-interest loans to projects that have reached an estimated 518 million people. IFAD is an international financial institution and a United Nations specialized agency based in Rome – the United Nations food and agriculture hub.