No ocean wide enough, no fence high enough to keep out desperate people, says IFAD President at opening of Rome conference

Kanayo F. Nwanze, President of IFAD, makes his final appeal to governments on behalf of poor rural people across the globe at the opening of IFAD’s 40th Governing Council. ©IFAD/Giulio Napolitano
Kanayo F. Nwanze, President of IFAD, makes his final appeal to governments on behalf of poor rural people across the globe at the opening of IFAD’s 40th Governing Council. ©IFAD/Giulio Napolitano

Rome, 14 February 2017 – Describing rural development as a “moral obligation,” Kanayo F. Nwanze, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), made his final appeal to governments on behalf of poor rural people across the globe at today’s opening of IFAD’s 40th Governing Council.

Speaking to development leaders and IFAD’s governors, Nwanze, who ends his term of office on 31 March, emphasized the need for continued rural investment in order for countries to meet their commitment to ending poverty and hunger by 2030, outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“For nations genuinely committed to the 2030 Agenda, investing in rural areas is not a choice; it is a necessity,” said Nwanze.

Describing rural development as “a moral obligation,” he continued by saying, “When people face the prospect of dying in poverty and hunger, they migrate to cities and beyond. For them, no ocean is wide enough, no fence will ever rise high enough, no border will ever be impregnable enough to keep out desperate women, children and men.”

In her opening statement, Bibi Ameenah Firdaus Gurib-Fakim, President of Mauritius, spoke of the crisis unfolding on the ground in many African countries.

”Sub-Saharan Africa remains the locus of poverty, with too many of our fellow citizens living below the poverty line. Today nearly two in five children are malnourished and one in eight women is underweight,” said Gurib-Fakim. “In the absence of a flourishing agricultural sector, the majority of Africans will be excluded from the rising tide of prosperity,” she added

Maurizio Martina, Minister of Agriculture, Italy, also spoke during the morning’s inaugural session. He reminded government representatives of how far the international community has come in rethinking its goals and objectives in tackling poverty and hunger.

“Up until a few years ago, we spoke of simply reducing the number of people suffering from hunger and malnutrition, to reduce extreme poverty,” he said. “Today, we can rightly say that there is no such thing as an acceptable number, we are working for rural development that will bring us to one target - zero hunger.”

Martina added, “Hunger and poverty, especially in rural areas are often the first link in a chain of factors that bring conflict, instability, humanitarian emergency and migration.”

During the two-day conference, member states will appoint IFAD’s new President. Three women are among the list of eight nominated candidates who collectively represent Indonesia, Mexico, Italy, Morocco, Togo, Turkey, Dominican Republic and Switzerland. The Governing Council is IFAD’s main decision-making body and the President is the most senior position with responsibility for leading the organization.

Nwanze was appointed IFAD President in February 2009 and has served two terms, the allowed maximum. Of his many achievements, Nwanze will be remembered for the changes he has brought to IFAD’s operating model, ensuring that poor rural people are at the centre of IFAD’s work and that farming is seen as a business no matter how small scale. In his keen interest to bring the organization closer to those it’s meant to serve, he has increased the number of IFAD offices in developing countries from nine to 40.

In September 2016, Nwanze was awarded the Africa Food Prize for his outstanding leadership and passionate advocacy in putting Africa’s smallholder farmers at the centre of the global agricultural agenda.

Over the course of his presidency, the value of IFAD’s ongoing investment portfolio has increased from US$3.4 billion to $5.9 billion, due in part to his vision of a more flexible financial model which has included sovereign borrowing and other mechanisms to leverage resources.

Press release No.: IFAD/14/2017

IFAD invests in rural people, empowering them to reduce poverty, increase food security, improve nutrition and strengthen resilience. Since 1978, we have provided about US$18.5 billion in grants and low-interest loans to projects that have reached some 464 million people. IFAD is an international financial institution and a specialized United Nations agency based in Rome – the UN’s food and agriculture hub.