Enabling poor rural people
to overcome poverty



Abuja, 11 December 2001

Mr President,
Honourable Ministers,
Your Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen

It is a privilege and honour for me to be here in this beautiful city of Abuja for my first official visit to Africa since my election as President of International Fund for Agricultural Development. It gives me particular pleasure that my visit coincides with the official launching of Nigeria's new Rural Development Strategy. This important Initiative will allow all of us a better perspective and appreciation of the realities of the rural environment in the country and a renewed understanding of the importance of sustained rural progress for the economic and social development of the Nigerian people.

Mr President,

Since your election as President of Nigeria, your Government has taken bold steps to strengthen your country's economy, social development and political stability. Your own personal involvement with development issues, your commitment to democracy and your emphasis on strengthening governance provide a new dynamic to Nigeria's future, and remind us of the great role that Nigeria could play in leading a renaissance in Africa. The central part you have played in the formulation of the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) underlines the importance not only of your country, but the hopes that rest on you personally.

Mr President,

The events of September 11th and their aftermath have reminded all of us of our shared values and of the importance of solidarity, both within societies and across the world. It has underlined that progress is indivisible. If major sections of societies are left behind, progress of society as a whole is put at risk.

This profound insight inspired world leaders, among them Your Excellency yourself, to affirm at the Millennium Summit in September 2000, the commitment to reduce the proportion of those in poverty by half by the year 2015. This is the first time in history that human society has taken on a collective responsibility to reduce, and in due course, eradicate poverty. The obstacles are enormous and achieving the Millennium Summit target is a formidable challenge. Yet it is a task that we can, and must, fulfil.

Earlier this year IFAD brought out the Rural Poverty Report 2001. After reviewing carefully the present trend and distribution of poverty, the Report highlighted that three-quarters of the world's 1.2 billion extreme poor, some nine hundred million people, live in rural areas depending on agriculture and related rural crafts, trade and services for their livelihood. The Poverty Report also highlighted that the rate of poverty reduction declined in the 1990's and that the present rate is far below the rate required to achieve the Millennium Summit poverty goal. In Africa, it is barely one sixth the rate required and in some African countries, social and poverty indicators are actually getting worse under the assault of civil strife and the AIDS pandemic.

Paradoxically, even as the focus on poverty has sharpened, ODA to agriculture and the rural sector, where the bulk of the poor live, has declined by an estimated forty percent over the past decade. At the same time, domestic resources for agriculture and other productive activities of the rural poor have dropped in most developing countries. It is hardly suprising that the 1990's saw a substantial fall in the rate of poverty reduction compared to the previous two decades. Here in Nigeria, according to recent World Bank estimates, poverty has sharply increased in the last decade, with about two-thirds of the population now below the poverty line.

Achieving the Millennium Summit poverty goals requires a significant increase in economic growth. An estimated rate of growth of seven percent a year is needed in Africa. Since agricultural and rural activities provide the bulk of employment as well as in many countries, a large share of the exports, the best - and perhaps the only - sustainable way to increase overall growth for them is to help accelerate the pace of rural development and agricultural production. This will require higher investment for productive activities, in rural finance, research and extension as well as in rural health, education, infrastructure and institution-building. Creating new opportunities in the countryside will also reduce migration into urban areas, thus slowing the growth of urban slums.

Mr President,

In Nigeria as elsewhere in Africa, the bulk of the poor live in rural areas. Rural poverty in the country has many faces, whether it is a peasant farmer in semi-arid Katsina hoping for rainfall or a marginal farmer in Rivers State, struggling to survive in the face of floods or the isolated community in Oyo State not accessible by road. The livelihoods of the rural poor are fragile, at risk from natural events and today, increasingly also from the AIDS pandemic.

The new Rural Development Strategy that is being launched today is crucial to halt and reverse the trend of growing poverty and to help Nigeria "become a united, industrious, caring and democratic society, committed to making the basic needs affordable for everyone and creating Africa's leading economy". Indeed, as stated in NEPAD (New Partnership for African Development) "Improvement in agricultural performance is a pre-requisite for economic development on the continent".

The Rural Development Strategy gives special attention to poverty reduction and its thrust is to encourage more participation in rural development activities and thereby building a greater sense of ownership among the poor in the community. We in IFAD fully support the major components of the Strategy. Its participatory approach, responsive to the priorities of the local communities and especially to the needs of women, is crucial, as is the policy dialogue and the decentralisation envisaged under the Strategy. Reforms that stress consistent government interventions and effective governance are critical. Ensuring that benefits from development are shared equitably among different groups and by gender is especially important.

Mr President,

IFAD looks forward to working with Nigeria's people, institutions and Government to make a success of the new Strategy. The Fund has long operational experience in Nigeria which provide a firm basis for our future support. In fact, Nigeria is the largest recipient of IFAD financing in West and Central Africa. Our programmes in Nigeria have focused on improving the access of farmers and other rural poor groups to financial and technical services, strengthening local government institutions and promoting small-scale rural enterprises. We have supported programmes to improve yields of crops like cassava and we have promoted environmentally sustainable practices in farming and other activities to help break the vicious cycle of poverty and environmental degradation. A forthcoming IFAD programme in Nigeria, currently under preparation, has the objective of building rural microfinance institutions. These will provide large numbers of poor farmers and other small rural producers access to financial services.

Effective implementation of the new Strategy and overcoming rural poverty will require strong collaboration among all partners. With this in mind we have developed strategic partnerships with a variety of institutions in Nigeria. We have a long standing collaboration with the World Bank and the African Development Bank as well as our Rome-based partners, FAO and WFP. Recently, in order to achieve the challenging goals of the Rural Development Strategy, we are joining with the World Bank and the African Development Bank to enhance the scale of our collaboration to raise it to a level where it can have a real impact on rural poverty. This is being done in full collaboration with our partners in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and the Federal Ministry of Finance and with the active participation of the rural poor in the design and implementation of the programmes. This partnership with the beneficiaries will, we hope and believe, make the operations more accountable and more responsive to their real needs.

I would like to take this opportunity, Mr President, to reiterate our full appreciation of the exemplary way in which we are cooperating with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Ministry of Finance.

Mr President,

The events of the last few months have underlined in a clear way the close linkages in our global society. They have equally underlined the need for stronger co-operation among different groups of countries sharing the goal to eliminate poverty and bring about a more stable and peaceful world. IFAD was set up nearly a quarter of a century ago as an explicit partnership between the countries of the OECD and OPEC to help eradicate poverty and hunger. Nigeria has played a central role throughout these two decades in helping IFAD mature into an effective instrument against poverty. We are grateful Mr President for your sustained support and commitment to our shared goals. I am particularly grateful for your strong personal support of IFAD's Governing Council last February Minister Abobu, and that of your representatives, in particular your very active permanent representative in Rome, Mr Lombini. I am sure you will share the view that today, the partnership that IFAD represents between developed and developing countries is even more important than when the institution was first set up.

Mr President,

May I reiterate my appreciation for the initiatives you are taking, highlighted by this new Rural Development Strategy, to give a new thrust to poverty reduction and rural development in your country, and indeed across the whole of Africa through the new partnership of NEPAD. Let me assure you of IFAD's full commitment to support your efforts for raising the well-being of the rural poor in Nigeria. In turn, I look forward to your country's collaboration with us in our efforts to help achieve the noble goals of the Millennium Summit.

Mr President,
Honourable Ministers,
Your Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen

The challenge of poverty and hunger is as old as human society. Yet today, the world community has recognised that it is no longer acceptable for more than a fifth of humanity to be condemned to short lives of vulnerability and chronic deprivation. We have today the resources and the knowledge to bring opportunities by which even the poorest groups can build secure and productive lives for themselves and their families.

The quest for realising this noble goal will be complex and demanding. Yet, with leadership such as yours Mr President and the combined efforts of the international community, it is a quest that can be fulfilled. In that spirit, may I express my best wishes for this new Strategy and for the future prosperity of Nigeria.

May I end by requesting a short private meeting with you to discuss some issues of common interest.

Thank you