IFAD’s President calls for increased investment in agricultural research and market access for smallholders at African Green Revolution Conference

Press release No.: IFAD/38/08

 Oslo and Rome, 29 August 2008 – "Smallholder farmers in Africa need to be empowered to become rural entrepreneurs who can build productive and profitable partnerships with the private sector," said Lennart Båge, IFAD's president, at the start of the second day of the African Green Revolution Conference.

"Too often agriculture is seen as an unproductive and unprofitable sector," said Båge.  "But the truth is that agriculture and those tilling the land –men and women smallholder farmers – have the capacity to feed the world while managing and protecting some of the key assets of our global environment."

"Smallholder farmers do not need hand-outs or short-term fixes. They need effective, innovative and sustained investment," Båge said.

In 2003, the United Nations called for agricultural development to be placed at the forefront of the fight against extreme hunger and poverty. Half a decade later, the world is still debating how best to bring agricultural development to Africa. "The world urgently needs a green revolution in Africa.  And the African continent has the potential to deliver," Båge said.  "But we are still failing, collectively, to give Africa the level of co-ordinated and cohesive support that it needs to do so."

The AGR Conference is bringing together world leaders, representatives of the private sector and development practitioners in a two-day debate to find sustainable ways of boosting agricultural productivity in Africa. In light of today's food security crisis and current estimates that the global demand for food will increase by one-half in the next 20 years, greater investment in agricultural productivity is crucial for poverty reduction and future economic stability.

Agriculture has been shown time and again to have a powerful impact on poverty reduction.  Growth in agriculture has driven wider economic growth throughout history – from 18th century England, to 19th century Japan, to 20th century India. And growth in agriculture really delivers: according to the 2008 World Development Report, GDP growth generated by agriculture is up to four times more effective in reducing poverty than growth in other sectors.

Almost two billion people depend on the world's 450 million smallholder farms for food and livelihoods; if supported by the appropriate mix of policy and investment measures, these farmers can lift themselves out of poverty and contribute to their country's economic growth.

Agricultural research is essential in order for a sustainable and inclusive African Green Revolution to take place. To be effective in reducing poverty, this research must focus on varieties that meet the needs of poor rural farmers and respond to the challenges they face from pests, droughts and salinity. Investment in agricultural research, which so successfully drove the Green Revolution in Asia, has been shown to deliver rates of return in excess of 40 per cent.  IFAD is one of the major financial supporters of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) system and is now helping to review the system and reorient it to the new research agenda of today.

Note for editors

  • This year's African Green Revolution Conference, with the theme ‘An Alliance for Action',  hosts a diverse group of about 200 participants including farmers and development practitioners, heads of state or government, senior government officials, representatives of non-governmental organizations and civil society, and leaders from the private sector. It will provide a venue for considering public-private partnerships aimed at increasing Africa's agricultural productivity. Further information on the conference is available on the African green revolution conference website.
  • Just 3 per cent of ODA funds are currently invested in agricultural and rural development, compared with about 18 per cent thirty years ago.  Aid investment in agriculture also declined in absolute terms, from a high of about $8 billion in 1984 to $3.4 billion in 2004. This long-term decline in investment in the global agricultural sector is a significant factor in the structural problems that underpin the soaring costs and dwindling availability of food today.
  • IFAD is the only multilateral financial institution to have actually increased resource flows to agriculture in the past five years, having increased its loans and grants programme by an average of just over 10 per cent a year since 2003. Almost 50 per cent of IFAD funding goes to Africa. IFAD is among the top three multilateral institutions investing in agriculture there.
  • IFAD, together with FAO and WFP, is a signatory agency of the Memorandum of Understanding between the UN Food Agencies and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) aimed at boosting food production in Africa's "breadbasket" areas. This will be done by linking local food production to food needs, and working across Africa's major agricultural growing areas to create opportunities for smallholder farmers.

IFAD was created 30 years ago to tackle rural poverty, a key consequence of the droughts and famines of the early 1970s. Since 1978, IFAD has invested more than US$10 billion in low-interest loans and grants that have helped over 300 million very poor rural women and men increase their incomes and provide for their families. IFAD is an international financial institution and a specialized United Nations agency. It is a global partnership of OECD, OPEC and other developing countries. Today, IFAD supports more than 200 programmes and projects in 81 developing countries and one territory.