Opening statement by IFAD President at the Fifth Global Meeting of the Farmers' Forum

Dear partners and friends,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is my great pleasure to welcome you to the fifth global meeting of the Farmers' Forum.

I know that many of you have travelled from afar to be here. On behalf of IFAD and myself, I would like to thank you for making this journey. Your participation in this forum, your experience and advice, are all vital. They contribute to the success of our development partnership and to our shared goal of placing smallholders at the centre of global food security efforts.

 2014 is, in many senses, your year. It is the International Year of Family Farming – a year in which the international development community is asked to focus on family and smallholder farms which includes forestry, fisheries, pastoral and aquaculture production. A year dedicated to appreciating how women and men, young and old, work together to keep family farms alive and make rural areas vibrant spaces.

I was gratified to see that the Abu Dhabi Declaration for the International Year of Family Farming reflected a very broad and diverse constituency of the farmers' world. IFAD has always encouraged inclusive and wide-ranging participation – as witnessed by the range of people in the room here today -- and we are glad to see this practice being adopted elsewhere.

In this special year, IFAD will advocate at the national and international levels for support to smallholder farmers and their organisations. In particular, we will make a special effort to press for policy changes that result in improvements in the rural space that benefit smallholders.  We will do this not just because this year is an international year, but because this is the core of what we do, this year and every year.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Nine years have now passed since the establishment of the Farmers' Forum. And in this time we have made significant progress.  A full 76 per cent of the project partnerships between IFAD and farmers' organizations that were established from 2006 to 2011 are still on-going.  Today, there is greater involvement of farmers' organizations as partners in our operations at local and national levels and there is greater support to your own initiatives.

Importantly, we have been able to mobilize additional funds with our partners from the European Commission, the Swiss Development Cooperation and the Agence Française de Développement. These have provided resources for grant funding that help farmers' organisations in Asia and Africa to build their institutional capacity in a wholly independent fashion. 

Moreover, partnerships developed through IFAD-funded projects have resulted in greater innovation at the grassroots level.  We will continue to be proactive in our efforts to search for and strengthen these partnerships wherever we work.

And we have listened to you. 

You called upon us to strengthen our support to women's leadership within Farmers' Organizations, and we have put measures in place to do so.  Our Rural Women's Leadership Programme supported by the Government of Norway worked on the capacity-building of rural women leaders in Madagascar, Nepal, the Philippines and Senegal.

You asked for more attention from us on development issues related to small-scale fisheries. We have been supporting your engagement in the recent negotiations of the guidelines on Sustainable Small scale Fisheries at FAO, and you had a special session of the Forum on this sector.

At our last meeting, you also recommended that IFAD strengthen its support to rural youth. Since then, we have appointed youth focal points in each of IFAD's regional divisions, and the number of projects specifically targeting rural youth is increasing. For example, six new grants dedicated to young people are now at the implementation stage in Western and Central Africa.

As I said when we last met, I am personally very committed to creating a world where young women and men choose to build their futures in rural areas. Indeed, rural transformation is at the heart of IFAD's involvement in the post-2015 agenda.

Today, our cities are growing. Healthy cities need healthy rural areas to provide, not only food, but natural resource management, clean water, even carbon sequestration.   

But without significant investment in rural infrastructure and economies, there is a real risk that global demand for food will be met by high-input, carbon intensive farms to the detriment of small family farms.

With little opportunity at home, poor rural people will follow a well-trodden path to over-crowded urban areas and abroad, leaving rural areas depopulated.

This is not a future that anyone wants. And it is not inevitable. With the right policies and investments, rural areas can thrive and grow.

Small family farms can be successful businesses that feed the cities, generate employment and stimulate the development of non-farm enterprises.  

But a primary condition for them to flourish is having sufficient access to land and water and security of tenure. We are well aware of the challenges many smallholders face in this regard, which is why we pursue our efforts and support yours in promoting the implementation of the Voluntary Guidelines on Responsible Governance of Tenure. 

Rural communities, farms and non-farm businesses alike, also need more investment in basic infrastructure – such as roads, transportation and electricity – and in services, including schools, clinics and financial services.

For small family farms to have a future, we must also change the way that farming is perceived. Farming, irrespective of size or scale, is an economic activity – a business – offering opportunities for income, good nutrition, and employment.

Agriculture must be seen as a dignified profession, a career path – as attractive and rewarding as any other -- providing a reasonable living and a decent lifestyle. Only then will young people choose to stay on the farm.

At IFAD, we recognise that development is not something that is done to people but something that is done by people for themselves.

We appreciate that the millions of small-scale family farmers are by far the biggest on-farm investors in developing countries, and that the conditions must be created for them to benefit from agricultural growth in their countries.

This is why we measure our results not by higher yields alone but by reduced poverty, improved nutrition, cohesive societies and healthy ecosystems.

This is a message I will deliver to IFAD's Governors at this week's Governing Council.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Over the next two days, we at IFAD would like to hear from you. After nearly a decade, what is the next step in our partnership? How could the model of this forum evolve and improve? What do you think needs to change so that IFAD can deliver more and better for smallholder farmers and fishers and their organizations?

As you know, 2014 is a replenishment year for IFAD, when we ask our member states to fund our work. IFAD advocates on your behalf and supports your own advocacy efforts, but in this year we will also need you to advocate to your governments on our behalf.

Today, the world is sitting up and taking notice of something that each of you here in this room has always known – that agriculture is the mainstay of human societies.

This is being recognised in the International Year of Family Farming, and in the African Union's Year of Agriculture and Food Security.  And the huge potential of agriculture is increasingly recognised by the investment community.

But with opportunity comes risk. Smallholder farmers, particularly women, risk being excluded or marginalised. Now is the time to establish terms and relationships that are favourable for family farmers, foresters, pastoralists and artisanal fishers, so that they can invest in and grow their own businesses, and so that millions of poor rural people can lift themselves out of poverty.

Working together we can enable others to learn what you already know – investment in agriculture, and smallholders in particular, is not just about food security, it is also about creating jobs.   It is about generating wealth; transforming the rural space; creating cohesive societies; and most importantly, it is about empowering rural people and lifting millions of them out of poverty.

I wish you all success in your deliberations during the next two days.

Thank you.