IFAD Asset Request Portlet

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Statement by the Governor of Bangladesh to IFAD's 25th Session of the Governing Council

Mr Chairman, Distinguished Governors, Mr President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

Thank you for the privilege of addressing this very distinguished assembly. I greatly value this opportunity to speak about IFAD's efforts, particularly in the context of my country, Bangladesh.

Of all international development organisations, IFAD is perhaps the only one, which has had poverty reduction as its central objective since its inception. Of course, other heavy weights in the field have now made poverty reduction a central theme. To the extent of requiring borrowing countries to have an "approved" Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) as a pre-condition for access to concessional funds. Some say this is almost the same old structural adjustment requirement, but couched in more trendy language. Since its creation in 1978, IFAD has focused exclusively on poverty reduction, investing in agriculture and rural development and working with rural poor populations in developing countries to eliminate poverty, hunger and malnutrition, raise productivity and incomes and improve the quality of their lives. Since the birth of Bangladesh in 1971, our efforts have also been directed towards the goal of improving the quality of life of our people.

Mr Chairman: Poverty is a multidimensional phenomenon. Its elimination requires attack on economic, social and political fronts. Despite all our commitments in the past fifty years, poverty is still very much with us. There are still more than a billion people below the dollar-a-day benchmark. Conventional anti-poverty policies pursued by us have, in many cases, been able to record impressive economic growth, but the benefits have not trickled down enough, nor have all the boats risen with the rising tide. The gap in income and power is widening, not only among socio-economic groups within countries, but also between rich and poor nations. Poor nations are still awaiting the promised benefits of globalisation and liberalisation. Both the conventional development strategies variously termed as the "Washington Consensus" and the globalisation process have not been able to demonstrate a capacity to be socially inclusive.

It is in this context, Mr Chairman, that we find IFAD's approach to poverty reduction so appropriate, and relevant, to a country like Bangladesh. IFAD does not see poverty reduction as something that can be given to the poor by others, but directs its efforts to enabling the poor to overcome their poverty. This is sought to be achieved by:

  • Strengthening the capacity of the rural poor and their organisations;
  • Improving equitable access to productive natural resources and technology; and
  • Increasing access to financial assets and markets.

As illustrated in the IFAD Rural Poverty Report 2001, there is no more potent weapon to alleviate poverty than to ensure access to physical, social and financial resources for the poor, an effective functioning market and strengthening the institutions of the poor. This will necessitate, as articulated in the IFAD Strategic Framework 2002-2006, a change in the power structure, both economic and political, in the society. Participatory rural development, as practised through the existing institutions, does not seem to go far enough as most of these have either been captured by the elite or, at best, perform "procedural democracy". The poor must be able to impact on the environment and issues than impinge on their lives. Civil Society Organisations (CSO) can play an important role in making this happen. But CSOs cannot be substitute for a political process generating strong political commitment by states to bring about fundamental structural change in the power relationships between the poor and other groups in society. IFAD has rich experience in working with CSOs and institution building for the poor. It should strengthen its advocacy role at national and international levels and keep this as a priority in the policy dialogue with recipient countries.

Mr Chairman, a word about food security: Bangladesh is known as a country of chronic food shortages. It is one of the most densely settled countries in the world. The area under cultivation is under constant pressure from urbanisation, housing and infrastructure development needs. Food security is of crucial importance to us not only for poverty reduction, but also for social and political stability. The primary policy concern for the agriculture sector has been to increase foodgrain production in pursuit of national food security. The goal was to move from a situation of chronic shortage to one of self-sufficiency. We have achieved some measures of self-sufficiency in cereal production in recent years, largely through increases in yield. We may claim to be on track towards achieving food security. The first hurdle of achieving availability appears to have been negotiated. The challenge is to ensure access and, of course, sustain production and growth.

The National Agriculture Policy (NAP) of Bangladesh envisages both continuing self-sufficiency in cereals and crop diversification - for a balanced diet and proper nutrition. Some see these as contradictory aspirations, given a situation of growing population and declining net cultivable area. This need not to be so. The needed increased production can come from higher productivity and higher yields. For this we need to develop crop varieties and technologies suitable for our different agro-ecological zones. This, of course, would involve investment in agricultural research and extension. Many developing countries, including Bangladesh, do not have adequate resources for this. Unfortunately, when the need for investment in agricultural research is pressing, in Bangladesh as in other countries, there appears to be a lack of interest in the international community to support such efforts. We would urge IFAD to assume a strong advocacy role for enhanced international support for agricultural research.

Mr Chairman, My Government has always given its fullest support to IFAD in its mission against poverty and hunger. We note with concern, however, that IFAD's assistance to Bangladesh has declined in recent years. This has happened for us, as for others, at a time when the need to support the fight against poverty is greater than ever. We support IFAD's "flexible lending mechanism" which provides a larger time frame for project intervention, thereby making it possible to tackle implementation and sustainability issues better. This larger time frame needs to be matched by a larger quantum of funds. Lack of implementation capability has often constrained our efforts to deliver the desired outcomes. IFAD and other donor should come forward with financial and technical support to improve implementation skills of governments, local government bodies, CSOs and organisations of the poor.

Finally, recent international events have brought into sharper relief the immediate need to undertake meaningful and effective steps to lessen the pangs of hunger and poverty in the poor countries. /this is pre condition for preserving the democratic and ethical values we cherish as sacred. We have missed many opportunities in the past. The Mexico Conference on Financing for Development next month and the 6th Replenishment of IFAD's resources will provide further opportunities to demonstrate our genuine and strong political will to fight poverty as a collective responsibility.

I thank you.