ANTONIA PARADELA, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)

Member States have reappointed Gilbert F. Houngbo as President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) for a second term, at its annual Governing Council meeting, held on February 17th in Rome.


Mr. Houngbo has an even more ambitious agenda at the heart of his second mandate, focusing on technological solutions, innovative financing models and new private-sector partnerships. The IFAD will continue tackling hunger and poverty while addressing the devastating impacts of climate change, youth unemployment and most recently, COVID-19, to ensure no one is left behind.


“With the pandemic still devastating rural areas and the projections for increased poverty and hunger, the need for [the] IFAD to scale up is more urgent than ever,” said G. F. Houngbo. “Today it is COVID, yesterday it was a tsunami, and we don’t know what will happen tomorrow. The threat from climate change and extreme weather will not diminish, and we should prepare. No rural woman or man should ever be in a position of having to sell his or her meagre assets or be forced to migrate in order to survive.”


Under Mr. Houngbo’s continued leadership, the IFAD aims to double its impact by 2030 and offer a life out of poverty and hunger to millions of people. The goal is to ensure 40 million people per year increase their incomes, by at least 20 percent by 2030, which is double what IFAD currently achieves.


To this end, Mr. Houngbo has called on donors to contribute significantly more to the IFAD, to deliver an overall program of work, of at least $11 billion USD from 2022 to 2024. This is through a new private-sector financing program and an expansion of its pioneering climate change adaptation program. This will help rebuild stronger rural economies, as countries recover from the impacts of COVID-19. It will also help these marginalized rural populations become far more resilient to climate change and other shocks.


In his acceptance speech, Mr. Houngbo said addressing the devastating impacts of climate change and reversing biodiversity’s decline are amongst his highest priorities. Last month the IFAD launched the Enhanced Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme (ASAP+), aiming to be the largest fund, dedicated to channelling climate-finance to small-scale producers. Mr. Houngbo envisages the program to mobilize $500 million and help more than 10 million people adapt to an unpredictable climate. Despite their disproportionate vulnerability to climate change, small-scale farmers currently receive only 1.7 percent of global climate-finance.


Another of Mr. Houngbo’s goals is to address the challenges rural young people face in finding decent employment, which has an enormous impact on instability and migration. In Africa, 60 percent of young people live in rural areas. Between 10 and 12 million young people enter the job market every year. With increased investments in agri-preneurs and rural small and medium-sized enterprises, the IFAD aims to create greater employment opportunities for rural youth. This builds on Gilbert Houngbo’s focus over the past four years, to engage more with the private sector to bring expertise, innovation and much-needed investments to rural areas.


Under Mr. Houngbo’s leadership, the IFAD expanded its program, to reach 36 percent more poor and vulnerable people. At the end of 2019, 132 million people, in more than 90 countries, benefited from IFAD’s investments. However, in his speech, Mr. Houngbo recognized the huge financing gap threatening the world’s ability to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goal of zero hunger by 2030. To this end, he has led the IFAD to start diversifying its funding sources, to maximize the support it can give to the world’s poorest people. In 2020, the IFAD was the first UN fund to receive a credit rating, with both Fitch and Standard and Poor’s announcing AA+ ratings. These strong ratings will help the IFAD mobilize more funds from various potential investors at a favourable cost.


Mr. Houngbo also spoke about the importance of food to rural people. As the majority of them work in agriculture, food is not just critical for sustenance but also for their livelihoods. He stressed the need for investing in sustainable food systems which enable rural populations to earn decent incomes, have nutritious diets and lead dignified lives. The key role the IFAD will play is, putting this on the global agenda during the upcoming UN Food Systems Summit.


Small-scale farming systems produce half of the world’s food calories, but these farmers are often the ones who go hungry. The IFAD is the only multilateral organization focused solely on addressing hunger and poverty in rural areas. Three-quarters of the world’s poorest and most food-insecure people live in rural areas. Decades of progress on extreme poverty are now in reverse due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As many as 150 million people could fall into extreme poverty by and throughout 2021. An additional 136 million people are expected to go hungry.