I send warm greetings to the Governing Council of the International Fund for Agricultural Development on the occasion of its Thirtieth Anniversary session.
The work of IFAD has never been more important. We face a development emergency. The year 2008 must be the year of the “Bottom Billion”, the poorest, most disadvantaged segment of humanity. This must be the year the international community renews its commitment to the needs of the weak, the disadvantaged, those who have been excluded from the mainstream of global society. I believe this is best done by redoubling our efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, especially the crucial targets of halving poverty and hunger by 2015.
The world is already past the mid-point of the race to achieve the MDGs. And while many countries have made strong progress towards the goals, others lag behind. At the same time, existing MDG plans face new and emerging challenges. Climate change in particular has emerged as a daunting obstacle that undermines both existing advances while threatening future gains.
Climate change can prove especially detrimental to agricultural production. It disrupts weather patterns and upsets fragile eco-systems, threatening the crop-cycle and food production. Coupled with the dramatic increase in food prices over the past year, global warming could prompt a potentially severe food crisis.
Better support for agriculture is crucial to address these worrying developments. As the United Nations agency devoted to supporting smallholder farmers and other rural poor, IFAD has a major role to play. Your institution represents a unique partnership between OPEC, OECD and other developing countries. Over its 30 years IFAD has supported programmes to reduce poverty directly in rural areas, where three quarters of the world’s poorest live. It has also generated many insights and models that can provide guidance to all concerned with the eradication of poverty. I especially appreciate the role IFAD, through its representation on the High-level Committee on Programmes of the Chief Executives Board, is playing on enhancing the UN’s system-wide response to climate change and other major challenges.
I expect that your meeting in Rome will provide renewed impetus to your vital work. In that spirit, I send all of you my best wishes for a most productive session.