Rome, 22nd February 2012

    Excellency Ms Marie- Josée Jacobs, Chairperson of the Governing Council of IFAD;

  • Members of IFAD’S Governing Council;
  • Dr Kanayo Nwanze, President of IFAD;
  • Distinguished Dignitaries;
  • Ladies and Gentlemen;

Thank you for inviting me to join this important discussion on increasing food production and promotion sustainable use of the earth’s natural resources.

According to the most recent figures from the Food and Agriculture Organisation, it is evident that food production is not keeping up with the rapidly growing world population. It is therefore fitting, that the Governing Council of IFAD is drawing our attention to this urgent concern. The situation is even more pressing when we consider that majority of those affected are mostly low-income smallholder farmers in the developing world.

However, there is reason to remain optimistic because experience in some parts of the world indicates that with the right policies and adequate investment, we can increase food production while protecting our environment

We have to admit that for much of the developing world – certainly for my country, Rwanda – agriculture is going to be smallholder-based for some time; and will mostly be carried out in fragile environments susceptible to climate change.

It is therefore imperative 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.

To illustrate this, let me draw from our experience in Rwanda. Over the last five years, a significant increase in output from smallholder farms has had a noticeable impact on the lives of our citizens. Agricultural GDP has grown at an average of 8%, ensuring food security and higher incomes for farmers. This has directly resulted in over one million Rwandans moving above the poverty line in the same period.

We have also worked to mitigate Rwanda’s specific challenges of high population growth and density, steep hills, heavy rainfall and frequent tilling of the same, often fragmented, land. Conservation of the environment is such an important issue for us that it is one of the benchmarks of governance for which leaders at all levels are held accountable.

If Rwanda has managed to gain these modest results and in difficult conditions, how much more can be achieved in less fragile conditions and with increased investment in opportunities that exist in many parts of Africa?

The first part of the answer lies with individual countries that must design and implement suitable policies for increasing the productivity of smallholder farmers and work with them towards eliminating poverty.

In addition to what we in government need to do, the quality of collaboration we develop with our partners is critical. I wish to acknowledge IFAD’s role as a strong partner in our own agricultural programmes, supporting us on many poverty reduction initiatives, and in key export crops like tea and coffee. Let me also take this opportunity to thank other Rome-based institutions, especially the FAO and World Food Programme and others like, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other friends of Rwanda, for also backing our programmes.

The reality in most developing countries is that smallholder agriculture remains the source of livelihood and food supply for the majority of the population. In that sense, every farmer counts. None is too small to be ignored.

That’s why in Rwanda we have identified this sector as key to growth and developed programmes targeting the smallest of smallholder farmers. This choice is producing results because Rwandans have taken ownership of their development agenda while forging partnerships for progress. The ultimate goal is transformation from subsistence to market oriented production.

Let me single out two such programmes that have had a major impact on food production and living standards in our case.

The one cow per poor family programme, a home-grown initiative to which IFAD has contributed greatly, has improved nutrition, raised incomes, enhanced soil fertility and through the pass-on scheme, is also rebuilding our social support fabric.

In Rwanda, it is impossible to expand arable land. Yet the population is growing and we need to protect our hard-earned food security, as well as advance commercial agriculture. This is why we have adopted a land consolidation and crop intensification programme for optimal land use and increased yields.

These initiatives have resulted in a dramatic increase in output for crops grown on consolidated land. For example between 2007 and 2010, production of maize tripled and that of both wheat and cassava more than doubled.

Our experience has also shown that yields can be even higher and more sustainable when environmental conservation is integrated with agricultural activity. We are therefore investing in hillside terracing to reduce erosion and conserve moisture; rehabilitation of degraded forests; and concurrent reclamation of marshlands both for agriculture as well as protection of wetlands.

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen;

While we can scale up what has been working and worked and learn from successful models, a lot more remains to be done.

We cannot, for instance, talk of sustaining production levels if we continue to depend solely on rain-fed agriculture. In order to break the cycle of drought and famine that afflicts large parts of our continent, we will have to intensify irrigation while managing our water resources better.

It is equally important that we ensure farmers have access to essential inputs like fertilisers, improved seeds, professional advice, as well as markets for their produce.

Similarly, we need to invest more in research and new technologies to raise production and productivity and for value addition, especially to staple food crops. At the same time we must make available sufficient resources to strengthen rural financial systems for farmers.

it is gratifying to note that there is a growing number of success stories of smallholder farmers in other countries in Africa. This means that there is a future for this kind of agriculture, and crucially, that it is possible to eliminate the unacceptable tragedy of malnutrition and starving people.

The countries that have made progress in these areas have done so because they have the right policies, ensure participation of citizens and enjoy the support of development partners. It is clear that this support has been beneficial where it has come in to reinforce national priorities, like IFAD has done in Rwanda and other parts of our continent. In my view, partnerships that respect the choices people make and produce results should be encouraged, strengthened and emulated.

Ultimately, long-term solutions to investment in agriculture will come from a greater involvement of the private sector – in technology, production, marketing and research.

In conclusion, if we are to meet the twin objectives of feeding a growing population and protecting the environment, we will have to do what we know works. And that is targeted support and investment in smallholder farming to raise agricultural productivity, contribute to food security and reduce poverty, while protecting our planet.

Ladies and Gentlemen with these remarks, I thank you for your kind attention and wish you fruitful deliberations.

Thank you.