The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a specialized agency of the United Nations, was established as an international financial institution in 1977 as one of the major outcomes of the 1974 World Food Conference. The Conference was organized in response to the food crises of the early 1970s that primarily affected the Sahelian countries of Africa. The conference resolved that "an International Fund for Agricultural Development should be established immediately to finance agricultural development projects primarily for food production in the developing countries". One of the most important insights emerging from the conference was that the causes of food insecurity and famine were not so much failures in food production, but structural problems relating to poverty and to the fact that the majority of the developing world's poor populations were concentrated in rural areas.
IFAD is dedicated to eradicating rural poverty in developing countries. Seventy-five per cent of the world's poorest people - 800 million women, children and men - live in rural areas and depend on agriculture and related activities for their livelihoods.
Working with rural poor people, governments, donors, non-governmental organizations and many other partners, IFAD focuses on country-specific solutions, which can involve increasing rural poor peoples' access to financial services, markets, technology, land and other natural resources.
IFAD's activities are guided by the Strategic Framework for IFAD 2002-2006: Enabling the rural poor to overcome poverty. The framework's three strategic objectives are to:
- strengthen the capacity of the rural poor and their organizations
- improve equitable access to productive natural resources and technologies
- increase access by the rural poor people to financial services and markets
Underlying these strategic objectives is IFAD's belief that rural poor people must be empowered to lead their own development if poverty is to be eradicated. Poor people must be able to develop and strengthen their own organizations, so they can advance their own interests and dismantle the obstacles that prevent many of them from creating better lives for themselves. They must be able to have a say in the decisions and policies that affect their lives, and they need to strengthen their bargaining power in the marketplace.
All of IFAD's decisions - on regional, country and thematic strategies, poverty reduction strategies, policy dialogue and development partners - are made with these principles and objectives in mind. As reflected in the strategic framework, IFAD is committed to achieving the Millennium Development Goals, in particular the target to halve the proportion of hungry and extremely poor people by 2015.
Working in partnership to eradicate rural poverty
Since starting operations in 1978, IFAD has invested more than US$ 9 billion in 711 projects and programmes that have reached almost 300 million poor rural people.
But this represents only part of the total investment in IFAD projects and programmes. In the past 28 years, a further US$ 15.8 billion in cofinancing was contributed by partners. Governments and other financing sources in recipient countries have contributed more than US$ 8.8 billion, while another US$ 7.0 billion has been contributed by external cofinanciers, including from bilateral and multilateral donors. This represents a total investment of about US$ 25.0 billion, and means that for every dollar IFAD invested, it was able to mobilize almost two dollars in additional resources.
IFAD tackles poverty not only as a lender, but also as an advocate for rural poor people. Its multilateral base provides a natural global platform to discuss important policy issues that influence the lives of rural poor people, as well as to draw attention to the centrality of rural development to meeting the Millennium Development Goals.
Membership in IFAD is open to any state that is a member of the United Nations or its specialized agencies or the International Atomic Energy Agency. The Governing Council is IFAD's highest decision-making authority, with 165 Member States represented by a Governor and Alternate Governor and any other designated advisers. The Council meets annually. The Executive Board, responsible for overseeing the general operations of IFAD and approving loans and grants, is composed of 18 members and 18 alternate members. The President, who serves for a four-year term (renewable once), is IFAD's chief executive officer and chair of the Executive Board. The current President of IFAD is Mr Lennart Båge, who was re-elected for his second four-year term in 2005.