By Ochieng’ Ogodo
Rwanda is striving to rebuild its economy with coffee and tea productions, which are significant sources of foreign exchange, the country’s president, Paul Kagame, told the 35th Session of the Governing Council of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) on Wednesday.
In his opening remarks, Kagame urged the international community to “be bold and try what has not been done before. We must learn from what has worked and adapt these models to suit smallholder farmers. The reality in most developing countries is that smallholder agriculture remains the source of livelihood and food supply. Every farmer counts.”
Nearly two-thirds of the Rwandese population live below poverty line but in the past five years progress has been made according to Kagame who noted that the country’s gross domestic product has grown at an average of 8 per cent.
IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze pledged at the meeting to pull up to 90 million people out of poverty, saying that long-term rural development is the key to poverty reduction. He pointed to IFAD Member States’ commitment to a target of US$1.5 billion in new contributions for IFAD’s Ninth Replenishment of resources – a 25 per cent increase over IFAD’s last round of fund-raising.
Nwanze promised that IFAD would continue to be “the voice of the smallholder farmer, fisherperson, pastoralist, the landless farm worker and of women and youth.”
Italian Prime Minister, Mario Monti, in his maiden address to a United Nations agency since he took office, commended IFAD’s focus on women and reaffirmed Italy’s support for IFAD and the other Rome-based food agencies, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Food Programme.
The Italian leader underscored the “interdisciplinary” nature of development efforts that involves various factors including empowerment.
“Giving women equal access to agricultural resources and inputs is one of the most powerful ways of reducing poverty and hunger,” he told the packed room of international leaders and journalists. “I strongly encourage IFAD to continue to focus on this important dimension in all of its activities.”
The vice president of Liberia, Joseph Nyuma Boakai, said that ending hunger in the country was a priority and strengthening ties with IFAD will make a real difference. “We can’t keep falling back on emergency food. We must commit ourselves to sustainable agriculture,” he added.
Although the Western Africa nation is endowed with natural resources and the potential for self-sufficiency in food, it has been suffering from persistent high unemployment, low literacy and the absence of basic infrastructure such as adequate roads, water and electrical services.
In the delegates plenary session on that day, Lindiwe Majela Sibanda, CEO of the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), a regional policy and advocacy network for southern Africa, discussed the promise that the Rio+20 Conference may hold for agriculture.
“The last five years have been frustrating, when agriculture was outside of the discussions about climate change,” Sibanda said. "For the first time in history, agriculture is part of the discussions.”
The Rio+20 meeting, to be held in June, will focus on two themes: developing a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, and an institutional framework for implementing these objectives.
Development leaders and heads of state or government gathered for the opening of to discuss the world’s most urgent problem: how to feed the world and protect the planet at the same time.
The meeting’s theme is sustainable smallholder agriculture. Small-holder farming supports 2 billion people providing up to 80 per cent of the available food in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia.
Nearly 1.2 billion people depend on forests for their livelihoods, particularly important in Latin America where they cover 40 per cent of the region’s land area. An expert panel drawing on the experiences of Mesoamerica’s indigenous people and forest communities discussed how best to support the sustainable management of forests in Latin America at the IFAD meeting that ended Thursday.
“Crops for the Future” was the title of a discussion that focused on how improved crop varieties can enhance the resilience of smallholder farmers in the context of climate change.