14 February 2008

Interview with IFAD President, Lennart Båge

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"Poor rural people can be part of the solution. But they need secure access to land and water, as well as to financial resources and agricultural technologies and services. They need access to markets and the opportunities for enterprise that can help them diversify and increase their income," says IFAD President, Lennart Båge .

Question: What is the significance of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that you co-signed with the President of the African Development Bank? And what prompted this collaboration between the two institutions and how will it help African countries?

Answer: The Memorandum of Understanding underscores IFAD's commitment to reinforcing its ties with the African Development Bank. This MoU marks another milestone in the partnership between AfDB and IFAD, which began in 1978 when we signed our first cooperation agreement to facilitate joint rural development initiatives in Africa. That agreement has been instrumental in guiding our work with the African Development Bank and helping us mobilize co-financing of more than US$2.4 billion for 35 projects.

In the new context of the Millennium Development Goals, the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, and the huge challenge of economic growth and poverty reduction in Africa, AfDB and IFAD both recognize the need for institutional re-engineering and more strategic partnerships. We understand the need to further deepen synergies and continue to cultivate complementary approaches to increasing our development effectiveness.

Our future cooperation efforts will focus on aligning operational policies in the countries in which we both have programmes and projects. This will increase the effectiveness and efficiency of our combined development assistance.

Last July, AfDB and IFAD agreed to conduct a joint review of our work over the past 10 years. The independent evaluation will assess the effectiveness of the two institutions' policies, programmes and projects in stimulating rural development and reducing poverty. It will also examine the relevance of our work to development strategies of the countries in which we work, and to the needs of poor rural people.

The evaluation will help AfDB and IFAD strengthen our future work together and will help us identify the most appropriate roles we can play within the increasingly complex development assistance landscape in Africa. The performance of the agriculture sector has been markedly poor in Africa compared to other regions, with little improvement in crop yields or rural incomes, and declining levels of food security and agricultural trade balances.

Africa is the only region in the world where agricultural productivity has declined over the past 20 years. There are some success stories, including the 'cassava revolution' and the New Rice for Africa (NERICA), in which I am proud IFAD has played a part. However, yields of many important food crops in Africa, such as maize, millet, sorghum, yams and groundnuts are no higher today than in 1980. Access to domestic, regional and world markets is still limited for most small farmers in Africa, particularly women farmers.

The independent evaluation will help us determine how we can improve the contribution of agriculture and rural development to growth and poverty reduction. It will also analyse the agriculture sector's international competitiveness and policy environment, and examine investment potential in vital sub-sectors, such as water, rural infrastructure and microfinance.

Throughout the review process, there will be opportunities for various stakeholders, including African governments and poor rural people themselves, to share their feedback and suggestions on the evaluation as well as to learn about its ongoing findings. The team of evaluators will release a final report towards the end of 2008.

Question: The MOU identifies climate change as one of the areas of focus for this strategic partnership. In IFAD's experience, what are the most dramatic ways in which climate change is playing out in the African context? What direct role have IFAD experts seen them play on social and economic development in the region?

Answer: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said very clearly that climate change will hit the poorest and most vulnerable people hardest. Agricultural production and food security will be severely compromised by climate variability and change in many African countries. The threat is most severe in sub-Saharan Africa, which faces multiple stresses and presently lacks a strong capacity to adapt to climate change.

Over 95 per cent of African agriculture depends on rainfall. In some countries, yields from rain-fed agriculture could fall by up to 50 per cent by 2020. Changing rainfall patterns and higher temperatures are reducing agricultural yields, leading to new infestations of pests, decreasing fisheries resources that are essential for some rural livelihoods, and increasing the frequency and severity of extreme weather events. For example, last year torrential rains and flash floods affected more than one million people across at least 17 countries in West, Central and East Africa. The extraordinarily severe downpours killed scores of people, destroyed crops and hundreds of thousands of homes and left many people vulnerable to water-borne diseases. By 2020, a projected 75 million to 250 million people will be exposed to increased water stress due to climate change.

About 50 per cent of farmland in Africa suffers to some extent from soil erosion; as much as 80 per cent of pasture and rangelands exhibit some form of degradation. Over 95 per cent of African agriculture depends on rainfall. Models indicate that about 80,000 square kilometres of agricultural land in sub-Saharan Africa currently deemed constrained will improve as a result of climate change. However, this will be more than offset by the estimated 600,000 square kilometres currently classified as moderately constrained that will become even more severely affected. This threatens to further affect food security and exacerbate malnutrition on the continent. When I meet farmers in Africa and elsewhere, they confirm what the scientists tell us that climate change is happening and it's happening now.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change notes that sustainable development can reduce vulnerability to climate change by enhancing adaptive capacity and increasing resilience. Poor rural people need help to adapt to climate change. Adaptation includes all activities that help people and ecosystems reduce their vulnerability to the impact of climate change and that minimize the costs of natural disasters.

And while the main contribution to mitigation must come from reducing emissions in rich countries, poor rural people can contribute by using better agricultural practices and by nurturing and protecting forests to absorb carbon dioxide - so called carbon sinks. Improved livestock management and crop practices, coupled with the adaptive management of forests, could have a very significant impact. Adopting better land use practices, such as conservation agriculture, conservation tillage, agro-forestry, and rehabilitation of degraded crop and pasture land, would also help to maintain significant amounts of carbon in the soil.

Poor rural people can be part of the solution. But they need secure access to land and water, as well as to financial resources and agricultural technologies and services. They need access to markets and the opportunities for enterprise that can help them diversify and increase their income. They also need effective institutions and the organizational power and influence required to advocate for their own needs and take advantage of emerging opportunities.

The MoU we have just signed provides a framework that will allow AfDB and IFAD to design and implement work programmes that address these challenges within a number of thematic areas and sectors, including microfinance, capacity building, good governance, and post-conflict intervention. We will work together to support interventions in the fields of agribusiness and agro-processing, rural community empowerment, micro-enterprise development and renewable energy.

Question: Should genetically modified organisms (GMOs) be used to increase food production in Africa?

Answer: It is projected that the world will need to feed eight billion people in 2020, and it is increasingly recognized that traditional approaches to plant breeding are nearing the limits of their potential. In this context, the development of GMOs with traits of value to our target group has to be seriously considered.

IFAD shares the view of the International Science Council that the lack of evidence of negative effects does not mean that new transgenic foods are without risk. We believe that parallel attention to the safety aspects of GMOs is essential. All possible steps must be taken to guard against adverse effects on food - not just human food, but global food chains - as well as threats to biodiversity due to the 'flow' of genes from GMOs to related species.

Conducted by Sala Patterson, s.patterson@afdb.org, AfDB External Relations and Communication Unit

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