There is no planetary development possible without agriculture as a base

There is no planetary development possible without agriculture as a base

By Sergio Ferrari

The fight against the misery and concentration of the earth are two poles of an almost unsolvable planetary contradiction. Finding viable solutions to confront hunger in the world implies giving sufficient means to agriculture.

Interview with Kanayo Nwanze, President of IFAD, a UN institution

The misery in the world will reach a historical record in 2009, since more than one billion people - 1,020 exactly - will suffer from hunger, according to recent estimates by the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations). This implies that one inhabitant of the earth in six suffers from serious nutritional deficiencies. In an explosive spiral, in just two years, that number increased by 200 million.

The fight against the misery and concentration of the earth are two poles of an almost unsolvable planetary contradiction. “Finding viable solutions to confront hunger in the world implies giving sufficient means to agriculture”, stresses Kanayo Nwanze, president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a specialized institution of the United Nations system based in Rome. With a Bachelor of Science from the University of Ibadan (Nigeria) and a Ph.D. in Agricultural Entomology from the University of Kansas (United States), Nwanze held the leadership of the Rice Center for Africa for ten years, before being appointed, last April, to the presidency of IFAD by the delegates of the 165 member states, after having served as vice president of that institution for two years. His philosophy at the head of said international organization was expressed in the inauguration speech: "Our imperatives will be to place agriculture at the center of the governments' concerns, reduce poverty and hunger and achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)" . Exclusive interview with Kanayo Nwanze in Geneva during a recent high-level meeting of UN institutions.

Q: Of the 1.02 billion hungry people in the world, three-quarters live in rural areas. In many cases, in countries where highly concentrated forms of ownership persist. And in which many people do not have any land available. An unsolvable problem? Completely illogical logic?

A: Your question is very relevant. It is very important to observe what role agriculture plays in the historical development of civilizations worldwide. Without a doubt, both Europe of past centuries, as well as China or India today, we see that agriculture was and is at the center of development. No nation really managed to develop without taking agriculture seriously. Furthermore, many countries in the South, and I take the concrete example of several African nations, where there is political instability is almost always where a minimum economic growth is not assured.

And in that sense, I am convinced, that great emphasis must be placed on investment in agriculture. This must be at the center of development in the broad sense.

Q: The figures, however, show a sustained increase in poverty and hunger in the world. If the key is in agriculture but solutions do not materialize, it can be said that it is a matter of lack of political will. Do you agree with this view?

A: Absolutely. The governments of emerging countries must assume their own responsibilities. And they must take up the challenge of boosting agriculture.

Which implies responding to the issue of the use of the lands that these countries have at their disposal. A large part of which is in the hands of a certain number of privileged people who do not want to understand that if they do not put their land at the disposal of efficient agriculture, there will be no growth in production and productivity.

Generally, the existence of abundant lands in the hands of rich people who do not think about agriculture is linked to governments not really committed to finding effective socio-economic solutions.

Q: What specific priorities as government policies to get out of poverty?

A: Investments in infrastructure and agriculture. In Africa, less than 5% of the land is irrigated. Many farmers depend almost exclusively on rain. Without investing in irrigation, any real improvement is almost unimaginable. I insist: sometimes it is forgotten that the development of Europe was made on the basis of agriculture. From there, he went to agribusiness and then to other spheres.

In Africa, countries like Gana have improved from real investments for agriculture. If we look at the world level, thriving nations such as China, India, Brazil and even Vietnam have advanced by prioritizing their agriculture.

Q: Analyzing the figures for the increase in hunger in the world recently anticipated by FAO, it seems that the Millennium Goals defined by the UN and the international community… What is your own evaluation of the fulfillment of the Millennium Goals?

A: It is always very useful to have clear objectives. And in that sense the Millennium Development Goals are important. In a first stage, noticeable progress was made in many developing countries, especially in Africa. However, at that time, no one would have imagined a financial and economic crisis like the one we face today. Reality that threatens the fulfillment of said goals. In particular, MDG number 1, which establishes the reduction of hunger and poverty by half until 2015. Except for some nations, such as China, I do not see very realistic that other countries can achieve the defined.

Q: More than anything pessimistic, then, regarding compliance ...

A: I don't think you can be very optimistic… Although it is not good to be too pessimistic either. The important thing now is to assess what progress we can continue to achieve, given the current situation, accentuated by the crisis.

And it is also significant to see that we have been able to make some progress. And be aware that on the horizon of 2015, if all the objectives are not met, at least know that we have taken decisive steps to support the neediest sectors.

Q: One of the Goals is to increase development cooperation from the north to the south. Seeing that northern countries are not always very predisposed to significant increases… what is your own vision on this very topical issue?

A: I think IFAD has been a pioneer in promoting this increase. And we have taken significant steps, based on a very good relationship of counterparts, within our organization, between developing countries, oil producers and developed countries, who have supported us since IFAD was founded. The common decision to define a 67% increase in IFAD financing for 2010-2012 attests to this support.

Another important element to highlight is the increasing trend of South-South cooperation, between important nations such as China, India, Brazil and between continents. I think all of this allows us to be optimistic.

I just participated in the G8 summit in L’Aquila, in Italy. The consistent decision to support the fight against poverty with 20 billion dollars, especially focused on Africa, is a very important sign. I must highlight the leadership of President Barack Obama in this decision and his demand, to the other rulers, to fulfill this commitment. A new effort for genuine North-South collaboration.

It must be remembered, however, that the food and environmental crises are very deep. And it is important to clarify well what the south really needs. For example, African leaders must show their willingness to compromise. Actively commit to respond to the priorities of their populations, to promote good governance, to ensure total transparency. It is important that they promote the correct and adequate framework so that this cooperation defined by the North is effective and beneficial.

Interview with Kanayo Nwanze, President of IFAD, UN institution, for Sergio Ferrari, from the UN, Geneva, Switzerland

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