By Phil Harris
ROME (IDN) – The Rome-based International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has elected its second president from sub-Saharan Africa, after incumbent Kanayo F. Nwanze from Nigeria.
At the just concluded meeting of the body’s Governing Council (February 14-15), Gilbert Fossoun Houngbo from Togo, a former Prime Minister of his country, was appointed the Fund’s sixth President and will take office on April 1.
Houngbo was one of eight candidates, including three women, competing for the top leadership position in the specialised United Nations agency, which is also an international financial institution that invests in eradicating rural poverty in developing countries around the world.
Houngbo comes from his current position as Deputy Director General of the International Labour Organization (ILO). He has also served as Assistant Secretary General, Africa Regional Director and Chief of Staff at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
As someone who was born and raised in rural Togo, Houngbo believes that the inequality in today’s world should never be accepted, and that IFAD has a crucial role to play in bringing opportunities to the poor and excluded.
“I have come from the rural world. I have first-hand knowledge of the harshness of this kind of life,” Houngbo said after his appointment.
“We have to keep our ambition and at the same time be realistic and pragmatic,” he said. “We have to demonstrate that every dollar invested will have the highest value for money.”
Houngbo will take office at a time when changing government priorities and the more immediate needs of humanitarian crises – such as natural disasters, conflict and refugees – threaten to divert funding away from long-term development.
With growing global demand for food, increased migration to cities and the impact of climate change, investments in agriculture and rural development will be essential to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of ending poverty and hunger.
Outgoing IFAD President Nwanze had emphasised the need for continued rural investment in order for countries to meet their commitment to ending poverty and hunger by 2030, outlined in the SDGs.
“For nations genuinely committed to the 2030 Agenda [for Sustainable Development], investing in rural areas is not a choice, it is a necessity,” said Nwanze.
Describing rural development as “a moral obligation”, he continued by saying, “When people face the prospect of dying in poverty and hunger, they migrate to cities and beyond. For them, no ocean is wide enough, no fence will ever rise high enough, no border will ever be impregnable enough to keep out desperate women, children and men.”
In her opening statement to the Global Council, Bibi Ameenah Firdaus Gurib-Fakim, President of Mauritius, had spoken of the crisis unfolding on the ground in many African countries.
”Sub-Saharan Africa remains the locus of poverty, with too many of our fellow citizens living below the poverty line. Today nearly two in five children are malnourished and one in eight women is underweight,” said Gurib-Fakim, warning that “in the absence of a flourishing agricultural sector, the majority of Africans will be excluded from the rising tide of prosperity”.
Meanwhile, prior to the Governing Council session, IFAD hosted the Third Global Meeting of the Indigenous Peoples’ Forum (February 10 and 13), bringing together representatives of indigenous peoples’ organisations and leaders of partner organisations to discuss the ongoing challenges faced by these communities.
Following the meeting, a delegation of indigenous peoples’ representatives was received by Pope Francis in a private audience, during which he stressed the need to reconcile development, both social and cultural, with the protection of indigenous peoples and their territories, "especially when planning economic activities that may interfere with their cultures and their ancestral relationship to the earth".
The Pope also emphasised the need for governments to pay attention to indigenous identity, and to generate guidelines and development approaches that include young people and women.
“For governments this means recognising that indigenous communities are a part of the population to be appreciated and consulted, and whose full participation should be promoted at the local and national level,” he said.
Mirna Cunningham, President of the Center for Indigenous Peoples’ Autonomy and Development (CADPI), who headed the delegation, said, "I think the Pope's words are important. He went straight to the point. We have to remember that technological and economic development is not progress in itself and IFAD can play a very big role with technical and financial support to ensure that these measures are considered with indigenous peoples."
Antonella Cordone, Technical Advisor and Coordinator for Indigenous and Tribal Issues at IFAD, said that “recognising and institutionalising indigenous peoples’ rights is essential, but we also have to work to set self-implementation strategies to support local economies. Otherwise we risk that indigenous peoples’ societies will disappear.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 17 February 2017]
Photo: IFAD nominates new President -Gilbert Fossoun Houngbo on14 February 2017, Credit: IFAD
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