Launch of MDG report - 18 January 2005

Statement by Lennart Båge, President of IFAD

The good news is that achievement of the Millennium Development Goals is within our reach. As the Millennium Project report shows, the MDGs can be met in every country in the world.

We have the solutions. We just need to implement them on a bigger scale. And the time is now. The Millennium Project's Global Action Plan makes it clear: the world must act this year if we are to meet the MDG targets and timetables.

I am pleased that the report recognizes the overwhelming importance of rural development and agriculture to achieving the MDGs. The report clearly shows that the real challenge is in the rural areas – and that the biggest challenge is in Africa .

Of the world's 1.09 billion extremely poor people, about 74 per cent – 810 million women, men and children -- live in rural areas, where they depend on agriculture and related activities for survival.

The report rightly emphasizes the need to improve agricultural productivity and market access before we can truly tackle global poverty. In most developing countries, the agriculture is the single most important sector of the economy, the largest employer and the biggest export earner.

It is telling that some Asian countries that are making rapid progress towards meeting the MDGs are channelling high and increasing shares of public expenditure to agriculture and rural areas, whereas in most of Sub-Saharan Africa we see the reverse situation. In some countries in West Africa , public spending on agriculture is now below 2 per cent of government expenditures.

At IFAD, our experience shows that rural poor people have the drive and talent to better their lives but are often lacking the opportunities. The starting point for our work is our mission: enabling rural poor people to overcome poverty – themselves.

Our work focuses on three strategic objectives.

  • We strengthen the capacity of the rural poor and their organizations
  • We improve equitable access to productive natural resources and technology
  • And we increase access to financial services and markets

These are the ways we help poor rural people to build better lives for themselves and to have the power to influence the policies and conditions that affect their lives.

We have learned that poverty reduction is not something that can be done for poor people. But governments, development organizations, private corporations and NGOs can help establish conditions in which poor people can overcome poverty as producers, entrepreneurs or wage labourers, on the basis of their own skills and capabilities and according to their own aspirations.

We need to bear in mind that there is no single way to tackle a problem as vast and as complex as poverty. The MDGs tend to focus on ends rather than means, for there are many different paths to development.

When you analyze the results in the report we are launching today, you will see that progress has been achieved in countries with widely differing approaches to development and economic relations. We need to learn from these national differences and to enable countries to pursue poverty eradication according to their own circumstances, cultures and priorities.

We also need to re-emphasize the role of developing country governments in achieving the MDGs at the national level. Without national commitment to the ends, and country ownership of the means, we will not reach our goals.

Likewise, as recommendation number 7 states, high-income countries should increase official development assistance. But, as I mentioned earlier, more investment is needed in agriculture and rural areas. The share of aid going to the agricultural sector has been declining over the past decades and currently stands at only about 8 per cent.

Of course, increased aid is necessary – but this alone is not sufficient. Aid must be accompanied by more supportive policies and institutions – both globally and nationally. We see that some of the greatest MDG advances have been made in countries that are redefining their engagement in international trade. Today, local progress is increasingly shaped by international conditions and agreements – and this is particularly the case in rural areas, where poor rural people are forced to contend with the world's distorted agricultural trade regime.

While the MDGs largely focus on social and consumption indicators, their success depends on broad economic growth. IFAD, with its quarter century of ground-level experience in combating poverty, is committed to improving the economic conditions of rural poor people. We support the general directions of the report and are taking steps to do far more to help countries eradicate poverty.

Our mandate touches on almost every recommendation. For example, in response to recommendation 2 to scale up public investments and capacity building through MDG-based poverty reduction strategies, we will continue to work towards ensuring that these strategies put increasing emphasis on rural productivity, access to water, innovation, gender equality and women's rights to control assets.

In response to recommendation 3, IFAD will step up its work to build the capacity of civil-society organizations to contribute to poverty reduction strategies and to support the design and implementation of policies that enable the rural poor.

We are heavily involved in "quick-win" actions, such as empowering local communities to build their own expertise and capacities in agriculture, water supply and gender equality.

These are just a few examples of how IFAD will contribute to the action plan.

Before I conclude, I want to say that we look forward to working together with Italy , our UN sister agencies in Rome and our partners around the world to do what it takes to achieve the goals.

Mass poverty will be ended. The question is not whether, but when. We cannot allow hundreds of millions of women, men and children to live in misery. We must act now.