Statement by IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze at the African Union High Level Panel on Post-MDGs, the African development agenda

Unleashing Africa’s Potential as a Pole of Global Growth

African Union Conference Centre (AUCC) - Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
26 Mar, 2012

Mister Chairman,

Honourable Ministers,

Distinguished Colleagues,

Ladies and Gentlemen,



It is a great pleasure for me to be here to discuss the post-2015 MDG agenda in the context of unleashing Africa’s potential.

As many of you will know, I am an African, born in Nigeria. And although my professional life has taken me to three other continents, Africa has, and will always have, a special place in my heart.

This continent, our continent, is rich – rich in human resources and rich in natural potential. For food production, there is enormous potential to increase yields on existing cultivated land through better soil and water management, and by increases the use of fertilizer, improved seeds and irrigation.

And there is also the potential that comes from having a relatively young population. Young people under the age of 14 now make up 42 percent of Africa’s population.

But too often that potential is squandered. The famine in the Horn of Africa and the situation in the Sahel have drawn attention to the serious obstacles – not just climatic, but also political and economic – to Africa’s development, and indeed to the very survival of its citizens.

It is shameful that in the World Bank’s Doing Business rankings, the countries of sub-Saharan Africa occupy 15 of the bottom 20 slots. Starting a business in Sub Saharan Africa still costs 18 times more – in relative income – than it does in OECD countries.

These are conditions that will not be fixed by new global Development Goals or by developing an alternative framework alone.

But they are conditions that can be fixed by Africans, with the changes supported by a new, carefully thought-out post-MDG framework.

As I have said before, change cannot be imposed from the outside. In the case of Africa, this means Africa’s development must be made in Africa, by Africans, for Africans.

I hope that all of you have had time to read through the excellent Note that was prepared for this panel. I was glad to see it spelled out that “Africa must articulate its common position” among the conclusions.

IFAD’s vision for the post-MDGs reflects our confidence in self-determination, for Africa and indeed the entire developing world.

We believe that the new goals must apply to developed as well as developing countries, that they must be simple, measurable and developed by countries themselves.

IFAD is working with the other Rome-based United Nations food agencies to ensure that agriculture, food security and nutrition find their way into the goals. And IFAD is also working to ensure that smallholders have a role in meeting the new goals.


Brief introduction to IFAD

For those of you not familiar with the International Fund for Agricultural Development, let me quickly introduce my institution. IFAD is one of three Rome-based United Nations agencies. It is unique in being both a UN specialized agency and an International Financial Institution.

Africa has always been a major focus of IFAD’s work, and has traditionally received a large share of our resources. Around 50 per cent of our new financing is directed to the region, with about 43 per cent last year going to sub-Saharan Africa alone.

IFAD is exclusively devoted to combating rural poverty and supporting smallholder agriculture. No one else does what IFAD does, and in many cases, no one else goes where IFAD goes.

Why is smallholder agriculture the key? For one thing, growth generated by agriculture is at least twice as effective in reducing poverty as growth in other sectors.

The importance and promise of agriculture to Africa cannot be overstated. Agriculture remains a critical sector in Africa’s economies.  It accounts for about 30 per cent of sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP and at least 40 per cent of export value. In most countries, agriculture accounts for more than 60 per cent of employment.

You may be surprised to learn that Africa has the fastest growth in agriculture – 4.8 per cent in 2009 compared with 3.8 per cent in the Asia Pacific region and only 1.4 percent in Latin American and the Caribbean. And it has the greatest potential for poverty reduction through smallholder agriculture.

And why is smallholder agriculture especially important? Because small farms, or 2 hectares or less, represent 80 per cent of all farms in Sub-Saharan Africa. These small farms contribute up to 90 per cent of production in some countries.

Successful smallholders create vibrant rural areas that can ensure a dynamic flow of economic benefits between rural and urban areas so that nations have balanced and sustained development.

As we consider the post-2015 development agenda, we believe that sustainability will need to be at the heart of all our goals.

The word “sustainable” tends to be over-used in development circles but it is, nevertheless, an essential element of our work.

Development that is sustainable is development where the benefits last, through the years and the generations. It is development that respects and responds to local conditions, whether cultural or environmental, so that the changes are able to take root and continue after the aid workers and development agencies have left.

We have all of us seen the aftermath of what happens when development is imposed from outside and when it is not sustainable – we have seen the broken tractors, abandoned in the fields, the withered and untended trees, the forsaken hillside terraces.

But at IFAD, we have also seen the miracles that can occur when local people are involved from the start, the restoration of degraded land.

Last year I visited Zongbèga, a village in a drought-prone region of Burkina Faso, where smallholders are using simple water harvesting techniques such as planting pits and permeable rock dams, along with crop-livestock integration. As a result, they have restored land that was once degraded and have increased their productivity.

In Niger, a water harvesting project in the Illela department is still going, more than 15 years after the funding ended. This is the difference between community-driven development and donor-imposed projects.


Change must come from within 

As I have said before, transformation must start from within. Africa’s development must be made in Africa, by Africans, for Africans.

Agriculture offers enormous promise for Africa. Numerous studies show that GDP growth generated by agriculture is more than twice as effective in reducing poverty as growth in other sectors.

Sub-Saharan Africa has the largest share of the world’s uncultivated land with rainfed crop potential, so there is room for agriculture to expand. 

And there is also enormous potential to increase yields on existing cultivated land through better soil and water management, and by increasing the use of fertilizer, improved seeds and irrigation. But this must be done through an environmentally sustainable, “green” approach.

At the moment, farmers in sub-Saharan Africa use, on average, less than one-tenth the amount of fertilizer as farmers in Asia and Latin America.  They also use very low levels of improved, high yielding seeds, despite important advances in their development.  And only 3 per cent of land is irrigated, compared with 36 per cent in Asia. In Africa, only South Africa is close to using its full irrigation potential.

There is also the potential that comes from having a relatively young population. Young people under the age of 14, now make up 42 per cent of Africa’s population. It is encouraging to see that enrolment and completion rates for primary and secondary schooling is improving in nearly all countries, for girls as well as boys.

But the problems that need to be overcome are also large. Conflict, poverty and hunger continue to take too great a toll on our continent.

And while poverty rates are declining in Africa, the absolute number of poor people has increased, as have levels of under nourishment and child malnutrition.  The current food price increases have further contributed to both poverty and food insecurity.

It is sobering to think that there is a real possibility that not only will we fail to achieve first Millennium Development Goal – the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger – but that we actually go backwards and see reversals on progress made.  We must bear this in mind, and learn from our failures as well as our successes, as we create the new post-2015 development goals.

We must also bear in mind that any goals are a framework that only have value if they are implemented. Today, more than 3 years after the deadline of achieving the Maputo commitments, only 11 countries have met their goal of at least 10% of national budgets going to agriculture and rural development policy implementation. However, of the 27 countries that have signed the CAADP Compacts of increasing agricultural productivity by at least 6% annually, 17 countries had achieved this target in 2011.

More broadly, African countries need to put their political and economic houses in order. They must continue to deepen the foundations of democracy and ensure the political stability that is so critical to economic growth.

All of us here today are aware of Africa’s true potential. I have no doubt that if we work together we can see this potential fulfilled, so that the current young generation of Africans grows into a world of opportunity and security.