IFAD highlights the transformative power of innovation for small-scale farmers

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IFAD highlights the transformative power of innovation for small-scale farmers

Member States, global leaders and development and innovation experts gather in Rome to participate in IFAD’s 47th Governing Council

© IFAD/Flavio Ianniello

Rome, 14 February 2024 – In the face of rising hunger, economic volatility, growing inequality and the ravages of climate change, a quiet revolution is underway fueled by innovation and determination. For small-scale farmers in some of the most remote corners of the world, innovation isn't just a buzzword it's a lifeline with the potential to reshape the future of agriculture by generating and scaling up new ideas, new approaches and new opportunities to sustainably overcome the challenges they face on a daily basis, according to Alvaro Lario, President of the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

Speaking during the opening of IFAD’s 47th Governing Council in Rome, which this year focuses on the theme Innovation for a Food Secure Future and the needs of small-scale producers in developing countries, Lario stressed, “We must never stop making an impact for those who need it most, and it’s for that reason that we are constantly innovating.”

The IFAD President pointed out that innovation is not always about cutting-edge technologies, that it can come in many forms and be found in many places including in rural communities and among farmers and producers themselves.    

“Many innovations are developed in collaboration with the people we work with on the ground. Agri-entrepreneurs in developing countries are some of the most innovative and dynamic entrepreneurs in the world. We don’t bring innovations to them – they bring innovations to us,” Lario told heads of state, government leaders and representatives from IFAD’s 178 Member States.

Among those speaking at the event, Bhaskar Chakravorti, Dean of Global Business, The Fletcher School, Tufts University, emphasized the significance of “small AI,” citing a case study in Tanzania where farmers uploading pictures of pest-infected crops onto a specially developed app that provided locally available treatments, saved US$100 million in lost crops. Across the country, the impact amounted to US$25 billion in savings.

“When one thinks about investment, the amount of investment is relatively low but the return is enormous and the actions that need to be taken are straightforward,” he said.

Speaking at a press event, Elizabeth Nsimadala, a farmer and agripreneur from Uganda who is also President of the Eastern Africa Farmers Federation, reiterated the importance of investment and information.

“We lack solutions,” she said. “The small-scale farmer has to look up to the sky and pray to god it’s going to rain.”

Some of the new ideas and approaches discussed during the event were showcased at a Marketplace of Innovation which featured, for example, AI-powered climate information systems that keep farmers abreast of changing weather patterns, and blockchain and Web3 technology for digital wallets that allow rural people to easily receive and make digital payments.

Solutions showcased at the marketplace aim to bring about broad systemic change that will ultimately help small-scale farmers increase their production and livelihoods, while building resilience to shocks such as climate change, conflict and economic instability. These changes can have far-reaching impacts since small-scale farmers produce one-third of the world’s food, and up to 70 percent of food in some developing countries.

IFAD has often been at the forefront of AI adoption. By using Microsoft AI solutions, the UN specialized agency built Omnidata, a centralized analytics platform that connects data, dashboards, visualizations, and analytics powered by machine learning and AI to address small-scale farmers’ needs through targeted investments.

IFAD and the Inter-American Development Bank Group (IDB Group) also announced that they are exploring a collaboration to develop universal digital wallets tailored to the needs of small-scale farmers. The aim is to roll-out the initiative globally, accelerating the inclusion and resilience of rural people and vulnerable groups.

Gender equality, essential to end hunger and poverty

During the Governing Council, IFAD recognized the most successful projects driving gender equality and women's empowerment in its funded projects. The IFAD Gender Awards showcased best practices developed in Bolivia, Cambodia, Ghana, Madagascar and Montenegro and emphasized IFAD’s commitment to driving positive change in rural communities and economies.

IFAD's Gender Awards are rooted in the belief that addressing the core causes of gender inequality is crucial to reducing hunger and poverty. Closing the gender gap in farm productivity and the wage gap in agricultural employment could potentially reduce global food insecurity by about 2 percentage points and improve nutrition, livelihoods and sustainable food systems.

Serbia becomes a Member State of IFAD; Lithuania is endorsed

During the business items, the Governing Council members welcomed Serbia as a Member State. Lithuania was also endorsed today as a new Member State to join IFAD however its membership comes into effect upon the deposit of their instrument of accession with the UN Secretary General.

Note to editors:

For more information and to watch the livestream

Ukraine was endorsed as a new member of IFAD in the previous Governing Council in February 2023 and welcomed as a Member State. However, it has not become a fully-fledged member as they have yet to deposit their instrument of accession with the UN Secretary-General.

Press release No.: IFAD/12/2024

IFAD is an international financial institution and a United Nations specialized agency. Based in Rome – the United Nations food and agriculture hub – IFAD invests in rural people, empowering them to reduce poverty, increase food security, improve nutrition and strengthen resilience. Since 1978, we have provided more than US$24 billion in grants and low-interest loans to fund projects in developing countries.

A wide range of photographs and broadcast-quality video content of IFAD’s work in rural communities are available for download from our Image Bank.