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Statement by IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze on the occasion of the emergency meeting on drought in the Horn of Africa

Location: FAO HQ, Rome, Italy

25 July 2011

Excellencies,

Esteemed colleagues,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to extend particular thanks to the French government for recognising the severity of the crisis in Africa and calling today’s meeting, and to Dr Diouf and my colleagues at FAO for hosting the event.

This is a sombre gathering.  The rains have failed in the Horn of Africa, bringing the worst drought to the region in sixty years. And as surely as night follows day, the drought has caused desperate hunger. Last week, the United Nations declared a famine in the region.

This is not the first time the rains have failed, and it won’t be the last. In this part of the world, drought is becoming ever more frequent. And with drought comes desperation, disease and death.

Those of us gathered here today cannot make the rains come. But we can respond.  In the short term, by providing the necessary aid to prevent starvation.  And in the longer term by building the resilience of those people most vulnerable to drought and other extreme weather events. We must do this so that the next time the rains fail, the countries involved and the people affected are prepared, and are less susceptible to the impact.

Let me speak plainly.  If we do not act now to build this resilience in anticipation of the next drought, we will have failed.

For years, scientists have said that climate change would lead to more frequent and more extreme weather events. It is almost impossible to say that one specific event has been caused by climate change, but we do know that we can expect more droughts. We can expect more floods.

These events will not be limited to Somalia, Kenya or the Horn of Africa.  They are a global problem. Today, there are droughts in far-flung parts of the world – from northwest China to the southern United States.  My own country of birth, Nigeria, is coping with the aftermath of flood.

In most parts of the world, the people most affected by extreme weather are the poor people who live in rural areas. Many live in at-risk areas – on hillsides, in deserts, in floodplains.

For millions of poor women, men and children, the speed and intensity of climate change are outpacing their ability to adapt. They must contend with crop failures and livestock deaths, which in turn cause economic losses, higher food prices and greater food insecurity.

As a result, millions of families that had built better lives for themselves are being dragged back into poverty as well as hunger.

Today, we must commit to working together, in partnership, to enable poor people to adapt so that they are not overwhelmed by meteorological events. We must create the conditions where they can first achieve food security and then produce a surplus.

It can be done. Even in areas prone to drought or floods. I have just returned from visiting an IFAD-supported South Gansu Poverty Reduction Programme in the Gansu Province of China. The region suffers from harsh weather conditions including frequent drought, limited water for irrigation and severe soil erosion.

But what I witnessed last week was enough to lift the spirits of anyone working in development. Despite the weather and the harsh environment, the farmers in the South Gansu Poverty Reduction Programme area are feeding themselves and increasing their incomes. I met one man whose income had risen from only $2 a day in 2006 to $35 a day last year!

The farmers of Gansu are thriving in a harsh environment because they have had the right policy support. They are thriving because they have had the right training. And they are thriving because they have been able to introduce new adapted crop varieties and technologies. They are thriving because they now have access to rural financial services.

The Gansu programme is a microcosm of what we must do on a macro scale and in other drought-prone areas such as the Horn of Africa. We must increase investment in agricultural research, which has long been neglected by donors and governments alike. Through research, we can develop and distribute seeds that are drought and disease resistant. Through research, we can develop fodder crops that are better able to withstand stress from too much or too little moisture.

We must also convert research results into sustainable agricultural intensification, with a focus on smallholder farmers vulnerable to climate events. This means complementing conventional approaches to increasing productivity with a much stronger focus on soil and water management and overall farm production systems, each tailored to the local context.

And we must commit to a community-driven development model where rural communities play a key role in influencing decisions that affect their livelihoods. When people devise the strategies themselves, they are invested in their own development and they are more likely to ensure that poverty reduction initiatives are sustainable.

Development can only be effective when it has government support. The programme in China, which is co-financed by IFAD, the Government of China and the World Food Programme, is an example of the type of partnership required.  Each of us brings our individual strengths to bear in the common cause of ensuring food security and nutrition.

We must do this not just for the Horn of Africa, but for every region in the world where poor people are vulnerable to the impact of extreme weather.

Conferences such as this play an important role in facilitating collaboration and laying the foundation for collaboration.  

By working in partnership, we can mitigate the impact of regular droughts. We can help farmers and herders build their resilience so that when the inevitable happens, and the rains fail, they are prepared.

The rains have failed, but we must not fail.

Thank you.