At Davos, IFAD highlights rural development as key to nutrition and food security

22 JANUARY 2014 – The world is in the midst of a series of unprecedented transformations. From the accelerating effects of climate change and income inequality to the problem of feeding a global population on the rise, the issues at stake are urgent and clear. Yet the international community remains largely focused on responding to crises rather anticipating and strategically planning its future course.

The 2014 annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) aims to address this apparent disconnect with dozens of panels reflecting its overall theme, ‘The Reshaping of the World'. Under way this week in Davos, Switzerland, the forum brings together hundreds of academics, government officials and representatives of international organizations, as well as more than 2,000 business leaders. Their goal is to develop the insights and actions necessary to respond to current and emerging challenges, with a strong emphasis on public-private collaborations.

Agriculture as a business
For IFAD, Davos offers an opportunity to underscore the importance of investing in smallholder agriculture as a business. IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze, who is participating in the forum, made the case succinctly in a speech last year on agricultural investment in Africa. "As we invest in agriculture, it is important to recognize that farming, even at the smallest scale, is a business," he said, adding that "smallholders are the primary on-farm investors in agriculture; they invest not only their own money but also their time and labour."

In a series of WEF discussions on sustainable agriculture and rural investment, Nwanze is making the point that governments and private enterprises must approach small-scale farmers as partners in order to effectively reduce rural poverty. This point is also at the heart of the International Year of Family Farming, which the United Nations is marking in 2014 to recognize the importance of the world's 500 million small farms in contributing to food security.

More broadly, Nwanze is arguing in Davos that partnerships are more crucial than ever to generate long-term solutions on several fronts – including climate change, volatile food prices and under-nutrition.

Indeed, on the critical issue of nutrition, IFAD-supported projects have always worked to raise smallholder farmers' incomes as a means of increasing access to food, because many of the poorest farmers are also food buyers. In addition, improving nutrition means boosting agriculture so that smallholders can increase and diversify their production. IFAD has done this for decades through its support for integrated farming and agroforestry systems.

Cross-cutting issues
At WEF, Nwanze is outlining these and other IFAD interventions that align with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's stated goal of zero hunger worldwide. At the same time, the IFAD President is advocating a comprehensive approach to development, comprising the economic, social and environmental dimensions of target countries and communities.

Such an approach is based on the fact that food security and nutrition are not stand-alone issues. Rather, they are cross-cutting. They tie in with virtually every aspect of the post-2015 global agenda, which will guide international decision-making on development issues after the Millennium Development Goals wind down next year. And in the post-2015 context, the world will need rural areas to be productive and resilient. Among other priorities, this will entail redressing inequalities between rural and urban areas, and promoting job growth in rural communities, as essential elements of poverty eradication and sustainable development.

The global spotlight today is on development goals and targets, but ultimately, it is action that will make a difference on the ground. Davos is an ideal venue for advancing the kinds of investments and partnerships that can measure up to the challenges ahead, in rural areas and beyond.