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07 February 2020

Mr Chairperson,


Distinguished Governors,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to the fortieth session of IFAD’s Governing Council.

I would like to thank our keynote speakers – Her Excellency Bibi Ameenah Firdaus Gurib Fakim, President of the Republic of Mauritius, and His Excellency Maurizio Martina, Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry Policy of the Italian Republic, for their insightful comments, and their championing of smallholder agriculture.

I would also like to extend a special welcome to the Indigenous Peoples representatives who have just finished their own meeting. IFAD is committed to giving Indigenous People a stronger voice on the international stage, and tomorrow we will have a chance to hear directly from them during the Panel on Indigenous Peoples.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

In a few minutes, you will start the process of appointing IFAD’s next President. At a time when the world is plagued by conflict, migration, climate change and political uncertainty, and when the nations of the world have pledged to eliminate poverty and hunger by 2030 – just 13 years from now – selecting the right person is a big responsibility. I know that your choice will be determined above all by what is best for rural populations and their development and what is best for IFAD, your institution.

Rural lives matter. And IFAD matters to rural lives.

If there is one lesson from IFAD's experience that I hope you will take back to your capitals, it is this: for nations genuinely committed to the 2030 Agenda, investing in rural areas of developing countries is not a choice; it is a necessity. Why? Because we will never eliminate poverty and hunger unless we transform rural areas into vibrant economies.

Rural development is also a moral obligation. When people face the prospect of dying in poverty and hunger, they migrate – to cities and beyond.

No ocean is wide enough, no fence will ever rise high enough, no border will ever be impregnable enough to keep out desperate women, children and men.

The forces that drive people to brave any danger, to risk their lives and even their children’s lives, concern all of us. Which is why, though we know relief is essential, IFAD focuses on long-term solutions.

When we exclude the world’s 3.4 billion rural people from opportunity, then rural poverty becomes urban poverty, rural hunger becomes urban hunger, and rural disenchantment becomes urban discontent.

This does not have to be so. Because when we invest in the economic and social development of rural areas, and when we bring clean water, electricity, roads, and financial services, to rural areas – then we are building communities that people don’t have to flee from. When we transform lives and livelihoods, we also transform communities.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Today, thanks to the reforms of the past eight years, I believe that IFAD is a stronger and more effective organization – well placed to be a partner for you, our Member States, in delivering on your 2030 Agenda commitments.

On the occasion of this, my final address to IFAD’s Governing Council, I would like to recap what we have achieved together, and to outline some of the challenges ahead for my successor.

In my acceptance statement of 18 February 2009 I committed to making “agriculture the central focus of governments to reduce poverty and hunger.” Since then, I have striven to make good on my word and stepped up IFAD’s advocacy on the international stage, starting with the G8 summit in L'Aquila in 2009 and continuing with the G20 meetings, the World Economic Forum, the World Food Prize and the COP climate meetings, among others. Today, smallholder and inclusive rural development are embedded in the 2030 Agenda.

Today, IFAD is increasingly recognized as a leader in rural transformation. Indeed, at the Addis Ababa conference on financing for development, IFAD’s contribution to development was recognized, as well as the fact that inclusive agricultural and rural development can bring  “rich payoffs” across the SDGs.

And in my statement in February 2009, I also promised to “consolidate and deepen the change and reform process”.

To guide this process, I introduced “four pillars of transformational change”. Thanks to the hard work and dedication of IFAD’s staff, and the support of our Board and Governors, each pillar is now firmly in place, making IFAD fit for purpose.

The first pillar was to make IFAD’s business model less Rome-centric. Today, IFAD is more country-focused, with 40 country offices and it supervises 100 per cent of projects and programmes. But more than that, IFAD has become less centralized, with a client portal that offers electronic banking and IT services providing 24/7 support.

The second was the structural reform and reorganization of internal processes, management and Human Resources that has made IFAD more robust but also more agile and responsive.

The third was to transform IFAD into a knowledge-based institution with a culture of rigorous, scientific impact assessment and dissemination of knowledge. Today, IFAD can make more evidence-based operational decisions and better engage in global policymaking and advocacy.

The final pillar was the transformation of our financial architecture and development of a diversified set of instruments, while at the same time strengthening our internal capacities in response to an uncertain fiscal environment.

We appointed IFAD’s first-ever Chief Financial Officer in 2011, arranged IFAD’s first Sovereign Loan with KfW in 2015, and created the first Sovereign Borrowing Framework in 2016. By leveraging additional resources and managing them more flexibly, IFAD has been able to maintain its POLG at the US$1 billion a year average.

As a result of these reforms, the past eight years have seen a number of “firsts” for IFAD:

  • An Impact Assessment Initiative which marked the first time that any development institution had attempted to assess scientifically the impact of the institution as a whole.
  • The Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme (ASAP), which has become the largest global financing source dedicated to supporting smallholders as they adapt to climate change.
  • The first ever Rural Development Report.
  • The first UN agency to be fully assessed and deemed eligible by the EC for all types of resource financing.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

IFAD is your best ally in meeting your SDG1 and SDG2 commitments because it is uniquely trusted by government, the private sector and poor rural people alike.

We have built this trust over the course of 40 years because of IFAD’s unique identity and focused mandate.

For our private sector partners, IFAD is a financial institution that understands the importance of a return on investment.  For the women and men we work with in remote rural communities, IFAD has credibility as an independent, non-partisan partner that focuses on people.

It will be up to my successor, with the support of you, our Member States and our Governing Bodies, to nurture both parts of IFAD’s dual identity. IFAD is not the World Bank. IFAD is not Oxfam. And IFAD is not FAO. IFAD is the United Nation's global international financial institution for rural development. IFAD’s hybrid nature is its strength.

And here, I would like to take this opportunity to call for a stronger and more informed and engaged Executive Board to provide strategic guidance as IFAD changes to meet a changing world.

To my successor, if I may, I would like to offer four recommendations:

Firstly, continue to look for new ways to diversify IFAD’s resource base, because replenishment funding alone is unlikely to be sufficient to meet demand for IFAD’s services.

Secondly, continue to support IFAD’s corporate decentralisation so that the Fund remains close to its clients with strong impact and results.

Third, continue to enhance IFAD as a knowledge institution.

And finally, support the implementation of best practices in Human Resources and a modern workplace – including continuing to reward and encourage excellence and supporting a better work-life balance – so that IFAD can attract and retain the best.

As this is my last Governing Council, I would like to thank IFAD staff, in headquarters and in the field. I couldn’t have asked for a more committed and dedicated staff. We have asked you to deliver more and to deliver better, to travel far from home and work under difficult conditions. I recognize the sacrifice that staff and their families have made.

I would also like to thank my wife, Juliana, who has stood by me even when there was no difference between work and home, and without whom I could not have made this journey successfully.

And I would like to express my deepest gratitude to IFAD’s Governing Council and to all Board members for your support. I am proud of what we have achieved together. 

It has been a true privilege to have had this opportunity to serve poor rural people.

I arrived at IFAD as an agricultural research scientist. I am leaving with an appreciation for the equal importance of the physical, biological and social sciences – and so much more –for inclusive development! An understanding of each of these disciplines is necessary for our investments to translate into lasting impact on the ground.

In my travels to dozens of projects, I have learned that farming at any scale is a business, and that poor rural people have remarkable entrepreneurial capabilities.

I have discovered that poor rural people are not waiting for handouts, but if you give them the tools they will build a better future for themselves, their communities and their nations.

I have witnessed how small investments can make incredible differences to nutrition and poverty reduction.

And I have seen that rural women are the heart and soul of rural areas, and when you invest in a woman you invest in a community.

These and other lessons I have learned from my many visits to IFAD-supported projects, I have tried to put down in the book you have in front of you, A Bucket of Water. But I would urge all of you who can to travel to rural areas, visit our projects, and see for yourselves. What rural people can achieve, with few resources and despite long odds, has to be seen to be believed. It made a believer of me.

Ladies and gentlemen, we need to recognize that it is not the farmers of today who will feed the world in 2050. It is the youth of today who will need to grow the food of tomorrow. They are an untapped resource, and are a development priority.

I would like to leave you with one final thought. Agriculture and rural development is not a short-term activity. It does not lend itself to political expediencies because the seeds we plant today will not bear fruit tomorrow, but in the months and years ahead.

Yet a well-planted and nurtured seed becomes in time a tree that bears fruit for many years — indeed, it may outlive us all. That is sustainability. Yesterday’s projects will continue to yield results tomorrow — they must, if we are to eliminate poverty, hunger and desperation and build a better world for our children and grandchildren.

As you adjourn to start your deliberations, know that we all anticipate that you will make a wise and forward-looking decision that will benefit the poor rural women and men we serve, not just for today and tomorrow, but for years to come.

Thank you.