Food systems that ignore the needs of poor rural people are doomed to fail, warns IFAD President ahead of Food Systems pre-Summit

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Food systems that ignore the needs of poor rural people are doomed to fail, warns IFAD President ahead of Food Systems pre-Summit

©IFAD/ David Paqui

Rome, 23 July 2021 – If we ignore the challenges and needs of rural people in the world’s poorest countries, our attempts to create more equitable and sustainable food systems are doomed to fail, said the President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) ahead of the UN Food Systems pre-Summit that begins in Rome on Monday.

“Rural people have long been side-lined in food value chains. While they toil to produce much of our food, too often they receive a pittance for their efforts and are left vulnerable to shocks,” said Gilbert F. Houngbo, President of IFAD, the UN agency which leads on tackling rural poverty and hunger.

“This is a critical moment to address the inequity of our food systems. Without concrete actions that result in real changes for rural producers, hunger and poverty will only grow, and increased instability and migration will follow,” he added.

Rural small-scale farmers produce about a third of global food, and supply up to 80 per cent of food in parts of Africa and Asia. Although they play a major role in keeping food systems functioning, they themselves often go hungry. In 2020, this was exacerbated by climate change, conflict, and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in a dramatic increase in global hunger, according to a report jointly released by five UN agencies including IFAD last week. One in ten people now go hungry.  

At the Food Systems pre-Summit (26-28 July), IFAD will join thousands of governments, companies, development agencies, farmers and civil society organisations to discuss ways to transform how we grow, process, sell and consume food to make it more sustainable and equitable. The pre-Summit aims to establish a common vision, launch commitments and mobilize partnerships for financing.

“If we want to fix food systems, listen to the people who work in them,” said Houngbo. “Rural small-scale producers are the ones who understand their own challenges and can guide what solutions are needed.”

To gather input from rural producers across the world, IFAD launched its Rural Voices platform this week. Shirley Casachagua, from a remote area in Peru, is one of the contributors.

“No matter what continent, country or republic you live in, we are all children of the earth and we live off it,” she said. “I would like to ask world leaders to be a watchdog to large industries because they contribute more to climate change and this hurts all of us who live on the land.”

IFAD has also collaborated with Farm Radio International to conduct surveys with remote rural people through radio programmes, and it has supported the organization of over 40 independent dialogues led by farmers’ organizations and Indigenous Peoples’ groups which will feed into the Summit process.

IFAD is calling for a number of key changes to food systems, including:

  • To commit financing and political will to ensure rural people can access the inputs, markets, financial services, technology and information they need to grow their businesses, adapt to climate change, protect the environment and biodiversity, and be more resilient to economic, health and weather shocks.
  • To make food systems fairer and more equitable. Food systems depend on people’s labour, and those who work in them must earn decent livelihoods.

IFAD is also leading an initiative to unlock the potential of public development banks across the world to finance food systems transformation and help shift investments to more environmentally sustainable and fairer systems, and is hosting the official session at the pre-Summit: Mobilizing trillions for food systems transformation — financing for impact, leveraging the pivotal role of public development banks.

Following the Food Systems Summit in September, countries will develop their own pathways to transform food systems, and IFAD will support its Member States to develop their strategies and put them into action.

Notes to editor:

Register for the UN Food Systems pre-Summit. Media accreditation extended to Sunday 25 July.

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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.