Put farming first as global financial crisis bites, urges IFAD President

Kanayo Nwanze to attend joint AU-ECA meeting in Cairo

Rome, 4 June 2009 - African governments that nourish their agriculture sectors can limit the impact of the global financial crisis on poor rural communities and help their countries emerge from the current turmoil, according to the President of the UN's rural poverty agency, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

"The impact on Africa of the recent food and fuel crisis – and now an unprecedented global economic crisis – has been severe and threatens to undo the continent's notable economic progress," said IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze.

"Resuming economic growth, resolving the food crisis and tackling the challenge of poverty must necessarily be based on creating a dynamic smallholder agriculture sector. Investing in smallholder agriculture is the most sustainable safety net for societies," said Nwanze. Smallholder farms in Africa number some 80 million and supply up to 80 per cent of African agricultural production.

Nwanze was speaking in view of the Joint Annual Meeting of Ministers of Finance and Economy of the African Union (AU) and of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) on 6-7 June in Cairo. The theme of this year's meeting, which Nwanze is attending, is "Enhancing the effectiveness of fiscal policy for domestic resources mobilization".

"Agriculture must be kept at the forefront of government investment, because it can keep people in work, feed families, provide a social security net and help African countries save foreign exchange reserves," said Mohamed Beavogui, Director of IFAD's Western and Central Africa Division.

Up to 40 per cent of labour in sub-Saharan Africa is concentrated in the agriculture sector, which generates more than 30 per cent of export earnings.

"When the food price crisis struck, some countries adopted ‘panic policies' – closing borders, imposing price controls and applying subsidies to food imports – that harmed agriculture," Beavogui added. "It is vital that the financial crisis does not trigger similar action."

External resource flows to Africa – overseas development aid, remittances and foreign direct investments – have been declining, and the International Monetary Fund last month revised its growth forecast for sub-Saharan Africa in 2009, from 3.25 per cent to just 1.5 per cent – well below the rate of population growth.

"African governments must not be tempted to divert financial resources away from agriculture or adopt policies that reduce competitiveness, such as increasing taxes on fertilizers and agricultural equipment," noted Beavogui.

Food prices have receded from their mid-2008 peaks but remain high and volatile in many developing countries. Many African countries are dependent on imports of staple foods, in particular wheat and rice, making them vulnerable to price fluctuations.

IFAD is working in various African countries – for example, Benin, Côte d'Ivoire and Liberia – to boost production among smallholder farmers through the supply of high-yield seeds, fertilizers and agricultural tools, to allow them to keep pace with demand for food.

Notes to editors

  • Some 45 per cent of all IFAD funding goes to Africa, placing the Fund among the top three multilateral institutions on the continent.
  • On average, basic staples such as maize, rice and wheat account for 20 per cent of the food consumed in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Africa is heavily dependent on imports: 45 per cent of rice and 85 per cent of wheat, as well as almost all the fertilizer in sub-Saharan Africa, is imported.
  • It is estimated that Africa needs to increase food production fivefold by 2050 to cope with a growing population.
  • This year's AU/ECA meeting is to focus on measures for dealing with the global economic crisis.

Press release No.: IFAD/28/09

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) works with poor rural people to enable them to grow and sell more food, increase their incomes, and determine the direction of their own lives. Since 1978, IFAD has invested over US$11 billion in grants and low-interest loans to developing countries, empowering some 340 million people to break out of poverty. IFAD is an international financial institution and a specialized UN agency based in Rome – the UN's food and agricultural hub. It is a unique partnership of 165 members from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), other developing countries and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).