Fuel an "evergreen revolution" by rapid scale up of policy support and investments in sustainable smallholder agriculture

UNEP joins IFAD to launch Environment and Natural Resource Management (ENRM) policy in advance of World Environment Day 2011

Rome/Nairobi, 1 June 2011– Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and Kanayo F. Nwanze, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), today called for a dramatic increase in support for sustainable agriculture, including smallholder farmers, as a way to drive green growth and reduce poverty.

The challenge of feeding more than 9 billion people by 2050, compounded by climate change, maintaining healthy and productive land and sufficient water resources, requires a more intelligent pathway in terms of managing the world's agricultural systems.

"Agriculture is at the center of a transition to a resource-efficient, low-carbon Green Economy. The challenge is to feed a growing global population without pushing humanity's footprint beyond planetary boundaries," said Steiner.

"Investments through official development assistance (ODA) is one way of catalyzing supports for smallholder farmers. But government policies also need to scale-up and accelerate smart market mechanisms for unleashing investment flows from the private sector," he added.

"Well managed, sustainable agriculture can not only overcome hunger and poverty, but can address other challenges from climate change to the loss of biodiversity. Its value and its contribution to multiple economic, environmental and societal goals needs to be recognized in the income and employment prospects for the half a million smallholdings across the globe," Steiner added.

Rio+20 in Brazil next year will be a major opportunity for the international community to recognize the role of farmers in informing the sustainable development agenda and to provide the kind of supporting policies and financial flows able to unlock this potential, he said.

  • The world's poor rural people and especially farmers of the 500 million smallholdings in developing countries are an untapped resource in addressing the food security and environmental challenges of our day.
  • They feed one-third of the global population and constitute the largest share of the developing world's undernourished. About 1 billion people living on less than US$1.25 a day are concentrated in rural areas and 80 per cent of these depend, to varying extents, on agricultural activities for their livelihoods.
  • Smallholder farms account for 60 per cent of global agriculture, and smallholder farmers provide up to 80 per cent of the food consumed in Asia and in sub-Saharan Africa.  Agriculture and land use change account for more than 30 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions.

"Smallholders in developing countries – the majority of them women – manage to feed 2 billion people despite working on ecologically and climatically precarious land, with difficult or no access to infrastructure and institutional services, and often lacking land tenure rights that farmers in developed countries take for granted, " said IFAD's Nwanze. "Right now, we are squandering the potential of rural poor people to contribute to global prosperity. Investing in sustainable smallholder agriculture is a smart way to right this wrong."

Global estimates of investments for agriculture in developing countries to meet Millennium Development Goal 1 of halving the proportion of people living in extreme poverty by 2015, are in the range of US$14 billion to $16 billion per year.  While ODA for agriculture and rural development has doubled from $4 billion in 2002 to $8 billion in 2010, the needs far exceed the current means.

"Developing country governments are already using IFAD resources to increase agricultural production in environmentally sound and climate-smart ways, and this Environment and Natural Resource Management Policy will help us to support them even more effectively" said IFAD's Director of Environment and Climate, Elwyn Grainger-Jones. "Too often policymakers think they have to choose between feeding people or protecting the environment.  That is a false choice.  We have to, and can, do both."

Investments in sustainable smallholder agriculture must go hand-in-hand with policy and institutional reforms, investments in infrastructure and improvements in market access.  Equally important, they must also be informed by the knowledge and needs of poor women and men, Grainger-Jones added.

Notes to editors

Please join us in the ENRM Policy Launch via the webcast
June 1, 3:30 – 5:00 p.m. CET (Rome)

On 5 June, UNEP will celebrate World Environment Day (WED) in India with one of the fastest growing economies in the world and whose 1.2 billion people continue to put pressure on land and forests especially in densely populated areas where people are cultivating on marginal lands and where overgrazing is contributing to desertification.

This year's theme ‘Forests: Nature at Your Service' underscores the intrinsic link between quality of life and the health of forests and forest ecosystems. The WED theme also supports this year's UN International Year of Forests.

Media advisory No.IFAD/06/2011


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 about US$12.9 billion in grants and low-interest loans to developing countries, empowering more than 370 million people to break out of poverty. IFAD is an international financial institution and a specialized UN agency based in Rome – the United Nation's food and agricultural hub. It is a unique partnership of 166 members from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), other developing countries and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).


The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is the voice for the environment in the UN system. Established in 1972, UNEP's mission is to provide leadership and encourage partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations. UNEP is an advocate, educator, catalyst and facilitator promoting the wise use of the planet's natural assets for sustainable development. It works with many partners, UN entities, international organizations, national governments, non-governmental organizations, business, industry, the media and civil society. UNEP's work involves providing support for: environmental assessment and reporting; legal and institutional strengthening and environmental policy development; sustainable use and management of natural resources; integration of economic development and environmental protection; and promoting public participation in environmental management.