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Statement by IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze at the Holy See

Où: Rome, Italy

25 novembre 2015

Agricultural development and the fight against hunger – the call of Pope Francis’s encyclical


You Eminence Cardinal Beniamino Stella
Your Excellency Ambassador Maria Laura da Rocha
Monsignor Chica Arellano,
Professor Villagrasa,
Professor Garcia,
Esteemed colleagues, 
Ladies and gentlemen,


These are troubling times.

As we gather to discuss agricultural development and the fight against hunger, Europe is still reeling from the barbarous acts of terrorism that took so many lives in Paris, and the threat of more violence to come.

I do not need to tell those of you who live in Rome, about the increased police presence on our streets and the uneasiness in the air.

And let us not forget the slaughter in the same week on the streets of Beirut, in a hotel in Bamako, a bus in Tunis, and in the state capitals of Kano and Yola in my own country of Nigeria.

These are not isolated cases. Rather, they are a sign of encroaching darkness, of evil, and a growing lack of value for human life.

Yet even in these dark hours, there are signs that light will prevail: In the solidarity that nations are showing each other. In the remarkable individual acts of kindness and compassion from citizens around the world.

Acts of inhumanity and violence can strengthen our common resolve, unite us and make us more resilient, provided we join together and hold fast to our convictions and our belief in the dignity of all members of the human race in the face of those who wish to divide us.  

Now you may ask, what does this have to do with agricultural development and hunger? What does it have to do with climate change? My answer is: everything. Because respect for our common humanity must be the starting point for solving the problems of our world – whether we are talking about terrorism, hunger or the future of our planet.

Ladies and gentlemen,

My institution, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, IFAD, works in the rural areas of developing countries, where poverty and hunger run very deep.

These areas are home to three-quarters of the world’s poorest and undernourished people. Most of them depend on agriculture for their lives and livelihoods. They confront the challenges of poverty, of hunger – and often conflict and climate change – on a daily basis with very limited resources, and sometimes none at all. But they live far from the limelight. They are the invisible members of our human family -- forgotten by the media and often by their own governments.

In our work to end rural poverty and hunger, we have always considered the church an important ally, and never more so than this year with the issuing of Laudato Si.

We share the belief that we must be the custodians of the natural world, not the “lords and masters”. And through our work in some of the most remote areas of developing countries, we see every day that those who have done the least to contribute to environmental destruction and climate change are the ones paying the biggest price.

All of us working in developing country agriculture have witnessed the impact of climate change on farming – the increasing crop losses and livestock losses. Agriculture has always been a risky business. Today it is even more so.

Our topic today is timely with the COP 21, UN Climate Change Talks, taking place in Paris in just a few days. The link between climate change, poverty and food insecurity is irrefutable. Indeed, the World Bank recently warned that 100 million more people are likely to be pushed into extreme poverty as a result of climate change. And just today, our colleagues at FAO issued a report on the impact of extreme weather on developing country agriculture.

Other studies confirm that there is a correlation between temperature changes and the outbreak of war. And it is also a factor in the growing refugee crisis, as migrants flee their homes in search of greener pastures.

Around 3 billion children, women and men live in the rural areas of developing countries. Most of them depend on agriculture for their lives and livelihoods. Helping small-scale farmers and fishers in developing countries adapt to – and even mitigate -- climate change is essential to implementing Agenda 2030 and meeting the Sustainable Development Goals.

The upcoming COP meeting is expected to produce a global agreement that will enable us to work towards these goals.

Food security must be part of any climate deal because the future of humanity depends on a sustainable food supply based on sustainable agricultural practices.

Everyone can make a contribution to addressing climate change, and smallholder farmers are no exception. They can transform our support and investment into success for themselves and for the world.

A world without small farmers would be a hungry world, a world with less biodiversity, and without the rural communities that develop around small farms.

And small farms contribute to community-building in ways that are essential to the health and wealth of nations, and that goes far beyond on-farm activities.  Successful small farms provide jobs for unskilled laborers; they provide business opportunities in the non-farm rural sector – and, of course, also they provide food for their communities.

Our job as development practitioners is to work with small-scale producers as partners in development, to help them become part of the solution to both climate change and food security.

So how do we do that?

Firstly, we take what we know and apply it in the field.

There are many proven climate change adaptation measures, such as mixed crop and livestock systems, conservation agriculture and sustainable watershed management.

Simply giving small farmers training to improve traditional techniques or giving them access to existing technology can make a big difference. 

Secondly, we must challenge ourselves to develop new, climate-smart technologies. I will give to you an example. More than a decade ago, IFAD partnered with the Government of China to transform animal waste into dollars. The programme used biogas digesters to turn the bio-methane from waste into household fuel, making it less damaging to the atmosphere and far less damaging to human health. And women who once spent hours gathering firewood had time for other economic activities.

This technology is spreading in Asia and Africa. In Kenya and Rwanda, we are scaling up a new generation of low-cost portable biogas systems. They save families hours spent collecting firewood for cooking, and also help preserve vegetation. The cleaner fuel means that children have fewer respiratory diseases.  And all of this can be achieved with just one cow!

Thirdly, we must invest our time, energy and money in rural transformation. 

We need our rural areas to grow our food, but too often the people who live there are forgotten and neglected. They lack the most basic of services that would allow them to grow more food and improve their lives.

Today, only about 10 per cent of poor rural people in developing countries have access to even the most basic financial services from formal institutions. Inadequate roads mean that more than one-third of the rural population of sub-Saharan Africa lives five hours from the nearest market town of 5,000 people. 

And, perhaps most shocking of all, an estimated 20 to 40 per cent of the crops produced in sub-Saharan Africa deteriorate after harvest because they cannot be safely stored. Post-harvest grain losses in sub-Saharan Africa average US$4 billion every year. This is a senseless and scandalous waste on a continent where so many still go hungry.

These are not natural disasters; they are man-made. And they can be changed by investing in and transforming rural areas.

What do I mean by rural transformation? I mean the type of smallholder-led development that has produced massive agricultural gains in Brazil, China and Viet Nam. I mean development that is centred on people -- development that invests in them.

I mean investing in change that is social as well as economic so that rural areas are socially viable and economically vibrant. I mean investing in change that is comprehensive and inclusive in its nature, and lasting in its impact.

The benefits of rural transformation reach far and wide.  All of us stand to gain when there is a flow of goods, services and money between rural and urban areas. All of us benefit from healthy food, clean water and fresh air.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As we consider the topic of agriculture for development let us look at the bigger picture and commit to transforming rural areas so that they offer a range of opportunities for decent and dignified lives.

Let us remember that the world we live in is global. Its problems and solutions are not limited by geographic or political boundaries. What happens in a small village in Africa can have a ripple effect that reaches Europe and beyond.

And let us remember that the invisible people of the developing world are part of our shared humanity. Their poverty is our poverty; their hunger is our hunger. And their dignity is our dignity.

Poor rural people are not waiting for hand-outs; they are looking for economic opportunities and a safe home for their families. Young people who can see a future for themselves at home have little reason to migrate to urban centres and big cities, where they too often they fall prey to divisive rhetoric and extremism. 

The future is in our hands. Do we allow the number of disenfranchised to grow, and risk the consequences of more young people becoming instruments of darkness or evil? Do we confirm, through our actions, that some human lives are more valued than others?

Or do we make our common humanity the starting point of everything we do?

I believe that by working with poor rural people as partners in development, we can start the long process of adapting to climate change, improving food security, and at the same time make a lasting contribution to the security and well-being of every creature that calls our planet home.

Thank you.