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Keynote statement by Gilbert F. Houngbo, President of IFAD: A Sustainable Food Future - The latest challenges for global food security

Location: Chatham House, London, UK

26 November 2018

Distinguished colleagues,

Fellow speakers and panellists,

Ladies and gentlemen,

 

The next decade will determine the shape of global and national food systems for generations to come. Unless we take action now to make food systems sustainable, we will compromise nutrition, we will compromise food security, and we will compromise the capacity of billions of rural women and men to earn a decent living.

This may sound overly dramatic, but not when you consider the context.

We all know that the world population is expected to reach 9.9 billion by 2050.  Most of that growth will be in Africa, where the population is expected to double, to 2.6 billion.

Can we produce enough food to feed the world population sustainably? Yes, but today we are not.

Last month’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report highlights the threat climate change now poses to agriculture – in particular to the production of staple crops.

Rising temperatures are also correlated to increasing poverty rates. And in some areas, higher global temperatures are already driving people to migrate away from communities that depend on agriculture.

So, on the one hand we have population growth led by Africa – a continent heavily dependent on agriculture for employment and GDP -- and on the other hand we have climate change both threatening agricultural yields and contributing to migration from rural areas.

We also know that climate change leads to competition over natural resources.

Smallholder farmers are among the most vulnerable to climate variability and change.

And those who depend on rain-fed agricultural systems are being particularly hard hit by the effects of climate change

Clearly, we need to build their resilience.

 

Ladies and gentlemen,

 

As you know, the number of hungry people in the world has risen for a third consecutive year, after a decade of steady progress (821 million in 2017 from 804 million in 2016)

In Africa, today one out of every five people is chronically undernourished.

Yet while millions starve, the global food system is being shaped by demand from a global population that, overall, is becoming more affluent and shifting towards a diet richer in meat and dairy.

It is no coincidence that the latest State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) report showed overweight and obesity affecting nearly 2 billion adults worldwide. And it is rising in every region, including in low and middle-income countries.

It is time to take a step back and ask ourselves -- what is it that our food systems need to deliver?

I would answer, firstly, they must provide food that is both nutritious and affordable for everyone; not just the rich.

Second, food systems must be environmentally sustainable. Remember that many of the spectacular gains in the first Green Revolution were reversed because of unsustainable farming practices.

Third, we want food systems and value chains that are inclusive of smallholder farmers and allow them to prosper.

Smallholders today produce 50 per cent of all food calories on 30 per cent of the world’s agricultural land.  In sub-Saharan Africa, 80 per cent of all farms are small.

And fourth, we need food systems that double both the productivity and the incomes of smallholder farmers, in line with the second Sustainable Development Goal.

To achieve this, the development community must rediscover agriculture for what it is -- not only a source of food security and nutrition, but also as driver of economic growth – especially for developing countries.

Agricultural development, if properly managed, can be a powerful means of transforming rural economies and societies – by creating a range of decent employment options on and off the farm, strengthening communities, contributing to social empowerment, and human dignity.

IFAD’s experience shows that smallholder farms can be transformed into profitable businesses that supply local and national markets, generate surpluses, and offer rural people a pathway out of poverty and hunger.

The challenge is to create the right conditions that enable smallholders and agripreneurs to realize these opportunities. 

This requires action by national governments, the development community, and private sector partners alike.

One key element is to make sure that farmers receive an equitable share of what food costs. Despite growing consumer support for fair trade, farmers do the most work but receive the least pay. In the United States, for example, farmers receive only 14.8 cents for every dollar that consumers spend on food.

Similar data for the developing world is hard to come by. This underscores the fact that there is a serious data gap in development. Every year US$239 billion is invested in agriculture in low and middle-income countries without recent or good quality data. Policy decisions are made on the basis of equally unreliable information.

We urgently need rural-urban disaggregated indicators if we want to end poverty, hunger, and under-nutrition.

 

Ladies and gentlemen,

 

Tomorrow’s sustainable food systems require investment in the people who will run them — today’s youth.

80% of the world’s young people (aged 15-24 years) live in developing countries. They are two to three times more likely to be unemployed than adults. They are also more likely to migrate when they have no opportunities at home.

We need to take action to promote access to training and financing for rural youth, and investment in modern infrastructure and technology, so that rural areas offer young people the decent livelihoods and modern lifestyles they aspire to.

With this in mind, IFAD and its partners plan to launch an innovative impact investment fund next year.

It will have a focus on youth, and will provide a channel for our partners to direct additional finance to target groups.

IFAD is also exploring creating a grant window in support of the SDG2 aim to double agricultural productivity and incomes for small-scale food producers, while contributing to sustainable and resilient food production systems.

It will serve a range of needs, such as improved seeds, fertilizers, irrigation, and climate smart technologies.

These will complement investments made through our Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme -- or ASAP.

ASAP channels climate finance directly to smallholders. It allows IFAD to scale-up proven climate change adaptation methods – such as mixed crop and livestock production – increasing agricultural productivity while diversifying risks.

ASAP is investing in a number of areas to build resilience. These include, more systematic analysis of climate risk and vulnerability; innovation to boost the capacity of farmers and their organizations to manage climate risks; and scaling up sustainable agricultural techniques.

 

Ladies and gentlemen,

 

In my experience as the head of IFAD, and as Prime Minister of Togo, I have witnessed sustainable practices that generate financial and social returns for smallholders.

If we can reorient our food systems so that business objectives are aligned with the inclusion of smallholders and longer-term environmental sustainability – and if we invest in the resilience of all small and medium producers -- we will be able to meet the nutritional needs of the future, help end poverty and hunger, and create the conditions for dignity of all.

 

Thank you.