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Welcoming remarks by Gilbert Houngbo, President of IFAD at the Fourth Indigenous Peoples’ Forum

Promoting Indigenous Peoples Knowledge and Innovations for Climate Resilience and Sustainable Development

Location: IFAD headquarters, Rome, Italy

12 February 2019

Excellencies, esteemed indigenous peoples’ representatives,

Partners and colleagues,

Ladies and gentlemen,


It is my honour and privilege to welcome all of you to the fourth global meeting of the Indigenous Peoples' Forum at IFAD.

As my colleague, Associate Vice President Paul Winters mentioned, many of you have travelled great distances to be with us here today. I want to personally thank you for the effort you have made to come and share your wisdom and your insights.

Our ambition, at IFAD, is to help create a world without poverty, a world without hunger. And we have a special commitment to Indigenous Peoples.

There are an estimated 370 million Indigenous Peoples worldwide – and we know this is probably an under-estimate[1]. But even on that conservative calculation, Indigenous Peoples are a disproportionate group among the poor. They make up only 5 per cent of the world population, but about 15 per cent of those living in extreme poverty.

So the global development community absolutely must work hand-in-hand with all of us here today to achieve the first Sustainable Development Goal of ending poverty in all forms, everywhere.

Partnership with Indigenous Peoples is part of IFAD’s DNA, and it has been fortified over the years. Effective partnership requires effective instruments -- like the Indigenous Peoples Assistance Facility (IPAF) and obviously this current Forum.

Since2007, IPAF has been used to directly fund projects that are designed and managed by indigenous communities themselves.

We believe that ownership is essential to development. And because of that, IPAF is governed by a Board, composed of your leaders.

As for the Forum, it is a unique instrument to promote a systemic dialogue between us. The Forum as you know is run by a steering committee made up of Indigenous Peoples and the Forum’s findings feed into the proceedings of IFAD’s Governing Council, which starts two days from now.

Over the years, thanks to your guidance, we have improved the design of projects to better meet the needs of Indigenous Peoples.

Dialogue has vastly improved our understanding.

We need your feedback, we need your feedback on how to strengthen our partnership. I know there will be times when we do not meet your expectations.  But I can assure you that we remain determined, that our commitment to Indigenous Peoples is strong.

The regional meetings that will take place this afternoon with our country directors are an opportunity for you to review the progress and identify new opportunities in our country programmes.

I am glad to see that you have chosen to make climate resilience and sustainable development the theme of this fourth global meeting. The world needs your knowledge and your innovation.

The impact of climate change is increasingly evident in the regions where IFAD works. The deep connection and dependence Indigenous Peoples have with our ecosystems mean that you perceive the changes better than others.  

Here at IFAD, we know this is an area where we must do more, which is why we have mainstreamed climate change across our portfolio.

And we are working in many of our projects to prevent the unsustainable use and over-exploitation of natural resources and over-grazing, which are issues of particular concern for many indigenous communities.

In fact, indigenous peoples are custodians of 80 per cent of the world’s remaining biodiversity.

You have much to teach all of us about how to respect, how to protect and how to conserve natural resources. Your ancestral knowledge, combined with your day-to-day experience of what is happening on the ground, can provide us with valuable lessons in how to adapt to and mitigate climate change and become more resilient.

But your voices are too often unheard.

The UN’s Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, has expressed her grave concern at the “drastic increase in attacks and violence” directed against Indigenous Peoples.

She also noted the role that intensified competition and exploitation of natural resources is playing in this violence.

At IFAD we want to support your efforts to make yourselves heard in the defence of your rights, which are established by international conventions and declarations.

And our projects provide important evidence for us to act as advocates for Indigenous Peoples in high-level regional as well as global negotiations.

I am glad to see so many partners here – from FAO, to the ILO, to the Islamic Development Bank and UNESCO – just to name a few. Their presence is testament to our commitment to work together for a stronger voice on the issues that affect Indigenous Peoples.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Since IPAF began operations in 2007, about 100,000 people have benefited from 127 projects financed in 46 countries. Half were women.

These projects have spanned climate change adaptation and natural resource management, land tenure, financial services, women's empowerment, food security, and even community programming and literacy.

Let me briefly mention two in particular which are showcased in the lobby. In Colombia, from 2015 IPAF funding was directed to the indigenous Pijao community of Natagaima. They were facing decreasing yields and lack of water as the desert advanced.

In partnership with the Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), they identified climate change adaptation measures. Project participants switched to drought-tolerant forage crops. They planted traditional caupi beans and set up 49 community gardens. Food production and diversity has surged.

A second project was designed to improve the livelihoods of women in South-West Ethiopia. Our support enabled the development of techniques for producing, preserving and processing enset, which is commonly used to make a form of bread that we know very well. A demonstration plot also produced about 29 varieties, including rare species that were disappearing, and distributed over 2,900 seedlings.

Dear colleagues,

Beyond our work on the ground, IFAD also brings the concerns and voices of indigenous peoples to high-level regional and global negotiations.

Ending poverty and hunger is challenging because their causes are complex. And as you have identified, climate change is adding to the challenges. Our success will depend on working across sectors and across disciplines, and exploring innovative solutions.

We are very delighted when we identify those solutions, and we strongly believe that many of them are to be found in the traditional knowledge and capacity for creative problem solving of Indigenous Peoples.

So, let me wish you a fruitful forum, and I’m looking forward to its conclusion. I thank you so much.

Thank you.