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Lecture by IFAD President at the Russian Agrarian University

Location: Moscow, Russia

07 October 2015

The Future of Farming: Agricultural research for development

Distinguished Professors,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my very great pleasure to be here today.

I am speaking to you today as the head of a United Nations agency, but I am also an agricultural entomologist by training and spent many happy and productive years as a researcher, so it gives me particular joy to be speaking here at the Russian State Agrarian University.

I see many students in the audience, and I am looking forward to a lively and informed discussion. I hope that you will come away with some new insights on how smallholder farmers can contribute to global food security.  And I also hope that you will provide me with fresh ideas that I can share with my colleagues in Rome and elsewhere.

About IFAD 
For those of you not familiar with my institution, IFAD is dedicated to eliminating poverty and hunger. We are unique in being both a United Nations specialised agency and an International Financial Institution, or IFI. In fact, we are the only institution in existence that combines an IFI's head for business with a UN agency's concern for human welfare and dignity.

We work with small-scale producers in developing countries so that they can grow more, earn more, and improve their food security and nutrition.  That last point is important.  
It is all too common for poor farmers and their families to be undernourished, and to go hungry even as their incomes rise.

IFAD mobilizes co-financing from a variety of sources – including Russia – for investments in poor rural people and their communities.

Everything IFAD does is in partnership. Our partners include our own Member States – of which Russia is a new and very welcome member. We also work closely with developing country governments, as well as NGOs, research institutions and the private sector. And we work very closely with smallholder farmers, often through farmers' organizations.

Through our work we have seen that small-scale family farms have a key role to play in the future of agriculture and food production, globally and in Russia, providing jobs and income and sustaining rural communities. Although they cultivate only 20 per cent of agricultural land, they account for 50-60 per cent of total Russian agricultural production.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I probably do not need to convince any of you how productive smallholder farmers (less than 3 ha.) can be. Smallholders account for 80 per cent of Russia's fruit and vegetable production, and 50 per cent of its milk and meat. Russia is therefore a fine example of how smallholders can contribute to national food security.

But much of the world is moving towards a "big is beautiful" model, without realising that farm size should be based on the conditions on the ground rather than commercial pressures that may have little bearing on the most effective use of land and resources.

While it is true that in some regions, larger farms are the way forward, it is also true that in most of the the areas where IFAD works, the land is not suited for large-scale agriculture.

Developing the potential of small to medium sized farms is good ethics and good economics.

It is good ethics because the world's 500 million small farms are the main producers of food in many developing countries. They will remain so for decades to come. Yet today too many of those who work to feed the world are going hungry themselves.

Developing the potential of smaller farms is also good economics because farming production systems have few economies of scale. Small farms are often more productive, per hectare, than large farms when agro-ecological conditions and access to technology are comparable.

So, how do we unlock the potential of smallholder agriculture in the developing world to contribute to sustainable economic growth and global food security?

Today, I would like to share with you four of the most important lessons I have learned about sustainable agricultural development.

The first is that development starts with people. This means listening to local people because they have local knowledge. They know the times of flooding, the high water marks, which areas are most affected by water scarcity, and which crops and livestock respond best during droughts.

It means being aware that no amount of high technology or advances in research and development will have the desired impact on production and lives unless the social aspects of a community are also addressed.

It means building the capacity of farmer groups and organizations because, individually, smallholders have little power. But when they join together, they have greater purchasing and bargaining power, and can influence the policies that affect their lives.

The second lesson is that we, as researchers and development experts, must find innovative ways to protect the environment and help smallholders adapt to climate change.

Almost everyone working in agriculture has witnessed the impact of climate change on farming – the increasing crop losses and livestock deaths. Agriculture has always been a risky business. Today it is more so.

This December, at the Conference of Parties to the UN Climate Change Convention, governments around the world will set out their commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Although these commitments are essential to our long term survival on this planet, they will not make a difference to the lives of smallholder farmers today.

These farmers are experiencing the effects of global warming as we speak. This is why IFAD is working on practical, scaleable investment programmes help smallholder farmers access the technologies, information and financing to adapt to a more uncertain and rapidly changing environment

Proven climate change adaption methods include mixed crop and livestock systems that integrate the use of drought-tolerant crops and manure. This helps increase agricultural productivity while diversify risks across different products.

Simply giving poor farmers access to existing technology can make a tremendous difference to their ability to adapt. In Lesotho, for example, farmers have been able to reduce their risk of livestock losses by having access to timely weather forecasts. Knowing how the weather will change has allowed them to protect livestock from extreme heat or cold.

My third lesson is that development needs to respond to the needs of communities rather than the needs of a scientist or a development worker.  Yes, it is exciting to innovate, to develop technology in the lab and even more exciting to see it implemented in the field. But why give a poor farmer in Africa a new seed that increases yield when that farmer cannot sell her excess produce because she has no access to markets or safe storage.

As I have said in the past, development is not what we do for people, it is what they do for themselves. Our role is to make it happen – to facilitate, to support, to enhance. Poor rural people are not waiting for hand-outs, they are looking for economic opportunities

My fourth and final lesson is – do not be afraid to dream big but think small. Sometimes, it is the smallest interventions that, when scaled up, have the biggest results. For example, a fertilizer micro-dosing technique developed by ICRISAT and its partners is helping poor farmers grow more food without exploiting the soil. The technique is simple – farmers use a bottle cap to measure out small, affordable amounts of fertilizer. The technique means that even if a famer is illiterate, he or she can safely and easily apply the correct amount of fertilizer. It is an elegant solution to an age old problem.

Another simple technology supported by IFAD was the development of urea deep placement in Bangladesh. Farmer place mini briquettes of urea near the root of rice plants rather than spreading urea over the surface of the soil. This helps release nitrogen throughout the growing season and allows for better absorption and efficient of the fertilizer. At the same time, it reduces run-of and decreases the release of volatile greenhouse gases.

The technique has proved remarkably effective. Rice yields have increased by at least 23 per cent and in someplace as much as 70 per cent.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Successful small farms lead to more vibrant rural economies, resulting in local demand for locally produced goods and services and spurring the growth of non-farm employment in services, agro-processing and small-scale manufacturing. This, in turn, leads to a dynamic flow of economic benefits between rural and urban areas so that nations have balanced and sustained growth.

Importantly, by transforming rural areas into economic hubs of activity, we make them more attractive to young people. In too many parts of the world, youth unemployment and underemployment rates are unacceptably high. Although today's young people are more educated than ever, their prospects for employment look bleak when one considers that an estimated 600 million young people in developing countries will be competing for around 200 million jobs over the next decade.

We also need to ensure that our efforts meet the needs of women, who are increasingly the farmers of the developing world.

Unfortunately, they are also usually the most disadvantaged members of their societies.

When you invest in a man, you invest in an individual, but when you invest in a woman you invest in a community. There is compelling evidence that women's education, health, nutritional status and decision-making power have a significant impact on the health and nutritional status of children.

Moreover, women are the primary care givers in rural households, and when women earn money, they are more likely than men to spend it on food for the family.

It should be clear by now that there isn't one single action we can take to improve food security. Rather, there are many and variable solutions that, when tailored to the realities of a specific region, or even a specific village, and supported by the necessary policies and institutions -- can transform agriculture, and in the process transform lives. The beauty of agricultural development is that solving one problem can often solve a multitude of others.

Sustainable agricultural development makes it possible for poor family famers to lift themselves out of poverty and improve their own food security and nutrition. It enables them to feed the world's rapidly growing it is and to help meet our ever-increasing need for food. And it allows smallholders to contribute to their nation's economic growth and development.

It is important to remember that it is not enough simply to grow more food. We already produce enough food to feed every woman, child and man on the planet. Rather, we must ensure that the benefits of growing more food reach the people who need them the most, and by this I mean not just the 2 billion people who depend on the world's small-scale farms. I also mean the pastoralists, forest dwellers, fisher folk and herders.

They are the ones who need to produce more and to produce better. They are the ones who need better nutrition, so their children can grow strong and become productive citizens. They are the ones who need to produce food in a way that uses land and water resources sustainably, so that they can feed themselves, their communities and nations. Not just for today or for tomorrow, but for generations to come.

I hope that you, the students here at the Russian State Agrarian University, will use the skills and knowledge you are acquiring to help small scale farmers realise their potential.

Thank you.

Moscow, Russia
8 October 2015