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A small army of social reporters covered IFAD’s 2012 Governing Council of UN member states last week, attracting unprecedented online attention to the meeting at the agency’s Rome headquarters. This robust virtual presence supplemented regular media coverage of the high-profile gathering, which featured heads of state and other top officials and policy makers, as well as one of the world’s leading philanthropists.

The GC convenes annually to guide IFAD’s strategic investments in smallholder agricultural development and poverty reduction. Its theme this year – ‘Feeding the world, protecting the planet’ – emphasized the need to make rural livelihoods more viable and environmentally sustainable in an era of population growth and climate change.

Concurrent with the GC this year, IFAD’s biennial Farmers’ Forum also filled the agency’s conference rooms and corridors with representatives of small-scale producers’ organizations around the globe.

Throughout the meetings, the social reporters blogged, tweeted, and posted photos and videos on IFAD’s various social media platforms. In total, the GC and Farmers’ Forum produced some 5,900 tweets (under the hashtags #ifadgc and #fafo12), which appeared in Twitter feeds with millions of followers worldwide. The main speakers and panels, plus many side events, were also webcast live.

To review all of the GC and Farmers’ Forum posts, check the ‘blog archive’ links in the lower right column of this web page. Links to a small sampling of individual blog posts follow.

IFAD President looks ahead.  In the run-up to the GC, the President of IFAD, Kanayo F. Nwanze, shared his high expectations for the 2012 meeting in a brief video interview.

‘Youth in Agriculture.’ At a Farmers’ Forum pre-meeting held on 18 February, about 30 delegates from rural youth organizations developed action plans to help make agriculture a viable option for young entrepreneurs in developing nations.

‘The future is in our hands.’ The Farmers’ Forum kicked off on 20 February with a grassroots focus on the challenges faced by smallholder farmers and fishers around the world.

Smallholders and Rio+20. On the second day of the Farmers’ Forum, a working group on the upcoming Rio+20 conference reflected smallholders’ perspectives on climate change and agriculture, and their determination to be heard by world leaders.

Governing Council opens. As the GC began on 22 February, there was a palpable sense of anticipation about the presence of two heads of state, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame and Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, who delivered keynote speeches that day.

Meeting women farm leaders. After the opening speeches at the GC reaffirmed the central role of women and youth in smallholder agriculture, a Farmers’ Forum side event on women’s leadership got down to the nitty-gritty of development work and gender equality.

‘What will Rio herald for agriculture?’ At this compelling GC centre-stage event, Dr. Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, CEO of the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network, called for decision makers to put farmers first and allow them to produce food sustainably.

The role of remittances. The immense development potential of rural investments by communities in the diaspora catalysed an animated discussion at this GC side event, organized by IFAD’s Financing Facility for Remittances.

Gates at centre stage. On day two of the GC, following a keynote address by Italian Minister for International Cooperation Andrea Riccardi, philanthropist Bill Gates offered his views on a different future for smallholder agriculture. Another take on the Gates event is here , and a blog post about the expanding partnership between IFAD and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is here.

By the time the GC and Farmers’ Forum wrapped up, participants had been informed, inspired and challenged by these discussions and many more. And IFAD, through its social reporting network, had captured that excitement and shared it with interested and influential people worldwide.

by Silvia Sperandini and Elaine Reinke

“We are the birds who letting innovations travel around the world”, is how Diana Puyo, PROCASUR Africa Coordinator, yesterday opened the Learning Route on innovative livestock marketing from Northern to Eastern Africa organized by PROCASUR in partnership with IFAD’s Near East, North Africa and Europe Division and technical support of the Policy and Technical Advisory Division.

22 “Routeros”, route participants from various IFAD-supported projects and implementing partners, are now gathered for an intense 12-day journey across various districts and communities in Kenya. The majority of them comes from Sudan but the group also includes participants from Somalia, Madagascar, Ethiopia, the US and Europe, who are all connected through the common interest of improving their practice in the livestock sector and become agents of change in their countries by bringing new ideas and successful solutions back to their projects, organizations and communities packaged in concrete innovation plans they will develop during the route.

Over the next days, the route participants are the knowledge seekers who will learn directly from rural communities and practitioners – the local champions. The trainers probably never went to school, and are unlikely to read or write, but they are the real experts since faced similar challenges and identified solutions to overcome them.

The first day in Nairobi was preparatory for the field experiences but already stimulated a lot of rich and lively discussions , fueled by group of Kenyan livestock experts who presented an overview of the national livestock industry. Now many questions are on the table and are waiting to be answered by the good practices that will be visited: What are effective ways to bridge the gap between markets and producers? How to meet market information needs of different stakeholders, and how to improve effectiveness and performance of development projects aimed at livestock marketing?

In the next days the participants will visit the following host cases:
- Siana Masaai Women and Kilitome Market Access Committees
- Using M- PESA as an Innovative Livestock Marketing Tool for Pastoralists
- Linking Community Slaughter Houses to Urban Markets
- Anolei Camel Milk Cooperative
- Meru Goat Breeders Association

Tomorrow will be our first encounter with some of the rural champions who will be our trainers during this route … don’t miss it. Remember, innovations travel in people’s mind – stay tuned join our journey!

It’s the last hours of the last day of the 4th global meeting of the Farmers’ Forum, and you would think that the energy of the participants would be running low. I am happy to tell you that this was not the case of the side event on the International Year of Cooperatives (IYC). The meeting room was full of chatter and energy, and simultaneous translations were being done in every corner. We were there to discuss cooperative enterprises, and their role in transforming smallholder agriculture into profitable business. Most importantly we were there to listen to and learn from the experiences of three representatives from cooperatives in Armenia, Cambodia and Kenya:
  • Mr. Vardan Hambardzumyan, President of Federation of Agricultural Associations (FAA), Armenia
  • Mr. Pan Sopheap, Executive Director of Farmer and Nature Net (FNN), Cambodia
  • Mr. Philip Kiriro, President Eastern Africa Farmers Federation (EAFF), Kenya
Why cooperatives, why now?
The United Nations (UN) has declared 2012, as the International year of Cooperatives (IYC). Nora Ourabah Haddad from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) opened the conversation and told us that the IYC has been one of the most popular UN years with a support from over 90 countries. The Rome based UN-agencies have joined forces to promote agricultural cooperatives throughout the IYC and beyond. Nora started her presentation by underlining the definition of a cooperative:

“A cooperative is an autonomous association of women and men, united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise.” (International labour organization recommendation 193)

It is important to stress the definition, since the terminology might not be familiar to everyone, and cooperatives may have different meanings in different contexts. An agricultural cooperative is an important platform for rural development because of its financial and social dimensions. The panellists were asked to elaborate on two important aspects of cooperatives: What makes cooperatives viable? And how do you build ownership of the cooperative among its members?

What makes cooperatives viable?
Mr Hambardzumyan said that services offered by cooperatives to their members is one of the main factors of making cooperatives viable. The services need to be targeted and benefiting the members. He said: “The cooperative is a tool in our hand to solve our problems”. Financial turnover is another factor that is of key importance to make a cooperative viable.

Mr Sopheap continued on the same note and said that empowering members to help themselves is one important aspect. He then went on to say that making a profit is also essential, and to allocate a collective fund so that the cooperative can sustain itself. Additionally Mr Kiriro emphasized the importance of having the right policy framework and support to make cooperatives become strategic business partners. Leadership at political level is another relevant and important factor.

In other words, empowerment, policies and profit are key elements in making the cooperatives self-sufficient and viable.

How do you build ownership of a cooperative?
This leads us to the next question that was posed to the panellists, how do you make the members feel real ownership of the cooperative? Building ownership of a cooperative is important. If a cooperative is to live up to its definition it needs to: Be supported by its members and embrace voluntary membership paradigm. It also needs to have grassroots support and to be democratically governed.

Mr Sopheap suggested three key elements to make sure cooperatives and their members are in sync: First of all, introduce the cooperative’s principles to members, make sure everyone knows and understands them. Second, build the members’ trust. The members need to trust that they will benefit from the cooperative. Last but not the least, create an institutional collective fund.

The need for training and resources
The need for capacity building was something that came up several times in the discussion. Training is needed for members of cooperatives and for stakeholders. A representative from the International Labour Organization (ILO) presented the My.coop training package. This package is freely available online and has many learning programmes. My.coop is designed for managers and members of cooperatives, as well as organisations and individuals that train agricultural cooperatives. Its objective is to enable people to address challenges specific to cooperatives in market oriented agricultural development. Try it out!

What came out loud and clear from listening to the experience of the participants was the power and potential of cooperatives in rural development. Cooperatives can help people help themselves and give a voice to poor rural people. During the event new connections were made, and experiences and challenges shared. A conversation with multiple stakeholders started that hopefully will carry on throughout the IYC and beyond.

Read more about how IFAD work with rural institutions and cooperatives:

New generation PROMARENA development project looks to environmental stewardship as a mechanism for poverty reduction and peace

In Bolivia’s high valleys and Chaco region – a remote corner of the world where reverence and respect for Pachamama (Mother Earth) is an integral part of everyday life – climate change and land degradation are making family farming a very risky business.

In order to help poor farmers adapt to these changing conditions (and show their respect to Pachamama as they have done for centuries) the Natural Resource Management Project of the Chaco and High Valleys (better known by its Spanish acronym PROMARENA) is looking toward age-old practices of terrace farming and good old-fashioned competition as a mechanism for eco-friendly development and sustainable poverty reduction.

The eight-year US$ 15 million PROMARENA Project closed late last year after improving the lives and livelihoods of nearly 20,000 poor rural families.

“The environmental achievements of the project are quite impressive. Through the competitive resource allocation model, where project participants compete for project funding in public contests, the PROMARENA project helped to plant over 8 million trees and  construct 803,012 ha of new terraces that reduce erosion and contribute to minimize the effects of desertification,” says Francisco Pichón, Bolivia Country Programme Manager for the International Fund for Agricultural Organization (IFAD). IFAD contributed US$12 million to the PROMARENA project.  

How does the contest model work?
The contest model is being used across Latin America to ensure sustainability and build community-based, demand-driven support for rural poverty projects.

“The public contests (concursos) work by identifying a problem within a family. The family identifies a problem. They tell us that they want to improve their house, the ceiling is about to fall down, there aren’t enough rooms, they need a bathroom. The project looks at these needs through the contests and transfers the money to the families,” says the National Coordinator of the PROMARENA Program, Omar Tejerina. “Motivated by the economic resources, the families begin to work with local resources and with everybody in the family.”

Efraín Condori Quispe is a peach farmer that benefited from PROMARENA’s public contests. With a group of other farmers he competed for a grant to build a small dam and irrigation canals for his orchards. Quispe and crew won first prize with their three-dimensional “Talking Map” that mapped out how the community managed their natural resources in the past and how they planned to improve their management in the future. With technical assistance from PROMARENA, Quispe also added terraces to his farm to reduce erosion and improved the quality of his production by using organic fertilizer.

“Everything we had laid out with our talking map we’ve accomplished. We drew with our hands the past, present and future, and we’ve achieved these goals,” Quispe says.

During the project’s cycle, nearly 2.5 million ha of land were converted to organic, family-based vegetable gardens, new rainwater tanks (with the capacity to store over 1,150,000 m3 of water) were constructed, and around 1 million llamas and alpacas benefitted from better zoologically-based sanitary measures and care.

One of the most notable push-on effects from PROMARENA’s environmental work has been the raise in land prices across the region and improved earnings for area farmers. Land prices for project participants have increased ten-fold over the past eight years. “They started with nothing,” says Tejerina. “At the beginning of the project, a family with one hectare of peaches made US$100 to US$150 a year, now these families are making US$15,000 per year per hectare.”

With his improved income and asset base – at the beginning of the project Quispe’s land was valued at around US$200, now it’s worth around US$11,000 – Quispe is hoping to create a micro-business with his children that are currently attending university to become agricultural and industrial engineers. 

“I won’t sell our land. It’s ours, and it’s not something that’s for sale because each day we learn more about how to management it, how to conserve,” says Quispe.

Addressing food security
Throughout the region the changing climate patterns, desertification and divers environmental risks are putting productivity levels at risk and affecting food security. In order to address this challenge, the project worked with various other international and national programmes to improve food security and increase productive yields in a sustainable manner.

“PROMARENA helped renovate over 4000 kitchens in the project area, improving substantially the living and working conditions of women, youth and children. And through the concurso (public competition) methodology, the project carried out 4800 concursos with almost 40,000 participants, transferring over US$4.5 million to project participants,” says IFAD’s Pichón. “The project also financed around 950 livestock, agriculture, handicraft and rural services business proposals with around US$2.4 million in investments, which generated around US$10 million in income for small producers.”

But the job is far from done. There are still high levels of food insecurity and malnutrition across the region and the natural ecosystems remain at risk. With this in mind, the Bolivian government recently signed a new loan agreement with IFAD for the US$15.2 million Plan Vida-Peep Pilot Project to Strengthen the Capacity of Communities and Families Living in Extreme Poverty, a three-year program that will be implemented by the same agency behind PROMARENA.

More than 53 per cent of project funding will work to improve natural resource management and production systems, 16 per cent will go to community initiatives and 11 per cent is dedicated for strengthening productive infrastructure.

PROMARENA’s Tejerina sees these types of environmentally oriented rural development projects as a mechanism for peace.

“I understand that many of our problems come principally from lack of basic necessities and the lack of food. With this in mind, as a project, I believe that we contribute to peace,” says Tejerina. “And the best way to contribute to peace is to make sure that everybody has the opportunity to have enough to eat and to have access to citizens’ rights.”

Originally published in The New Agriculturalist

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Videos (en español)

Ing. Omar Gustavo Gustavo Tejerina es el Coordinador Nacional del Proyecto de Manejo de Recursos Naturales en el Chaco y Valles Altos de Bolivia (PROMARENA). En esta entrevista Tejerina destaca las lecciones aprendidas del proyecto. PROMARENA cerró este año después de contribuir a mejorar la calidad de vida de 19,985 familias pobres rurales. Los resultados del PROMARENA superaron las metas esperadas. El número de familias beneficiarias del proyecto fue superado por más de 130 por ciento, llegándose a trabajar directamente con 1269 comunidades rurales en 53 municipalidades en los departamentos de Chuquisaca, Cochabamba, La Paz, Santa Cruz y Tarija. Con la intervención del proyecto, el valor de las tierras de los campesinos participantes se incrementó gracias a las mejoras aportadas por ellos mismos y, por medio del mejoramiento de las técnicas agroecológicas, los ingresos para muchos usuarios del proyecto se elevaron del 40 a 60 por ciento.

En este testimonio Efraín Condori Quispe explica como su familia han beneficiado de los concursos del Proyecto de Manejo de Recursos Naturales en el Chaco y Valles Altos de Bolivia (PROMARENA). A través de concursos públicos, el PROMARENA transfirió 7.2 millones de dólares estadounidenses a los participantes del programa. Durante la ejecución del proyecto, se llevaron a cabo unos 4800 concursos, y el proyecto co-financió 951 propuestas de negocios por un monto de 2.1 millones de dólares. Esta metodología fue implementada para asegurar la participación en el proyecto, y para lograr transformar a los campesinos en los protagonistas principales de su propio desarrollo.

En su testimonio director Franklin Contrera Quispe explica como el apoyo del Fondo Internacional de Desarrollo Agricola (FIDA) y el Proyecto de Manejo de Recursos Naturales en el Chaco y Valles Altos de Bolivia (PROMARENA) le apoyó en proteger el medio ambiente y mejorar sus cultivos.
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Creating a “new rural reality” for young entrepreneurs to succeed

Posted by Roxanna Samii Friday, February 24, 2012 0 comments

By Monica Romano

The young women and men who gathered at IFAD on Saturday for the Youth Session not only have clear ideas, but do not seem discouraged by the challenges and constraints they are fully aware of and that have even been already experiencing themselves. Coming as representatives and leaders of farmer organizations or invited as participants in IFAD-supported programmes, they showed enthusiasm and commitment to making FAFO somewhat different, maybe more special, compared to the past. Simply by having their voice being heard for the first time in such an important dialogue and partnership platform. Perhaps also knowing that the youth do not have that many opportunities to speak with the world of the adults, present their views and proposals, and even make recommendations, especially in the international arena and in front of policy makers. What impressed me although it did not come as a surprise was the strong awareness and sense of responsibility the young participants demonstrated in all their interventions and contributions, in several ways. Sometimes, I perceived they were feeling to be like “elected”, in the positive sense. I mean, they understood that they were representing the youth community as a whole, and therefore that they had to take advantage of this unique opportunity, avoiding to make mistakes and making sure they did not miss anything they would regret afterwards…

While putting on the table a number of challenges the rural youth face – limited decision-making, experiences and leadership skills, self-confidence but also trust from the older generations; and also those that may be common to their parents, such as limited access to land, credit, training and market – the young participants were also proud of highlighting their many, specific strengths: creativity, flexibility and energy, just to mention a few. One of the biggest challenges they debated upon was the lack of interest on the part of young generations in engaging in agriculture: “there is no pride in being farmers” - stated someone – and “one may even not be able to find a wife if he is a farmer”, echoed another participant. It was made clear that there is need to raise the profile of agriculture, starting early on, from the school. This may be challenging, if we consider that young generations have been seeing their parents struggling in agriculture. Therefore, in order for channelling the message of farming and farmers as good, young people also need to see business opportunities in agriculture, need to become entrepreneurs engaging in a “profession”. This was the world used by the IFAD President, who joint the unusual gathering to listen to the youth’s recommendations.

This final stage of the day was really when the youth proved once again to understand what they want and wish for as well as their ability to articulate their demands not without coming up with concrete proposals. It was unanimously recognized the need for FOs to become ‘youth-sensitive’, not only in terms of representation but also in effective decision-making of young members. Young people also called for youth-focused agricultural development projects and programmes and for participating in project design, implementation, and M&E. In this regard, IFAD-supported projects should systematically include rural young women and men as a target group, with specific support being provided and monitored. Young farmers also expressed the need to enhance their skills and showed they are aware of alternative approaches to the conventional “in-door/face-to-face training”: liaising with students in agricultural institutions or getting exposed to on-the-job experience by working with a successful farmer entrepreneur. Being trained and guided was felt as key also in addressing the issue of young people’s limited access to credit, which should be combined with advice for the business activity to be feasible and sustainable. While recognizing the deep value of indigenous and traditional knowledge, young people indicated that they aim at transforming agriculture through innovation: using media and ICTs and exploring for new opportunities (such as niche markets and agro-turism). All this and much more were the young women and men discussing and recommending to IFAD, farmers’ organizations and their Governments – to create a new rural reality in which to grow as successful entrepreneurs.

In occasion of the 35th IFAD Governing Council in Rome on 23 February 2012, Dr Phouang Parisak Pravongviengkham, Vice-Minister of Agriculture and Forestry of the Lao PDR, has emphasized clearly that there is a true need for Governments and development partners to cooperate and collaborate in a more coordinated manner and to learn the lessons of past failures and challenges to support the development of more viable production systems for smallholder farmers.
Investing in farmers means to provide them with the needed policy and legal environment, assist them with the means to build a viable and resilient economy, helping connecting them to markets, making sure they have secure land tenure and access to fair contracts and information, and improving the reach of services for health, education and extension. It also means making sure they have access to credit and that local businesses are supported which can buy their products or provide them back with inputs and services.

The Government of Lao PDR has actively engaged itself in promoting strong smallholders’ groups with the creation of different forms and levels of farmers’ organizations which we believe would serve as key institutions to realize national policies to engage in a more viable and environmentally friendly agricultural systems’ practice.

The Vice-Minister has expressed his special thanks to IFAD for the continued active role in the Lao PDR in helping his country to eradicating poverty. He has also added that Lao PDR will continue with its pledge to the 9th Replenishment as in the past. He considers IFAD as a good model in assisting his country to forge stronger intra- and inter-sectoral and also cross-border type of technical and economic cooperation. This has immediate positive impact to reducing poverty along the border areas, home of most poor in the region.

By Ilaria Firmian and Sundeep Vaid

This side event, held yesterday as part of the Farmers’ Forum at IFAD, was proposed by four members of Vétérinaires Sans Frontières (VSF) Europa. VSF is a network of nine non-governmental organizations dealing with animal health, livestock production and development.

The room was packed to capacity with representatives of farmers’ organizations and NGOs debating the role of these organizations in supporting their members – especially small-scale livestock keepers. Participants also discussed how they could ensure sustainable production whilst coping with climate change, thus contributing to food security.

Antonio Rota, IFAD Senior Technical Advisor, Farming Systems and Livestock, opened the session. He reminded the participants that, to date, much has been said about the effects of climate change on livestock, but added that he wished to hear more about tangible actions that were being taken to address the issue.

Alessandro Broglia, President of VSF Europa, said his organization believes strongly in food sovereignty and briefly presented their experience with small-scale livestock in the context of climate change. Reflecting on the demand side of the world’s food problems, he described the alarming levels of obesity prevalent today. “We choose the food that we eat and how much we eat,” he said. “What we need are not only small-scale livestock keepers but also small-scale thinking consumers who can drive changes in the market.”

During the discussions, a shared view of the impact of climate change on small-scale livestock keepers started to take shape.

Marta Guadalupe Rivera Ferre of Centro de Investigación en Economía y Desarrollo Agroalimentario, based in Barcelona, spoke of adaptation strategies and future scenarios. One the one hand, livestock contributes to greenhouse gas emission, she said, but on the other, climate change causes serious problems for smallholders: reduced water availability, extreme weather events and increased pests, just to name a few.

Climate change also causes loss of local vegetation. As medicinal herbs that livestock keepers use to treat their animals start vanishing, traditional knowledge is lost.

In the debate that followed, some examples of good practices in livestock production came up.

Oumou Khairy Diallo of the Senegalese development organization CNCR outlined the benefits of biogas to women in cooking. Antonio Rota said similar results are witnessed in our projects and noted that he would like to see IFAD become a champion of biogas.

Taghi Farvar, of CENESTA in Iran, gave the indigenous and mobile pastoralists’ perspective, saying that some strategies’, such as biogas, are not easily applicable to mobile nomadic pastoralists – who, however, play a key role in maintaining natural resources and biodiversity, and help fight climate change.

Andrea Ferrante of Via Campesina chose to speak on a different tack. He emphasized that small-scale livestock farming is not the problem but the solution to climate change. As highlighted many times during the Farmers’ Forum, farmers have sustainable solutions. The challenge is how to scale up such solutions.

A set of key policy recommendations came out as a result of this session, as seen in the picture at left.

At one point in the session, the participant from Cambodia offered this anecdote: “Before, when we weren’t using biogas, a husband comes home hungry and if the wife hadn’t had the time to collect firewood for cooking, this would lead to a fight in the family. Now we don’t have this problem with biogas. In this way, biogas is tackling domestic violence!”

By Rima Alcadi

Today, the 23rd of February at 10.00 am, we had the pleasure of having Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, as our guest. The session was moderated by the international broadcaster Isha Sesay.
The tent was bubbling with excitement. When Bill Gates enters, there is a moment of silence, the music stopped, the lights went off. Everything froze, except for the flickering of the camera flashes and our twitter wall, which had tweets flowing incessantly throughout the entire event (indeed, I suggest you look at these, tweeters did a fantastic job at capturing the gist). Isha Sesay is originally from Sierra Leone –small scale farming is very close to her heart, a very personal interest, she says. And indeed, she was a great moderator.
Mr Gates started off by announcing that IFAD’s President Kanayo Nwanze and he had just signed a new partnership agreement - to fund projects jointly - the type of projects that IFAD and BMGF were both funding in the past, but independently. He warmly welcomed FAO DG, José Graziano da Silva, and WFP Executive Director, Josette Sheeran.

Mr Gates said that investment in agriculture is the best weapon against hunger and poverty. He said “if you care about the poorest, you care about agriculture.” He reminded us that we do not have a strong awareness of what works and what does not. We are not putting enough pressure on improvement. His suggestion is to introduce a public scorecard. He says that this would ensure that we are all rowing in the same direction and that we are results-based.

Another key point was the need to verify where digital empowerment can help in poverty reduction. He refers to seeds, for instance breeding and sequencing information to reduce the breeding cycle. But this needs to be developed for the people that need these systems the most, the smallholder farmers. Also technologies such as video cameras can help smallholder farmers share information on best practices with other smallholder farmers, to complement the work of extensionists. He mentions the work of programme Digital Green in India. Digital empowerment can also help to collect better data. So he says it is a shame that people are still going around with pen and paper, as this makes information difficult to store, share and analyse. However, he cautions that it takes a lot of specific effort to deal with the issues of rural digital empowerment, as he learnt from his experience in Microsoft. So do not expect it to happen thanks to market forces.

Another strong message that he had for us Rome-Based Agencies (FAO, IFAD and WFP) was to strengthen our partnership. He cites the Purchase 4 Progress programme as an example. He finds that although this has had a good impact, it would have been even better if it had been coordinated in a better way – with guidance from FAO and funding from IFAD. There are real efficiencies to be gained by spelling out a division of labour among the agencies. Our ability to improve coordination will determine whether smallholder farmers can overcome poverty.

What were some of the questions?
How would Mr Gates assess his performance in the score card? Although the BMGF has been operating for 6 years only, they have been building on the strength of what others have done. The BMGF typically focuses more on upstream funding, to the CGIAR, and on specific crops only. So that if other development organizations also want to work on these, then they will partner.

How about climate change? According to Mr Gates, weather variability has always been a problem for smallholder farmers, yes climate change will make the weather more variable, but they will need the same strategies as always. The climate has never been benign for rural poor.

How about strengthening the capacity of Farmers’ Organizations (FOs)? FOs are a key element, and there is a need to bring farmers and ensure they have a greater voice with governments – to signal when policies are not adequate for smallholder farmers, or advise on issues that need to be addressed. There are lots of good FOs in Africa and the path to success is to have more. The involvement of grassroots organisations would be part of the scorecard.

What is the role of the private sector ? the private sector has a very important role – but we should bear in mind market failure, risks inherent in innovation, and the public good nature of these investments. These characteristics of investments in agricultural research imply that markets will always fall short. However, once an innovation is available, it is important to understand why the private sector does not buy in. Mr Gates is willing to have the private sector critique their work because he considers the private sector the acid test and the benchmark on sustainability.

My take?
I have a lot of questions related to the concept of the scorecard – perhaps because I am wary of the infamous “number game” which is typically associated with such systems. Also, what would be on this scorecard and who should decide? How and by whom will it be updated/amended if required?
I could not agree more with the need to partner with the private sector – especially considering the win-win case studies described in Prahalad’s “Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid.” I would however want to see some focus on biodiversity as well - in agriculture and in our diets – for the sake of increasing resilience to climate change and improving nutrition (i.e., the quality aspect of our food) – and also because biodiversity is a resource that poor rural farmers already have.

Farmer organizations (FOs) in Africa play a key role to promote new opportunities to maximize their gains in lucrative agricultural value chains. However, these prospects depend on their ability to identify emerging opportunities and to meet the greater competitive requirements.

Mr Namanga Ngongi, President of AGRA, has let the discussion on how to develop opportunities to work with and to strengthen Farmers’ Organisations in order to provide farmers with better access to production inputs and better opportunities to sell their produce. The representatives of regional networks of farmers organisations, Mr Fadel Ndiame (FOSCA), Mr I. Sunga (SACAU), and Mr John Mutunga (KENFAP Kenya) have presented their strategies to support these organisations.

The Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) works to achieve a food secure and prosperous Africa through the promotion of rapid, sustainable agricultural growth based on smallholder farmers. AGRA aims to ensure that smallholders have what they need to succeed: good seeds and healthy soils; access to markets, information, innovative financing, storage and transport; and policies that provide them with comprehensive support.

The Farmer Organization Support Centre in Africa (FOSCA), recently established by Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and the Rockefeller Foundation, seeks to develop the managerial, organizational and technical capacity of FOs by linking them with service providers that focus on demand-driven and income-enhancing services.

The Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions (SACAU) strategic pillars are advocacy on regional, continental and global matters impacting agriculture, capacity strengthening of farmers’ organisations, and provision of agriculture-related information to members and stakeholders. A systematic and structured approach to work with partners such as Governments as well as the private sector helps farmers to optimize their production capital and marketing and can substantially improve their incomes. Access to market information is essential.

The Kenya National Federation of Agricultural Producers (KENFAP) is the umbrella farmers’ federation representing interests of 1.8 million farm families and the legitimate farmers’ voice in Kenya. In partnership with AGRA, the federation provides business development training as well as data on yields of crops over years in a number of regions in order to help farmers to choose the right value chains to improve their income.

AGRA is also linking up to other regional networks of farmers’ organisation such as ROPPA and PROPAC. International partners such as WFP can provide skills and knowledge on logistics to bring the farmers’ produce to lucrative markets. The WFP Purchase the Progress (P4P) initiative, for example, buys stable food from also from developing countries. In 2010, WFP bought US$1.25 billion worth of food – more than 80 percent of this in developing countries.

Farmers are private sector players and able to increase their profit through services provided by FO. These services must be provided in a strategic and systematic way to ensure stability for the members as well as good quality of outputs and an increased bargaining power on markets for the members.

by Daniela Cuneo and Michelle Tang

More investments in agriculture are needed to feed a growing population. Governments, international organizations, civil society and the private sector are often mentioned as key players, but they are not the only ones. What about the diaspora? Have you ever thought of the tremendous potential of diaspora investments in agriculture? Almost 215 million people live outside their countries, but despite the distance, they have an impact on development back home. Through their hard work and individual sacrifices, the migrants of the world save money and send it to their families living in the countries they had to leave. And the amount of money that they remit to their countries is impressive!

 IFAD estimated that migrant workers would be able to send home well over US$350 billion in 2011, according to The FFR Brief: Five Years of the Financing Facility for Remittances. It’s a huge amount that could make a difference if invested in agriculture. But how can diaspora investments be mobilized in agricultural activities of these migrants’ communities of origin? Why should migrants be interested in investing in agriculture? Since investments must be profitable, how can migrants be convinced that investing in agriculture is remunerative?

These were the challenging questions debated during one of yesterday’s regional events at the 35th session of IFAD’s Governing Council. Chaired by Pedro De Vasconcelos, the event was organized by the Financing Facility for Remittances (FFR) in IFAD’s Policy and Technical Advisory Division. In addition to Mr. De Vasconcelos, FFR’s Programme Coordinator, the remarkable panellists at the event included H.E. Ambassador Ibrahim Hagi Abdulkadir, Permanent Representative of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia to FAO and IFAD; H.E. Ambassador Virgilio A. Reyes, Jr., Permanent Representative of the Republic of the Philippines to FAO, WFP and IFAD; Estrella Mai Dizon-Anonuevo, Executive Director of the Atikha Overseas Workers and Communities Initiatives Inc.; Fatumo Farah, Director of the Himilo Relief and Development Association; and Tawfiq El-Zabri and Rose Thompson-Coon, both of IFAD.

The experience shared by Ms. Dizon-Anonuevo shows that diaspora communities can be engaged in investing in agriculture. As she pointed out, financial education is of utmost importance, because migrants are not always aware of their saving capacity. Once they are aware of their potential to make investments, they can and do invest in agriculture.

FFR’s experience has shown that investing in agriculture can generate both economic and social returns for people in the diaspora. IFAD, thanks to its expertise, can contribute to identifying profitable and sustainable initiatives for them to support.
Read more Financing facility for remittances  The FFR Brief Five years of the Financing Facility for Remittances  

by Jeffrey A Brez

This afternoon, after IFAD's Governing Council ended, the Farmers' Forum took advantage of the fact that so many stakeholders were still in town to have a final round of thematic events. I attended a session hosted by the FAO and CIRAD on a proposal for a World Agriculture Watch (WAW background in English French Spanish). The concept is founded on the notion that while we do have a lot of agricultural information and data available, there are important gaps in quality, quantity, availability and analysis. Particularly, we are lacking a tool with which to track and analyze trends in transformations and impacts in agricultural and farming systems that affect the world's 500 million smallholder farms. The discussion focussed on how to ensure that farmers' organizations can contribute to and benefit from the WAW. Here are the three presentations made, and below them a few thoughts on the discussion that followed.

Alessandra da Costa Lunas of COPROFAM presented thechallenges family and indigenous producers are facing in Latin America.

Alexander Muller, Assistant Director-General Natural Resources at FAO presented the rationale for a World Agriculture Watch.

Patrick Caron, General Director at CIRAD, looked at some of the mechanics of assessing structural changes and impacts in agricultural and farming systems in an integrated way.

Esther Penunia (Philippines) of the Asian Farmers Association for Sustainable Rural Development set the tone by saying that while there is potential in WAW, it must include bottom up information and data that is already being generated by farmers' organizations to be a WOW! Ousseni Ouedraogo (Burkina Faso) of ROPPA urged that existing regional initiatives such as Agrimet not be duplicated, but complemented. Carlos Sere, IFAD's Chief Development Strategist advised that any new data system set up be sustainable, use an open data model approach that allows inputs from and useability for a variety of stakeholders, know its own boundaries (what questions it can and cannot answer), and have a reliable system to guarantee data quality.

For a billionaire and former entrepreneur, Bill Gates is pretty candid about the limits of capitalism.

His perspective comes across as entirely apolitical. It’s an objective fact, he suggests, that markets will always fall short on research and development benefiting the world’s poorest people, most of whom are subsistence farmers. Investors simply calculate that the returns on smallholder farming are too slow and the risks too high.

Instead of helping the poor, says the co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, technological innovations in agriculture tend to enhance the lives and livelihoods of those who are already well off.

Earlier today, Gates shared this viewpoint – and many more – at IFAD headquarters in Rome. As a centre-stage guest at the agency’s Governing Council of UN member states, he made a brief speech and a took part in a Q&A exchange moderated by broadcast journalist Isha Sesay. Before an audience representing governments, development agencies and farmers’ organizations, he repeatedly stressed the urgency of bridging the investment gaps in sustainable small-scale agriculture.

“Investments in agriculture are the best weapons against hunger and poverty,” said Gates. To measure their impact, he advocated a new system of public “scorecards.” As Gates sees it, such scorecards would make governments and their partners accountable for meeting productivity targets in the smallholder farming sector – and for directing agricultural resources to those who need them most.

“A different future”
Even before Gates arrived at IFAD, the 2012 session of the Governing Council had seen its share of luminaries. Yesterday’s session featured the President of Rwanda, the Prime Minister of Italy and the Vice President of Liberia. This morning, the Italian Minister for International Cooperation delivered a keynote address. Ministers of Agriculture from several countries have also participated.

Gates brought a different kind of energy to the proceedings. At 56, the Microsoft founder and global philanthropist retains some of the tousled quality of the teenage computer genius he once was. At IFAD, he seemed more comfortable speaking off the cuff about technology than reading from a prepared text. No one is likely to mistake him for a career politician.

Appearances aside, Gates was forceful and occasionally challenging in his comments. He praised the heads of the Rome-based UN food and agriculture agencies as “an exciting new generation of leaders.” At the same time, he urged them to be more coordinated in revitalizing an “outdated and somewhat inefficient” world food system.

With increased international attention now focusing on agricultural issues, he said, “we have the opportunity and the obligation to imagine a different future.”

Adapting to climate change
Ideally, of course, that future will be a time when smallholder farmers are able to sustainably increase food production, lift their families out of poverty and preserve the land for generations yet to come. To get there, Gates said, they will need access to innovations such as drought- and flood-tolerant seeds, micro-irrigation systems, and vaccines for livestock.

He noted, too, that smallholders must share in “the digital revolution” in agriculture – from DNA sequencing of plant genomes to satellite imaging of crop yields, and even the use of video to broaden the scope of rural extension services.

“When you put the right tools in farmers’ hands, the results can be magical,” said Gates. In fact, small farmers in sub-Saharan Africa could nearly triple their crop yields in the next 20 years with the right interventions, according to Gates Foundation research.

During the Q&A session, Gates returned to this topic, adding that the basic strategies for the future of productive small-scale agriculture would be the same even if farmers didn’t have the added burden of adapting to climate variability. “Climate change increases the urgency,” he said. “But the right things to do for agriculture are constant.”

Linchpin of development
Just before taking centre-stage at the Governing Council, Gates had joined IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze to sign a statement of intent for an expanded partnership between the Gates Foundation and IFAD.

The two organizations are already co-financing more than $180 million in agricultural development projects. Today’s statement will accelerate their joint efforts to improve rural livelihoods in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

The statement reflects a growing realization that food security is a linchpin of sustainable development and poverty reduction. As Gates said at IFAD, “More productive small farmers are the key to achieving the Millennium Development Goals on hunger and poverty. If you care about the poorest, you care about agriculture.”

It’s a timely message for 500 million smallholder farmers who produce 80 per cent of the food in the developing world. The future they imagine – a future of health, nutrition, education and dignity for their families – will only come about through concerted action on the issues raised so provocatively by Bill Gates in Rome.

Watch the recorded webcast here:

 By Cheryl Morden

If the theme of this year’s Governing Council (GC) focused on smallholders and sustainable agriculture, a central leitmotif was surely partnerships.  The issue was with us from the start when the President, in the opening session, described partnership as IFAD’s modus operandi and underscored that our most important partners are the farmers themselves.  

The need for partnerships was often cited when GC panelists and participants talked of the complexity of effective poverty-reducing, health-sustaining, and planet-protecting agriculture and rural development.  “Effective solutions require enormous coordination,” said one delegate.  As an example, Pamela Anderson, Director General of the International Potato Center (CIP), told of an initiative in Peru that brought together diverse actors to generate new ideas for marketable agricultural products.  The idea of making potato chips from native potatoes drew the interest of Pepsico and their engagement resulted in a doubling of potato prices at the farm gate and a doubling of smallholder productivity within four years.  This illustrates the kind of  transformative partnerships that can help smallholders move from subsistence to market-oriented production that were called for earlier by Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

Much of the GC discussion pointed to the importance of getting on the same page regarding the appropriate, value-adding role of each of the many actors involved in agriculture and rural development.  The critical role of the private sector was emphasized repeatedly by representatives from farmers organizations, governments, NGOs, and the world of research.  

A host of private sector business opportunities were cited, from financial services to transportation to technical assistance to marketing and processing.  Bruce McNamer, President of Technoserve, challenged us to look for these opportunities further down the value chain – “crowding in” profit-making activities at each link in the chain.  

Governments have an equally critical role to play within the transformative partnerships that we seek.  Both Nigeria’s Agriculture Minister, Akin Adesina, and Mexico’s Ambassador, Miguel Ruiz-Cabañas, insisted that national governments must lead the process, providing enabling strategies and investment in essential public goods and research.   Governments may also need to provide investment that catalyzes private sector involvement that benefits smallholders, such as instruments for risk mitigation.

And the role of IFAD?  Among other things, IFAD can be a broker to help foster relationships and collaboration among disparate actors.  And, suggested the Turkish Agriculture Minister Mehmet Mehdi Eker, at a global level, it can join with others in the UN system to provide leadership that creates the necessary support for the efforts of member states and, most importantly, for farmers.

Our new Partnership and Resource Mobilization Office is gearing up to help IFAD more fully realize its partnership and leadership potential.  The Governing Council meeting has provided ideas, energy, and inspiration to accelerate our own contribution to transformative partnerships to feed the world and protect the planet.

The immense development potential of diaspora catalysed an animated discussion at the PTA GC side event on 22 February, led by the Financing Facility for Remittances (FFR). Despite the late hour, delegates gathered numerous to learn how two of the most proactive FFR partners – the Atikha Overseas Workers and Communities Initiatives and the Himilo Relief and Development Association (HIRDA) – turned a small group of strong-willed and talented returnees into an investment cooperative.

Remittances reach 10 per cent of the developing world’s population. Approximately 40 countries receive 10 per cent or more of their GDP from remittances. In some countries, such as Tajikistan, remittances account for 30 per cent of GDP, while this number is higher still in Haiti and Somalia, where estimates range from 30 to 50 per cent. Nearly half of these vital flows reach rural areas, where they help purchasing food, building shelters, and funding children education. Yet, just alike each of us, migrants and their families do save up for educating their children or to be able to face unexpected health issues, or simply for rainy days.

“Migrants behave just the same as we do” says Mai Anonuevo, the manager of an FFR-financed project in the Philippines. “They, too, look for saving and investment opportunities, and of course they seek to reduce risk as much as possible”. Most importantly, “Migrants’ investment decisions are always based on family or community ties rather than pure profit seeking. This is why no one is more keen on investing in the home countries than the diaspora actors” adds Fatumo Farah, manager of the FFR-financed project in Somalia. It is indeed remarkable to learn, through Fatumo’s passionate words, how, in a few years, a returnee community in the central region of Somalia managed to take control of a water extraction system established through external donors’ contribution. Returnees decided to invest their own savings in maintenance and water distribution. Now, the locally-managed structure is self-sufficient and fully functioning through the payment of an equitable fare by users covering maintenance costs.

Why do migrants choose investing in agriculture? Just as HIRDA, Atikha, and many of the FFR partners in the field have explained, agriculture offers a relatively safe and stable financial return and the prospect of job creation in the home country. Not to mention the relevance of the “nostalgic goods” market, in which migrants abroad are willing to pay a premium price just to get hold of their home specialties, be it camel milk for the Somali community in the Netherlands or nopal cactus – derived products for the Mexican community in the USA.

How does IFAD, through the FFR, engage migrants into investing in agriculture in their home country? Again, the FFR experience in the Philippines has demonstrated the importance of working together with migrant workers towards goal setting, budgeting and saving, and providing them with the access to the right and equitable instruments to do so. On the other hand, it has brought to light the key role played by local cooperatives as instruments to pool savings and reduce investment risk, through accurate mapping of existing investment opportunities. Working with local governments has also been key to help create an enabling environment for investment and economic development, as well as mobilise public resources to match migrant capital.

So what are the next steps? The FFR-led Diaspora Investment in Agriculture Initiative (DIA) seeks to scale up successful migrant investment examples and to turn them into a profitable, pro-poor mechanism for agricultural development. Through DIA, country-specific value chain of selected agricultural commodities will be mapped, along with investment opportunities and capacity building needs, all in close cooperation with local partners from the private, public, and civil society sectors. Through the launch of a competitive call for proposals, a number of successful initiatives will be identified, that address key priorities emerging from the country analysis. Selected proposals will have to demonstrate how to engage closely with local communities and mobilise matching financial resources to share risk.

As a matter of fact, while migrants become more conscious about their goals and financial options, diaspora investment in agriculture is already happening, and growing fast. “We used to migrate to survive. Now, we migrate smarter. We have one objective – save and return better” told once one of the FFR grant beneficiaries, an Albanian would-be entrepreneur. The next big challenge will thus be on how to capitalise on a growing phenomenon, while building overseas bridges between diasporas abroad and their home communities.

Participative Government strategies as well as the technical & financial support of International Organisations, Civil Society and the Private Sector can help smallholder farmers to increase their productivity in a sustainable way.

Naga Munchetty has hosted this high level panel composed of
- H. E. Akinwumi Ayo Adesina, Minister of Agriculture & Rural Development and Vice-President (Policy and Partnerships) for the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA),
- H. E. Mehmet Mehdi Eker, Minister of Food, Agriculture & Livestock, Turkey;
- H. E. Nemesia Achacollo Tola, Minister of Rural & Territorial Development Agriculture of Bolivia, and
- Carlos Seré, Chief Development Strategist, IFAD.

The panellists have pointed out that the responsibility and accountability of governments to ensure the enabling environment by providing the necessary infrastructure such as research, physical access to markets and technical support services including capacity building to smallholder farmers in rural areas is essential. Farmers and their farmers’ organisations are the main focus and shall be directly involved in the definition of agricultural policies.

Long-term sustainable development of agriculture can only be obtained by an efficient cooperation of Governments, international organisations, civil society and the private sector. International organisations such as FAO and IFAD have the technical know-how on agriculture related issues, whereas the private sector can contribute to providing services (index-based weather insurances...) and high-quality inputs (fertilisers, high-quality seeds...). The civil society can also help to support local communities in strengthening their capacities to participate in policy dialogue.

Sustainable agriculture needs to internalise climate change. In light of Rio plus 20 farmers need to be aware of the climate change so that they can adapt to this new reality to ensure food security for their families as well as non-farm consumers in the long run.

In order to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger (MDG 1), Governments have to decide and commit to fight food insecurity so that international organisations can assist in providing technical support and research, the civil society can help strengthen rural communities and the private sector is able to invest and provide high-quality inputs.

By Sundeep Vaid

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, Rwandan President Paul Kagame and IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze delivered inspiring speeches reaffirming their commitment to smallholder farmers, especially women and youth, at the 35th session of IFAD’s Governing Council today. After the morning session, coming to the Farmers’ Forum side event on “Women’s Leadership” was like pulling up our sleeves and getting down to the nitty-gritty of development work.

Women farm leaders from different parts of the world sat down in working groups, based on language, to discuss their vision for the future gender and youth dimensions of family farming. Some of the points to ponder were:

Once such a vision for the future takes shape, what is the role of the Farmers’ Organizations and IFAD in getting family farms to such a point in the future?         

What will be the challenges to this vision?·         

What can IFAD do to overcome these challenges and support the scaling-up of best practices?

Clare Bishop-Sambrook, Senior Technical Advisor, Gender and Poverty Targeting in IFAD, explained how IFAD and FAO support women in community-development projects. She expressed the hope that recommendations coming out of this session would provide input and guidance to shape our work – and influence how farmers’ organizations see the role of IFAD.

The groups came back with quite graphic visions of the future, as you can see from their drawings, shown here.

Gabriela Zarate, Youth Coordinator of COPROFAM, said that even though men helped on the farm, the major weight of the work is with women farmers. Her organization’s vision for the future is that men, women and youth participate equally in farm work, household activities and community initiatives such as formation of farmers’ organizations.

All three working groups came back with similar visions for the future where: 
  • All members of the family – men, women and youth – equally share ideas, work and the fruits of their labour
  • Family farms not only engage in subsistence agriculture but grow cash crops to augment family income 
  • Each family has a stand in the village market to sell their produce or have some access to markets through adequate roads and other rural infrastructure.
The challenges and areas that the women farmers identified for IFAD support are:
  • Capacity building for women and youth as defined by themselves at the organizational level
  • Sharing experiences using the best knowledge-sharing tools
  • Promoting policy dialogue to reinforce the decision-making role and capacity of women and youth at all levels.
The session revealed that in any part of the world, the challenges faced by women farmers and youth are strikingly similar. The women did not shy away from expressing what they expected IFAD to do to turn their vision into reality.

A delicate balance

Posted by Greg Benchwick Wednesday, February 22, 2012 0 comments

Community and Participatory Management of Natural Resources: Experiences from Mesoamerica’s Indigenous Peoples and Forest Communities

By Jeff Brez and Greg Benchwick
In today’s side event Community and Participatory Management of Natural Resources: Experiences from Mesoamerica’s Indigenous Peoples and Forest Communities, IFAD’s Latin America and the Caribbean Division hosted a robust discussion on how international organizations, indigenous peoples, governments and other key stakeholders can come together to create sustainable livelihood solutions from the world’s forests. It’s a matter of balancing development with poverty reduction - and sustainable forestry management with economic development - to create business (and development) models that work for all involved.

What was very clear in the discussion was the strong desire of the communities to identify more sustainable livelihood solutions within the forests, both from timber and non-timber products. These types of mechanisms would allow them to continue their way of life.

There was also a lot of excitement regarding the variety of ways that some communities are managing to earn sustainable incomes - such as through the sale of resin or by tapping the still-unknown potential of the forest to provide other sources of income, for example through medicinal plants or protection of biodiversity that may have other medical applications. Strengthening of value chains was a recurring theme, and it was felt that building mutually beneficial relationships with both industry and government is still an uphill battle, although ground is being gained.

Another hot topic was carbon: Who owns it? Because of land tenure issues in many countries, ownership of the land was unclear and by corollary rights to carbon income made accessing REDD+ mechanisms and carbon markets messy business. Jesus Quintana, Regional Climate and Environment Specialist for the LAC region with IFAD, pointed out that this is of crucial importance not only for reasons of justice, but also for the practical reason that clear ownership or rights is the foundation for a sound enabling environment for investment.

A final point of difficulty for communities is the short project and contract terms for forest management. The representatives pointed out that five years is too short a time period to show proven performance in sustainably managing a forest. What they see as more reasonable are 40-year renewable contracts that are automatically renewable if the management is indeed sustainable and effective. That would give communities certainty in planning their economic and ecological future, and also a broader base from which to gain social, environmental and cultural benefits.


In this insightful video produced for an event on Community and Participatory Management of Natural Resources: Experiences from Mesoamerica’s Indigenous Peoples and Forest Communities, at the International Fund for Agricultural Development’s (IFAD) annual Governing Council, indigenous community leaders and forestry experts examine the challenges and opportunities of sustainable forestry. Indigenous communities are the protectors of the world’s biodiversity. Only by providing them with the means, tools and mechanisms to protect the world’s forests can we hope to ensure a sustainable future for our little green planet. In Spanish with English subtitles. 

Hot links
Tackling sustainable rural development and climate change in Mexico
Mexico Going Green - Emerging trends in REDD+ and other sustainable practices 
IFAD signs US$5 million loan for ‘Community Forestry Development’ in Southern Mexico
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The lights in the large tent outside IFAD headquarters in Rome were blazing hot this morning. Beneath them, representatives of IFAD’s member states and staff, along with observers from grassroots farmers’ organizations and the media, gathered for the start of the agency’s 35th Governing Council.

The GC is the body that funds IFAD’s investments in smallholder agriculture around the world. Maybe it was just the lights, but something about the buzz in the room told me that the 2012 session would involve more than business as usual.

For one thing, there was a sense of anticipation about statements by two heads of state, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame and Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, who were about to address the GC. For another, the two-day session comes at a critical moment, as world leaders prepare for the upcoming Rio+20 climate conference, where issues of sustainable agriculture will be front and centre. Meanwhile, the international community, very much including Italy, continues to cope with challenges posed by the global financial crisis.

Beyond all that, the theme of the GC – “Feeding the world, protecting the planet” – conveyed an urgency that raised the temperature in the tent even higher.

Nwanze: “An enabling environment”
When the lights finally dimmed, IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze’s opening statement set the stage for a potentially transformational session.

Nwanze thanked member states for increasing support for IFAD despite their own fiscal constraints. He pointed out, as well, that the agency has expanded its reach. In 2010, 43 million people obtained services through IFAD-supported projects, Nwanze reported. By 2015, IFAD expects to reach 80 to 90 million rural men, women and children with opportunities to lift themselves out of extreme poverty and become food-secure.

“The time has come for smallholders to play their rightful role in contributing to economic growth and food security,” he said. “When these farmers are recognized as small entrepreneurs, when they have access to better resources and incentives, and when they have access to markets and an enabling environment, they can transform their communities, their own lives, and indeed the world.”

Nwanze underscored IFAD’s commitment to helping smallholders feed a growing global population even as they adapt to a changing climate. Initiatives such as its Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme, he said, “will make IFAD a leader in climate-smart funding for smallholders.”

Kagame: “Be bold”
When President Kagame took centre-stage, he noted a bitter irony: The world’s poorest and least food-secure households are themselves rural smallholders who can barely eke out a living through subsistence farming.

“It is therefore imperative,” said Kagame, “that affected countries, and the institutions that they partner with, 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.”

In Rwanda’s agricultural sector, investments in sustainable smallholder farming have contributed to average annual growth of 8 per cent in the past few years. “This has directly resulted in over one million Rwandans moving above the poverty line,” said Kagame. “Our experience has also shown that yields can be even higher and more sustainable when environmental conservation is integrated with agricultural activity.”

Along with its development partners, including IFAD and the other Rome-based UN agencies, Rwanda is pursuing land intensification and resource conservation initiatives to further expand productivity. Because smallholder farmers produce most of the food, these efforts focus on helping them make the transition from subsistence to market-oriented production.

“Every farmer counts,” said Kagame. “None is too small to be ignored.”

Monti: “Equal access”
Prime Minister Monti briefly greeted staff members in the IFAD lobby before making his way (with a sizeable security detail) to the GC tent. When he took the podium, he said he was glad to come to IFAD “at a time in which food security is once again at the centre of the global agenda.”

Monti acknowledged that leaders of the industrialized world have recently invested much of their attention to addressing financial crises. “Yet we must not lose sight of the fact that we are confronted with a much wider and deeper crisis,” he said. “The rise in energy prices and the pressure on the global food system are a signal that we are putting unsustainable pressure on the world’s natural resources.”

Italy has promoted food security as a policy priority in various multilateral settings since commodity prices surged in 2007, Monti recalled. Even aside from humanitarian and development considerations, he argued, this is essential for political stability.

“A hungry world is an unjust world. It is also an unstable world,” he warned.

Monti also pointed to gender gaps that not only violate the rights of women smallholders but impede rural livelihoods overall. “Giving women equal access to agricultural resources and inputs is one of the most powerful ways of reducing poverty and hunger,” he said.

It was one of many compelling points made at the GC this morning, casting a bright light on critical issues that will be considered during the rest of this session – and beyond.