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Statement by President Båge

Location: Paris, France

17 January 2002

Journée de Reflexion et de Debat - Developpement Rural et Lutte Contre la Pauvreté

The Challenge of Rural Poverty, Paris 18 January 2002

Mr. Saint Geours, Deputy Director General, Directorate General for International Cooperation and Development of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (DGCID),

Mr. Debrat, Deputy Director General, Agence Française de Développement (AFD),

Mr. Doucin, Secretary General, High Council for International Cooperation (HCCI),

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very pleased to be here with you today on this important Day of Reflection. This event jointly sponsored by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and IFAD, marks I believe, a new stage in our collaboration for development and poverty reduction.

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to visit Senegal where we had discussions with President Wade and members of his Government, as well as the opportunity to see the IFAD supported Matam project in one of the poorest regions of the country.

It was striking to see the dedication and commitment that these poor people of Matam, demonstrate in their daily effort to seize the opportunities of a better life. When asked what were their main concerns, they stressed that perhaps the most important was access to water and improving their use of land and crop cultivation practices as well as being able to store and conserve after harvest. Transport was another problem, roads to the market were bad.

Another important concern for the villagers was access to financial services. They showed great pride in their recently established savings and loan association and the new sturdy safe as its symbol. What was perhaps most encouraging throughout all my discussions was that the democratic process in the country allowed these very poor people to express their priorities and needs in an open way to government officials. In short, I saw poverty but also people that took advantage of new opportunities and that had hope for a better future.

The concerns and aspirations, expressed by these poor villagers in Senegal are shared by millions of poor men and women across the world. In fact, there are today over 1200 million human beings still living in conditions of extreme poverty, struggling for survival on less than one dollar per day. Three quarters or 900 million of these 1.2 billion live in rural areas. Mass poverty on this scale is a source of civic strife and instability, disease and desperation. It breeds exclusion and alienation.

Recognising that such levels of poverty are today neither acceptable nor inevitable, world leaders at the Millennium Summit in September 2000 declared their commitment to reduce the proportion of the extreme poor by half by the year 2015. Reducing poverty by half within the next fifteen years is an ambitious goal, but the history of many countries in Asia have shown that it is a goal within reach. The fact that for the first time in history, human society has at the level of heads of State and Government, collectively accepted the responsibility to overcome poverty, should provide all of us with a new inspiration to join together and share our capacities and knowledge in support of the poor.

Last year, IFAD brought out the Rural Poverty Report 2001 which looked carefully at the poverty problematique and analysed who constitutes the poor, the constraints that keep them in poverty and the most effective approaches of helping the poor overcome poverty. Mr Atiqur Rahman will present the report in a few minutes.

The Rural Poverty Report was launched in New by the Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. Kofi Annan. Since then, the Poverty Report has been discussed at a number of different forums. We have now also completed Regional Poverty Assessments and Strategies to address poverty in Africa and other regions of the world. I am sure that with the wealth of experience that many of you have on development and poverty issues, our discussions today will generate new insights on the best approaches to help the millions of human beings in extreme poverty to achieve lives of greater security and dignity.

The IFAD Poverty Report highlighted that three-quarters of the world's poor live in rural areas, depending on agriculture and related crafts, trades and services for their livelihood. It also underlined that the rate of poverty reduction during the 1990s had declined and globally it was one-third the rate required, in Sub-Saharan Africa only one-sixth.

Asia has the largest number of the poor, but it is Africa where the trends and the magnitude of poverty are most critical. Only about a third of the countries in Africa have experienced any real per-capita growth in the 1990s. In fact, in many countries in Western and Central Africa, poverty has sharply increased in the last decade, with two-thirds or more of the population below the poverty line. Mass displacements of populations, civil war, HIV pandemic, land degradation, have taken a heavy toll in terms of increased infant mortality and shorter life expectancy.

Paradoxically, even as the focus of the international community on poverty has sharpened in recent years, and in spite of the fact that the bulk of the poor live in rural areas, ODA to agriculture and the rural sector has declined by nearly half between 1986 and 1999. At the same time, domestic resources for agriculture and other productive activities of the rural poor have dropped in most developing countries.

Progress has been made in recent years under the HIPC Initiative to reduce the burden of debt of poor countries. But here again, the rural sector is not getting the attention it merits in the Poverty Reduction Strategies that underpin the HIPC. The debt reduction effort needs to be intensified, but I hope that greater priority will be given in future PRSPs to agriculture and rural development.

These trends of declining ODA and in particular, declining funds for rural development must be reversed if the Millennium Summit poverty goal is to be achieved. International development cooperation must focus increasingly on where the poor are - the rural areas - and the source of their livelihood, agriculture and related activities.

Poverty of course, is not merely economic. It is also social, political and institutional. Poverty is multifaceted and the poor are diverse. It therefore require diverse and simultaneous actions on many fronts.

The starting point must be to look at poor groups not as objects, or a burden on society, but as subjects, with the capacity to become primary agents of change. Instead of looking only at their needs, we should build on their strengths. The poor, especially women, are hardworking and often effective microentrepreneurs, whether as smallholder farmers or in petty trades and crafts. They are knowledgeable, indeed experts, on their own situation and circumstances.

Enabling these groups to use their capacities more productively is often called the empowerment of the poor. This is reflected in IFAD's mission statement, Enabling the rural poor to overcome their poverty. Key elements in this process of empowerment include allowing the poor to gain a stronger voice and influence in institutions that affect them as well as promoting better access to health, education and economic services like credit and savings. Yet empowerment will serve little purpose unless the material means for increasing production and incomes are also available to the poor.

The IFAD Poverty Report identifies four central factors which echo the concerns expressed by the villagers of Matam: Assets, particularly land and water. Technology, including advanced technologies, relevant for the crops and animals grown by poor farmers in dryland zones, for the benefit of the many and poor, not only the few and better-off.

Thirdly access to efficient and fair markets. Finally institutions. Those who control institutions usually benefit the most, and the poor rarely control institutions. Changing this and building institutions in which poor people have a strong voice is perhaps the most difficult challenge for poverty eradication and sustainable development.

The conservation and sustainable use of the natural resource base is also a question of growing importance for the rural poor. Large regions in poor countries are today at risk from desertification and land degradation. In sub-Saharan Africa, the situation is particularly grave with both land degradation and water scarcity.

The Green revolution in Asia in the 1970's depended to a large degree on irrigation and the availability of water. Today more than one-third of the arable land of Asia is irrigated. In contrast, in Africa, only about 3 to 5 percent is irrigated. Poverty reduction would require expanding availability of water there, for both production and consumption.

As regards markets, local markets as well as more distant ones are increasingly important to allow poor producers to get a fair return for their produce. Initiatives like the Everything But Arms of the European Union, to offer tariff-free access to the exports of least developed countries, need to be extended as widely as possible. For without adequate market access, the potential benefits of higher product prices and lower input prices will not be transmitted to poor households. Indeed without growing market access and support for their productive activities, poor producers risk becoming the victims of globalisation rather than its beneficiaries.

There are two other issues to which I would like to refer. The first is the question of building capacities of the rural poor. This is also the message I received from almost all the participants in the regional seminar on a strategy for rural development in West Africa that I addressed last week in Dakar. The developing world is ready to move ahead. They need not only good governance and enhanced capabilities, but also additional support.

Strong partnerships are essential for more rapid poverty reduction among all the stakeholders: civil society, the private sector, governments and multilateral and bi-lateral donors. This will require redefinition of the support mechanisms, accountability and sharing of responsibilities. IFAD will work on these along with other stakeholders to ensure that rural poverty is reduced sustainably and a firm basis is created for meeting the Millennium Summit development goals.

Finally I would like to relate to the scale and direction of development cooperation in the new context created by the Millennium Summit. The Financing for Development Conference in Mexico in March offers the first major opportunity after the Millennium Summit for the international community to translate its commitments to poverty reduction into financial commitments.

In the light of the importance of the rural sector for poverty reduction, we in IFAD are joining with our partner United Nations agencies in Rome, FAO, WFP and a number of our member states, to ensure that the Mexico Conference gives the attention and priority to rural development that is needed. France has always taken a committed and strong position on development issues. After our discussions here this week, we look forward to working in close collaboration with the French Administration in this important task.

Mr. Saint Geours, Deputy Director General, Directorate General for International Cooperation and Development of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (DGCID),

Mr. Debrat, Deputy Director General, Agence Française de Développement (AFD),

Mr. Doucin, Secretary General, High Council for International Cooperation (HCCI),

Ladies and Gentlemen,

After September 11th there is a stronger realisation that we can not build a wall between the rich and poor, that poverty, hopelessness and powerlessness, exclusion and despair are breeding grounds for social evils of all sorts including terrorism. To create a just, equitable and inclusive world is our challenge.

Over the last three decades, we have learned a great deal about eradicating poverty. What has become particularly clear is that outsiders do not solve the problem of poverty, rather the task of both governments and aid agencies is to help remove the shackles that keep the poor trapped in poverty. Our experience in IFAD, with poverty projects in 114 countries, has repeatedly shown that like those villagers in Senegal, poor groups everywhere, whenever offered the opportunity, seize the chance eagerly to raise their incomes and build more secure and productive lives for themselves and their families.

The challenge we face in ending rural poverty is to give the poor that opportunity.

Thank you.