Statement by Kanayo F. Nwanze at the McGill Conference on Global Food Security

Ensuring Global Food Security: Unlocking the potential of Smallholder Agriculture

McGill University - Montreal, Canada
1 Nov, 2012

I would first like to thank Dr Chandra Madramootoo, who has done so much to make this visit possible.

It is my very great pleasure to be here today, and to see so many students in the audience. McGill is a fine university, one of the best in the world, and those of you studying in the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and considering a career in development are well placed to shape the world of the 21st century.

I am looking forward to a lively and informed discussion.  I hope that you will come away with some new thoughts on how smallholders can contribute to global food security, and that your comments will provide me with fresh ideas that I can take back to share with colleagues in Rome.


About IFAD

For those of you not familiar with the International Fund for Agricultural Development, let me quickly introduce my institution.

IFAD is one of the three Rome-based United Nations agencies. The others are the Food and Agriculture Organization, which is the United Nations’ biggest food agency; and the World Food Programme, which specializes in emergency food aid and in food assistance.

IFAD is the smallest of the three, when it comes to number of employees and budget, but I like to think that we punch above our weight when it comes to long-term impact on the ground.

IFAD is distinct in its focus, which is, and has always been, the poor people who live in the rural areas of developing countries.

IFAD is also unique in being both a United Nations specialized agency and an International Financial Institution.   Most of our financing is in the form of highly concessional loans to developing countries. They carry no interest, have a small service fee and are paid back over 40 years.

As an International Financial Institution, we mobilize co-financing from a variety of sources – including the Government of Canada – for projects that empower poor rural people to grow and sell more food, increase their incomes and determine the direction of their own lives.

We are guided by an overarching goal: enabling poor rural people to improve their food security and nutrition, raise their incomes and strengthen their resilience. Our focus is therefore on:

  • Natural resources – land, water, energy and biodiversity;
  • Climate change adaptation and mitigation;
  • Improved agricultural technologies and effective production services;
  • A broad range of inclusive financial services;
  • Integration of poor rural people within value chains;
  • Rural enterprise development and non-farm employment opportunities;
  • Technical and vocational skills development; and
  • Support to rural producers' organizations.


Since the 2007-2008 food price crisis, the issues that we focus on have been in the international spotlight.  The need for agricultural development – and for development that is inclusive of smallholders – is now widely acknowledged at the country level, the regional level and internationally.  We can now count on the G8 and the G20 as partners now that initiatives such as GAFSP and the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition are on the international agenda.

IFAD has always worked in partnership. We work closely with developing country governments, poor rural people’s organizations, NGOs, research institutions, community-based organizations, the private sector and others.

Canada has been an important partner from our earliest days. We share similar approaches to achieving global food security – from enabling smallholder farmers to have access to financial services, markets and land, to helping them adapt and mitigate the effects of climate change. We share an interest in supporting agricultural research. And we share a recognition of the pivotal role played by women in all aspects of food production.

Our relationship continues to evolve, with Canada providing nearly 20 million Canadian dollars to IFAD’s new Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme, or ASAP.  ASAP will help small-scale farmers become more resilient to the many and varied effects of climate change.

It will build on approaches that increase yields at the same time as reducing risk, such as mixed crop and livestock systems that integrate manure with drought-tolerant crops. This not only increases productivity, but spreads risk across a range of agricultural products.


Hunger is a rural issue

The people we work with are some of the most marginalized and disadvantaged populations in the world, living in areas that are difficult to reach, often in fragile situations and degraded environments.

While I would never want to belittle the problems of urban hunger, in developing countries it is rural areas where extreme poverty and hunger primarily reside.

Today, around 1.29 billion people in the developing world live on less than US$1.25-a-day.  More than 70 per cent of these extremely poor women, children and men live in rural areas. Most depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, but as you can see, agriculture is not providing enough of a livelihood to allow them to feed their families, educate their children or dream of a better future.

So, how do we ensure that agriculture leads to economic growth in other developing countries? How do we unlock the potential of smallholder agriculture to contribute to global food security?


Development starts with the people

We start by listening to poor rural people, working with them and building their organizations. 

We listen because local people have local knowledge. They know the times of flooding, the high water marks, which areas are most affected by water scarcity, and which crops and livestock respond best during droughts.

We build the capacity of farmer groups and organizations because, individually, smallholders have little power. But when they join together, they have greater purchasing power. They have greater bargaining power in the marketplace. And they have greater power to influence the policies that affect their lives.

Local people must be part of the process from the very beginning. Development efforts can only succeed when the people we serve are convinced that they will grow more food and earn more money by changing their practices.


Poor people have as much pride as you and I. At best, hand-outs insult their dignity; at worst they create cultures of dependency.

Indeed, development is not something that is done to people but something that is done by people themselves.

You cannot dream up solutions from thousands of miles away. Instead, you need to know the conditions on the ground – political and social, as well as environmental – and work with them.


I know that some of you will already have some experience of working in developing countries. In your travels, you may have seen the aftermath of what happens when development is imposed from outside – the broken tractors abandoned in the fields, the withered and untended trees, the forsaken hillside terraces.

In Mauritania, IFAD is working with smallholders to promote sustainable solutions to combat desertification and mitigate the impact of Prosopis juliflora, an invasive tree. It was introduced to protect the oases from sand encroachment, but it is now crowding out the local palm trees and depleting groundwater.

These examples of good intentions gone bad are the result of interventions that did not properly respond to the local ecology or terrain, or where the sociology or psychology of local populations was not fully understood.

But at IFAD, we see time and time again the transformation that occurs when development is economically, environmentally and socially sustainable, and when local people are involved from the start.

So when we approach rural communities we not only look at what they are, but at what they want to be.

And we forge partnerships with rural people so that they can take charge of their own development, and of their own futures.


Introducing Pakistan project

As I mentioned earlier, IFAD works in remote areas where most agencies do not venture. One of our most encouraging successes is a project in northern Pakistan, which started in 1998. The project has brought new roads, clean water, new crops, livestock and literacy to an area that previously had not been reached by development efforts.

But it was not easy. The community was very isolated and conservative. At first there was strong and sometimes violent resistance to the project. The microfinance element of the project and the formation of women’s groups were seen by some as un-Islamic.

It took four years of project staff working with local community leaders to help local people realize that the project was not there to attack their religions or their culture, and gradually the project was accepted.

Today, the community has been transformed. People are growing more food, earning more money and educating their children. About 140 women’s organizations have been formed and women are starting small businesses.

Although the project officially closed in 2008, the momentum for self-development has continued. A few months ago, a film crew visited the project area and found that the local community had used its own money to buy electricity generating equipment.

In the film I am about to show you, you can hear about the project from the participants themselves.

As you can see, agricultural development leads to better food security. It also contributes to economic and social stability, and to promoting peace. I encourage you to visit the IFAD website to read our Viewpoint on Growing Peace through Development.

When development is sustainable, the benefits last. Through the years and the generations. By respecting and responding to local conditions, whether cultural or environmental, changes are able to take root and to continue, long after the last aid workers and development agencies have left.


Gardens grow in Niger

This has also been the case in the Illela department of Niger, where water harvesting practices are continuing more than 15 years after funding ended.

The initial project encouraged farmers to improve traditional planting pits and half-moons. The pits are dug before the rains. They collect and store rainfall and run-off. The half-moons are earth embankments in the shape of a semi-circle. They are much larger than the pits and are also used to capture run-off water.

Although the project ended in 1996, a return to the area last January found that farmers are still making pits and half-moons.

The implications for food security in this drought-prone region are enormous. In the village of Batodi, the water level in wells increased by 14 metres between 1994 and 2004, which led to the creation of 10 vegetable gardens around the wells.


Even in drought years the local population has been able to feed itself because the simple water harvesting technique had recharged the groundwater, forcing rainfall and run-off to infiltrate. 

Indeed, evidence shows that the villages that have implemented re-greening activities have higher incomes, more reliable access to food and lower rates of infant mortality. 

In other words, it is possible to have a degree of food security even in areas routinely devastated by drought and famine. But only if your efforts are sustainable.


Flip-flops used for micro-irrigation in Madagascar

Sometimes, you need to think creatively to give poor people the technology they can afford.  In Madagascar, IFAD supported a project to turn old flip-flops into parts for micro-irrigation equipment.

About 30,000 vulnerable farmer households were able to improve crop production because they could get the irrigation equipment they needed at prices they could afford. And the project further helped the local economy by creating jobs for street workers who collected the old sandals, and for small businesses that make the irrigation parts.


Farming is a business

Working closely with local communities is essential to our work, but it is only one part of the food security puzzle.  Another important piece is changing our perception of farming and farmers.

Over the years, we have come to realize that farming is a business, no matter how small. 

If we want smallholders to contribute to the global food supply, they will need access to rural and agricultural finance, specifically geared to the needs of small-scale producers so they can invest in their farms.

Like the farmers participating in an IFAD-funded project in Bangladesh, who can take out seasonal loans to cover the costs of crop production.

The project pioneered a form of microfinance geared to the needs of the local community. For example, more than half of its loans were seasonal. The loans were made up-front, to cover the costs of crop production. Repayments followed four to six months later, in one single instalment to reflect the cash flow cycle of farming.

The easier access to credit meant farmers could buy better seeds, plant their crops at the right time, increase production, and get better market prices for crops that were planted early.

But farmers also need to earn enough from their business to eat a balanced diet, manage their land sustainably, educate their children and invest in their businesses.  To do this, farmers need solid links to markets.

If a farmer cannot profitably market her surplus, there is no logical reason to produce more than her family can store or consume. There is no motivation to adopt new technologies to enhance productivity, particularly if these inputs are costly.

When I was in Guatemala I met Pedro Tun. Mr Tun is a smallholder farmer and president of a producers’ association. With the backing of an IFAD-supported project they were able to buy irrigation equipment, build a new storage facility and work with private-sector partners to bring their produce to new markets. Today, they sell to some of the biggest retailers in the world.

There are many other examples, from cocoa farmers in Sao Tomé and Principe who are now supplying chocolate makers such as Kaoka in France and CaféDirect in the UK, to an organics project in the Pacific where small farmers are supplying organic virgin coconut oil to the Body Shop in the United Kingdom, allowing more children to attend school and funding a way of life that incorporates health, ecology, fairness and care.

There is also little point in increasing yields if the infrastructure does not exist for farmers to be able to get their produce to market. You can’t eat cassava and only cassava for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You need to be able to sell your surplus cassava so you can buy some fish, rice and beans.

Similarly, there is little point in increasing a farmer’s yield if that farmer does not have storage facilities for surplus production, or if there is no demand for what is produced.

As we look to create lasting food security, we must consider investing in the innovation, research and infrastructure that enables farmers to store and sell, as well as grow.


Need for storage and processing

Even today, when 870 million people are not getting enough to meet their most basic food needs, plenty of food is actually being produced. If only we could conserve, transport and market it properly.

But today, about one third of food produced globally is wasted or lost to spoilage, damage and other causes. 

In sub-saharan Africa, an estimated 20-40% of crop production is lost because of deterioration after harvest.

Investing in processing and storage facilities in developing countries would help make the most of what we already produce and harvest, and would reduce the amount of extra food we need to grow.

At the same time, better storage and processing would lift the incomes and food security of poor farmers. 

But better storage and processing facilities can only make a difference to food security if small farmers are able to participate in markets.


Lack of roads

Anyone who has ever driven down an old logging road will know why paved roads are essential for getting goods to market. But in many developing countries, particularly in Africa, badly maintained dirt roads are the norm. It can cost five times as much to transport a ton of rice in parts of central Africa as it does on major routes in Pakistan.

As a result, it is often cheaper for countries to import food than to distribute food that is more locally grown.

Today, more than one third of the rural population of sub-Saharan Africa lives five hours from the nearest market town of 5,000 people, making transport costs too high.

In other words, one third of the rural population of sub-Saharan Africa is sitting on the sidelines, with no real chance to participate in the market economy and no real chance of improving their economic condition.

At IFAD, we see time and time again the production improvements that occur when smallholders have incentives to increase production. When they are connected to markets. When they have secure access to land and water. When they have financial services to pay for seed, tools and fertilizer. When they have the technology to receive market information on prices. When they have the knowledge and policies to produce in ways that maintain ecosystems and minimize vulnerability to climate change.  And most importantly, when they have effective governments and leaders that create the enabling environment for these farmers to thrive.



Increasing yields

For increasing productivity, we have many tools at our disposal. There are crops, such as New Rice for Africa, or NERICA, which combines the high productivity of Asian rice with the hardiness of local African rice species.  There are agricultural biotechnologies, such as Marker Assisted Selection, Marker Assisted Breeding, tissue culture and embryo rescue techniques that offer many benefits. They can boost productivity, improve the tolerance of seeds and plants to drought, temperature stress and pests, and make nutrient use more efficient.

Biotechnology is a tool, rather than an end in itself, but in some contexts it is the most appropriate tool.

In other contexts, however, simply optimizing conventional approaches, such as the use of fertilizers and micro-irrigation, can yield dramatic results.

In Africa, for example, only about 6 per cent of the total cultivated land is irrigated, compared with 37 per cent in Asia.

It is estimated that irrigation alone could increase output by up to 50 per cent in Africa.

Similarly, small increases in fertilizer use in sub‑Saharan Africa could produce dramatic improvements in yields without risk to the environment.

Today, farmers there use less than 13 kilograms of fertilizer per hectare, compared with 73 kilograms in the Middle East and North Africa, and 190 kilograms in East Asia and the Pacific.

A fertilizer micro-dosing technique developed by ICRISAT and its partners is helping farmers grow more food without exploiting the soil by using a bottle cap to measure out small, affordable amounts of fertilizer, and placing that fertilizer precisely – with or beside the seed.


Investing in women

It is not enough to invest in boosting yields.  We must also invest in the people who grow the food. You may recall that as part of the Pakistan project, 140 women’s organizations were formed and women had started small businesses. 

IFAD has recognized for many years that there will be no substantial progress in poverty reduction and global food security unless there is greater investment in women. Studies indicate that when women earn money, they are more likely than men to spend it on food for the family. In Côte d’Ivoire, for example, a ten dollar increase in women’s income brought the same level of improvement in child health and nutrition as a one hundred and ten dollar increase in men’s income.

Canada promoted the central role of women to family health and nutrition when it hosted the G8 and G20 meetings in 2010, impelling the international community to focus on this important issue. And, Canada and IFAD are currently discussing ways to promote nutrition-sensitive agriculture.

Women are often the farmers of the developing world. Unfortunately, women are also usually the most disadvantaged members of rural societies.

Simply by giving women the same access as men to agricultural resources and inputs, it is estimated that production on women’s farms could increase by up to 30 per cent, feeding an extra 100 million to 150 million hungry people.

When I was visiting an IFAD-funded project in Guatemala a few years ago, I met women who were able to grow vegetables year round, even during the dry season in small – sometimes as small as 10 by 10 – garden plots.  They were able to do this by using simple gravity micro-irrigation systems.  As a result, family nutrition has improved and the women hope they will be able to increase family income in the future by selling their excess crops.  But they lived in a valley with a steep incline that was impassable when it rained.  So IFAD built a 400 metre concrete road that linked them  to the nearest highway.  It cost just US$25,000!


Development does not have to cost a lot to be effective

Development efforts do not need to be enormous or costly to be effective. In the 1970s, research funded by IFAD that I was involved in led to the elimination of the cassava mealy bug through an Africa-wide Biological Control Programme.

As a result of this research programme, at least 20 million lives were saved in the cassava belt of sub-Saharan Africa, as well as about US$2.2 billion in production. The total cost of the programme was only US$20 million.  In other words, for every dollar spent, one life was saved.


In Peru, where IFAD has worked since 1980, an evaluation of one of our projects found it took 30 cents to deliver one dollar of loan investments. But, more importantly, every dollar invested was leveraged 5 times by beneficiaries, in a project which reached 63,000 families over an eight year period.


The Pakistan project that I discussed earlier cost a total of US$22.6 million dollars over a ten year period, or US$2.26 million a year.

In the last 35 years, IFAD has invested more than US$14 billion in low interest loans and grants. These investments have benefitted over 400 million poor rural people.


IFAD’s work cycle is broken into three-year replenishment periods.

In the 2013 to 2015 period, we are committed to moving 80 million poor rural people out of poverty. We will do this by scaling up successful projects and addressing the whole value chain – from production to processing, marketing and, ultimately, to consumption.

At IFAD, we work hard to demonstrate concrete, tangible impact. During the 2013-2015 period we will be undertaking 30 evaluations to assess the impact, dollar-for-dollar, of our investments on the livelihoods of poor rural populations. 

We know it doesn’t always cost much – Our projection is that IFAD will spend just US$1 per month for every person we reach during our ninth replenishment cycle to meet our target of 80 million people. And it doesn’t always take revolutionary technology to change lives.  

But it does take dedication, unswerving commitment and a willingness to listen to and work with poor rural people in genuine partnership.

Thank you.