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Keynote address by Gilbert F. Houngbo, President of IFAD, at the Stakeholder seminar Increasing smallholder resilience to climate change in developing countries

Location: Helsinki, Finland

14 March 2019

Esteemed colleagues,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to thank Mr von Bonsdorff for his kind introduction, and Ms Kalkku for highlighting the urgency of resilience for smallholders in the face of climate change.

Climate change is arguably the biggest threat our world faces.

Hurricanes, fires and floods grab the headlines. But for millions of people, the tragedy of climate change is the accumulation of incremental changes that collectively result in a harvest lost, in hunger, and lives destroyed.

The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report highlights the threat climate change now poses to agriculture – in particular to the production of staple crops.

The past four years have been the hottest on record. A temperature rise of just one degree reduces cereal yields by about five per cent.

Higher temperatures are also correlated with increasing poverty.

In some areas, higher global temperatures are already driving people to migrate away from communities that depend on agriculture.

The combination of a growing population and disrupted food supply is potentially catastrophic, particularly for Africa, which leads the world in population growth and which is also heavily dependent on agriculture for employment and GDP.

Smallholder farmers, who produce half the world’s food calories, are among the most vulnerable to climate variability and change. They lack reliable access to irrigation, quality seeds, agricultural inputs, finance and markets that could help them cope.

And smallholders who depend on rain-fed agriculture are being particularly hard hit – with more unpredictable and severe weather patterns and extreme events that affect not only harvests, but the quality of the soil.

Under these conditions, the resilience of smallholders is highly dependent on diversifying their production of crops and livestock, and having access to technology and renewable energy so they can grow more, and safely store their harvest.

Climate change is also increasing the costs for all development partners. It is estimated that developing countries need around US$70 to $100 billion a year for climate change adaptation.

Yet according to the Climate Policy Initiative, out of the estimated $463 billion invested annually in global climate finance, only $22 billion is directed towards climate adaptation.

It is in this context that, IFAD is working to foster climate-resilient agriculture and to channel climate finance to rural communities.

For more than 40 years, IFAD has worked exclusively in agriculture and rural development. A large part of IFAD’s US$18.5 billion in loans and grants has supported sustainable farming practices, including more efficient water use, diversified cropping, and sustainable land management.

IFAD’s Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme (ASAP) has introduced more agro-ecological approaches, such as integrated farming systems and permaculture. Since 2012, IFAD has invested approximately $300 million of ASAP funds in 41 countries around the world. Finland has been a key partner and donor in this endeavor.

The experience gained from testing climate resilient agricultural models is influencing IFAD’s entire investment programme.

Today, as we listen to the discussion on the science behind climate change and how to build the resilience of smallholders, allow me to share some lessons we have learned.

Firstly, the challenges we face are cross cutting, and so are the solutions. For example, agriculture contributes almost 25% per cent of all greenhouse gases. Of this, 32% is attributed to smallholders.

So as we consider ways to help smallholders adapt, we must also consider how to mitigate their emissions. Afforestation and the introduction of perennial crops, for example, result in lower emissions and higher carbon sequestration.  Grassland rehabilitation and improved fodder crop management also have huge potential.

Secondly, we must make a special effort to reach the most marginalized. Women, for example, are particularly affected by water shortages because they are the ones who collect water for the home.

Poor rural women typically work about 12 hours more per week than men. That’s an extra day and a half of labour per week.

And the importance of women to the nutrition and well being of the family is well documented.

Innovations that reduce women’s workloads and improve their access to water are critically important. Achieving gender equality and empowering women are fundamental goals of both IFAD and Finland.

Let me share one example of what this looks like on the ground. In drought-prone Mozambique, women spent hours walking to the river to collect water. During prolonged dry spells, their cattle died.    

Then came the project, providing what we call “multi-purpose” boreholes. These drilled deep into the ground to reach water and pump it into storage tanks. 

Today, women no longer have to trudge to the river. There is safe water in the village for drinking, irrigating vegetables and washing clothes. The cattle no longer die during the dry season, and women are saving time and money, and can afford to send their children to school.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Climate change is already affecting our food systems and threatening the wellbeing of millions of people in developing countries. It is imperative that we scale up efforts to address it now.

Investing in the resilience of small family famers is investing in the resilience of food systems, the resilience of communities, and the strength and stability of nations.  

Thank you.