This week Kanayo F Nwanze, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) spoke with journalists in New York about the importance of investing in rural agriculture around the world, especially in the face of seemingly doomsday issues like rapid climate change and Ebola outbreaks.
Nwanze emphasized the importance of building communities that have a “higher threshold for shocks,” meaning that they have enough community support, stable food sources and investment in the local economy to be able to withstand political shifts or disease outbreaks. He cited the fact that up to 40% of farmers in Sierra Leone are abandoning their farms in affected areas, which will have obvious negative impacts for people who depend on those crops for their food supply (up to 80% of the food supply in sub-Saharan Africa is produced by small rural farms like the ones being abandoned). The goal is create self-sustaining rural communities that have the resources to weather and recover from these kinds of tragedies, instead of fleeing to already dense urban areas where they have even more limited options for making a living.
IFAD’s solution is to empower rural farmers and bolster local economies by investing in a variety of grassroots agricultural projects around the world. Examples of this include helping to organize a co-op of coffee farmers in Nicaragua and connecting the them to suppliers in more prosperous countries like the U.S., who will pay a premium for sustainably produced, fair trade goods. As part of another program, IFAD provided training for female farmers in India for how to successfully grow millet, a grain that’s hardier than rice and provides large doses of calcium. In Nwanze’s words “We don’t just want to help these entrepreneurs make $1 or $2 per day, we want to help them make $5-$10 per day. The first scenario is poverty management; the second is poverty eradication.”
He also mentioned China and Brazil as examples of agricultural economies that were struggling with food security as recently as a few decades ago, and have managed to form stable, thriving economies by investing in rural farmers to produce local food supplies—a much more affordable option than relying in imports.
Another major goal of IFAD is to empower women in rural communities and encourage gender equality. Part of the reason for this is that IFAD has found that women are more likely to reinvest in community programs, by creating a gardening cooperative or school, for example, while men are more likely to invest in new structures. IFAD currently supports 256 projects in more than 100 developing countries around the world. ifad.org