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Kanayo F Nwanze, president of IFAD is set to join African ministers at high-level meetings in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, this week to ensure that agriculture is at the top of their agendas

president_fullKanayo F Nwanze, IFAD president (Source: IFAD)

As head of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Nwanze hopes to help African nations to implement concrete plans and to increase their prospects of growth by focussing on their agricultural policies.

The move comes as the deadline to reach the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that were set by the United Nations (UN) in 2000 nears. These goals established quantitative benchmarks to tackle extreme poverty in all its forms by 2015. With only three years left, Africa is reporting mixed progress in achieving the goals according to IFAD.

“Increasing investment in agriculture is essential to achieving the MDGs,” said Nwanze, prior to leaving for the Ethiopian capital.

Investments in agriculture are more effective in lifting people out of poverty than investments in any other sector. They not only drive economic growth and set the stage for long-term sustainable development, but pay high dividends in terms of quality of life and dignity for poor rural people.

“The experience of IFAD has shown that agriculture is a business, and our business is to make sure smallholder agriculture is profitable so that rural communities can thrive,” Nwanze said. “To accelerate progress in meeting the MDGs, agriculture must be viewed as the main engine of economic growth.”

Building the capacity of smallholders and their organisations is vital so that they can become viable rural businesses, particularly for women and young people who will form the future of African smallholder farming.

“Young people under the age of 14 now make up 42 per cent of Africa’s population,” said Nwanze. “It is encouraging to see that enrolment and completion rates for primary and secondary schooling is improving in nearly all countries, for girls as well as boys.”

The Joint Annual Meeting of the African Union Conference of Ministers of Economy and Finance and the UN Economic Commission for Africa Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development will focus on how to plan post-2015. Nwanze will address the ministers on his vision for ensuring smallholder farmers are at the centre of any plan for post-2015. IFAD will speak on behalf of the continent’s smallholder farmers at the meetings, who represent 80 per cent of all farms in sub-Saharan Africa and contribute up to 90 per cent of production in some countries.

“Climate change is already impacting upon sub-Saharan landscapes, and is expected to further exacerbate land degradation and compromise productivity gains and food security,” Nwanze said.

While wealthy nations have the means to adapt, an African small farmer’s ability to cope with crop and livestock losses, drought or dust storms is infinitely less. Big swings in rainfall distribution in recent years have meant severe droughts in eastern and southern Africa and caused serious hunger crises.

Africa has always been a major focus of IFAD’s work, and has traditionally received a large share of the fund’s resources. In 2011, for example, sub-Saharan Africa accounted for about 43 per cent of IFAD funding. The organisation has stressed that transformation must start from within Africa and that the continent’s development must be made in Africa, by Africans, for Africans.

“We have also seen the miracles that can occur when local people are involved from the start, for example for restoration of degraded land,” said Nwanze.